In July of 2023, employers are questioning the ripple effects of the Supreme Court’s freedom of religion-based ruling contravening Colorado’s anti-discrimination law, USCIS introduces a new I-9 form that all employers need to know about, and a celebrity lands in hot water over workplace health and safety violations at his school. Read more below.
U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Christian Website Designer’s Right to Refuse Services for Same-Sex Weddings
In a significant 6-3 decision along ideological lines, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this month that a Christian website designer in Colorado has the right to refuse services for same-sex weddings, citing violations of her free speech rights under the state’s anti-discrimination law.
The case centered around Lorie Smith, owner of 303 Creative LLC, who sought to block the Colorado Civil Rights Commission from enforcing the state’s anti-discrimination law against her. Smith argued that, as an expressive artist, she should not be compelled to create wedding websites for LGBTQ couples, as it conflicted with her religious beliefs that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
The conservative supermajority of the high court sided with Smith, asserting that the First Amendment protects her from being forced to create designs that communicate messages she disagrees with. Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, emphasized that the government cannot coerce individuals to speak in ways that contradict their conscience.
The ruling overturned a decision by the Tenth Circuit and revisited themes from the 2018 case, Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The dissenting justices, led by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, criticized the majority’s opinion, arguing that it allows businesses to discriminate against protected classes.
The ruling has implications beyond the case at hand, with critics fearing it could open the door to more discrimination in public accommodations. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser vowed to hold accountable those who engage in unlawful discrimination, while Smith’s attorney, Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, applauded the reaffirmation of Americans’ right to free speech.
While not an employment case, the Court’s decision in 303 Creative raises serious questions for employers who constitute public accommodations and have related anti-discrimination policies. For example, the situation could arise where an individual employee might object to a project on religious grounds and seek an exemption or accommodation to avoid working on the project. Time will tell how these scenarios might play out.
USCIS Introduces Streamlined Form I-9 and DHS Enables Remote Verification for Employers
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) revealed a new Form I-9, set to be mandatory for employers starting August 1, 2023. The updated version has been streamlined and shortened to simplify the hiring process. Employers can still use the old Form I-9 (Rev. 10/21/19) until October 31, 2023, but face penalties if used thereafter. The new form includes a checkbox to indicate if an employee’s documentation was examined using a DHS-authorized alternative procedure, thanks to a final rule issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Additionally, employers using E-Verify can conduct verifications electronically, including live video interviews for remote employees.
Notable, USCIS made the following updates to the Form I-9:
- Reduced Sections 1 and 2 to a single-sided sheet. No previous fields were removed. Instead, multiple fields were merged into fewer fields when possible.
- Moved the Section 1 Preparer/Translator Certification area to a separate supplement (Supplement A) that employers can provide to employees when necessary. Employers may attach additional supplement sheets as needed.
- Moved the Section 3 Reverification and Rehire area to a separate, standalone supplement (Supplement B), which employers can print if or when rehire occurs or reverification is required. Employers may attach additional supplement sheets as necessary.
- Removed use of “alien authorized to work” in Section 1 and replaced it with “noncitizen authorized to work” and also clarified the difference between “noncitizen national” and “noncitizen authorized to work.”
- The form can now be filled out on tablets and mobile devices.
- Removed certain features to ensure the form can be more easily downloaded. This also removes the requirement to enter N/A in certain fields.
- Updated the notice at the top of the form explaining how to avoid discrimination in the Form I-9 process.
- Revised the Lists of Acceptable Documents page to include some acceptable receipts and in addition guidance and links to information on automatic extensions of employment authorization documentation. Added a box that eligible employers are required to check if the employee’s Form I-9 documentation was examined under a DHS-authorized alternative procedure rather than via physical examination.
Former Teacher Files Suit Against Kanye West’s Donda Academy, Alleging Workplace Health and Safety Issues
A former teacher and assistant principal, Isaiah Meadows, has filed a lawsuit against Donda Academy, previously known as Yeezy Christian Academy, alleging various health and safety issues at the school. According to the complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Meadows claims that the rapper Kanye West, also known as Ye, who founded the school, did not address critical problems such as lack of working hot water, missing glass in exterior windows, and serious wiring issues that led to an electrical fire.
Meadows further stated that a skylight was installed without glass, causing rainwater to flood the school. The building also experienced periods without electricity, and lessons were conducted using flood lamps powered by generators. Additionally, the lack of hot water posed sanitation issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the building’s septic tank overflowed frequently, causing unpleasant odors.
Apart from the health and safety concerns, Meadows alleges issues with his compensation, which was supposed to include assistance with his family’s rent. However, the promised financial support was not fulfilled, leading to severe financial difficulties for him and his family.
The complaint accuses Donda Academy and Kanye West of breach of contract for unpaid wages, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and various violations of the state’s labor code. The school has not yet responded to the allegations.
Jeff Burke is an attorney at MacElree Harvey, Ltd., working in the firm’s Employment and Litigation practice groups. Jeff counsels businesses and individuals on employment practices and policies, executive compensation, employee hiring and separation issues, non-competition and other restrictive covenants, wage and hour disputes, and other employment-related matters. Jeff represents businesses and individuals in employment litigation such as employment contract disputes, workforce classification audits, and discrimination claims based upon age, sex, race, religion, disability, sexual harassment, and hostile work environment. Jeff also practices in commercial litigation as well as counsels business on commercial contract matters.