SCOTUS Increases Burden on Employers to Deny Religious Accommodations


Garrett P
. Buttrey 

On June 29, 2023, the United States Supreme Court (“Court”) issued a unanimous opinion in Groff v. DeJoy, finding that the employer-friendly de minimis standard for determining whether an employer would suffer an undue hardship by granting a religious accommodation to an employee is incompatible with the text of Title VII, and that federal law requires employers to instead show that such an accommodation would impose “substantial additional costs” on the employer.

After the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) began delivering packages for Amazon on Sundays in 2013, Gerald Groff, a former mail carrier with the USPS, requested a religious accommodation, claiming that according to his Evangelical Christian faith, Sundays were to be devoted to worship and rest, and that delivering packages on Sundays would violate his religious convictions. The USPS, however, continued to schedule him for Sunday shifts and, when he continued to refuse to work on Sundays, the USPS redistributed those shifts to other USPS staff and issued Groff progressive discipline for his refusals to work. Eventually, Groff resigned his position and sued the USPS, claiming that it could have accommodated his religious practice without an undue hardship on the conduct of its business.

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New York State Legislature Sends Broad Noncompete Ban to Governor’s Desk

Kevin M. Passerini and Anthony A. Mingione 

On June 20, 2023, the New York Assembly passed a bill already passed by the Senate banning all post-employment noncompete agreements with workers. The bill is headed to Governor Kathy Hochul’s office for her approval. Governor Hochul has voiced her support for a much narrower, income-targeted ban on noncompetes, but she has not previously voiced support for this broad a measure. While it is possible she may decline to sign the ban and insist upon amendments, many expect her to sign it, particularly given the overwhelming vote it received in both legislative houses.

More specific details of the noncompete agreement ban include:

      • The ban has no compensation threshold or exception for executives.
      • The ban covers all employees and independent contractors (and, through the vague definition of “covered individual,” may include other service providers/consultants and even workers who are partners, members, or other equityholders).
      • The ban appears focused on only traditional noncompetition agreements, despite the odd prefatory language stating, “Every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void.” The sentence that follows that pronouncement focuses on “non-compete agreement” (the defined term in the act); and the act expressly indicates that it is not intended to apply to certain non-solicitation provisions, confidentiality agreements, and agreements providing for a “fixed term of service,” provided that those agreements “do not otherwise restrict competition in violation of” the act.
      • The ban appears not to be retroactive since the bill it is amending states, “This act shall take effect on the thirtieth day after it shall have become a law and shall be applicable to contracts entered into or modified on or after such effective date,” and comments on the floor of the Assembly during last week’s debate and vote confirm that.
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Deadlines Are Fast Approaching for Chicago and Illinois Employers

Krista P. McDonald 

Several deadlines are on the horizon for Chicago and Illinois employers. Businesses should be aware of what they need to do to comply, or they may face significant daily penalties.

Employers Must Conduct Required New Sexual Harassment and Bystander Intervention Trainings for All Employees by June 30, 2023. The City of Chicago amended its Human Rights Ordinance last year to require all employers with employees in Chicago to provide the following annual training by June 30, 2023 (and annually thereafter):

      1. One hour of sexual harassment prevention training to all employees (with an additional hour of sexual harassment prevention training for all supervisors and managers, for a total of two hours); and
      2. One hour of bystander intervention training to all employees.

Template sexual harassment and bystander intervention trainings and other materials are available on the City of Chicago website. Employers must keep written records of the trainings for the longer of five years or the duration of any claim, action, or pending investigation. Employers that do not comply with the training and record-keeping requirements may be fined significant penalties for each day that the employer is not in compliance.

Illinois Adverse Judgments or Rulings Reports Are Due by July 1, 2023. By each July 1, every employer that had an adverse judgment or administrative ruling against it in the preceding year must disclose to the Illinois Department of Human Rights the following:

      1. The total number of adverse judgments or administrative rulings during the preceding year;
      2. Whether equitable relief was ordered; and
      3. The number of adverse judgments or administrative rulings entered against the employer within specific categories outlined in Section 2-108(B) of the Illinois Human Rights Act.

An “adverse judgment or administrative ruling” means any final and non-appealable judgment that finds sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination with the ruling in the employee’s favor and against the employer. This includes reporting adverse rulings outside of Illinois jurisdiction. The disclosure report form may be found here: Form IDHR 2-108.

For more information, contact any member of Blank Rome’s Labor & Employment practice group.

A Tall Order: NYC Prohibits Height and Weight Discrimination in Employment

Anthony A. Mingione  

On May 26, 2023, New York City Mayor Eric Adams signed a bill that will prohibit discrimination based on an applicant or employee’s actual or perceived height or weight. This bill amends the New York City Human Rights Law by specifically adding “height” and “weight” to its list of protected classes. These additions will become effective on November 22, 2023.

There are several exemptions, including where height or weight restrictions are:

      • Required by a federal, state, or local law or regulation;
      • Permitted by any regulation adopted by the City Commission on Human Rights that identifies certain jobs or job categories for which height or weight could prevent the person from performing the essential requirements of the job, and for which the Commission finds that no other reasonable alternative is available that would allow the person to perform the essential requirements of the job; or
      • Permitted by any regulation adopted by the Commission that identifies particular categories of jobs for which the use of height or weight as a criteria is reasonably necessary for the normal operations of the business.
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The DOJ’s Newest Pilot Program on Compensation and Clawbacks: Executives and Employees Should Reap What They Sow

Jennifer L. Achilles, Brooke T. Iley, Anthony A. Mingione, Shawn M. Wright, and Amelia Clegg

Employers will not be able to take full advantage of the DOJ’s new program if their compensation systems do not permit clawbacks from wrongdoer employees. Companies should review their existing compensation systems and consider updating them before problems arise, so that they will be in a position to take full advantage of the DOJ program should it become necessary to do so. In updating compensation systems to permit clawbacks, or expand the scope of existing clawback provisions, employers must also take appropriate steps to maintain compliance with the wage and hour laws in the jurisdictions in which they operate. Navigating these sensitive issues will be complicated and will require more coordination between employment counsel and white-collar counsel than ever before.

The Roman lawyer and orator Cicero phrased personal responsibility thus in his De Oratore: “ut sementem feceris, ita metes”—“just as you sow, so you shall reap”. This turned out to be particularly fitting for Cicero himself–after his death at the hands of Mark Antony, Antony’s wife Fulvia took Cicero’s severed head and stabbed his tongue repeatedly with her hairpin to exact revenge for his barbed attacks on her and her husband. It appears that the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has taken Cicero’s advice to heart when drafting the revised corporate compliance policies unveiled last week at the ABA White Collar Crime Conference in Miami. The revisions reflect an ethos that corporate employees who engage in misconduct, as well as the supervisors who enable such conduct, should suffer the consequences of their misdeeds. Accordingly, the DOJ will now reward corporations for clawing back compensation from both corporate wrongdoers and their supervisors.

On March 2, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco both cemented the DOJ’s recent amendments to its corporate self-disclosure program (for more detail, please see here) and announced the launch of a novel pilot program on compensation incentives and clawbacks.

Under the pilot program:

      • Every corporate resolution involving the Criminal Division will now include a requirement that the resolving company develop compliance-promoting criteria within its compensation and bonus system. Companies subject to a resolution will need to revise their performance and bonus metrics to include compliance-related components. Companies may implement a system whereby executives and employees are required to forfeit their bonuses if they fail to meet certain compliance-related objectives.
      • The Criminal Division will reduce fines for companies who seek to claw back compensation from corporate wrongdoers. Companies that pursue clawbacks in good faith, but are unsuccessful, may receive a fine reduction of up to 25 percent of the amount of compensation sought.

In other words, companies will be able to reduce criminal fines by clawing back, or attempting in good faith to claw back, compensation from wrongdoers and their supervisors, and the companies will be able to keep any recovered funds.

To read the full client alert, please visit our website.

NIST Issues Guidance to Help Companies and Organizations Operationalize AI Risk Management

Brian Wm. Higgins 

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) last week released an Artificial Intelligence Risk Management Framework (“AI RMF 1.0”). Calling it a guidance document for voluntary use by organizations in designing, developing, deploying, or using AI systems, the framework can be used to contextualize and manage the potential risks of harm posed by AI systems, technologies, and practices in all areas where they may be used.

AI-related risk management is an increasingly important issue. Documented harms traceable to AI technologies have been widely reported and threaten to undermine people’s trust in AI. Companies that make AI systems, and those that use AI to automate decisions across their organizations or enterprises, may have policies and procedures for evaluating general corporate risks from AI. But with several states and localities implementing laws requiring data-centric risk assessments, data privacy impact assessments, and bias audits around data-based technologies like AI (including New York City’s Law No. 144 that requires audits by those who use automated employment decision tools), and with Congress poised to consider national data privacy legislation containing economy-wide risk provisions, it is important for companies and organizations that make or use AI to review to ensure their approaches to risk management around AI are comprehensive and comply with applicable laws and regulations.

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New D.C. Noncompete Law to (Finally) Take Effect October 1

Kevin M. Passerini and Daniel L. Morgan 

The Ban on Non-Compete Agreements Amendment Act of 2020 (the “Act”) passed by the D.C. Council over the summer will take effect on October 1, 2022, imposing new substantive and procedural restrictions on D.C. employers’ use of noncompetes, new compensation thresholds below which such noncompetes are now banned, and creating new administrative and civil enforcement measures, including administrative penalties for noncompliance.

The New Law in a Nutshell

The Act defines “noncompete provision” as “a provision in a written agreement or a workplace policy that prohibits an employee from performing work for another for pay or from operating the employee’s own business.” Consequently, the law covers both agreements containing noncompetes and workplace policies restricting employee’s competitive or outside activities, subject to several exceptions summarized below.

Most notably, the Act imposes two new income thresholds for “noncompete provisions” with “highly compensated employees”—those who earn at least $150,000—and “medical specialists”—licensed physicians earning at least $250,000. Both thresholds are subject to adjustments in accordance with increases in the Consumer Price Index beginning in 2024, and any “noncompete provisions” with employees below those levels are effectively banned by the Act.

The Act clarifies that wages, salary, bonuses or other cash incentives, commissions, overtime premiums, vested stock and restricted stock units, and other payments provided on a regular or irregular basis may all be included in determining who qualifies as a “highly compensated employee.” The Act excludes the value of noncash fringe benefits, but because it does not define “fringe benefits,” there is uncertainty as to what noncash benefits may constitute “other payments provided on a regular or irregular basis.”

To read the full client alert, please visit our website

CA Update: Pay Data Reporting Law Signed!

Caroline Powell Donelan 

Gov. Newsom signs California’s newest and broadest pay transparency law, SB 1162, requiring California companies to disclose pay data starting next year.

Read more: Big Brother Just Got Bigger: Expanded Pay Data Reporting Expected to Hit the Golden State

As always, Blank Rome’s employment team stands by ready to assist.

Big Brother Just Got Bigger: Expanded Pay Data Reporting Expected to Hit the Golden State

Caroline Powell Donelan 

As our team has previously reported, California currently requires private employers with 100 or more employees, and who are required to file an annual EEO-1 report, to submit certain employee pay data to the state’s Civil Rights Department, formerly known as the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”), including pay data on the number of employees by race, ethnicity, and sex, in each of the 10 EEO-1 specified job categories.

As pay transparency rules continue to sweep the nation, the California legislature—never to be outdone—has passed its own amendments which will significantly expand employers’ current pay data reporting requirements and wage range disclosure obligations. The newly passed bill, “SB 1162,” is currently sitting on Governor Newsom’s desk for signature (or veto). With a potential compliance date of May 10, 2023 (and reporting due each year thereafter on or before the “second Wednesday of May”), Golden State employers are advised to take inventory now of additional steps they need to take in order to adequately prepare for and timely comply with SB 1162, including:

      1. Gathering median and mean hourly rate data for specific job categories, further categorized by their race, ethnicity, and sex;
      2. For employers with multiple establishments, preparing a separate pay data report for each establishment, doing away with the current requirement of a consolidated report;
      3. Gathering pay scale information by position, which would need to be provided to applicants and current employees upon request;
      4. For employers with 15 or more employees, preparing pay scale information to be added to current job postings and shared in any new job postings, including postings by third parties (not just upon request); and
      5. For employers with 100 or more employees hired through labor contractors, submitting a separate pay data report for those employees, so long as one employee is in California.

If enacted, SB 1162 also allows courts to impose civil penalties “not to exceed one hundred dollars ($100) per employee upon any employer who fails to file the required report and not to exceed two hundred dollars ($200) per employee upon any employer for a subsequent failure to file the required report.”

Governor Newsom has until September 30, 2022, to sign the bill, which would trigger a January 1, 2023, effective date and have massive impacts across the state. As we learned earlier this year, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Blank Rome’s employment team stands by ready to assist.

“C” Is for Consent When It Comes to Arbitration in California: U.S. Supreme Court Holds that Representative Action Waivers Are Enforceable to Compel “Individual” PAGA Claims to Arbitration

Caroline Powell Donelan and Caitlin I. Sanders 

Last week, the United States Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana (US 20–1573 6/15/22) (“Moriana”). The singular question presented to the Court was whether the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) requires enforcement of arbitration agreements waiving an employee’s right to assert “representative” claims under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”). In response, the Court provided two answers: (1) wholesale waivers of an employee’s right to bring any PAGA claims in any forum will not be enforced; yet (2) arbitration agreements can require an employee to arbitrate their own individual PAGA claims, leaving the absent employees’ claims subject to dismissal.

For context, PAGA is a decades-old law that allows private citizens to step into the shoes of the Labor Commissioner, essentially turning “aggrieved” employees into bounty-hunters for the State’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”). Specifically, PAGA litigants are authorized to recover civil penalties on behalf of the State for certain Labor Code violations, which would otherwise be recoverable only by the Labor Commissioner. If successful, employees receive a 25 percent share of civil penalties recovered, with the remaining 75 percent going to the LWDA. And another thing, PAGA allows for the recovery of attorneys’ fees and costs, which are often exponentially larger than the underlying civil penalties and statutory damages recovered—leaving no surprise as to why PAGA has become such a popular vehicle for plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Continue reading ““C” Is for Consent When It Comes to Arbitration in California: U.S. Supreme Court Holds that Representative Action Waivers Are Enforceable to Compel “Individual” PAGA Claims to Arbitration”
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