Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

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OSHA found that Echo violated 29 C.F.R. 1926.964(b)(1), the tension-stringing regulation, when two employees were electrocuted while rehanging a line. After the ALJ upheld the citation, Echo petitioned for review. The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that the tension-stringing provision is sufficiently precise to repel Echo's vagueness challenge. In this case, the express language of the provision afforded Echo "sufficiently definite warning" of the conduct required. The court also held that the evidence of industry custom was unnecessary to establish Echo's violation where the provision is not unconstitutionally vague and instructs the employer about specific methods to use in order to comply. Therefore, the provision is not a performance standard and the ALJ did not err by declining to consider evidence that Echo's method complied with industry custom. View "Echo Powerline, LLC v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission" on Justia Law

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Adams, superintendent of the school district in 2013-2016, requested a forensic audit of the district’s expenditures and subsequently had disputes with board members that involved Adams filing a police complaint. The Board of Education revoked an offer to extend her three-year contract. Adams suspended the district’s business manager for financial irregularities. The Board blocked her email and told state education officials that Adams was no longer superintendent. Adams filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. A jury awarded $400,000 in damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that the police report was not a personal grievance, but a matter of public concern within the scope of the First Amendment. The potential for physical altercations between public officials implies that an important public institution was not working properly, particularly given that a proposed forensic audit “seems to have unsettled at least one" Board member. The police report and the controversy more generally could have affected the outcome of elections and the daily management of the school system. The record permitted a reasonable jury to find that an ordinary employee in Adams’s position would be deterred from speaking by the prospect of losing her job and was permitted to consider the possibility that Adams would have remained on the job longer had she kept silent. Damages for a First Amendment violation are not limited by the duration of contracts. View "Adams v. Board of Education Harvey School District 152" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying plaintiff's motion for class certification in an action challenging the written rest-break policy of O'Reilly Auto. Plaintiff raised procedural and substantive arguments on appeal. The panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in setting and enforcing a deadline for moving to certify the class; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's motion for class certification while at the same time granting her an additional month to develop evidence and submit a supplemental brief; and plaintiff was unable to establish that there were questions of law or fact common to the class where she failed to offer any evidence that the written policy was applied to employees. Finally, plaintiff waived her right to appeal the dismissal of her wage-statement claim. View "Davidson v. O'Reilly Auto Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Labor Commission awarding Appellant permanent partial disability under the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA), Utah Code 34A-2-101 to -1005, holding that the Commission's process for determining permanent partial disability benefits is constitutional and that the administrative law judge (ALJ) was not permitted to increase the amount of the award based on Appellant's subjective pain. Based on Commission guidelines, the ALJ based the amount of Appellant's award on a report provided by an assigned medical panel. Appellant argued on appeal that the process for determining permanent partial disability benefits was unconstitutional and that the ALJ erred in failing to augment the medical panel's impairment rating by three percent, resulting in an increased compensation award. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the adjudicative authority of ALJs has not been unconstitutionally delegated to medical panels; and (2) the Commission expressly precludes ALJs from augmenting an impairment rating based on a claimant's subjective pain. View "Ramos v. Cobblestone Centre" on Justia Law

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Petitioners California Disability Services Association; Horrigan Cole Enterprises, Inc., doing business as Cole Vocational Services; Unlimited Quest, Inc.; Loyd’s Liberty Homes, Inc.; and First Step Independent Living Program, Inc. petitioned for mandamus relief and damages, and sought a declaration against the California Department of Developmental Services (Department) and its director, Nancy Bargmann (collectively respondents). Petitioners challenged the Department’s denial of their requests for a rate adjustment due to the increase of the minimum wage, which, in turn, impacted the salaries of their exempt program directors, who had to be paid twice the minimum wage. The trial court denied petitioners’ petition and complaint for declaratory relief finding providers’ classification of the program directors as exempt employees was not mandated by law, thus “there is no ministerial duty imposed on the Department to grant a wage increase request in order to accommodate continued entitlement to the exemption.” Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California Disability Services Assn. v. Bargmann" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's Minnesota Human Rights Act and common-law negligence claims against a university and a hospital for race- and sex-based discrimination, holding that the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiff's employment discrimination claim under the Act and Plaintiff's common-law negligence claims. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from discrimination she allegedly experienced during a practicum program as a graduate student. The district court dismissed Plaintiff's claims under the Act as time barred and dismissed her common-law negligence claims for failure to establish that Defendants owed her a common-law duty separate from the obligations owed under the Act. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) Plaintiff's employment discrimination claim under the act against Allina Health System was timely, and the district court erred in determining that Plaintiff's lack of compensation from the practicum barred her claim; (2) Plaintiff's remaining statutory discrimination claims against Defendants were time barred; and (3) Plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to maintain her common-law negligence claims. View "Abel v. Abbott Northwestern Hospital" on Justia Law

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In late 2014 Andy James was working in Deadhorse for Northern Construction & Maintenance, LLC, a company owned by John Ellsworth and members of his family. Ellsworth also owned Alaska Frontier Constructors, Inc. Alaska Frontier had some kind of business relationship with Nanuq, Inc. In late December Northern Construction sent James from his usual work assignment to work in some capacity in connection with an ice road being constructed and maintained for Caelus Energy Alaska, LLC. James was instructed to work at the direction of Scott Pleas. Despite dangerous blizzard conditions, Pleas directed James to accompany another worker, Johann Willrich, to check fuel levels on equipment idling outside; James objected due to the weather, but was threatened with the loss of his job if he did not follow the direction. James complied; he climbed a large grader to fuel it, but a wind gust blew him off, resulting in shoulder and spinal injuries. James filed personal injury lawsuits, which were consolidated, against the companies. The companies sought and obtained summary judgment rulings that they had statutory employer immunity from the injury claims under the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusive liability provision. James appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court found that because numerous issues of material fact made it impossible to determine whether the companies were entitled to judgment as a matter of law that they were immune from liability under the Act, summary judgment was reversed, the judgment against James vacated, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "James v. Alaska Frontier Constructors, Inc." on Justia Law

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The union filed suit challenging the Authority's decision overturning an arbitrator's award in a dispute arising from a termination provision of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The DC Circuit granted the petition for review as to the Authority's disposition of the breach claim and denied the petition as to the Authority's disposition of the unfair labor practice claim. The court explained that, in vacating the arbitrator's breach determination, the Authority's thorough, substantive review failed to conform to the proper standard of review. The court explained that the Authority's sole inquiry under the proper standard of review should have been whether the arbitrator was even arguably construing or applying the CBA. However, the Authority engaged in a much more searching review of the arbitrator's decision than permitted by law. The court also held that the Authority's explanation of the unfair labor practice issue, although terse, was not arbitrary and capricious. In this case, the Authority reasonably applied its precedent to determine that the employer did not repudiate the CBA even if it breached it. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "National Weather Service Employees Organization v. Federal Labor Relations Authority" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the District of Columbia, seeking compensation for the Executive Director of the Lottery Board's violation of plaintiff's Fifth Amendment rights. In this case, the Executive Director took a series of adverse personnel actions designed to push plaintiff out of his job without due process. The DC Circuit held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment for the District and in denying summary judgment for plaintiff on the question of Monell liability. The court held, as a matter of law, that the Executive Director acted as a final policymaker on behalf of the District when he took the series of personnel actions that led to plaintiff's constructive termination without due process. Therefore, the court held that the District is liable for the Executive Director's wrongdoing. The court remanded for the district court to enter summary judgment against the District on the liability issue and to determine the appropriate amount of damages. View "Thompson v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of BNSF in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging a claim of retaliation for engaging in protected activity under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA). The court held that, in order to make a prima facie case of unlawful retaliation under the FRSA, an employee must show, by a preponderance of the evidence: (i) he engaged in a protected activity; (ii) the rail carrier knew or suspected, actually or constructively, that he engaged in the protected activity; (iii) he suffered an adverse action; and (iv) the circumstances raise an inference that the protected activity was a contributing factor in the adverse action. Furthermore, the contributing factor that an employee must prove is intentional retaliation prompted by the employee engaging in protected activity. In this case, the court held that the record as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find that plaintiff's injury report prompted BNSF to intentionally retaliate against him. View "Neylon v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law