First Sheriff Arpaio hinted that he would like a pardon. Then, Pres. Trump said he might pardon the “toughest sheriff” in the country. He has “done a lot” to oppose illegal immigration in this country and is a “great American patriot,” said the President. See CBS news report. I previoulsy wrote about the trial of the toughest sheriff here and here. So, now the toughest sheriff needs a little help…..
The toughest sheriff in America is dropping hints that he would like a pardon from the President. Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio told the Arizona Republic that he would accept a pardon from Pres. Trump. See Politico news report here. I recently wrote about the court finding him guilty of contempt here. He says he talks with the President now and then, but will not brag about it.
So, he does have some self-restraint, after all.
“Direct” evidence of discrimination generally means a statement that clearly indicates discriminatory intent. In one of my early cases, a San Antonio manager said “we need to get rid of all the lazy ass niggers here.” That statement clearly evinces discriminatory intent.The bias is clear with no need for additional explanation. In Okpere v. National Oilwell Varco, LLP, No. 14-15-00694, 2017 WL 1086340 (Tex.App. Hou. 3/25/2017), the Houston Court of Appeals discusses direct evidence regarding a man with a disability. Ehimarey H. Okpere worked for NOV for four months. He suffered a stroke and returned to work within days. He was terminated 13 days later. Mr. Okpere testified that his team leader said the supervisor said upper management let him go because of his condition, the stroke. The team leader, however, denied the statement. A statement against interest is not considered hearsay. A statement against interest by management would be admissible. So, a statement by management that upper management took an action which violates the ADA would normally be admissible. The problem here is that the team leader is not offering his opinion about why Mr. Okpere was fired. He is quoting his boss. The team leader was not offering his own opinion, but the opinion of the supervisor. So, his statement is hearsay within hearsay.
The Houston Court of Appeals felt that was too large a jump from the person uttering the statement to the person who heard it. The result likely would have been different if the employee was told this by the supervisor directly. But, this statement was uttered by someone who merely heard the supervisor utter the statement. The court found that even direct evidence is subject to the hearsay rules. That is, hearsay within hearsay is hearsay.
The employer otherwise defended against the lawsuit by claiming the Human Resources person who fired the worker did not know he had suffered a stroke. He did not know that Mr. Okpere had a disability. But, the timing was remarkable. The plaintiff was fired just 13 days after returning to work. NOV said it fired the employee because he was late for work that morning. The company claimed it would not normally fire a worker for being late one time. It pointed to an ambiguous comment on Mr. Okpere’s prior time card indicating he had been late before. The court then parses the evidence to find that Mr. Okpere’s testimony that he had never been late was not consistent with other parts of his testimony.
Anytime a court has to parse and get into exacting detail about a person’s testimony, then summary judgment is not appropriate. But, the Houston court of appeals appeared to be more interested in affirming summary judgment. See the decision here.
There must be something in the water at Fox News. They keep having issues with sexual harassment. Eroic Bolling, a news host, has been accused by several female co-workers of sending photos of his genitals via text messages. Huffington Post reported that more than a dozen sources said he had sent unsolicited photos of his private parts. Fox News has placed Mr. Bolling on suspension pending an investigation. A lawyer for Mr,. Bolling denies the claims.
See CNN News report. Not surprisingly, Mr. Bolling has been a strong supporter of Pres. Trump. Roger Ailes was accused of sexual harassment and was also a friend of the President. The President seems to favor men who harass women. I previously wrote about Roger Ailes here and here. And, then there were the reports of Bill O’Reilly harassing women and then reaching large settlements with them to keep them quiet. I wrote about Bill O’Reilly here and here. And, of course, Pres. Trump supported Bill O’Reilly when he was accused of sexual harassment, as well.
Well, the “toughest” sheriff was found guilty of contempt. Sheriff Joe Arpaio targeted Hispanics in his traffic stops. He ignored an order from a U.S. District Judge to stop targeting Hispanics. His office did not stop for another 18 months. During his trial, he claimed his lawyer did not explain the judge’s order to him very well. The “toughest” sheriff went to court with a “dog ate my homework” defense and lost.
The toughest sheriff is 85 years old and faces up to six years in jail for the offense. But, given his age and status as a law enforcement official, it is not likely he would receive the maximum. It was not typical for a county law enforcement official to make immigration arrests a priority. But, Sheriff Arpaio was never typical. See CBS News report. I previously wrote about the toughest sheriff’s trial here and here.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1992 during the administration of the first George H.W. Bush. It was later amended in 2009. Yet, many persons with disabilities still face obstacles to employment. In EEOC v. S&B Industries, Inc., No. 15-CV-641, 2017 LEXIS 9259 (N.D. Tex. 2017), two women with hearing impairment applied for a job with S&B Industries. S&B repairs cell phones. There was a group interview of several applicants. Katelyn Baker and Tia Rice communicate only with benefit of an ASL interpreter or by writing notes. The employer did not hire either woman. The parties agreed the two women were not qualified for the technician job. They lacked experience and training. But, contended the EEOC, there were several other jobs the two women could have performed. The women were referred by a staffing agency, which was aware of their impairment. Yet, no one provided them an ASL interpreter for the group interview.
The EEOC sought to provide an expert at trial, who would describe the ASL language, and discuss the barriers faced by hearing impaired persons when seeking employment. The employer moved to exclude testimony from the expert, arguing she would simply present stereotypes about society. It argued that none of these stereotypes have been attributed to S&B. The court noted that an expert can serve as a “teaching” expert if she can distill complicated subject matter into language a jury can understand. The expert had planned to testify that “audism and phonocentric” views may have prevented accommodations from being offered by S&B. The court rejected that testimony, saying there was no evidence that such views may be attributed to S&B. There was no evidence, circumstantial or direct, that any employee of S&B held such views.
The court also rejected the expert’s planned testimony regarding how many people in the U.S. suffer from hearing impairment and regarding how few are employed. The court opined that such evidence would not help show that discriminatory motive animated the decision not to hire Ms. Baker and Ms. Rice. Such evidence might help show why the two plaintiffs could not mitigate their damages. But, that was not the topic for which the expert was identified.
Experts are not used often in employment cases. The problem, as shown here, is tying such polemics to actual alleged transgressors. Just because many people hold bias against deaf persons do snot mean these particular managers held those views.
It is rare for persons with severe disabilities to come forward and file a complaint. The parties entered into a Consent Decree soon after the court’s ruling on the motion to exclude and regarding summary judgment. The court denied the motion for summary judgment in part. The EEOC then settled the case for $110,000 and with the requirement that the employer conduct training on accommodations in the workplace. See EEOC press release here. See the decision here.
When a person asks for an accommodation, s/he must be specific. A general request to “reduce stress” at the work place will not suffice. In Murray v. Warren Pumps, 821 F.3d 77 (1st Cir. 2016), the plaintiff had a bad back. His work restrictions included not lifting anything over 10 pounds and not sitting, walking or standing too long. The employer and the employee agreed that the employer would not ask him to violate these restrictions and Mr. Murray would monitor the restrictions. The plaintiff believed the employer asked him to violate the work restrictions. Sometimes, he would complain. Sometimes, he would not.
The plaintiff’s job was monitoring work place safety. He had some issues with the employer’s observance work safety. He also expressed dissatisfaction with the things they had asked him to do. He complained that sometimes, he was asked to perform physical activities that violated his work restrictions. The company met with Mr. Murray and suggested he was not happy there. The employer offered him a severance package. He refused to resign and was fired.
The employee filed suit. He argued among other things that the employer failed to accommodate him. The court dismissed Mr. Murray’s claim that he sought breaks “from time to time” as an accommodation. The court found the request to be vague. And, the employee did not explain in what way the employer refused those requests for accommodation.The employee also pointed to an incident when his supervisor asked him to help paint. When the plaintiff said he could not, the supervisor walked away, apparently not happy. But, acknowledged the employee, he was not forced to do the painting and he did in fact do the painting. The employee also discussed a time when the supervisor told him to perform some wiring. Murray said he could not physically do that. The supervisor told him to “get it done somehow.” The employee found someone to perform the wiring. Mr. Murray did not do the wiring himself. Mr. Murray carried the toolbox, which did weigh more than ten pounds.
Another time, the supervisor asked him to oversee a project that involved a lot of walking. Murray acknowledged that he did not complain about this request, and he did not inform the supervisor that this request would require him to violate his work restrictions. Mr. Murray also did seek help from anyone. The supervisor had left for the day. But, Mr. Murray did not seek out any other supervisor for help. In responding to a motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff said he did not have to show he was actually required to violate his work restrictions. It was enough, he argued, that he was “deliberately requested” to violate his work restrictions.
The court found these incidents did not amount to failure to accommodate. The worker, said the court, must alert the employer that its request would require him to violate his medical restrictions. The employer has no duty to “divine” the requested accommodation when the employee makes a “mundane” request for change at the work place. The court felt that the employee understood he was to monitor the requests and let the employer know when something might exceed his capabilities. The employer did provide many accommodations, added the court.
The court makes a good point. In some circumstances, it will not be clear to the employer that a requested action might stress the employee’s work restrictions. Some supervisors will simply forget. They have many things to consider, other than one employee’s physical limitations. It seems to me that often when a situation is confusing, the courts will defer to the employer, especially where, as here, the employer did clearly provide some accommodations. See the decision here.
When you ask for an accommodation, you need to be careful what you ask for. Because, you just might get it. That is an old saying and it applies to the decision in Dillard v. City of Austin, 837 F.3d 557 (5th Cir. 2016). Derrick Dillard worked for the City of Austin. He was a laborer and field supervisor until he sustained injuries in a car wreck. He could not perform physical labor any longer. After extended leave, he was offered a position as an Administrative Assistant. He was stunned at first, because he did not know how to do “no administrative work.” He did not meet the stated qualifications for the job, three years experience as an Administrative Assistant. So, the city provided him with on-the-job training and let him shadow another Administrative Assistant. He was encouraged to complete additional training, but he never did. His typing skills did not improve. Instead of training on the computer, he was observed to be surfing the internet and playing games. He arrived at work late and left early. He spent some of his time looking for a new job.
The employee started the Administrative Assistant job in April, 2012. By September, he was given a bad performance evaluation. His supervisor testified that he lacked skills, but he also seemed unwilling to improve his skills. Mr. Dillard asked to be moved to a different job and claimed he was not given enough work to do. He admitted he could not complete his one typing assignment because he could not type fast enough. His physical abilities were improving. But, the process toward termination proceeded. At a pre-termination meeting, he admitted the allegations against him were accurate. He was not apologetic for his behavior. He said he was trying to find a new job within the City.
In late October, he was fired. Plaintiff Dillard filed suit saying the city failed to accommodate him. The district court granted summary judgment. The higher court noted that if an accommodation is not working, then the employee may ask for a new accommodation. That is part of the interactive process. The plaintiff argued that the City failed to cooperate when it became clear the new job was not working out. He argued that as his capacity improved, the City should have considered him for jobs that were open. But, the Fifth Circuit was not impressed. The interactive process is a two-way street. It requires that both parties work together in good faith. When they gave him the new job, the ball was in his court. He should have worked in good faith to make it work. The misconduct indicated the was not trying in good faith to succeed in this new position. There was also evidence of making personal phone calls, napping at work, lying about his attendance, etc. This case was now less about the interactive process and more about mis-conduct.
The higher court found no evidence that the City failed to act in good faith, since the employee did not show a desire to try and make the new position work. The court affirmed the grant of summary judgment. Yes, be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it. See the decision here.
The trial for the “toughest sheriff” has concluded. I previously wrote about that trial here. The “toughest sheriff” has chosen a strange defense. As his trial reached its conclusion, his attorney argued that the “toughest sheriff” did not have a good lawyer. The lawyer did not explain the judge’s ruling to him, for eighteen months. The “toughest sheriff” did not know he could no longer enforce a ban on unlawful immigration. The defense presented some deputies who testified no one told them they could not enforce the federal ban on unlawful immigration.
The lawyer argued that the judge’s order was ambiguous, hard to understand and it was politically motivated. Its a problematical defense. One of his former lawyers testified, but apparently said little more than that Judge Snow’s order had some ambiguity in it. I cannot imagine any lawyer would testify s/he did not explain to the client what the judge wanted them to do, especially in a high profile case like Sheriff Arpaio. Too, the sheriff was and still is an experienced political operative. He has successful run for office for some 30 years. One would assume he can read a judge’s order and understand it. If he does not understand it, he knows how to seek clarification.
This is a high risk defense. It stretches the limits of credibility. The “toughest sheriff” did not testify. Really, he is the best person to advance a defense based on what he understood or did not understand. I suppose he was not tough enough for court. See CNN news report here.
It is a strange ruling in Alkhwaldeh v. Dow Chemical Company, 851 F.3d 422 (5th Cir. 2017). The three judge panel consistently refers to Mr. Alkhwaldeh by his first name, Ammar, not by his last name. The opinion also recognizes that the employer provided inconsistent explanations for the termination, but disregards those inconsistencies. Dow Chemical claimed it fired Mr. Alkhwaldeh because of poor performance in 2009 and because he failed to complete a Performance Improvement Plan in 2010. But, as Dow employees pointed out, Mr. Alkhwaldeh would not still be employed if he did not successfully complete his PIP. The court disregarded that inconsistency by pointing to “numerous” other factors, such as the strength of his prima facie case, the probative value of the proof that the employer’s claim was false and “any other” evidence that supports the employer’s case.
The court then explains that the ultimate question is not about pretext but whether a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that the employer would have fired the employee “but for” his opposition to discrimination. Mr. Alkhwaldeh had expressed that he believed he was the victim of discrimination back in November, 2009. The plaintiff is Moslem, so doubtless he was subject to many anti-Moslem jokes.
But, the decision is simply wrong. Pretext alone is sufficient basis upon which a jury can conclude that an improper motive played a role. We have known that since the decision in Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 147 (2000) (Even if a plaintiff offers only indirect evidence, that may be sufficient basis on which a jury may infer discriminatory motive. Proof that the employer’s explanation is unworthy of credence is one form of of circumstantial evidence that is probative of intentional discrimination, and it is one form that can be quite persuasive). It is also unfortunate that the court essentially engaged in fact-finding when it concluded that the plaintiff’s evidence of pretext was not sufficient to overcome the alleged “other evidence” in the employer’s case. Weighing evidence is not appropriate for summary judgment.
But, it appears the employee received his low performance rating in October, 2009, just a month before he was subjected to overt comments about his religion. So, his complaint about discrimination came after the poor rating. That timing issue may have affected the rest of the court’s analysis. This decision reminds us that some courts are reticent about relying too heavily on inconsistent explanations for a firing. Ito seems to me that some courts sympathize with HR departments in responding to EEOC charges. Perhaps, some judges see those departments as over-worked. I think any such sympathy would be discounted if those judges had met with terrified victims of those HR departments and managers who acted with illicit motives. And, one has to wonder how careful the panel was if the court did not understand which name was the employee’s last name. This was also one of those very rare cases in which the EEOC found in favor of the employee. Such a finding is almost as rare as snow in July. One would think such a case would be impervious to a motion for summary judgment. See the decision here.