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Employment Blog

EEOC Brings More Complaints

Authored by Dean R. Dietrich
Posted on October 1, 2014
Filed under Employment

I have written over the past several months regarding the activism at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The beat goes on. Several recent complaints have been filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seeking to protect employees from alleged discriminatory conduct by an employer.

In the first case, the EEOC filed suit over alleged sex discrimination involving transgender individuals. The EEOC alleged that two different companies discriminated against transgender workers by firing the employees for being transgender and not conforming to "the employer's gender-based expectations." In both of these suits, which were the first of their kind filed by the EEOC, the employer allegedly terminated an employee who gave notice that the employee was transitioning from male to female. These cases come on the heels of recent announcements by the federal government that it is illegal for federal contractors to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In the second matter, the EEOC filed a complaint against a legal staffing firm for discriminating against an attorney applicant because of her age in violation of the age discrimination law. The complaint alleges that the company rejected a 70-year old attorney when the company allegedly discovered her age during the hiring process. The employee asked the company whether a decision was being made to withdraw an offer of employment because of her age and the company indicated that the employee would not be considered for other positions with the temporary agency.

In the third matter, the EEOC brought an action against a company for refusing to hire a male applicant who refused to cut his hair due to his Rastafarian religious beliefs. The EEOC is alleging that the company discriminated against the applicant who advised the company at the time of his interview that his religious beliefs prevented him from cutting his hair. The individual was interviewed for a delivery truck driver position and was allegedly told by the company that he could not have the job unless he cut his hair, which prompted the employee to explain why he could not have his hair cut due to his religious beliefs. The case focuses on the failure of the company to reasonably accommodate the sincerely-held religious beliefs of an employee provided the reasonable accommodation does not pose an undue hardship on the employer. This is one version of litigation involving "grooming" policies which alleges that such policies are discriminatory based upon the restrictions that may be applied. It is an expansion of the religious discrimination argument which is one of the identified focuses of EEOC enforcement actions.

All of these complaints are at the initial stages. They show that the EEOC is working aggressively to pursue claims against employers when it believes that the underlying conduct is discriminatory in nature. Employers have to be careful in their personnel decisions to avoid a potential claim for discrimination against an employee because of a protected category. When faced with these difficult decisions, employers must be very careful and develop a clear record as to the basis for the decision they are making.