Scenario 1: SunnyDaze Panels is a Texas firm that manufacture solar panel kits for homes. It employees more than 200 workers, including Abshir, a Muslim who immigrated to the United States from Somalia in the mid-1990s. SunnyDaze Panels also employs about 70 other Muslim workers from a variety of African countries. Muslims are required to pray five times every day at prescribed times. For several years, SunnyDaze allowed its Muslim employees to take two short breaks during their shifts to pray. In late April of 2017, however, a new supervisor ended this policy. On behalf of the Muslim employees, Abshir asked the company to reinstate the policy, or alternatively, to allow groups of 15 workers at a time to take staggered 20-minute evening prayer breaks near sundown and then return to work, at least for the month of Ramadan, set to begin on May 26, 2017. When the new supervisor refused to comprise, Abshir and his colleagues sued SunnyDaze for religious discrimination.
1. What statute will govern the case filed by Abshir against SunnyDaze?
2. What did SunnyDaze do that triggered Abshir’s request? What did he ask the company to do?
3. How did the company respond to his request?
4. What does the law mean by “reasonable accommodation?” When might an employer be allowed to deny a request for a “reasonable accommodation?”
5. What might be a “reasonable accommodation” for SunnyDaze to provide Abshir and the other Muslim workers? What might SunnyDaze argue in defense if it chose to deny an accommodation?
6. Do you find this possible defense by SunnyDaze persuasive? Why or why not?
7. How should the court rule? Did SunnyDaze comply with the statute?
8. Assume that despite the company’s refusal to sanction their prayer breaks, Abshir and the other Muslim workers left the production line in staggered groups near sundown on May 26, 2017. When they attempted to return to work after praying, the company suspended and then ultimately terminated them, arguing that they had abandoned their jobs. What new claim can Abshir add to his lawsuit against SunnyDaze?
9. How should the court rule on this new claim? Why?
Scenario 2: Amy joined Unter, a growing San Francisco technology company as a site reliability engineer in November 2017. After a couple of weeks of training, the company assigned her to Bob’s team, as it best matched her particular area of expertise. On her first official day working with that team, her supervisor Bob sent Amy a string of messages over company chat. He told Amy that he was in an “open relationship” and that while his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners, he wasn’t having much luck finding women willing to have sex with him. He admitted that he found Amy attractive and while he preferred not to have relationships with Unter employees, he would make an exception in her case. A week later, Bob cornered Amy near the break room and suggested that they meet at his apartment after work to discuss what it would take for her to advance at Unter. She politely declined and suggested a nearby coffee shop instead. Bob agreed and when she arrived, he was already in a corner booth with the the bench seat opposite him filled with personal items he said he was taking home. Almost immediately after she sat next to him, he moved closer, put his arm around her and began groping her under the table. Amy pushed him away and left immediately. The next day, Amy filed an official complaint with Human Resources (HR), as required by the Unter sexual harassment policy, attaching screen shots of the chat messages he had sent her and a detailed account of his behavior at the coffee shop. Both HR and senior management told Amy that although Bob’s behavior was clearly sexual harassment, it was Bob’s first offense and because he was also a “high performer,” they didn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably an “innocent mistake,” but would give him a warning. Amy continued working for Bob’s team and although he didn’t make any more advances toward her, he gave her more and harder projects than other engineers. Six months later, he gave her a bad performance review because in Bob’s words “she didn’t show any signs of an upward career trajectory.” At that time, Amy sought a transfer to another team, but HR told her she was ineligible because of the poor review. Frustrated, she left the company and sued Bob and Unter for sexual harassment.
1. What statute governs Amy’s claim against Unter?
2. How does the law define sexual harassment?
3. What are the two types of sexual harassment recognized by the EEOC? Which type did Amy allege in the complaint she filed against Bob? What facts support her claim?
4. What “affirmative defense” might be available to Unter based on how Unter responded to Amy’s complaint (Hint: Review Slide 9 from the class PowerPoint)?
5. How should the court rule in Amy’s sexual harassment suit against Unter?
6. Is Amy’s sexual harassment claim likely to succeed against Bob personally? What intentional tort that we previously covered in class might Amy be able to bring against Bob?
7. Assume that after Amy left Unter, she heard from other women engineers who were current or former Unter employees. Many told her they had had virtually identical interactions with Bob long before (and after) Amy joined the company. It was clearly not Bob’s first offense, nor his last. She also learned that when she joined Unter, more than 25% of Unter engineers were women. By the time she applied for a transfer out of Bob’s team that number had dropped to fewer than 6%. On her last day at Unter, only 3% of more than 150 engineers were women. Explain any effect this additional data might have on the court’s analysis and ruling.
8. Assume Amy, like many tech workers in Silicon Valley, had been hired as an independent contractor. Explain what effect, if any, this classification would have on the court’s analysis.