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Civil Rights: Employee-Focused Track


The modules in this track focus on the civil rights of employees.

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Module 1: Identifying Employees with Disabilities and Providing Accommodations

School districts are regularly faced with issues involving employees with disabilities under both the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Such situations are often challenging for schools, particularly when addressing whether an individual has a disability and, if so, considering whether school officials must provide reasonable accommodations to address the disability. Both the WFEA and the ADA recognize certain conditions as a disability, but the two laws sometimes differ in terms how to address such disabilities.

The focus of this presentation will be on identifying when an employee is considered to have a disability under the ADA or WFEA, and, if so, the obligations imposed by these laws on a district. The presentation will also review a district’s legal obligation to accommodate such an employee with a disability.

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Module 2: Current Issues and Hiring Practices under the ADA and WFEA

The focus of this presentation will be on current issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act, how the two laws implicate the hiring process, medical examinations and inquiries for employees with disabilities, employer defenses under the the laws and recent court decisions interpreting them.

There are also other laws that are also often implicated by employees with disabilities, including the Family and Medical Leave Act. School districts often have questions about when employees with disabilities are entitled to accommodations, including leaves of absence. The interplay between all of these laws can be challenging. This presentation will explore some of the key considerations for a district dealing with these complex legal issues.

Module 3: Age-Based Discrimination

Many schools see the value of experienced employees within the workplace, and many employees continue to work for many years within the schools for various reasons. These common goals often lead to employees within the schools who work well beyond any common retirement age. While having older workers within the schools may have advantages, school officials must also recognize issues related to discrimination on the basis of age within employment.

State and federal law both provide protections against discrimination on the basis of age in employment. In this respect, state and federal law protect both applicants and employees 40 years of age and older from age discrimination in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, terms and conditions, or privileges of employment. Such discrimination can manifest in a number of different ways, including within hiring or promotion, but also within age-related comments or conduct that may raise claims of disparate treatment in employment. School officials must understand how the law applies in this area. This presentation will focus on the various laws and guidance in this area, but will also discuss various areas of employment where such discrimination may occur. We will identify various scenarios and consider best practices in addressing this area.

Module 4: Religious-Based Discrimination and Accommodation

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers (including school districts) from discriminating, harassing or retaliating in employment based on various protected classes, including on the basis of religion. In this respect, employers are prohibited from treating employees differently in recruitment, hiring, terminating, promoting, training or assigning job duties on the basis of religious practices or beliefs. Title VII also prohibits workplace harassment or retaliation for requesting accommodations in light of religious practices or for participating in or filing discrimination complaints. Wisconsin law also contains similar legal requirements that prohibit discrimination based on religion.

Title VII defines religion very broadly and protects all aspects of religious observance, practice and belief. Religious observations or practices include, for example, wearing religious clothing or articles or observing a religious holiday. With many different religions that may be present within the school, school officials are often challenged on whether something is a religion and whether a belief or practice is religious.

This presentation will review the various laws that apply to protect employees from discrimination on the basis of religion and will consider various guidance related to this issue. We will also discuss how employment discrimination law applies to religious appearance practices and what steps employers can take to meet their legal responsibilities in this area.

Module 5: First Amendment Rights

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” As a result, school district officials must be cautious about taking any actions that affect this right, including actions impacting the rights of individuals who are employed by the district. However, such public employees must recognize that there are limitations on their freedom of speech. Courts have recognized that public employers may control their employees’ speech in certain instances, particularly where the speech threatens the efficiency of the employer’s operations.

School officials are often confronted with issues surrounding when employees are speaking as an employee or as a citizen. These are particularly challenging issues for school officials to address, particularly when employees are making statements related to school district affairs over social media. This presentation will review the law in this area, including the steps that courts often take in reviewing claims by employees that they are speaking as a citizen rather than as an employee. We will review various court cases in this area, address common scenarios often confronted by schools, and address best practices for addressing these issues.

Module 6: Sex, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination and Harassment

The Wisconsin Fair Employment Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on sex and sexual orientation. The federal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Together, these laws provide protection for employees from discrimination on the basis of sex in areas such as hiring, firing, promotion and compensation. Although neither law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity, the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided an important case that interpreted Title VII to provide protections under the law for claims of discrimination based on gender identity.

School officials are often faced with many challenging issues related to discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex as it relates to employees within the schools. These situations became a little more challenging in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court interpretation of Title VII and the application of the new Title IX regulations to employees on issues related to sexual harassment. This presentation will review the state and federal laws that protect employees in this area and examine guidance from various agencies. We will also discuss various scenarios involving discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex, analyze best practices in addressing these scenarios, and provide an update on the current interpretations of the law, including on issues related to transgender employees.

Module 7: Race-Based Employment Discrimination and Harassment

School officials strive to have a workplace that focuses on the education of students and is free of discrimination in the school workplace. School officials often take significant steps to ensure that their hiring, promotion and termination practices do not involve any discrimination. However, such claims of discrimination by employees can occur, including claims of discrimination on the basis of race. School officials need to be able to recognize circumstances that may give rise to such claims and be able to effectively address such claims.

State and federal law both provide protections for discrimination on the basis of race in employment. Federal and state agencies often expect that employers will provide training about unfair employment practices and laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment within the workplace. To this end, this presentation will focus on the laws that address discrimination on the basis of race within employment. This presentation will also consider issues related to racial harassment by employees within the school environment. We will consider what policies schools should have in place to address these issues and how to apply those policies within the workplace.

Module 8: National Origin and Ancestry Discrimination

The workforce for employers, including school districts, is becoming increasingly diverse. Diversity in the workplace presents many opportunities to gain different perspectives. However, with such diversity in applicants and employees, school district officials must also be aware of various laws that may apply with a diverse workforce.

In particular, both state and federal law protect applicants and employees from employment discrimination based on national origin. National origin discrimination generally involves treating applicants and employees unfavorably because they are, or appear to be, of a certain ethnic background. Such discrimination may involve making decisions on hiring, promotion or termination. Similarly, state law prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of ancestry, and federal law also prohibits employers from such discrimination on the basis of citizenship status, including when requesting certain documentation from applicants to prove work authorization.

With all of these laws and protected categories, it is sometimes a challenge for school districts to ensure that they are complying with the laws. This presentation will discuss the applicable laws, best practices and various scenarios for districts to understand how these laws apply within the schools.

Module 9: Arrest and Conviction Discrimination

School districts in Wisconsin often take certain steps to ensure that their hiring and employment decisions are in the best interest of the students. To this end, districts officials often utilize background checks for applicants to ensure that the district is providing a safe environment, protecting district resources, and mitigating any potential liability. In addition, a district may become aware of a potential criminal situation involving a current employee. With both applicants and current employees, these types of situations often raise issues concerning whether a district can consider any potential outside criminal matter within the employment context.

In Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act prohibits discrimination based upon an applicant’s or employee’s arrest record or conviction record. However, there are some exceptions to this law. In addition, in these matters, other laws must also be considered, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which may require certain notices to individuals before taking any adverse action against an applicant or employee. Certainly, districts must carefully approach these matters in order to avoid violating the law.

This presentation will focus on the laws affecting these type of employment matters, best practices for addressing these matters, and creating policies or handbook provisions to best address these issues.

The Civil Rights training materials, including the comments of all webinar speakers who present the materials, do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon or used as legal advice. The materials will present information and commentary to facilitate a general understanding of the topics that are addressed but are not necessarily an exhaustive treatment of any legal or policy issues. If a school district requires legal advice regarding any topic, issue, situation or incident, the advice should be obtained from the school district’s designated legal counsel.

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