Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

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After a boiler exploded at a refinery, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the refinery’s owner, Wynnewood Refining Co., LLC, for violating 29 C.F.R. section 1910.119, which set forth requirements for the management of highly hazardous chemicals. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (the Commission) upheld the violations, noting that the refinery had previously violated section 1910.119, but the prior violations occurred before Wynnewood LLC owned the refinery, and therefore occurred under a different employer. Accordingly, the Commission did not classify the violations as “repeat[] violations” under 29 U.S.C. 666(a), which permitted increased penalties for “employer[s] who willfully or repeatedly violate[]” the regulation. Wynnewood appealed the Commission’s order, arguing that section 1910.119 did not apply to the boiler that exploded. The Tenth Circuit found section 1910.119’s plain text unambiguously applied to the boiler, and affirmed that portion of the Commission’s order upholding the violations. The U.S. Secretary of Labor also appealed the Commission's order, arguing the Commission erred by failing to characterize the violations as repeat violations. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed Wynnewood was not the same employer as the refinery's previous owner, thus affirming that portion of the Commission's order relating to the repeat violations. View "Scalia v. Wynnewood Refining" on Justia Law

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In this action for constructive discharge, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming the trial court's judgment granting Defendant's motion to strike, holding that Plaintiff's complaint failed as a matter of law to allege that Defendant created a work atmosphere so difficult or unpleasant that a reasonable person in Plaintiff's shoes would have felt compelled to resign.Plaintiff, an optician formerly employed by Defendant, brought this action alleging that Defendant required him to violate public policy and that, as a result, Plaintiff was compelled to resign. The trial court granted Defendant's motion to strike, relying on Brittell v. Department of Correction 7171 A.2d 1254 (Conn. 1998). The Appellate Court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff failed sufficiently to allege the second requirement of a constructive discharge claim in his complaint. View "Karagozian v. USV Optical, Inc." on Justia Law

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While Michael Tilkey and his girlfriend Jacqueline Mann were at her home in Arizona, the two got into an argument. Tilkey decided to leave. When he stepped out onto the enclosed patio to collect his things, Mann locked the door behind him. Tilkey banged on the door to regain entry, but Mann called police. Police arrested Tilkey and charged him under Arizona law with criminal damage deface and other charges; domestic violence charges were attached to the criminal damage and disorderly conduct charges. Tilkey pled guilty to the disorderly conduct charge only, and the other charges were dropped. After Tilkey completed a domestic nonviolence diversion program, the disorderly conduct charge was dismissed. Before the disorderly conduct charge was dismissed, Allstate Insurance Company (Allstate), for whom Tilkey had worked for over 30 years, terminated his employment based on his arrest and his participation in the diversion program. Allstate informed Tilkey it was discharging him for threatening behavior and/or acts of physical harm or violence to another person. Following the termination, Allstate reported its reason for the termination on a Form U5, filed with Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and accessible to any firm that hired licensed broker-dealers like Tilkey. Tilkey sued Allstate for wrongful termination in violation of California Labor Code section 432.7 and compelled, self-published defamation. At trial, Allstate presented evidence that it would have terminated his employment based on after-acquired evidence that Tilkey had circulated obscene and inappropriate e-mails using company resources. A jury returned a verdict in Tilkey’s favor on all causes of action. Allstate appealed, contending: (1) it did not violate section 432.7; (2) compelled self-published defamation per se was not a viable tort theory; (3) it did not defame Tilkey because there was not substantial evidence its statement was not substantially true; (4) punitive damages were unavailable in compelled self-publication defamation causes of action; (5) the defamatory statement was not made with malice; and (6) the punitive damages awarded here were unconstitutionally excessive. The Court of Appeal agreed Allstate did not violate section 432.7 when it terminated Tilkey’s employment based on his plea and his participation in an Arizona domestic nonviolence program and reversed that judgment. However, the Court concluded compelled self-published defamation was a viable theory, and substantial evidence supported the verdict that the statement was not substantially true, so the Court affirmed that portion of the judgment. While the Court concluded punitive damages were available in this instance, the punitive damages awarded here were not proportionate to the compensatory damages for defamation. The Court remanded this matter to the trial court with directions to recalculate punitive damages. View "Tilkey v. Allstate Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In this workers' compensation action, the Court of Appeals held that the Workers' Compensation Commission did not err in calculating the deduction of decibels from Claimants' total average hearing losses under Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. (LE) 9-650(b)(3) by counting the number of years between each firefighter's fiftieth birthday and the dates that they each retired from employment with Montgomery County, Maryland.Anthony Cochran and Andrew Bowen, former firefighters, developed hearing loss, and Bowen also developed tinnitus. Both men filed a claim under LE 9-505. The Commission awarded compensation to both claimants, finding that each had sustained hearing loss arising in and out of the course of their employment and that Bowen had sustained tinnitus arising in and out of the course of his employment. The Court of Special Appeals held that the Commission correctly calculated the deduction set forth in LE 9-650(b)(3) but erred in awarding permanent partial disability benefits to Bowen for tinnitus. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the Commission properly calculated the deduction set forth in LE 9-650(b)(3) by counting the number of years between each man's fiftieth birthday and the date of retirement; and (2) the Court of Special Appeals erred in reversing the Commission's decision as to tinnitus. View "Montgomery County v. Cochran & Bowen" on Justia Law

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The Court of Chancery granted Scott Holsopple's motion for dismissal from this case, holding that this Court lacked any basis to assert personal jurisdiction over Holsopple.Holsopple previously worked for Focus Operating, LLC, a subsidiary of Focus Financial Partners, LLC (Focus Parent). During his employment with Focus Operating, Holsopple signed five Unit Agreements, two of which selected the courts of Delaware as the exclusive forum for disputes relating to the Unit Agreements. By signing the agreements, Holsopple because a member of Focus Parent. The two most recent iterations of Focus Parent's operating agreement selected the Courts of Delaware as the exclusive forum for disputes relating to the operating agreements. After Holsopple took a position with Hightower Holdings, LLC, a competitor of Focus Operating, Focus Parent filed this lawsuit alleging, among other things, that Holsopple violated the employment-related provisions in the Unit Agreements and violated the exclusive choice-of-forum provisions by filing a lawsuit in California state court. Holsopple filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. After a choice-of-law analysis, the Court of Chancery granted the motion, holding that the Delaware choice-of-forum provisions could not support jurisdiction. View "Focus Financial Financial Partners, LLC v. Holsopple" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the County in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging claims of discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff, an employee of the County who suffers from multiple sclerosis, filed suit alleging that she faced unlawful discrimination based on her disability when the County laterally transferred her to another department, and that the transfer came in retaliation for filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).The court held that a transfer is not an adverse action when it is voluntarily requested and agreed upon. In this case, plaintiff requested a lateral transfer, and the County agreed to place her in a position with the same pay and similar responsibilities. Therefore, plaintiff failed to show an adverse action and the district court correctly determined that she failed to make out a prima facie case of discrimination and retaliation. View "Laird v. Fairfax County" on Justia Law

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MTA's failure to count the days an employee is on California Family Rights Act (CFRA) leave when calculating the 60-day clearance period does not violate the CFRA. Plaintiff, a bus operator for MTA, was terminated from his employment after he had eight non-excluded absences. This appeal concerns the discipline provision in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between MTA and the union representing all operations employees of MTA. Under a section of that provision (the absenteeism rule), an employee is subject to progressive discipline, up to and including termination, if he or she has a certain number of absences. To avoid discipline, the employee may remove (or clear) an absence from his or her count by not having any absences for 60 consecutive calendar days. However, certain kinds of absences are expressly excluded from the absenteeism rule, such as an absence covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the CFRA.The Court of Appeal held that where, as here, an employer's no-fault absenteeism policy provides that an employee may clear absences that otherwise would count for purposes of disciplinary action by working (or being available to work) during a certain clearance period, the employer does not violate the CFRA by extending the absence clearance period by the number of days the employee was on CFRA leave during that period. The court also held that plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact that MTA treats other kinds of unpaid leave differently than CFRA leave. Therefore, the court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for MTA on plaintiff's claims for retaliation based on his use of CFRA leave, failure to prevent retaliation, and interference with CFRA leave. View "Lares v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kathleen Carroll sued her former employer, defendant California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Commission), for terminating her employment in retaliation for her reporting Commission mismanagement to the state auditor. Prior to bringing this action, plaintiff appealed her termination to the State Personnel Board (Board), claiming the Commission fired her in retaliation for her whistleblower activities. She also filed a separate whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Board. The Board denied her claims. After the Commission removed the matter to federal court, the district court dismissed the section 1983 claim and remanded the matter to state court. A jury found for plaintiff and awarded her substantial damages. The Commission appealed, contending: (1) the district court’s judgment was res judicata as to this action; (2) the Board’s decisions collaterally estopped this action; (3) the trial court abused its discretion in evidentiary matters by (a) permitting plaintiff’s counsel to question witnesses on and asking the jury to draw negative inferences from the Commission’s exercise of the attorney-client privilege, (b) denying the admission of the Board’s findings and decisions, (c) denying the admission of after-acquired evidence, and (d) denying the admission of evidence mitigating plaintiff’s emotional distress; and (4) the damages award was unlawful in numerous respects. Although the district court’s judgment was not res judicata and the Board’s decisions did not collaterally estop this action, the Court of Appeal reversed, finding the trial court committed prejudicial error when it allowed plaintiff’s counsel to question witnesses on and ask the jury to draw negative inferences from the defendants’ exercise of the attorney-client privilege and did not timely instruct the jury with the mandatory curative instruction provided in Evidence Code section 913. Because judgment was reversed on this ground, the Court did not address the Commission’s other claims of error. View "Carroll v. Commission on Teacher Credentialing" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of U.S. Bank's motion for summary judgment in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that the Bank fired her because of her age and in retaliation for reporting discrimination in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.The court held that the Bank articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to terminate plaintiff with adequate support in the record: performance issues. The court also held that plaintiff failed to show that the Bank's explanation for her firing is mere pretext for intentional discrimination. In this case, none of the employees that she compares herself to are similarly situated in all relevant respects, and the evidence does not present a change in basis for firing her. Furthermore, plaintiff offered no evidence to support causation for her retaliation claim under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Finally, the Bank's decision not to hire plaintiff in another position was not based on a discriminatory and retaliatory motive, and plaintiff failed to establish pretext. View "McKey v. U.S. Bank National Association" on Justia Law

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The Jefferson County, Alabama Board of Education ("the Board") and several of its employees sought to avoid the application of an occupational tax imposed by the City of Irondale ("City"). The Board and its employees argued that public-school employees were exempt from the occupational tax because, they contended they provided an essential government service. "But the importance of a state employee's role, even a role as important as a public-school employee, does not remove that employee's obligation to pay a duly owed occupational tax." The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of the City. View "Blankenship et al. v. City of Irondale" on Justia Law