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EEOC warns against domestic violence victim discrimination – part 1

In the last two years, there were a number of highly publicized, violent attacks by abusive spouses who went on shooting sprees at their victims’ workplaces. In cases in Wisconsin, Florida and California, abusers killed a total of 14 people, two of whom were the spouses of the killers. Such events are shocking, and they can lead companies to fear the possible consequences of employing victims of domestic violence.

As a result, the EEOC released a fact sheet late last year to warn employers that refusing to hire, firing, or taking other negative job actions someone involved in an abusive relationship could constitute workplace discrimination under either the Americans with Disabilities Act or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In this two-part post, we will discuss the situations the EEOC believes could trigger employer liability for disability or gender discrimination.

Possible of Title VII gender discrimination violations

While neither federal law specifically prohibits discrimination against victims of domestic violence, the EEOC warns that treating them differently could be considered illegal gender stereotyping. The fact sheet cites a situation in which a company terminates a domestic violence victim because of fears that keeping her on could bring “potential drama battered women bring to the workplace.”

Since more women than men are victims of violence, using their status as a reason for any job action could also give rise to a discrimination claim on the theory that using domestic violence situations in employment decisions would result in “disparate treatment” of women. This is similar to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that warehouses, for example, where employees hold no particular position of trust, cannot legally take an applicant’s criminal history into account in hiring because it has a disparate impact upon minorities, who are more likely to have criminal histories.

In our next post, we will discuss how employment actions based on a worker’s victim status could violate the ADA.

Source: InsideCounsel, “EEOC warns employers of discrimination related to domestic violence,” Mary Swanton, Dec. 21 2012

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