Do you think that the Fourth Circuit got it wrong when it decided against an employee who was called a “porch monkey” more than once by a coworker and was fired from her job shortly after she complained? You are certainly not alone. Ms. Boyer-Liberto’s complaints about the racists did not give rise to a claim for a hostile work environment or employment discrimination according to the Fourth Circuit, but you may see the Fourth Circuit change or limit that opinion.
The Fourth Circuit on Tuesday, July 1, granted en banc hearing to Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau Corp., marking a potential shift in the way the Fourth Circuit analyzes employment discrimination claims. What this means is that both sides will reargue the case, but this time they will do so in front of all eligible judges of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Many appellate courts sit in parts or divisions of three or more judges from among a larger number on the full court. The Fourth Circuit is no exception. That’s why only three judges (Chief Judge Traxler and Judges Neimeyer and Shed) heard and decided the original case. When a court sits en banc it is possible that it will reach a different decision from the original 3-member panel. It is common for parties to ask for a rehearing en banc after an appellate court renders a decision; however, they are rarely granted. When a court does grant a rehearing en banc, it means that one of the following situations are in play:
- A material (potentially outcome changing) fact or legal issue was overlooked in the decision;
- A change in the law happened after the case was decided and was overlooked by the judges who made the decision;
- The decision conflicts with a decision made by the Supreme Court, the Fourth Circuit itself, or another federal circuit; or
- The proceeding involves some issue of exceptional importance.
Oral argument is scheduled for September 18, 2014, so stay tuned for important developments in the case.