In cases of employment discrimination, the Fifth Circuit has a well-established precedent in favor of employers. Plaintiffs in these cases needed to show that the adverse employment action in their complaint constituted an ultimate employment decision. The Fifth Circuit previously chose to limit these ultimate employment decisions to hirings, firings, promotions, or employee compensation. However, a new case before the court last week caused them to rethink this precedent and broaden their horizons.
Hamilton et al. v. Dallas County Sheriff’s Department
Here, a female officer alleged that the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department policy prevented women from having an entire weekend off. The department had a policy in place which allowed only men to take full weekends off of work. They reasoned that it would be unsafe for all men to be off during the week. Consequently, evidence proved that male and female officers performed the same tasks and, additionally, the workload was identical on weekends. After the district court granted the County’s motion to dismiss, citing the established precedent, the plaintiffs appealed to the Fifth Circuit.
On August 18, the Fifth Circuit stated that regardless of the broad definition of unlawful discrimination, their interpretation was too narrow. Consequently, they recognized that the language in Title VII is significantly more broad than their prior decisions allowed for. Specifically, the Court noted that Title VII applies to the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment as well. They acknowledged that these so-called terms and conditions were much more broad than their prior precedent of ultimate employment decisions.
A New Era
The Court failed to establish a hard and fast rule for what exact level of workplace harm the plaintiff must allege to prevail. However, despite this, the new, broader standard provides for much greater opportunity to state this type of claim. A plaintiff must now show that she was discriminated against because of a protected characteristic. This discrimination must be in respect to hiring, firing, compensation, or the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Over time, as more and more plaintiffs state these claims, the rule will become more clear. In the meantime, employees can take solace in knowing that Title VII provides them more protection than before.