The Sheppard, White, Kachergus, and DeMaggio team won another appeal in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals last week. The case involved race discrimination and retaliation claims against the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. Our client, Captain Eric Mitchell, was the second-highest ranking officer at the department's training academy and was its only African-American employee at the time the incident occurred.
In 1973, Congress enacted legislation which would later become the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The act gives students with certain disabilities the right to a "free appropriate public education." Each student under IDEA is given an individualized education plan (IEP), which sets forth educational goals for the student and lays out a roadmap for services that will be provided to ensure disabled students can meet those goals. Under the IDEA, each IEP must ensure that disabled children are receiving sufficient help to make progress toward their education. If the IEP fails to provide such support, the IDEA allows parents to sue for tuition at a private school that can meet the student's needs.
The Equal Access Act is a federal law passed in 1984 to ensure that federally funded schools give extra-curricular clubs equal access. The law was originally lobbied for by Christian groups who wanted to ensure that Christian students could conduct Bible study programs during lunch and after school. It has since been used as a tool for gay-straight alliance organizations to gain equal footing on school campuses with other extra-curricular activities.
Last week, in a panel decision, EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, the Eleventh Circuit held that employers can discriminate against employees for wearing their hair in dreadlocks. The lawsuit was brought by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission on behalf of a prospective employee who refused to comply with a company's grooming policy prohibiting employees from having dreadlocks. The EEOC contended that the defendant's refusal to hire the plaintiff was a form of race discrimination, because the hairstyle was one closely associated with individuals of African descent.