Bostock v. Clayton County: An Unexpected Victory

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Circuit Splits, Civil Rights, Human Rights, Labor & Employment Law, Public, U.S. Supreme Court2 Comments on Bostock v. Clayton County: An Unexpected Victory

A photo of the White House with rainbow lights shown on it[The following is a guest post from Alexa Bradley (L’18).]

The days in which same-sex couples could marry on Sunday and be fired on Monday are no longer.

Gone, too, are the days in which a transgender employee could be fired for giving themselves the gift of living their life as the person they were always meant to be. On June 15, 2020, in Bostock v. Clayton County Board of Commissioners, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that Title VII’s prohibition of workplace “sex” discrimination clearly encompasses discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation or transgender status because “homosexuality and transgender status are inextricably bound up with sex.” This long-awaited decision was an unexpected victory for the LGBTQi community, of course, but also for the sanctity of Title VII.

Before I get into the weeds of the Bostock opinion, a little background may be helpful. I’ll first explain Title VII and some of the early Supreme Court case law interpreting “sex.” Then, before I explain the opinion itself, I’ll explain how the circuit courts had interpreted “sex” when it came to claims involving sexual orientation and transgender status. Finally, after explaining the majority opinion, I’ll unravel the dissenting arguments.

 Title VII Background
Title VII was enacted by Congress in 1964 to address the pervasive problems of employment discrimination and to ensure that, among the other enumerated characteristics, an employee’s “sex” was not relevant to their selection, evaluation, or compensation. According to Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 64 (1986), Congress drafted Title VII in broad terms to “strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment between men and women.” Since Title VII’s passage, the Court has been tasked on a number of occasions with clarifying the scope of protection provided by Title VII’s ban on “sex” discrimination.

For example, in 1971, the Court held in Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp., 400 U.S. 542 (1971) (per curiam), that an employer who hired men with school-aged children but would not hire women with school-aged children had engaged in sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. The Court’s decision in Phillips created the “sex-plus” theory of discrimination. Sex-plus discrimination is found when an employer, explicitly or in effect, classifies an employee on the basis of sex plus another characteristic, such as “women who have children.” So, in Ms. Phillips’s case, her employer discriminated against her because she was (A) a woman, who had (B) school aged children. Thus, her employer’s decision was motivated, in part, by Ms. Phillips’s sex, which violates Title VII.

In 1978, the Court considered in Los Angeles Department of Water & Power v. Manhart, 435 U.S. 702 (1978), whether Title VII permitted an employer to require women to make larger contributions to the pension fund than men. The employer argued that the policy was justified because women are likely to live longer than men, so women would receive more over time from the pension fund. However, recognizing Title VII’s clear focus on the individual rather that a group, the Court rejected the employer’s justification. The Court reasoned that it may be true that women, as a whole, live longer than men, but an individual woman may die as early as a man, and that the individual, therefore, is the proper focus for Title VII. Thus, the Court held that an employer engages in sex discrimination in violation of Title VII when the employer uses generalizations or assumptions about an entire class of employees that results in individual disparate treatment.

In 1986, the Court held in Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986), that claims of workplace sexual harassment fall under the umbrella of “sex discrimination” claims contemplated by Title VII, and in 1989, the Court held in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989), that discrimination on the basis of an employee’s failure to conform to expectations of gender norms – or sex-stereotyping – constitutes “sex” discrimination in violation of Title VII.

Finally, in 1998, in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 523 U.S. 75 (1998), an opinion written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court found that Title VII’s prohibition on “sex” discrimination applies to cases of workplace harassment between members of the same sex. In so holding, Justice Scalia explained “male-on-male sexual harassment in the workplace was assuredly not the principal evil Congress was concerned with when it enacted Title VII. But statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed.” Id. at 79.

In considering the above-cited opinions, one central theme seems to ring through: “sex” must be interpreted broadly.

This theme becomes unavoidably clear when considered with Congress’ abrupt response to the Court’s holding in General Electric Co. v. Gilbert. 429 U.S. 125 (1976).  In Gilbert, the Court found that a company plan that provided nonoccupational sickness and accident benefits to all employees but did not provide such benefits for any absence due to pregnancy did not constitute sex discrimination. In response, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which explicitly overturned Gilbert and expanded Title VII’s definition of “sex” to cover “pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). Congress’ swift action to overturn Gilbert sent a clear message to the Court – the protected characteristics enumerated in Title VII are to be afforded broad interpretations.

How We Got Here
This is the landscape of Supreme Court decisions against which Bostock must be understood. Continue reading “Bostock v. Clayton County: An Unexpected Victory”

Seventh Circuit Rejects Retroactivity for Padilla

Posted on Categories Circuit Splits, Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Public, Seventh CircuitLeave a comment» on Seventh Circuit Rejects Retroactivity for Padilla

In Padilla v. Kentucky, 130 S. Ct. 1473 (2010), the Supreme Court held that a lawyer provides ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to inform a client of the deportation risks that result from a guilty plea.  However, the Court did not clearly indicate whether its holding must be applied retroactively to cases on collateral review, leaving the lower courts to sort out the mess.  A handful of district courts have already split on this issue.  Now, with the Seventh Circuit’s ruling last week in Chaidez v. United States (No. 10-3623), the circuits are also split.  A divided panel in Chaidez rejected both retroactivity and the Third Circuit’s reasoning to the contrary in United States v. Orocio, 645 F.3d 630 (3d Cir. 2011).

As the Chaidez majority observed, the key legal issue is whether Padilla announced a new rule, or merely provided an application of the established principles of ineffective assistance from Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).  Under Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989), a new rule may not be applied retroactively unless it falls into one of two exceptions that plainly do not encompass the Padilla holding.

Teague and least some of its progeny suggest what seems effectively a strong presumption in favor of a “new rule” finding (and hence against retroactivity).  Here is how the Chaidez majority characterized the law:

Continue reading “Seventh Circuit Rejects Retroactivity for Padilla”

Two Circuits Approve Use of Uncounseled Convictions Against Native Americans

Posted on Categories Circuit Splits, Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, PublicLeave a comment» on Two Circuits Approve Use of Uncounseled Convictions Against Native Americans

In Burgett v. Texas, 389 U.S. 109 (1967), the Supreme Court held that a prior conviction cannot be used to enhance a defendant’s sentence under a recidivism statute if the prior conviction was obtained in violation of the defendant’s constitutional right to counsel. Native Americans, however, must deal with an apparent loophole in the Burgett rule: the Sixth Amendment right to counsel applies to proceedings in federal and state courts, but not tribal courts. If an uncounseled prior conviction in tribal court does not violate the Constitution, it may arguably fall outside the Burgett prohibition and be used against the defendant in a later case.

By some apparent coincidence, the Eighth and Tenth Circuits last month both addressed the use of uncounseled tribal-court convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 117(a), which makes domestic assault by a habitual offender a federal crime. Both courts approved use of such convictions to satisfy the criminal-history element of the offense.

The Eighth Circuit decision, which actually drew a dissent, seems the more carefully reasoned.

Continue reading “Two Circuits Approve Use of Uncounseled Convictions Against Native Americans”

Seventh Circuit Decides That Reckless Injury and Statutory Rape Are Not “Crimes of Violence”

Posted on Categories Circuit Splits, Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Seventh Circuit2 Comments on Seventh Circuit Decides That Reckless Injury and Statutory Rape Are Not “Crimes of Violence”

seventh-circuit51In a series of posts (e.g., here and here), I have been tracking the fallout in the Seventh Circuit of the Supreme Court’s decision in Begay v. United States, 128 S. Ct. 1581 (2008).  Begay adopted a new approach for deciding when former convictions count as “crimes of violence” that trigger the fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence of the Armed Career Criminal Act.

Earlier this week, the Seventh Circuit had another in its increasingly long line of post-Begay decisions holding that this or that specific offense does not fit the new definition of “crime of violence.”  More specifically, in United States v. McDonald (No. 08-2703) (Sykes, J.), the court held that first-degree reckless injury (in violation of Wis. Stat. § 940.23) and second-degree sexual assault of a child (what would be colloquially called “statutory rape,” in violation of Wis. Stat. § 948.02(2)) do not count as crimes of violence.  Continue reading “Seventh Circuit Decides That Reckless Injury and Statutory Rape Are Not “Crimes of Violence””

Seventh Circuit Clarifies Application of Fourth Amendment to Searches of Computer Hard Drives

Posted on Categories Circuit Splits, Computer Law, Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Seventh CircuitLeave a comment» on Seventh Circuit Clarifies Application of Fourth Amendment to Searches of Computer Hard Drives

seventh-circuit51While working as a life guard instructor, Matthew Mann covertly installed a video camera in a locker room in order to take footage of women changing their clothes.  After the camera was discovered and turned over to the authorities, police executed a search warrant at Mann’s home for “video tapes, CD’s or other digital media, computers, and the contents of said computers, tapes, or other electronic media, to search for images of women in locker rooms or other private areas.”  In connection with the search, police seized computers and an external hard drive from Mann.  Police later ran forensic software on this equipment that revealed the presence of child pornography, which formed the basis of a federal prosecution.

The district court denied Mann’s motion to suppress the images found on his hard drives.  Mann then pled guilty, but preserved the right to litigate his Fourth Amendment claim on appeal.  In United States v. Mann (No. 08-3041) (Rovner, J.), the Seventh Circuit affirmed.  Although the scope of the warrant was limited by its terms to a search for “images of women in locker rooms or other private areas,” the court held that police did not exceed the scope of the warrant when they collected and viewed Mann’s collection of child pornography.  Continue reading “Seventh Circuit Clarifies Application of Fourth Amendment to Searches of Computer Hard Drives”

Seventh Circuit: Earlier Sentence Served in Juvenile Detention Facility Can Make Defendant a Career Offender

Posted on Categories Circuit Splits, Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Seventh Circuit1 Comment on Seventh Circuit: Earlier Sentence Served in Juvenile Detention Facility Can Make Defendant a Career Offender

seventh circuitAfter pleading guilty in federal court to various drug-trafficking offenses, Isaiah Gregory received an eye-popping sentence of 327 months in prison — more than 27 years behind bars.  Driving this extraordinary sentence was the district court’s finding that Gregory was a “career offender” under the federal sentencing guidelines.  It was the career offender guideline that raised Gregory’s guidelines range from either 120-135 months (as he calculated it) or 121-151 months (as the government calculated it) to 262-327 months.   Thus, the career-offender finding likely added more than fourteen years to Gregory’s sentence.

Although the term “career offender” may conjure up images of a hardened criminal with a rap sheet down to your knees, the guidelines require only two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense in order to trigger the career-offender sentence enhancement. 

Even at that, Gregory hardly seems the sort of defendant that the Sentencing Commission must have had in mind when it drafted the career-offender guideline.  In particular, one of his two qualifying convictions was a $30 robbery he committed when he was only fifteen (he is now in his mid-20’s) — a robbery for which he was sent, not to prison, but to a juvenile detention facility.  Although it is not clear that the conviction should have counted under the plain terms of the career-offender guideline, the Seventh Circuit nonetheless affirmed his sentence last week in United States v. Gregory (No. 09-2735).  Continue reading “Seventh Circuit: Earlier Sentence Served in Juvenile Detention Facility Can Make Defendant a Career Offender”

Punishment Permitted for Both Attempt and Conspiracy in Seventh Circuit

Posted on Categories Circuit Splits, Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Seventh Circuit4 Comments on Punishment Permitted for Both Attempt and Conspiracy in Seventh Circuit

seventh circuitPolice found marijuana hidden in a car that Maurice Crowder and a colleague tried to ship from Arizona to Illinois.  Crowder was then charged with, convicted of, and sentenced for two crimes: attempted possession with intent to distribute and conspiracy, both in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846.  Sounds like double-dipping, right?  After all, both crimes of conviction arose from the same underlying criminal plot.  Crowder appealed to the Seventh Circuit on this basis, arguing that he could not be punished for both crimes.

Crowder’s appeal raised an issue that has divided other circuits.  The Ninth Circuit prohibits double punishment for attempt and conspiracy under § 846 if both convictions arise from a “single course of action.”  By contrast, the Sixth, Eighth, and Tenth Circuits permit double punishment in these circumstances.

In United States v. Crowder (No. 08-3320) (Kanne, J.), the Seventh Circuit sided with the Sixth, Eighth, and Tenth Circuits, and affirmed Crowder’s conviction and sentence.  Continue reading “Punishment Permitted for Both Attempt and Conspiracy in Seventh Circuit”

Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Good Enough for Government Work

Posted on Categories Circuit Splits, Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Seventh CircuitLeave a comment» on Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Good Enough for Government Work

seventh-circuit51Under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), certain drug offenders face a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment if they have two prior drug felony convictions.  As befits such a draconian statute, special procedural protections have been adopted to ensure that the mandatory minimum does not take defendants by suprise at sentencing.  Thus, 21 U.S.C. § 851(a)(1) requires that “before trial . . . the United States attorney [must] . . . serve[] a copy of [an] information on the [defendant] . . . stating in writing the previous convictions to be relied upon.”  But the statute does not specify under what circumstances, if any, a failure to comply with the rule precludes imposition of the mandatory minimum.

By the statute’s literal terms, there can be no doubt that the prosecutor in United States v. Williams (No. 09-1924) failed to comply.  In the § 851 notice he served on Williams, the prosecutor identified only one prior conviction (not the requisite two) and then merely stated, “Further information concerning the defendant’s criminal history can be obtained from the United States Probation Office and specifically the Pretrial Services Report in this matter . . . .”  The Pretrial Services Report, which listed a second drug conviction, was not actually served on the defendant until after trial.  Indeed, it appears that the prosecutor himself had not even received and read the Report before his attempt to incorporate it by reference into the § 851 notice.  This was very sloppy work, and the Seventh Circuit righly chastised both the individual prosecutor and his office (the Northern District of Indiana), which lacked any protocol on how to make § 851 notices.  But sloppiness, even inexcusable sloppiness, is not the same thing as reversible error, and the court (per Judge Posner) affirmed Williams’ life sentence.  Continue reading “Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Good Enough for Government Work”

Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Halfway Houses Back on the Menu

Posted on Categories Circuit Splits, Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Seventh CircuitLeave a comment» on Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Halfway Houses Back on the Menu

seventh circuitIf Congress makes an obvious error in drafting a statute, can a court correct that error by effectively adding something to the statute that is not there?  Such was the interesting jurisprudential question the Seventh Circuit confronted last January in United States v. Head, 552 F.3d 640 (2009).  Because of a mix-up with statutory cross-references, the statute that lists permissible conditions of supervised release in the federal system does not include assignment to a halfway house.  However, the first seven circuits to consider the question held that sentencing judges could indeed order placement in a halfway house, reasoning that a literal interpretation of the statute would produce an absurdity.  In Head, the Seventh Circuit bucked the trend and rejected the government’s absurdity argument.  (My post on Head is here.)  Although Congress corrected its drafting error with a 2008 amendment, Head held that the amendment could not be applied retroactively, meaning that assignment to a halfway house seemed to be off the table as a sentencing option for a large group of defendants still moving through the court system in this region.

But now the court has significantly limited the significance of Head in United States v. Anderson (No. 09-1958).  Continue reading “Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Halfway Houses Back on the Menu”

Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Reversing a Liddell Progress on Crack Sentencing

Posted on Categories Circuit Splits, Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Seventh Circuit2 Comments on Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Reversing a Liddell Progress on Crack Sentencing

seventh circuitThe Seventh Circuit continues to struggle with the question of what it means for the federal sentencing guidelines to be “advisory.”  In United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), the Supreme Court held that the then-mandatory guidelines system violated the Sixth Amendment.  The Court corrected the constitutional problem by converting the guidelines from mandatory to advisory.  Then, in Kimbrough v. United States, 128 S. Ct. 558 (2007), the Court confirmed what even the government had recognized and conceded: “advisory” means that a district court judge may impose a sentence outside the recommended guidelines range on the basis of a policy disagreement with the guidelines.

But the intermediate federal appellate courts have been slow to follow Booker to its logical conclusion — which is why Kimbrough was necessary in the first place.  Even after Kimbrough, several circuits, including the Seventh, have maintained that policy choices contained in § 4B1.1, the career offender guideline, remain binding on district court judges.  This is particularly important, and unfortunate, to the extent that § 4B1.1 contains the infamous 100:1 disparity in the treatment of crack and powder forms of cocaine.  That is a policy choice that district court judges ought to reject, and many doubtlessly would reject, if they were free to do so.

Last year, in United States v. Liddell, 543 F.3d 877 (7th Cir. 2008), a panel of the Seventh Circuit suggested that the court might be willing to reconsider its precedent on § 4B1.1.  But then Friday’s decision in United States v. Welton (No. 08-3799) slammed the door shut.  Continue reading “Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: Reversing a Liddell Progress on Crack Sentencing”

Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: What Can Be Inferred From a Lie?

Posted on Categories Circuit Splits, Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Seventh CircuitLeave a comment» on Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: What Can Be Inferred From a Lie?

seventh-circuit51

When a person is caught in a lie, we normally assume that he is covering something up.  But, if a defendant in a criminal case lies on the witness stand, is it fair to assume that he actually did what he was accused of doing?  Such was the question in United States v. Edwards (No. 08-1124).

Edwards was arrested after making arrangments to sell crack to a government informant.  The intended sale did not actually take place, but that is no barrier to conviction for drug trafficking.  And, once convicted, a drug dealer becomes responsible under the federal sentencing guidelines for the entire quantity of drugs he has ever sold that counts as “relevant conduct.”  (For an earlier post on the pitfalls of relevant conduct, see here.)  In order to establish the amount that Edwards sold, the sentencing judge relied on, among other things, $765 in cash that Edwards was carrying at the time of his arrest.  Edwards tried to explain away the cash with an unsubstantiated and seemingly implausible story about selling his minivan, but the judge was not convinced.  If the minivan story was fabricated, then Edwards must have earned the money from selling crack, right?  The sentencing judge concluded as much, and increased Edwards’ drug quantity accordingly.

On appeal, however, the Seventh Circuit held that the judge moved to this conclusion too quickly.  Continue reading “Seventh Circuit Criminal Case of the Week: What Can Be Inferred From a Lie?”

Seventh Circuit Week in Review: Corporate Criminal Liability, Reconsideration of Suppression Rulings, and More

Posted on Categories Circuit Splits, Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Seventh CircuitLeave a comment» on Seventh Circuit Week in Review: Corporate Criminal Liability, Reconsideration of Suppression Rulings, and More

The Seventh Circuit had four new opinions in criminal cases this week.  The cases addressed the mens rea requirements for corporate criminal liability, procedural aspects of suppression hearings, child pornography sentencing, and conditional guilty pleas.  Taking the cases in that order:

In United States v. L.E. Myers Co. (No. 07-2464), the defendant corporation was convicted of criminal OSHA violations in connection with the electrocution death of one its employees.  The Seventh Circuit (per Judge Sykes) reversed and remanded for a new trial in light of erroneous jury instructions.  The errors related to mens rea issues.  Myers was convicted under a statute that bases liability on the knowing creation of a hazardous condition in knowing violation of an OSHA requirement. 

The problem is that a corporation, as a legal construct, cannot really know anything; the only way a corporation knows something is to the extent the law is willing to impute the knowledge of particular employees to the corporation.  Seventh Circuit precedent indicated that “corporations ‘know’ what their employees who are responsible for an aspect of the business know.”  More specifically, the corporation was said to know what an employee knows if the employee has a duty to report that knowledge to someone higher up in the corporation. Continue reading “Seventh Circuit Week in Review: Corporate Criminal Liability, Reconsideration of Suppression Rulings, and More”