EEOC vs. General Motors Corp., No. 07-60886 (5th Cir. Nov. 12, 2008); Ladner vs. Hancock Medical Center, No. 07-60802 (5th Cir. Nov. 12, 2008)

By Paul Mollica

The Fifth Circuit issues two employee-friendly decisions — one under Title VII, the other under the FMLA — both on the same day, and who knew?  In an act of judicial humility, they went unpublished.

EEOC v. General Motors Corp., No. 07-60886 (5th Cir. Nov. 12, 2008):  I want to thank Jack Sargent for reminding me that a lot of the activity in the EEO area recently is going unpublished.  Whether this is just the courts burying their “mistakes,” an uninterest in this area of the law or some other reason, I have no clue.

In this case, noted in Jack’s recent e-mail blast, the court here vacated and remanded a summary judgment decision in a supervisor-hostile work environment case under Title VII. The opinion reflects few facts (“[t]he parties are familiar with the facts of this ‘hostile environment’ case.”)  It holds that the district court went off the rails when it ruled as a matter of law on the employer’s affirmative defense under Faragher/Ellerth.  Apparently, the district court believed that it was enough that the employee didn’t timely report the harassment through proper channels.  But reaffirming its original precedent in this area, Watts v. Kroger Co., 170 F.3d 505, 510 (5th Cir. 1999), the court holds (if cryptically) that delay alone is not enough reason to hold that the employee did not reasonably avail herself of corrective measures.

Ladner v. Hancock Medical Center, No. 07-60802 (5th Cir. Nov. 12, 2008) :  A plaintiff won at trial in this FMLA case, where she suddenly had to take family leave to take care of her son after an asthma attack left him incapacitated.  Unfortunately, the leave coincided with hurricane “lockdown” duty, and the plaintiff — who did not appear at work — was fired.  The jury found that the termination was motivated by the leave, that the employer had sufficient notice of the need for the leave and that the son suffered a “serious health condition” within the meaning of the statute.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed: “Although Hancock vigorously contested Ladner’s testimony and whether Stanton’s condition constituted a serious health condition, it was the jury’s province to evaluate the credibility of witnesses and weigh the evidence.”  The panel also affirmed the phrasing of the jury charge, the award of back pay and attorneys fees.