News & Commentary

December 8, 2020

Zachary Boullt

Zachary Boullt is a student at Harvard Law School.

The Trump administration has finalized its rule granting broader exemptions to religious institutions under President Obama’s executive order forbidding federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The new rule will go into effect on January 8. According to Washington Blade, the rule’s definition of a “religious institution” is vague enough to allow a wide variety of federal contractors to assert a religious exemption claim without sanction from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). The new rule also does not distinguish between anti-LGBTQ discrimination and other forms of discrimination, such as race, sex, religion, and national origin, that were delineated in the original executive order issued by President Johnson in 1964. This leaves rooms for federal contractors to try to assert religious exemptions for those kinds of discrimination as well. The rule currently does not appear in the Federal Register; evidence of its finalization is on the OFCCP website. While the ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County has protected employees from anti-LGBTQ discrimination through Title VII, the new rule potentially limits the ability of OFCCP to use its tools to proactively fight discrimination, instead relying on employees to file Title VII workplace discrimination lawsuits. The Biden administration will have to go through the entire Administrative Procedure Act rulemaking process to undo this new regulation.

On the heels of a New York Times feature on Mike Elk’s work exposing the NewsGuild’s failure to address sexual harassment claims against local leader and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Michael Fuoco, Elk has now further elaborated on his experience with cultures of silence toward sexual harassment in unions. Elk’s piece with Payday Report elaborates on instances of sexual misconduct within SEIU and an instance where sexual misconduct lawsuits against UFCW leader Mickey Kasparian cost the union a unionization vote amongst a potential unit of grocery delivery drivers. Elk argues that rooting out sexual misconduct in unions is essential to union’s future success.

The Supreme Court has declined to grant cert in the case of Paskert v. Kemna-ASA Auto Plaza, where a sales associate claimed that the Eighth Circuit relied too much on its precedent, in contrast to other circuits, in setting too high of a bar on claims of hostile work environment under Title VII. Paskert claimed that her boss made “sexist and suggestive jokes” and that she experienced “unwelcome touching.” The Eighth Circuit claimed that the behavior was not serious or pervasive enough to establish a claim under Title VII, based on its rule that potential Title VII violations be measured against allegations in previous decisions. Paskert’s attorney argued this strict reliance on precedent was unique to the Eighth and Fifth Circuits, while the employer’s attorney argued that other circuits relied on precedent like this as well.

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