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Political Affiliation Discrimination by Seena Foster

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

Political affiliation discrimination occurs when an adverse action is taken against a person based on the person’s political affiliation or beliefs. Political affiliation discrimination may arise in federally-assisted programs and activities as well as in the workplace. As the equal opportunity professional for your agency or organization, you must know the federal civil rights laws that apply to your agency or organization, and whether those laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of political affiliation.

We are going to explore two areas where political affiliation discrimination is prohibited by federal civil rights laws—one example involves federally-assisted programs and activities under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and the second example involves employment decisions of public employers.

Federally-assisted programs and activities

Starting with federally-assisted programs and activities, Section 188 of WIOA prohibits discrimination in certain workforce development programs on a variety of bases, including political affiliation or belief. Unemployment insurance benefits, employment referral services, on-the-job training, resume writing, and interview skill development are some examples of the aid, training, services, and benefits funded by the federal government through WIOA. American Job Network centers, Job Corps centers, and certain community colleges are prime examples of WIOA-Title I funded recipients and sub-recipients that are prohibited from engaging in political affiliation discrimination in delivering aid, benefits, services, and training to the public. And, any state, U.S. territory, or other recipient receiving WIOA-Title I funds also must comply with WIOA’s prohibition on political affiliation discrimination.

To provide an example of political affiliation discrimination prohibited by WIOA Section 188, let’s say that a new political party received the majority of votes in your state or U.S. territory. Members of the new party take office and they issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for organizations and companies to apply for WIOA grant monies to deliver training to unemployed persons. Reviewers of the 100 proposals select 25 organizations and companies for the WIOA grants. Of these 25 entities, a total of 24 entities are owned by persons whose known political affiliations are aligned with those of the new party in office. Only one entity has a known political affiliation with the former party in power. Of the 75 entities not selected for the grants, 55 have known political affiliations with the former party, 5 have unknown political affiliations, and 15 have known affiliations with the new party. If the new party has, in fact, considered an entity’s political affiliation in determining whether the entity would receive a WIOA-funded grant, then the new party has engaged in political affiliation-based discrimination in violation of the nondiscrimination mandates of WIOA Section 188. As a result, the RFP process would be null and void.

So, if you administer or operate WIOA-Title I programs or activities, you are prohibited from basing your decisions regarding delivery of aid, benefits, services, or training on an applicant’s, participant’s, or beneficiary’s political affiliation or belief. As the equal professional for an agency or organization operating these programs, you must train staff and decision-makers that aid, benefits, training, and services cannot be doled out based on political affiliation. Monitor your systems of delivery to ensure continued adherence to this nondiscrimination mandate.

Public employers

Turning to the workplace, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which applies to public employers and is codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1983, prohibits political affiliation discrimination. Public employers include state and local governments as well as other entities like publicly-funded colleges and universities, the police, and so on. This federal civil rights law requires that employment decisions, such as selection, promotion, and termination cannot be based on consideration of the employee’s or potential employee’s political affiliation or belief.

Take, for example, the case of Wagner v. Jones, 664 F.3d 259 (8th Cir. 2011), where the Dean of a publicly-funded college of law denied a legal writing teaching position to an applicant because of the applicant’s political affiliation. Notably, the applicant’s conservative political affiliations and beliefs were apparent from her resume, which reflected a background with certain conservative educational institutions and employers. Evidence of record demonstrated that one out of 50 law school faculty members at the college was a registered Republican. And, the court noted that two, less experienced applicants were later hired for the position at issue. In the end, the court concluded that the Dean presented insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the applicant’s political affiliation was not a factor in the employment decision.

So, if you are the HR/EEO professional for a public employer, engage in training and outreach to managers and supervisors, including political appointees at the highest levels of your agency or organization, and inform them of them of their obligations and responsibilities of nondiscrimination based on political affiliation. Help them understand that political affiliation discrimination can take many forms from the more commonplace acts of non-selection, non-promotion, and termination to other acts such as engaging in hostile environment based on political affiliation, providing an adverse performance appraisal, relocating a worker to a less desirable office, and so on. Managers and supervisors should base employment-related decisions on the knowledge, skills, and abilities evident from an applicant’s educational background and experience, not the applicant’s political affiliation or belief.

However, for public employers, there is an exception to this rule that merits comment. Notably, employment decisions related to “confidential” employees and senior “policy-makers” may be based on the employee’s or potential employee’s political affiliation or belief without running afoul of federal civil rights laws. Keep in mind that this exception will apply to a very narrow category of folks working for, or seeking to work for, a public employer.

Here, we’ll take a look at another circuit court case that is illustrative. In Soderbeck v. Burnett County, Wisconsin, 752 F.2d 285 (7th Cir. 1985), the circuit court was confronted with a newly-elected sheriff’s decision to terminate an office employee because the employee was the wife of the former sheriff who lost the election. The Seventh Circuit provides a helpful discussion on the issue of “confidential” employees and “policy-makers” in the context of political affiliation discrimination:

A public agency that fires an employee because of his political beliefs or political affiliations infringes his freedom of speech, see Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507, 100 S.Ct. 1287, 63 L.Ed.2d 574 (1980); Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 96 S.Ct. 2673, 49 L.Ed.2d 547 (1976), but there are exceptions to this principle, carved out to minimize its adverse impact on the effective functioning of government. For example, employees at the policy-making level of government can be fired on political grounds. Id. at 367-68 (plurality opinion); Shakman v. Democratic Organization of Cook County, 722 F.2d 1307, 1309-10 (7th Cir.1983) (per curiam). Mrs. Soderbeck was not a policy maker; but if, as the defendants argue, she was the sheriff’s confidential secretary, then Kellberg could fire her without violating the Constitution. See Stegmaier v. Trammell, 597 F.2d 1027, 1038 (5th Cir.1979) (dictum). You cannot run a government with officials who are forced to keep political enemies as their confidential secretaries, and Mrs. Soderbeck was the political enemy of her husband’s political enemy, Kellberg. Any implication of the plurality opinion in Elrod v. Burns that only a policy maker is unprotected by the principle announced in that case was superseded by the broader formulation in the majority opinion in Branti v. Finkel, which allows an employee to be fired if ‘the hiring authority can demonstrate that party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the public office involved.’ 445 U.S. at 518, 100 S.Ct. at 1294. See also Livas v. Petka, 711 F.2d 798, 800-01 (7th Cir.1983). It need not be a policy-making office. If Rosalynn Carter had been President Carter’s secretary, President Reagan would not have had to keep her on as his secretary.

Mrs. Soderbeck, however, had been trained as a bookkeeper and her title was bookkeeper, not secretary or confidential secretary; and though she did do most of the typing in the sheriff’s office, there was evidence that if the sheriff needed something typed he would hand his handwritten draft to whoever in the office was handy. Burnett County has a population of only 12,000 and a tiny sheriff’s office whose six employees at the time of Mrs. Soderbeck’s termination did not have sharply differentiated tasks; it was only after she was fired that a position of “confidential secretary” was created with a different job description from that of the bookkeeper’s position that Mrs. Soderbeck had occupied. So while she did typing and handled legal papers, such as summonses and warrants, the other employees did these things too. She also did janitorial work, and performed domestic chores for the prisoners in the county jail (which is in the same building as the sheriff’s office and home) as jail matron and laundress–not the usual functions of a confidential secretary. And she did not take dictation–no one in the office did. If she could be fired as a confidential employee, so could anyone else employed in the office, on the theory that if an office is small enough the tasks usually performed by the boss’s personal secretary may be parceled out among all the employees.

This is not to say that Mrs. Soderbeck was, as a matter of law, an employee who could not be fired because of her political affiliation. It is to say merely that the question was sufficiently uncertain to be one for the jury to decide. The defendants argue that whether or not an employee exercises a policy-making role or is a repository of confidences that make loyalty an essential part of his job description should always be a question of law, but we cannot agree with this point, for which no authority is offered, and which has been rejected in previous cases in this and other circuits. See, e.g., Nekolny v. Painter, 653 F.2d 1164, 1169 (7th Cir.1981); Stegmaier v. Trammell, supra, 597 F.2d at 1034 n. 8, and cases cited there.

If you are the HR/EEO professional for a public employer seeking to terminate, or take some other adverse action, against an employee because of the employee’s political affiliation, make sure the employee falls in the category of a “policy-maker” or “confidential employee.” While job titles and job descriptions may assist in this determination but, standing alone, job titles do not determine the outcome. You’ll need to get into the weeds of the employee’s actual day-to-day job duties and functions. Concluding that an employee is, or is not, a “policy-maker” or a “confidential employee” involves very fact specific findings that must be made on a case-by-case basis.

About Seena Foster

Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Principal of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of civil rights compliance and discrimination complaint investigations related to the delivery of federally-assisted workforce development programs and activities. Her customers include state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, private counsel, and non-profit organizations. You may contact her at seena@titleviconsulting.com, or visit her web site at www.titleviconsulting.com for additional information regarding the services and resources she offers.

By way of background, in 2003, Ms. Foster served as a Senior Policy Analyst to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center (CRC). In that capacity, she led a team of equal opportunity specialists to conduct disability-based technical assistance reviews of One-Stop centers, and she assisted the CRC’s leadership in preparing for limited English proficiency-based compliance reviews. Ms. Foster also analyzed and weighed witness statements and documents to prepare numerous final determinations for signature by the CRC Director, which resolved discrimination complaints under a variety of federal civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act. In 2006, Ms. Foster received the Secretary of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Award in recognition of “exceptional efforts to ensure that individuals with disabilities have full access to employment and related services and benefits at the Nation’s One-Stop Career Centers.” And, at the request of the CRC, Ms. Foster served as a popular workshop speaker at national equal opportunity forums co-sponsored by the CRC and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Her presentations covered topics such as the WIA Section 188 disability checklist, conducting discrimination complaint investigations and writing final determinations, and conducting investigations of allegations involving harassment and hostile environment.

With a passion for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in the delivery of federally-assisted programs and activities, Ms. Foster remains highly active in the field through her series of on-demand webcasts for equal opportunity professionals as well as through her mediation services, training, and assistance developing policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance with applicable federal civil rights laws. Her training in the areas of compliance and complaint investigations has been described as “dynamic,” “hitting the nail on the head,” “well-organized,” and “informative.” And, her award-winning book on conducting discrimination complaint investigations is viewed as “eye-opening” and “the best on the market.” In 2007, Ms. Foster was certified as a mediator by the Virginia Supreme Court, and later obtained “Federal Workplace Mediation” certification through the Northern Virginia Mediation Service.

She is a member of the Human Rights Institute and Discrimination Law and Human Rights Law Committees of the International Bar Association. Ms. Foster received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, and she has a Juris Doctorate from The George Washington University Law School.

Harassment and Hostile Environment: Understanding the Basics by Seena Foster

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

If you are the Equal Opportunity (EO) professional charged with ensuring nondiscrimination in the delivery of federally-funded programs and activities, or you serve as the Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action/Human Resources (EEO/AA/HR) professional charged with ensuring nondiscrimination in the workplace, you must have a working knowledge of “harassment” and “hostile environment.”

√ Two categories of harassment-related complaints.

Let’s start with an understanding that complaints of harassment-related discrimination fall into one of two categories: (1) quid pro quo harassment; or (2) hostile environment harassment.

Whether a complaint involves allegations of quid pro quo harassment or hostile environment, the conduct must be “unwelcome.” And, who defines whether conduct is “unwelcome”? Harassment is defined “through the eyes of the beholder”; namely, the person subjected to the harassing conduct defines whether the conduct is offensive and unwelcome.

√ Harassment is discrimination.

“Harassment” and “hostile environment” constitute forms of discrimination, regardless of whether the “harassment” or “hostile environment” occurs in federally-funded programs and activities, or in the workplace.

When we hear the word “harassment,” many of us first think of “sexual” harassment. To be sure, harassment on the basis of “sex” is a form of sex discrimination that is barred by federal law in the workplace, and in the delivery of federally-funded services, aid, training, and benefits.

That being said, it is equally important to keep in mind that harassment or hostile environment may occur on any prohibited basis of discrimination, including race, national origin, color, disability, age, and others. For example, you may see a complaint of race-based hostile environment, or a religion-based quid pro quo harassment complaint.

√ Quid pro quo harassment defined.

In the simplest of terms, quid pro quo harassment takes the form of bartering—“you give me this, and I’ll give you that.” A workplace example occurs where Jane, a supervisor, offers her assistant, Jason, a bonus in exchange for sexual favors. Jane has engaged in prohibited quid pro quo sexual harassment. Notably, Jane’s decision-making regarding whether to give Jason a bonus should be based on bona fide work-related criteria, not through bartering to get Jason to have sex with her.

Similarly, an example in the arena of federally-funded programs and activities is where Scott, the employment-referral counselor at a job bank, refuses to refer Khalid to available security guard positions unless Khalid renounces his Islamic faith. Here, Scott has engaged in quid pro quo religious-based harassment—Khalid must give up his Islamic faith in exchange for referral to the security guard positions. This discrimination is illegal because Scott is obligated to base his decision to refer Khalid to security guard positions on whether Khalid meets the essential eligibility requirements for the referral, not Khalid’s religious beliefs or practices.

√ “Hostile environment” defined.

Turning to “hostile environment,” this type of discrimination does not involve the bartering of “you give me this and I’ll give you that.” Rather, a hostile environment is created where one person, or a group of people, engages in offensive conduct that is “so severe and pervasive” that it adversely alters another person’s workplace environment, or the person’s enjoyment of, and participation in, federally-funded programs and activities.

In determining whether conduct is “severe and pervasive,” the following factors should be considered: (1) the frequency of the conduct; (2) the severity of the conduct; (3) whether the conduct is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and (4) whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with an employee’s job performance, or with a person’s participation in, or enjoyment of, a federally-funded program or activity.

An example of “hostile environment” in the workplace is where Kristen works as a welder alongside eight co-workers, all of whom are men. Two of these co-workers are constantly telling sexist jokes, posting naked photos of women in the work area, and whistling at Kristen when she is working. Kristen is offended by the conduct, and she lets her co-workers know that it is unwelcome. When the conduct does not stop, Kristen files a complaint. Kristen’s complaint involves allegations of a “hostile sexual environment,” which adversely altered her working conditions.

In federally-funded programs and activities, an example of hostile environment occurs where a group of students at a public school posts derogatory remarks on Facebook about Josh, a student with a mobility disability. Moreover, they call him “crippled” and “stupid” in the hallways of the school, and deliberately place obstacles in front of his power chair. Josh files a disability-based hostile environment complaint. Here, the offending group of students created a “disability-based hostile environment” that, in turn, adversely altered Josh’s ability to enjoy, and participate in, the educational programs and activities offered at the school.

√ Retaliatory “hostile environment” is against the law.

Whether in the workplace, or in federally-funded programs and activities, creating a “hostile environment” against an individual in retaliation for filing an EEO complaint, or in retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint in a federally-funded program, also is prohibited. Every circuit court addressing this issue recognizes these complaints of “retaliatory hostile environment.”

If a person files a discrimination complaint, regardless of whether the complaint is ultimately successful or not, and then the person experiences “severe and pervasive” harassment from any member of your organization’s staff, your organization and the responsible staff members will be held liable. See Clegg v. Ark. Dep’t. of Corr., 496 F.3d 922 (8th Cir. 2007); Jordan v. City of Cleveland, 464 F.3d 584 (6th Cir. 2006); Jensen v. Potter, 435 F.3d 444 (3rd Cir. 2006), abrogated on other grounds by Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006); Hussain v. Nicholson, 435 F.3d 359 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Noviello v. City of Boston, 398 F.3d 76 (1st Cir. 2005); Von Gunten v. Maryland, 243 F.3d 858 (4th Cir. 2001), abrogated on other grounds by Burlington N., 548 U.S. 53; Ray v. Henderson, 217 F.3d 1234 (9th Cir. 2000); Richardson v. N.Y. State Dep’t. of Corr. Serv., 180 F.3d 426 (2nd Cir. 1999), abrogated on other grounds by Burlington N., 548 U.S. 53; Gunnell v. Utah Valley State Coll., 152 F.3d 1253 (10th Cir. 1998); Knox v. Indiana, 93 F.3d 1327 (7th Cir. 1996).

For example, in Gowski v. James Peake, MD (Sec’y., Dept. of Veterans Affairs, et al), 682 F.3d 1299 (11th Cir. 2012), the circuit court noted, after two hospital physician-employees filed EEO complaints of gender-based and religious-based discrimination, they were subjected to “severe and pervasive” retaliation at work, including the spread of demeaning rumors about the physicians by management that damaged their professional reputations, denial of hospital privileges to the physicians that could adversely affect their certifications, excluding the physicians from participating in work-related functions, and other similar acts. The court found, taken as a whole, this conduct created a retaliatory hostile environment, and damages were awarded against the hospital.

√ Obligations of EO and EEO professionals.

Thus, whether you work as an EO professional in federally-funded programs and activities, or as an EEO/AA/HR professional handling workplace discrimination, you must be familiar with the policies and procedures of your agency or organization pertaining to harassment and hostile environment. If no policies or procedures are in place, you must ensure that they are developed and published. Management and employees in your workplace, as well as beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries of your federally-funded programs and activities must have notice of these policies and procedures.

If you receive a discrimination complaint based on harassment or hostile environment, you are required to take action. These complaints are fact-intensive and there may be more than one appropriate response to a particular complaint of harassment. Although only hindsight offers perfect clarity of what worked and what did not, doing nothing is never acceptable.

About the author.

Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Principal of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting, LLP in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of civil rights compliance and discrimination complaint investigations related to the delivery of federally-assisted workforce development programs and activities. Her customers include state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, private counsel, and non-profit organizations. You may contact her at seena@titleviconsulting.com, or visit her web site at www.titleviconsulting.com for additional information regarding the services and resources she offers.

By way of background, in 2003, Ms. Foster served as a Senior Policy Analyst to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center (CRC). In that capacity, she led a team of equal opportunity specialists to conduct disability-based technical assistance reviews of One-Stop centers, and she assisted the CRC’s leadership in preparing for limited English proficiency-based compliance reviews. Ms. Foster also analyzed and weighed witness statements and documents to prepare numerous final determinations for signature by the CRC Director, which resolved discrimination complaints under a variety of federal civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act. In 2006, Ms. Foster received the Secretary of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Award in recognition of “exceptional efforts to ensure that individuals with disabilities have full access to employment and related services and benefits at the Nation’s One-Stop Career Centers.” And, at the request of the CRC, Ms. Foster served as a popular workshop speaker at national equal opportunity forums co-sponsored by the CRC and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Her presentations covered topics such as the WIA Section 188 disability checklist, conducting discrimination complaint investigations and writing final determinations, and conducting investigations of allegations involving harassment and hostile environment.

With a passion for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in the delivery of federally-assisted programs and activities, Ms. Foster remains highly active in the field through her series of on-demand webcasts for equal opportunity professionals as well as through her mediation services, training, and assistance developing policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance with applicable federal civil rights laws. Her training in the areas of compliance and complaint investigations has been described as “dynamic,” “hitting the nail on the head,” “well-organized,” and “informative.” And, her award-winning book on conducting discrimination complaint investigations is viewed as “eye-opening” and “the best on the market.” In 2007, Ms. Foster was certified as a mediator by the Virginia Supreme Court, and later obtained “Federal Workplace Mediation” certification through the Northern Virginia Mediation Service.

She is a member of the Discrimination Law and Human Rights Law Committees of the International Bar Association. Ms. Foster received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, and she has a Juris Doctorate from The George Washington University Law School.

Religious Discrimination and Accommodation in Federally-Funded Programs and Activities: An Overview by Seena Foster

Saturday, May 5th, 2018

As the Equal Opportunity (EO) professional for an agency or organization charged with administering federally-funded programs and activities where “religion” is a prohibited basis of discrimination, you should have written policies and procedures for handling requests for religious accommodation. In this paper, we explore some basic concepts related to religious accommodation using the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA) as the context for guidance offered.

Some examples of WIOA-funded programs and activities are found at American Job Centers and their affiliates, partners, and service providers offering unemployment insurance benefits, employment referral services, and training. In addition, most Job Corps Centers offer WIOA-funded educational programs and activities designed to get young folks educated, skilled, and employed.

For WIOA-funded programs and activities, one prohibited basis of discrimination is “religion.” And, with this prohibition comes an obligation to provide reasonable religious-based accommodation when requested, if no “undue hardship” is present.

√ “Religious belief or practice” defined

Initially, it is helpful to have a common understanding of how the phrase, “religious belief or practice,” is defined. Because WIOA and its implementing regulations do not define “religious belief or practice,” we may look at how this phrase is defined under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits religion-based discrimination in the workplace. Here, we find that a “religious belief or practice” may represent mainstream religious views, or the belief or practice may be less common, less understood, and less well-known. And, the concept of “religious belief or practice” includes persons who ascribe to no religious belief or practice at all.

Some examples of “religious belief or practice” under Title VII include, but are not limited to, the following:

● Agnostic
● Atheist
● Buddhist
● Christian
● Hindu
● Jewish
● Kemetic
● Muslim
● Native American spiritual beliefs
● Sikh
● Wicca
● and countless others.

A common thread defining any “religious belief or practice” is that it reflects a person’s views of life, purpose, and death. On the other hand, social, political, and economic philosophies as well as personal preferences do not constitute “religious beliefs or practices” protected by federal civil rights laws.

√ The “religious belief or practice” must be bona fide

Religious-based accommodation is premised on the fact that the asserted “religious belief or practice” is bona fide. Said differently, it is “sincerely held” by the requester. Generally, this requirement is met without difficulty. However, if the requester behaves in a manner that is markedly inconsistent with the professed “religious belief or practice,” then you may determine that the belief or practice is not bona fide or “sincerely held” by the requester. This, in turn, means that there is no obligation to provide accommodation.

√ Essential eligibility requirements must be met

Before entertaining a request for religious accommodation, the requester must meet the “essential eligibility requirements” for the WIOA-funded aid, benefit, service, or training at issue. If a person does not meet the “essential eligibility requirements” for the program or activity, then there is no obligation to provide accommodation.

√ Common religious-based accommodation requests

In federally-funded programs and activities, some common religious-based accommodation requests include:

● Changes in scheduling of programs and activities;
● Modification of testing and selection procedures;
● Modification of dress and/or grooming requirements; and
● Permitting forms of religious expression.

In the workplace, religious-based accommodation requests may take similar forms of:

● Changes in scheduling of work shifts;
● Modification of testing and selection procedures;
● Modification of dress and/or grooming requirements; and
● Permitting forms of religious expression.

Generally, a religious-based accommodation request is made to address conflicts between a federally-funded program or activity and a person’s religious belief or practice. For example, your American Job Center receives a request that orientations for the Center’s programs and activities be scheduled any day of the week except Friday because Friday is considered a “holy day” by the requester. This is an example of a religious-based accommodation request.

In the workplace, the case of Sanchez-Rodriguez v. AT&T Mobility Puerto Rico, Inc., issued by the First Circuit Court of Appeals on March 8, 2012, is illustrative of the types of religious-based accommodation requests an employer may receive. Here, an employee, who was a Seventh Day Adventist, requested Saturdays off from work. AT&T stated that providing the employee with every Saturday off as a matter of course would constitute an undue hardship; rather, as a “reasonable accommodation,” AT&T offered that the employee could: (1) take another position in the company that did not require working on Saturdays; or (2) arrange voluntary “swapping” of shifts with co-workers on his own. The court held that these offered accommodations (even though they differed from the accommodation requested by the employee) were sufficient such that the employee did not demonstrate religious-based discrimination.

√ Communication is a must

If a person seeks accommodation based on his/her religious belief or practice, then the accommodation request must be made known to the recipient delivering the federally-funded programs and activities (such as the American Job Center or Job Corps Center). Magic words are not required, but the requester must convey enough information for the recipient to understand that accommodation is sought pursuant to the requester’s religious beliefs or practices. A recipient cannot be held liable for failure to provide accommodation if it was unaware of the need in the first place.

Information-sharing between the requester and the EO Officer is critical as determinations of accommodation are made on a case-by-case basis after consideration of the particular facts.

√ Avoid discriminatory consideration of requests

If a person meets the essential eligibility requirements for a federally-funded program or activity, and the person requests accommodation based on a bona fide religious belief or practice, then the EO Officer is obliged to avoid consideration of discriminatory criteria when rendering a determination on the accommodation request. Examples of discriminatory criteria are as follows:

● “The person looks like a terrorist”;
● “The person’s beliefs are illogical, inconceivable, or incorrect”;
● “I disagree with the person’s beliefs”;
● “The person’s name is associated with a particular religion”;
● “The person’s name is associated with terrorism”;
● “The person’s religious belief or practice is offensive”;
● “The person’s religious belief or practice is immoral”;
● “I am uncomfortable with the religious belief or practice”; or
● “The person’s religious belief or practice is in the minority.”

It bears repeating that it is discriminatory to employ any of the foregoing criteria, or similar criteria, when considering an accommodation request. Sincerely held religious beliefs and practices are intensely personal, and they must be accepted “as is” for purposes of addressing a religious accommodation request under federal civil rights laws.

√ “Undue hardship”

● Defined

A recipient offering federally-funded programs and activities is obliged to provide reasonable religious-based accommodation unless it can demonstrate “undue hardship”. For example, the regulations implementing WIOA at 29 C.F.R. § 37.4 define “undue hardship” as follows:

For purposes of religious accommodation only, “undue hardship” means any additional, unusual costs, other than de minimis costs, that a particular accommodation would impose upon a recipient. See Trans World Airlines, Inc.v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63, 81, 84 (1977).

It is the recipient’s burden to demonstrate “undue hardship.”

● Not established, examples of

Asserting speculative, or showing only de minimus costs associated with providing accommodation does not give rise to a finding of “undue hardship.” And, “undue hardship” is not established by a recipient’s mere assertion that providing accommodation for one person will lead to an incoming tide of other requests.

● Factors to consider

As we noted earlier, “undue hardship” must be determined on a case-by-case basis after consideration of all the facts. The following factors may be relevant and are properly considered:

▪ Costs associated with providing the accommodation are identifiable and more than de minimus” in relation to the recipient’s size and operating costs;
▪ Providing the requested accommodation would diminish the efficiency of recipient’s federally-funded programs and activities;
▪ Safety would be impaired by allowing the accommodation;
▪ The requested accommodation would conflict with another civil rights law; or
▪ In the employment context, the requested accommodation violates of the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, or violates seniority rights of other employees.

In assessing whether a requested accommodation would conflict with another law, it is important to keep in mind that federally-funded programs and activities operate using taxpayer dollars, and there are taxpayers of all races, colors, national origins, genders, disabilities, and religions. These funds, in turn, are used to provide aid, benefits, services, and training to any member of the public meeting certain essential eligibility requirements. Attached to this federal funding are obligations imposed on the WIOA recipient to ensure nondiscrimination on a variety of bases, including religion, sex, race, national origin, color, disability, and age among others.

So, let’s assume that you are the EO Officer for a Job Corps Center, which provides educational programs and activities. Your Center is located in an area that is largely comprised of persons of a particular religion requiring separation of men and women in educational programs and activities. You receive a request for accommodation by persons of this religious belief asking that you provide separate classes for men and women at your Center. What should you do?

We start with the law. The regulations implementing WIOA bar discrimination on certain “prohibited grounds” as follows:

(a) For the purposes of this section, “prohibited ground” means race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, political affiliation or belief, and for beneficiaries only, citizenship or participation in any WIOA Title I—financially assisted program or activity.

29 C.F.R. § 37.6(a).

And, the regulations further provide that offering segregated or separate programs and activities is a form of discrimination:

(b) A recipient must not, directly or through contractual, licensing, or other arrangements, on a prohibited ground:

. . .

(3) Subject an individual to segregation or separate treatment in any matter related to his or her receipt of any aid, benefits, services, or training under a WIOA Title I—funded program or activity; . . ..

29 C.F.R. § 37.6(b)(3).

In our example, the requested accommodation (segregation of men and women in educational programs) would lead your Center to engage in gender-based discrimination in violation of federal law. As previously noted, the law prohibits “segregation or separate treatment” on any “prohibited ground”, which includes sex.

Keep in mind that the same would hold true if you received a religious-based accommodation request seeking segregation based on race, color, national origin, age, or the like. It is not reasonable to discriminate against participants on one of these prohibited bases in order to accommodate a religious belief or practice.

√ Religious accommodation in the workplace; some considerations

If you do not have dress and grooming policies for your workplace, then it would constitute a form of religious-based discrimination to prohibit forms of religious garb or grooming on an ad hoc basis. And, if you do have dress and grooming policies in your workplace then, according to the EEOC, religious accommodation requires making exceptions to those codes to accommodate bona fide religious beliefs and practices. With or without grooming codes in place, it is incumbent on an employer to allow dress and grooming practices of sincerely-held religious beliefs, unless it would create “undue hardship.”

The standard for “undue hardship” is different for religious-based accommodation requests than for disability-based accommodation requests. Notably, in the case of a disability-related accommodation request, the employer must provide accommodation unless the accommodation will create significant difficulty or expense to the employer’s operations. On the other hand, undue hardship in the context of religious accommodation is a hardship that will create more than a de minimus cost on the employer’s operation.

Even in light of the lesser “undue hardship” standard, the EEOC has ramped-up its pursuit of religious-based discrimination in the workplace, and the EEOC rarely accepts arguments that a dress code constitutes “business necessity” for an employer (i.e. an employer’s argument that it needs to convey an uniform image of all of its workers). Most notably, lawsuits and charges have been filed where workers have been penalized for particular religious grooming, or donning religious garb. Some examples include Muslim head scarves, Sikh turbans, yarmulkes, and the presence of religious tattoos. In 2015, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the EEOC’s position in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., and concluded the employer engaged in religious-based discrimination against a Muslim employee. The employer raised unsubstantiated assertions that it need not accommodate the employee’s request to wear a headscarf on grounds that the employee’s use of a headscarf constituted an “undue hardship.” The employer maintained that use of the headscarf departed from the company’s “look policy” and “corporate brand.” As noted by the EEOC, the employee had the headscarf on when interviewed, and had worked with the headscarf on for four months before being terminated. The employer failed to present evidence to show its sales had dropped in that four month period of time.

However, for both disability and religious-based accommodation requests, “undue hardship” may be demonstrated if safety concerns are raised. As an example, an employer may ban a Muslim employee’s use of a head scarf in a job where the scarf could get caught in machinery.

Sometimes, the lack of understanding regarding a particular religion’s practices is at the root of discrimination. For example, in EEOC v. Fries Rest. Mgt., LLC, Case No. 12-03169 (Tex. Aug. 22, 2012), religious-based discrimination occurred where the manager of a Burger King restaurant fired a Christian Pentecostal female cashier on grounds that she would not wear the standard uniform (including pants). Instead, because of her religious beliefs, she insisted on wearing a skirt.

√ Conclusion

In the end, religious-based accommodation requests are fact-intensive, and must be handled on a case-by-case basis. To the extent that “undue hardship” is not present, you are obliged under federal law to provide reasonable religious-based accommodation, if requested, to persons who meet the essential eligibility requirements for the program or activity. And, you must accept the requester’s bona fide religious belief or practice “as is.” For complicated accommodation requests, including any requests that may conflict with other federal civil rights laws, you should consult with the EO leadership of your state or territory for guidance, or consult the civil rights office of your federal funding agency.

About Seena Foster

Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Principal of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting, LLP in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of civil rights compliance and discrimination complaint investigations related to the delivery of federally-assisted workforce development programs and activities. Her customers include state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, private counsel, and non-profit organizations. You may contact her at seena@titleviconsulting.com, or visit her web site at www.titleviconsulting.com for additional information regarding the services and resources she offers.

By way of background, in 2003, Ms. Foster served as a Senior Policy Analyst to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center (CRC). In that capacity, she led a team of equal opportunity specialists to conduct disability-based technical assistance reviews of One-Stop centers, and she assisted the CRC’s leadership in preparing for limited English proficiency-based compliance reviews. Ms. Foster also analyzed and weighed witness statements and documents to prepare numerous final determinations for signature by the CRC Director, which resolved discrimination complaints under a variety of federal civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act. In 2006, Ms. Foster received the Secretary of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Award in recognition of “exceptional efforts to ensure that individuals with disabilities have full access to employment and related services and benefits at the Nation’s One-Stop Career Centers.” And, at the request of the CRC, Ms. Foster served as a popular workshop speaker at national equal opportunity forums co-sponsored by the CRC and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Her presentations covered topics such as the WIA Section 188 disability checklist, conducting discrimination complaint investigations and writing final determinations, and conducting investigations of allegations involving harassment and hostile environment.

With a passion for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in the delivery of federally-assisted programs and activities, Ms. Foster remains highly active in the field through her series of on-demand webcasts for equal opportunity professionals as well as through her mediation services, training, and assistance developing policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance with applicable federal civil rights laws. Her training in the areas of compliance and complaint investigations has been described as “dynamic,” “hitting the nail on the head,” “well-organized,” and “informative.” And, her award-winning book on conducting discrimination complaint investigations is viewed as “eye-opening” and “the best on the market.” Ms. Foster has a “Federal Workplace Mediation” certification through the Northern Virginia Mediation Service.

She is a member of the Human Rights Institute and Discrimination Law and Human Rights Law Committees of the International Bar Association. Ms. Foster received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, and she has a Juris Doctorate from The George Washington University Law School.

Your Discrimination Complaint Log by Seena Foster

Friday, January 5th, 2018

As the Equal Opportunity professional for an agency or entity administering federally funded programs and activities, you must develop and publish discrimination complaint policies and procedures. And, as part of those procedures, you must maintain a discrimination complaint log.

In this paper, we will discuss what is included in the log (including how to distinguish between discrimination complaints and program complaints), why the log is important, whether you include complaints that are settled, dismissed, or withdrawn, and how you properly classify (and investigate) pregnancy-related complaints as well as complaints involving harassment and hostile environment.

What do I include in the log?

The U.S. Department of Justice, which oversees compliance with, and enforcement of, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) and related laws, states the following:

Each federal agency shall maintain a log of Title VI complaints filed with it, and with its recipients, identifying each complainant by race, color, or national origin; the recipient; the nature of the complaint; the dates the complaint was filed and the investigation completed; the disposition; the date of disposition; and other pertinent information.

. . .

Federal agencies shall report to the Assistant Attorney General on January 1, 1977, and each six months thereafter, the receipt, nature and disposition of all such Title VI complaints.

28 C.F.R. § 42.408(d). And, directly related to your work, these regulations further provide:

Each recipient processing Title VI complaints shall be required to maintain a similar log.

28 C.F.R. § 42.408(d).

In developing and maintaining a discrimination complaint log, one of the key things to keep in mind is that not all types of complaints are recorded in this log. In particular, only those complaints alleging discrimination on a prohibited “basis” are included in this log. These are known as “discrimination complaints.” Here, you must know the civil rights laws enforced by your federal funding agency and the bases of discrimination prohibited by those laws.

On the other hand, if you receive a complaint that does not allege discrimination on a prohibited basis, you will not have jurisdiction to investigate this complaint under federal civil rights laws and the complaint would not be noted in your log. These types of complaints are known as “program complaints.”

As an example, Jane Doe files a complaint with you alleging that she was denied federally funded rental housing assistance because her income level is too high. She states that the income level requirements for the program should be lowered. Here, Jane has not alleged denial of the assistance because of race, color, national origin, gender, age, disability, or the like. Rather, she seeks adjustment of the program’s income level requirements. This is a “program complaint” and would be processed under the federal funding agency’s regulations for operating the program.

If Jane Doe alleges, however, that the black housing counselor denied Jane’s application for federally funded rental housing assistance because Jane is white, then you have a “discrimination complaint” that would be included in your log. Namely, Jane alleges denial of rental housing assistance on the basis of race/color.

Why is the complaint log important?

The complaint log is a valuable asset to you in monitoring your programs and activities to ensure compliance with Title VI and related laws. Preferably, you want to identify and resolve discrimination-related problems at your level as opposed to allowing these problems to draw the interest of your federal funding agency.

Using your complaint log, you will be able to identify instances of alleged discrimination by (1) program or activity, and (2) basis. For example, let’s say you notice an increase in complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in a computer skills training program. Review of your complaint log leads you to notice that nearly all of the complaints involve denial of access to the training facility, which is located on the second floor of a building without an elevator. At this point, you have pinpointed the program or activity (computer skills training) and the basis (disability) of a trend of complaints. With this knowledge, you can approach your training folks to bring the operation of this program into compliance with federal civil rights laws, such as relocating the computer skills training program to the first floor of the building, or moving it to another building that has an elevator.

Properly maintaining your complaint log also will enable you to respond to requests for this data from your federal funding agency, Governor’s office, or the like. And, at times, federal agencies will conduct compliance reviews or desk audits to check compliance with Title VI and related laws and your organization may be selected. Inevitably, one of the key records you will be asked to produce during the review or audit is your discrimination complaint log.

Determine your federal funding agency’s requirements

Because you operate federally assisted programs and activities, you must ensure nondiscrimination and equal opportunity on the basis of race, color, and national origin in compliance with Title VI. The same holds true for the basis of disability under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008. Finally, you also must ensure nondiscrimination and equal opportunity on the basis of age under the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.

Beyond these statutes, however, many federal funding agencies will enforce additional civil rights laws. To properly develop a discrimination complaint log for your programs and activities, you must know the civil rights laws enforced by your federal funding agency.

With regard to the laws it enforces, a federal agency will have regulations located in the Code of Federal Regulations addressing requirements for developing and maintaining your discrimination complaint log. For example, if you receive Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I funding, regulations implemented by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) require that you maintain a log of complaints alleging discrimination on any one or more of the following bases:

● race
● color
● national origin
● religion
● sex
● disability
● age
● political affiliation or belief
● citizenship
● participation in a WIOA-financially assisted program or activity

Moreover, the complaint log must include:

● name and address of the complainant
● the basis of the complaint
● the date the complaint was filed
● the disposition and date disposition was issued
● “other pertinent information”

Finally, DOL regulations require that all records regarding complaints and actions taken on complaints must be maintained for a period of not less than three years from the date of resolution of the complaint. Indeed, DOL’s Civil Rights Center has developed a standardized format that it requires you to use. This standardized complaint log is found at https://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/crc/Discrimination3.htm.

Check with the civil rights office of your federal funding agency for similar regulations and standardized complaint log information.

What if I settle the complaint informally?

You are required to enter information pertaining to any discrimination complaint filed, regardless of whether the complaint is decided on the merits, dismissed for lack of probable cause, settled (even settled “informally” or early in the process), or withdrawn.

What types of complaints must be included in the log?

All types of discrimination complaints must be included in your log. This will include individual, class action, and third party complaints. As you are aware, an individual complaint is where an individual comes to you and alleges that s/he has been discriminated against in one of your programs or activities. For example, Josh files a complaint alleging that his bid for a federally funded transportation contract was rejected because he is from Israel. This is an individual complaint alleging national origin-based discrimination.

A class action involves a group of individuals alleging similar acts of discrimination on the same basis (e.g., race, color, national origin, and so on). One example of a class action is where a group of individuals allege that they were denied entry into a federally funded apprenticeship program for welders because they are women.

Finally, there is the third party complaint. As an example, La RAZA complains that your agency only provides unemployment insurance forms in English. La RAZA states that its members cannot complete the application process because they are limited English proficient (LEP) and their native language is Spanish. So, La RAZA has not been injured directly, but is alleging that your unemployment insurance process has a discriminatory impact on an entire class of potential beneficiaries (LEP persons). While you may utilize this type of complaint to conduct monitoring or a compliance review of your the program as opposed to processing the complaint through your traditional discrimination complaint process, it is important to include it in your complaint log.

How do I classify harassment and hostile environment complaints?

When we talk about harassment or hostile environment, most of us think of sexual harassment or hostile sexual environment. However, harassment or hostile environment may occur on any prohibited basis (race, color, national origin, age, disability, and so on). As an example, one student uses Facebook to repeatedly post derogatory remarks about another student from Morocco repeatedly calling the student “terrorist” and the like. The Facebook posts have “gone viral”, and the targeted student subsequently was attacked at your school. You receive a complaint from him. This is a national origin-based hostile environment complaint and would be recorded as such in your complaint log.

And, keep in mind that hostile environment complaints usually involve a series of adverse actions alleged to have occurred because of a person’s race, color, national origin, disability, or the like. So long as a hostile environment complaint is filed within 180 days of the last adverse act, then it is timely and you may consider the entire series of adverse acts to determine whether prohibited hostile environment discrimination occurred.

How do I classify pregnancy-related complaints?

Pregnancy-related complaints often create confusion for the investigator. It is common for these types of complaints to be viewed as disability-related, but most of them are not. Complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of past, present, or the possibility of future pregnancy should be logged (and investigated) as gender-based complaints. Only if the complainant alleges discrimination based on a medical condition or disability resulting from the pregnancy would you investigate this complaint as a disability-based complaint. Pregnancy, standing alone, is not disability.

About Seena Foster

Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Principal of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of civil rights compliance and discrimination complaint investigations related to the delivery of federally-assisted workforce development programs and activities. Her customers include state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, private counsel, and non-profit organizations. You may contact her at seena@titleviconsulting.com, or visit her web site at www.titleviconsulting.com for additional information regarding the services and resources she offers.

By way of background, in 2003, Ms. Foster served as a Senior Policy Analyst to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center (CRC). In that capacity, she led a team of equal opportunity specialists to conduct disability-based technical assistance reviews of One-Stop centers, and she assisted the CRC’s leadership in preparing for limited English proficiency-based compliance reviews. Ms. Foster also analyzed and weighed witness statements and documents to prepare numerous final determinations for signature by the CRC Director, which resolved discrimination complaints under a variety of federal civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act. In 2006, Ms. Foster received the Secretary of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Award in recognition of “exceptional efforts to ensure that individuals with disabilities have full access to employment and related services and benefits at the Nation’s One-Stop Career Centers.” And, at the request of the CRC, Ms. Foster served as a popular workshop speaker at national equal opportunity forums co-sponsored by the CRC and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Her presentations covered topics such as the WIA Section 188 disability checklist, conducting discrimination complaint investigations and writing final determinations, and conducting investigations of allegations involving harassment and hostile environment.

With a passion for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in the delivery of federally-assisted programs and activities, Ms. Foster remains highly active in the field through her series of on-demand webcasts for equal opportunity professionals as well as through her mediation services, training, and assistance developing policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance with applicable federal civil rights laws. Her training in the areas of compliance and complaint investigations has been described as “dynamic,” “hitting the nail on the head,” “well-organized,” and “informative.” And, her award-winning book on conducting discrimination complaint investigations is viewed as “eye-opening” and “the best on the market.”

Ms. Foster has a “Federal Workplace Mediation” certification through the Northern Virginia Mediation Service. She is a member of the Human Rights Institute and Discrimination Law and Human Rights Law Committees of the International Bar Association. Ms. Foster received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, and she has a Juris Doctorate from The George Washington University Law School.

WIA EO Officers and Equal Opportunity Professionals in Federally-Funded Programs: Assistance Developing Nondiscrimination Policies and Procedures

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Often, you know the civil rights laws that apply to your federally-assisted programs and activities (such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Workforce Investment Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, and so on), but you get stuck trying to figure out how to implement these laws on the ground. We can help.

We will work with you to develop policies and procedures tailored to the structure of your organization, and the nature of the federally-assisted programs and activities you offer. There are a variety of procedures required to document your compliance with civil rights laws, including:

● Discrimination complaint procedures
● Procedures for assessing corrective actions and sanctions
● Procedures for serving limited English proficient (LEP) populations
● Procedures for serving persons with disabilities and handling accommodation requests
● Procedures for handling religious-based accommodation requests
● Procedures for gathering, handling, and storing medical information
● Procedures for including required assurances on all agreements as well as the use of taglines, posting the “Equal Opportunity Is the Law” posters, and data collection

We also offer a variety of consultation services, training, and off-site desk audits of your website and other written materials to help you ensure your organization’s compliance with federal civil rights requirements, and we work hard to provide the most cost-effective and practical recommendations for you. Failure to comply with federal civil rights laws in delivering aid, services, training, or benefits to the public may result in the loss of funding.

You’ll find more information about our services at www.titleviconsulting.com. Our customers appreciate the thoroughness and timeliness of our work. As an example, one senior county executive commented, “Your procedures document is very comprehensive and inclusive of all that I am aware that we need and beyond . . . it is a pleasure working with you.”

About Seena Foster.

Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Principal of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting, LLP in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of compliance and civil rights investigations to state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, and non-profit organizations. To that end, she offers one-hour on-demand webcasts, full-day and half-day in-person training sessions, and mediation services addressing a variety of types of discrimination such as racial discrimination, sex discrimination, disability discrimination, age discrimination, and religious discrimination. The federal law on discrimination is complex and affects our workplaces as well as the delivery of our federally funded programs and activities. Her book, Civil Rights Investigations under the Workforce Investment Act and Other Title VI Related Laws: From Intake to Final Determination, has been described as an “eye-opening” reading experience and a “stand-alone” training resource. Ms. Foster’s resources and materials are designed to support the work of civil rights and discrimination professionals in the public and private sectors.

In 2003, Ms. Foster served as a Senior Policy Analyst to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center (CRC). In that capacity, she led a team of equal opportunity specialists to conduct disability-based technical assistance reviews of One-Stop centers, and she assisted the CRC’s leadership in preparing for limited English proficiency-based compliance reviews. Ms. Foster also analyzed and weighed witness statements and documents to prepare numerous final determinations for signature by the CRC Director, which resolved discrimination complaints under a variety of federal civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act.

In 2006, Ms. Foster received the Secretary of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Award in recognition of “exceptional efforts to ensure that individuals with disabilities have full access to employment and related services and benefits at the Nation’s One-Stop Career Centers.” And, at the request of the CRC, Ms. Foster served as a popular workshop speaker at national equal opportunity forums co-sponsored by the CRC and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Her presentations covered topics such as the WIA Section 188 disability checklist, conducting discrimination complaint investigations and writing final determinations, and conducting investigations of allegations involving harassment and hostile environment.

Ms. Foster is a graduate of the George Washington University Law School. You may contact her through www.titleviconsulting.com.

Office of Disability Employment Policy Newsletter (February 14, 2014)

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

For more information on any of these articles, go to www.dol.gov/odep.

Executive Order Raises the Minimum Wage for Federal Contract Workers

On February 12, the President signed an Executive Order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers, including individuals with disabilities. Under current law, workers whose productivity is affected because of their disabilities may be paid less than the wage paid to others doing the same job under certain specialized certificate programs. Under this Executive Order, all individuals working under service or concessions contracts with the federal government are covered by the same $10.10 per hour minimum wage protections. The higher wage will apply to new contracts and replacements for expiring contracts put out for bid after January 1, 2015.

Assistant Secretary Martinez Heads to Sochi for the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games

Kathy Martinez, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy, will be traveling to Sochi, Russia as part of the Presidential Delegation to the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, which start on March 7. The Honorable Tammy Duckworth, Member of the United States House of Representatives (IL-08) will lead the delegation. While in Sochi, delegation members will attend athletic events, meet with U.S. athletes, and attend the Opening Ceremony. “It is an honor to be selected to represent President Obama in cheering on the U.S. athletes as they compete in the Paralympics and showcase to the world the best of America—diversity, determination and teamwork,” said Martinez.

Making Online Application Systems Accessible – JAN Webcast – February 26, 2:00 – 3:30 PM EST

The new Section 503 regulations stop short of requiring federal contractors to make their on-line application systems accessible, but the regulations do codify the OFCCP’s position that federal contractors must make reasonable accommodations for any applicants with disabilities who cannot access on-line systems, and further state that making on-line application systems accessible is a recommended best practice. In light of this, many federal contractors are implementing changes to make their on-line application systems accessible. In this free webcast, JAN Consultants will share practical tips and tools to help these contractors succeed in their efforts. The presentation will be held on February 26, 2:00 – 3:30 PM EST.

Best Practices in Disability Recruiting – Think Beyond the Label Webinar – February 24, 2:00 – 3:00 PM EST

Think Beyond the Label will be presenting a free, HRCI-certified webinar on February 24, 2:00-3:00 PM EST, to help federal contractors comply with the new Section 503 regulations regarding hiring people with disabilities. The webinar will focus on what the legislation means, how to find and engage job seekers with disabilities, and how to showcase an organization’s diversity hiring initiatives. Think Beyond the Label is a public-private partnership that delivers information, outreach and resources to businesses, job seekers and the public workforce system to ensure greater recruiting and hiring opportunities for job candidates with disabilities.

The HSC Foundation’s Advocates in Disability Award Program is Seeking the Next Generation of Disability Advocates

The Advocates in Disability Award (ADA) program, funded by The HSC Foundation and the Sarah Beth Coyote Foundation, awards and encourages a young adult with a disability between the ages of 14 and 26 who is dedicated to positively affecting the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families. The program also supports an innovative project developed by the recipient to serve and empower individuals with disabilities. The selected recipient is awarded $3,000 in recognition of his or her disability advocacy and receives up to an additional $7,000 in funding support for a project to benefit the disability community. Applicants must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States at the time of application submission and recipient selection. Applications must be received by 5:00 PM EST on April 11, 2014.

Action Sports Star and Host of MTV’s The Challenge TJ Lavin Stars in New PSA on Disability

“We all should have the same opportunity to achieve the American dream,” TJ Lavin, BMX bike champion and host of MTV’s The Challenge says in a new public service announcement (PSA) created by RespectAbilityUSA, a non-profit organization devoted to reshaping attitudes so that people with disabilities can more fully participate in and contribute to society. Lavin knows how a disability can potentially change a person’s life. In October of 2010, he suffered serious bleeding on the brain, a broken wrist, and an orbital fracture after a bike crash left him in a coma for 9 days. After years of rehabilitation, Lavin is now 100 percent recovered, fully integrated back into society and back as a star MTV host. “People with disabilities deserve an equal chance at employment. While most people don’t do BMX, everyone is just an accident, disease or age related issue away from a disability, said Lavin. “It is time we respect people for their abilities rather than focusing on their disabilities.”

Pre-employment disability inquiries: New federally-approved form by OFCCP/OMB for federal contractors and subcontractors

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Contract Compliance Programs and the Office of Management and Budget have released a new form, which is titled “Voluntary Self-Identification of Disability,” for use by federal contractors and subcontractors when conducting pre-employment disability inquiries pursuant to the revised regulations at 41 C.F.R. 60-741. The purpose of these inquiries is to promote recruitment and hiring of persons with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities. For more information, go to www.dol.gov/ofccp.

The content of the form is as follows:

Voluntary Self-Identification of Disability
Form CC-305 OMB Control Number 1250-0005

Why are you being asked to complete this form?

Because we do business with the government, we must reach out to, hire, and provide equal opportunity to qualified people with disabilities.i To help us measure how well we are doing, we are asking you to tell us if you have a disability or if you ever had a disability. Completing this form is voluntary, but we hope that you will choose to fill it out. If you are applying for a job, any answer you give will be kept private and will not be used against you in any way.

If you already work for us, your answer will not be used against you in any way. Because a person may become disabled at any time, we are required to ask all of our employees to update their information every five years. You may voluntarily self-identify as having a disability on this form without fear of any punishment because you did not identify as having a disability earlier.

How do I know if I have a disability?

You are considered to have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment or medical condition that substantially limits a major life activity, or if you have a history or record of such an impairment or medical condition.

Disabilities include, but are not limited to: • Blindness • Autism • Bipolar disorder • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) • Deafness • Cerebral palsy • Major depression • Obsessive compulsive disorder • Cancer • HIV/AIDS • Multiple sclerosis (MS) • Impairments requiring the use of a wheelchair • Diabetes • Epilepsy • Schizophrenia • Muscular • Missing limbs or partially missing limbs • Intellectual disability (previously called mental retardation) • dystrophy

Please check one of the boxes below:

Your Name ___________________________________________

Today’s Date _________________________________________

___ YES, I HAVE A DISABILITY (or previously had a disability)

___ NO, I DON’T HAVE A DISABILITY

___ I DON’T WISH TO ANSWER

Reasonable Accommodation Notice

Federal law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities. Please tell us if you require a reasonable accommodation to apply for a job or to perform your job. Examples of reasonable accommodation include making a change to the application process or work procedures, providing documents in an alternate format, using a sign language interpreter, or using specialized equipment.

Office of Disability Employment Policy Newsletter (January 24, 2014)

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

For more information on any of the following articles, go to www.dol.gov/odep.

Pennsylvania Statewide Independent Living Council Welcomes Assistant Secretary Martinez

Federal employment initiatives for people with disabilities were the focus of assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy Kathy Martinez’s remarks to the board members of the Pennsylvania Statewide Independent Living Council and other representatives of the disability community at a gathering on January 16 in Harrisburg, PA. Martinez addressed topics including the Affordable Care Act, Executive Order 13548 (Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities), changes to the regulations for Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, and resources available from the Office of Disability Employment Policy.

Helping the Federal Workforce Reflect the Citizenry It Serves — Assistant Secretary Martinez’s Blog

In a post on the U.S. Department of Labor’s blog, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy Kathy Martinez discussed employment of people with disabilities in the federal sector, focusing on the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) as a pipeline to bring talented college students and recent graduates with disabilities into public service.

Assistant Secretary Martinez Discusses Workforce Development and Economic Development in Fedcap Blog

Assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy Kathy Martinez, in a Fedcap blog, answered questions about the workforce development system, youth transition, myths and stereotypes about people with disabilities, and a wide range of other topics related to disability employment. Fedcap is a nonprofit organization that develops solutions that help people surmount barriers, work toward economic independence, and effect change in their families and communities.

Fact Sheet on Section 503 and VEVRAA Tools Now Available from the Employer Assistance and Resource Network

The Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) has released a fact sheet on the changes to the regulations for Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA). The fact sheet helps federal contractors quickly and easily identify valuable resources for updating their recruitment, hiring, and employment practices to comply with the new regulations.

Employer Assistance and Resource Network Releases New Reports from the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development

The Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) released two new reports on disability employment that were written by researchers from the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. The research was produced under the auspices of the National Technical Assistance, Policy, and Research Center for Employers on Employment of People with Disabilities and funded by a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy to Cornell University. One of the reports looks at states as model employers of people with disabilities, while the other examines advancing economic opportunities for business owners and job seekers with disabilities.

First Executive Order Issued by New Virginia Governor Requires “Equal Opportunity” in State Government (January 14, 2014)

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Virginia’s Governor McAuliffe issues his first Executive Order, and it focuses on requiring nondiscrimination in employment practices of the Commonwealth of Virginia on the bases of race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, political affiliation, and disability. Moreover, Executive Order Number 1 prohibits discrimination against veterans, and permits “employment preferences for veterans” where appropriate. The Executive Order also promotes affirmative measures to “emphasize the recruitment of qualified minorities, women, disabled persons, and older Virginians to serve at all levels of state government.” Below is the text of the newly-issued Executive Order Number 1 (2014):

Importance of the Initiative

By virtue of the authority vested in me as Governor, I hereby declare that it is the firm and unwavering policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia to assure equal opportunity in all facets of state government. The foundational tenet of this Executive Order is premised upon a steadfast commitment to foster a culture of inclusion, diversity, and mutual respect for all Virginians.

This policy specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities. The policy permits appropriate employment preferences for veterans and specifically prohibits discrimination against veterans.

State appointing authorities and other management principals are hereby directed to take affirmative measures, as determined by the Director of the Department of Human Resource Management, to emphasize the recruitment of qualified minorities, women, disabled persons, and older Virginians to serve at all levels of state government. This directive does not permit or require the lowering of bona fide job requirements, performance standards, or qualifications to give preference to any state employee or applicant for state employment.

Allegations of violations of this policy shall be brought to the attention of the Office of Equal Employment Services of the Department of Human Resource Management. No state appointing authority, other management principal, or supervisor shall take retaliatory actions against persons making such allegations.

Any state employee found in violation of this policy shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary action.

The Secretary of Administration is directed to review and update annually state procurement, employment, and other relevant policies to ensure compliance with the non-discrimination mandate contained herein, and shall report to the Governor his or her findings together with such recommendations as he or she deems appropriate. The Director of the Department of Human Resource Management shall assist in this review.

This Executive Order supersedes and rescinds Executive Order No. 6 (2010), Equal Opportunity, issued by Governor Robert F. McDonnell on February 5, 2010.

Effective Date of the Executive Order

This Executive Order shall become effective upon its signing and shall remain in full force and effect until amended or rescinded by further executive order.

Given under my hand and under the Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia this 11th day of January 2014.

Terence R. McAuliffe, Governor

Office of Disability Employment Policy: Healthy Transitions Brief (January 8, 2014)

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

The following “Dear Colleague” letter was just issued by Assistant Secretary Martinez of the Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. For more information, go to www.dol.gov/odep.

Dear Colleague:

I am writing to let you know about a new study on health care transition and employment just released by my office, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 56.7 million (1 in 5) individuals of all ages, races, ethnicities, socioeconomic status, and educational attainment in the United States live with at least one disability. Included within this population are people with high-prevalence chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, chronic pulmonary disease, and obesity; less-common disorders historically considered “childhood conditions” such as cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, sickle cell anemia, and spina bifida; and other chronic conditions such as HIV/AIDS. Every year at least 500,000 to 750,000 young people with special health care issues become adults. Many of these youth have multiple conditions.

Because the ability to manage one’s health is critical to going to school, learning, and transitioning into employment, in 2012 ODEP commissioned this study to better understand the relationship between disability (including chronic health conditions); health and wellness; and transition and employment outcomes for youth with disabilities. In addition, the study examined the role health care providers play in establishing employment expectations.

Despite growing recognition of the importance of health care transition in the overall transition from school to work and independent living within the health care community, the study revealed that youth with chronic health conditions and other disabilities face a number of challenges in accessing health care transition services. Included among these are low expectations, lack of time, and inadequate payment and training related to employment among providers; systems with distinct and disparate outcomes and goals, and the application of a biological/physiological versus bio-psychosocial treatment approach. In addition to explaining how a number of provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have significant potential to transform health care transition planning, the study addresses the need to:

• underscore the interdependence between health and wellness, and employment through education and outreach to youth and their parents and other caring adults; and
• provide health-care providers and other youth service professionals with professional development opportunities to gain the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to guide youth through a coordinated self-determined, cross-discipline transition planning process.

To learn more about the challenges and opportunities associated with implementing purposeful planned health care transition planning and its impact on employment for youth with chronic health conditions and other disabilities, view the full policy brief at: http://www.dol.gov/odep/pdf/2013ODEPHealthyReport.pdf.

Sincerely,

Kathy Martinez
Assistant Secretary of Office of
Disability Employment Policy
U.S. Department of Labor