Week in Review

January 26, 2015

Week in Review 1/23/15

Beer distributor settles suit over Rastafarian who wouldn't cut his hair

A North Carolina beer distributor has agreed to pay $50,000 and provide other relief to put an end to a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC on behalf of a Rastafarian applicant who was rejected for delivery-driver job at the beer distributor's Raleigh, North Carolina, facility because he would not cut his hair. The EEOC maintained that the company violated Title VII when it refused to accommodate the applicant's religious practice and hire him. The applicant, who is a practicing Rastafarian, believes he cannot cut his hair and, in accordance with these religious beliefs, has not cut his hair since at least 2009. He applied for a job as a delivery driver with the company in May 2014. At that time, the company purportedly informed the applicant that he would have to cut his hair if he wanted the position. The applicant allegedly told the company that he could not cut his hair because of his religious beliefs. The company ultimately refused to hire the applicant because he would not comply with the company's request that he cut his hair, the EEOC asserted in its complaint, filed last September. "Employers are required by federal law to make exceptions to their dress and grooming policies in order to accommodate a job applicant's sincerely held religious beliefs-unless doing so would pose an undue hardship," said EEOC Regional Attorney Lynette A. Barnes. "This case demonstrates the EEOC's continued commitment to fighting religious discrimination in the workplace."

Employee premium cost exceeds income in every state after ACA implementation

Following passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), premiums grew faster than income in all states between 2003 and 2013, especially in the South. In 2013, family premiums, including both the employer and employee contributions, ranged from a low of $13,477 to $14,382 in Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, and Hawaii to a high of $17,262 to $20,715 in the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, and Alaska. Growing faster than income, average premiums amounted to 20 percent or more of the median income in all but 13 states and the District of Columbia in 2013, compared to just two states (New Mexico and West Virginia) in 2003. Potential out-of-pocket costs for health care also increased markedly: deductibles doubled or more in all but six states and the District of Columbia since 2003. As a result, workers' out-of-pocket costs for premium contributions and deductibles in 2013 accounted for a higher percentage of median income in all states compared to 2003. In 2003, no state had an average deductible of as much as $1,000. By 2013, however, average per-person deductibles exceeded $1,000 in all but three states and the District of Columbia.

Louisiana Senator begins health care agenda targeting the ACA

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., introduced the No Obamacare Mandate Bill and the Employee Health Care Protection Bill to start moving forward on repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replacing it with what he termed "patient-centered solutions for Americans." The No Obamacare Mandate Bill would repeal the medical device tax, the employer mandate and the individual mandate. The Bill would allow small businesses and their workers to choose plans that are not in the ACA exchanges, according to Cassidy. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that the bill would lower the deficit by $1.25 billion

President pushes to give more workers earned sick time and paid leave

President Barack Obama is calling on Congress to pass an earned sick-time bill and urging states to pass legislation that would give more workers access to paid leave. Building on earlier efforts born of last year's White House Summit on Working Families, the White House outlined the steps the president plans to take. To explain the push for paid leave, the White House pointed to the fact that in most American families, all parents work and also contribute to caregiving. According to the White House, the fundamental structure of work has not kept pace with the changing American family, leaving many families in a struggle to balance work and home obligations. The United States is the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. Both California and Massachusetts recently passed state laws that will require companies to offer paid sick time beginning in 2015.

Supreme Court to consider Same-sex marriage

The Supreme Court is now compelled to address the basic question of the right to marry due to a split in the lower courts. The Justices on Friday, January 16, agreed to take up the question of whether states can lawfully bar same-sex marriages, granting and consolidating four petitions they considered during their conference. The Justices granted cert and consolidated four petitions seeking review of the Sixth Circuit's consolidated ruling upholding same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. According to Sixth Circuit, the man-woman marriage laws in these states did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment-even in the wake of the Supreme Court's landmark decision in United States v. Windsor, which invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act's definition that limited marriage to a man-woman union for purposes of federal law. The justices should hear arguments in April, and will likely issue a ruling on the matter by the end of June.

EEOC wins case against North Carolina trucking firm

A North Carolina-based trucking company ran afoul of the ADA when it denied a reasonable accommodation to a truck driver who self-reported alcohol abuse and then fired him, a federal jury has found. The jury returned a verdict on January 15, for the EEOC, awarding the former truck driver $119,612 in back pay. Announcing the verdict, the EEOC said that the former driver self-reported an alcohol problem under the company's "Open Door Policy" seeking assistance from the company. The employer had a blanket policy that any driver who self-reported abuse could never return to driving and that spurred the litigation. Although it failed to return the driver to a driving position, the company reportedly accommodated the driver by offering him a part-time dock job at half the pay and no health benefits. The employee was fired later for job abandonment. The court held that disqualifying a driver with no individualized assessment to determine if the driver could safely be returned to driving violated the ADA.