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EEOC Issues Guidance Concerning Discrimination Relating to Domestic Violence

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently published a guidance for employers to explain how the federal anti-discrimination laws may apply to job applicants and employees who have experienced domestic violence. Focusing on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the EEOC recognizes in the guidance that neither of these laws expressly prohibits discrimination against victims of such violence. However, it goes on to point out that certain employment situations involving victims of domestic violence may nevertheless give rise to liability under one or both of these laws.

Organized in a question and answer format, the guidance first provides examples of situations where applicants or employees who are domestic violence victims may be protected by Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex. One example is that of a manager who terminates a female employee after learning that she has been subjected to domestic violence, stating that he fears the potential “drama battered women bring to the work place.” Another example is that of an employer that allows a male employee to use unpaid leave for a court appearance involving an assault against him (regarding this as a “real crime”) but does not permit the same sort of leave for a female employee assaulted in a domestic violence situation (regarding this as a “marital problem”).

Turning to the ADA, the guidance provides an example of an employer searching a job applicant’s name online and learning she was a complaining witness in a rape prosecution and that she received counseling for depression. If the employer then refused to hire the applicant based on a concern that she may require future time off for treatment for depression, this may violate the ADA.

The guidance does not establish new law, but is designed to make employers aware that employment actions based on stereotypical views regarding victims of domestic violence may lead to legal liability if the actions are found to be related to an applicant’s or employee’s gender or disability. Employers are thus well-advised to ensure that managers and supervisors are trained to avoid taking any adverse employment action against victims of domestic violence without fully considering potential Title VII and ADA implications.




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