The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled on March 7, 2018, that workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The language of Title VII does not expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. However, the US EEOC has taken a broad approach to enforcing Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination, arguing that it includes both gender identity and sexual orientation.
Todd A. Solomon is the head of McDermott’s Benefits, Compensation & Employment Practice Group. Todd focuses his practice on designing, amending and administrating pension, profit sharing, 401(k), employee stock ownership and 403(b) plans, as well as nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements. He also counsels privately and publicly held corporations and tax-exempt entities regarding fiduciary issues under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), employee benefits issues involved in corporate transactions, executive compensation matters and the implementation of benefit programs for domestic partners of employees. Read Todd A. Solomon's full bio.
Todd Solomon urged employers to “get past” a reluctance to deal with transgender employee concerns and “press the issue in order to create a comfortable and inclusive environment” in the workplace. “Support for LGBT employees must come from the top down in order to be effective, and it has to be evidenced by concrete actions in addition to mere words,” Mr. Solomon stated.
Originally published in The SHRM Blog (Society for Human Resource Management), March 26, 2018.
On February 26, 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (covering Connecticut, New York and Vermont) ruled that workplace discrimination on the basis sexual orientation violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).
The language of Title VII does not expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, in 2015, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) took the position that Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination under the purview of prohibited sex discrimination. In 2016, the EEOC began filing sexual orientation discrimination lawsuits enforcing that position.
Circuit courts are divided on the question of whether claims of sexual orientation discrimination are viable under Title VII. In March of 2017, the Eleventh Circuit held that sexual orientation discrimination does not violate Title VII. The Seventh Circuit held the opposite the following month, and the Supreme Court declined to decide the split in December. With its en banc decision in Melissa Zarda et al. v. Altitude Express, dba Skydive Long Island, et al., the Second Circuit sided with the EEOC and the Seventh Circuit.
As a result of the decision, employers may see increased litigation in the area of sexual orientation discrimination. To protect against potential lawsuits, employers should consider updating their nondiscrimination policies to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, employers should perform sexual orientation harassment training for employees and managers.
The decision also raises potential concerns for employee benefit plans. Although the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA) generally preempts state laws that relate to employee benefit plans, ERISA does not preempt other federal laws, including Title VII. While certain spousal benefits and rights under qualified retirement plans are required by federal law to be extended to same-sex spouses, the same explicit mandates do not apply to welfare plans. Employers should consider whether any of their employee benefit plans discriminate against employees with same-sex spouses (e.g., excluding same-sex spouses from coverage under a self-funded medical plan). Such distinctions may be ripe for legal action as a result of the decision and the EEOC’s ongoing enforcement efforts.
Patrick McCurry and Todd Solomon wrote this bylined article on how family offices are using sophisticated techniques to compensate their employees in a tax-efficient manner. “We expect to see the continued use of equity to deliver tax-efficient compensation to family office employees while aligning the economic interests and incentives of the family and the family office’s key employees,” the authors wrote.
Originally published in Tax Executive, February 1, 2018.
The new tax reform legislation includes important changes to the tax treatment of employer-sponsored benefit programs, including transportation benefit programs and moving expense reimbursements. The law also creates a new tax credit for employers who provide paid family and medical leave to their employees.
Joe Urwitz, Todd Solomon and Chris Nemeth discuss provisions of The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) of particular relevance to tax-exempt entities and their investment managers, as well as ongoing litigation against Section 403(b) plans.
At the 36th Annual ISCEBS Symposium, Todd Solomon presented best practices for plan fiduciaries to avoid 401(k) plan and 403(b) plan class action lawsuits. Todd discussed fiduciary responsibilities under ERISA as well as potential consequences of breaching fiduciary responsibilities. He highlighted notable cases brought against plan fiduciaries, including those that allege excess plan fees. Todd discussed the need for rigorous monitoring and documentation of the review process.
Since the announcement by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that sponsors of individually designed retirement plans may no longer receive a periodic determination letter, plan sponsors have faced uncertainty about how to demonstrate compliance for their retirement plans. Our McDermott Retirement Plan Compliance Program, a new opinion letter and operational review program for individually designed 401(a) and 403(b) retirement plans, will allow plan sponsors to document their plans’ compliance with tax code requirements in response to the curtailment of the IRS’ determination letter program.
On February 28, Todd Solomon and Maureen O’Brien presented a Strafford live webinar, “Private Equity Compliance With ERISA: Navigating Manager Fiduciary Duties for Funds Holding ERISA Plan Assets”. ERISA imposes fiduciary obligations on funds that hold employee benefit plan assets, including private equity managers responsible for investing fund assets. Managing those fiduciary obligations requires knowledge of the ERISA plan asset requirements. In addition, last year’s Sun Capital decision has broad implications for private equity funds and their investors. The ruling subjects funds to joint and several liabilities for the ERISA pension obligations of their portfolio companies. These slides discuss the ERISA fiduciary issues relevant to private equity funds and the implications of the most recent Sun Capital case.
In the presentation “Highlights of Record Retention Requirements Applicable to Employee Benefit Plans,” Todd A. Solomon detailed the general rules of The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). He discussed several specific record-keeping requirements for employee benefit plans and a number of general requirements that imply a duty to retain records, for example general fiduciary duties, plan distribution requirements, COBRA requirements and qualified medical child support requirements.