Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries
Sistek v. Department of Veterans Affairs
In 2011, Sistek was appointed as a director at the VA’s Chief Business Office Purchased Care. Sistek subsequently made several protected disclosures to the VA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) questioning various financial practices and perceived contractual anomalies. Sistek’s supervisor became aware of Sistek’s concerns. Sistek was subsequently subjected to an investigation. Sistek filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) alleging whistleblower reprisal based on several personnel actions, including the letter of reprimand. Sistek later filed an individual right of action appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board, alleging retaliation under the Whistleblower Protection Act. The Administrative Judge declined to order any corrective action, finding that a retaliatory investigation, in itself, does not qualify as a personnel action eligible for corrective action under the Act. The OIG subsequently confirmed that the concerns raised by Sistek were justified. Sistek retired from the VA in 2018. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The Act defines qualifying personnel actions at 5 U.S.C. 2302(a)(2)(A); retaliatory investigations, in and of themselves, do not qualify. The Act provides that a retaliatory investigation may provide a basis for additional corrective action if raised in conjunction with one or more of the qualifying personnel actions. View "Sistek v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law
Turner v. City of Dillon
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court declining to dismiss Plaintiff's wrongful discharge claim, holding that Plaintiff failed timely to file his complaint in the district court within the applicable statute of limitations. Plaintiff filed a claim against the City of Dillon and the Dillon Mayor (collectively, Defendants) alleging violation of the Wrongful Discharge of Employment Act (WDEA), Mont. Code Ann. 39-2-905. The City moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that Plaintiff's claims were barred by the statute of limitations. The district court denied the claim. The City then sought dismissal of the action as time barred by a way of summary judgment, which the district court denied. The jury ultimately found that Plaintiff was discharged without good cause and awarded damages of $75,612. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Plaintiff failed to timely file his complaint within the one-year limitation period, as required by the WDEA. View "Turner v. City of Dillon" on Justia Law
Ducksworth v. Tri-Modal Distribution Services
Plaintiffs Ducksworth and Pollock filed suit alleging claims of race discrimination, and Pollock also alleged a sexual harassment claim. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for Scotts and Pacific, holding that the staffing agencies were not involved in Tri-Modal's decisionmaking about whom to promote. The court also affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Tri-Modal's executive vice president, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in overruling Pollock's hearsay objection to a declaration. The court also held that the trial court correctly concluded that Government Code section 12960, former subdivision (d) bars Pollock's claims because she did not file her administrative complaint within one year of March 2017, the time that those claims accrued. View "Ducksworth v. Tri-Modal Distribution Services" on Justia Law
Wilson v. Houston Community College System
Plaintiff appealed the district court's dismissal of his 42 U.S.C. 1983 complaint based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1). Plaintiff alleged that the Board of the HCC violated his First Amendment right to free speech when the Board publicly censured him. The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiff's allegations established standing and a state law claim for relief under section 1983 for a First Amendment violation. In this case, plaintiff alleged that the censure was issued to punish him for exercising his free speech rights and caused him mental anguish. Under the court's precedent, plaintiff's allegation of retaliatory censure is enough to establish an injury in fact. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded the section 1983 claim for damages for further proceedings. However, plaintiff's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief were moot because he is no longer a Board trustee. Therefore, the court granted HCC's motion for partial dismissal of plaintiff's appeal, instructing the district court to dismiss plaintiff's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief after remand. View "Wilson v. Houston Community College System" on Justia Law
Vega v. Chicago Park District
Vega, a Hispanic woman, began her employment with the Chicago Park District in 1987 and was promoted to the position of park supervisor in 2004. In 2012, an anonymous caller accused Vega of clocking in hours that she had not worked. The District had investigators watch Vega for 56 days. The investigators interrupted Vega at work; Vega’s union representative found them to be “pretty dead set” on finding that Vega had violated the Code of Conduct. Suffering from “significant anxiety,” Vega took medical leave on the advice of her physician. Ultimately, Vega was fired for timesheet falsifications and for being untruthful during her Corrective Action Meetings. The District did not offer Vega’s union a pre-disciplinary agreement. A Personnel Board officer upheld Vega’s termination. Vega sued under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging discrimination on the basis of national origin. A jury awarded her $750,000 in compensatory damages but rejected Vega’s retaliation claims. The district court overturned the verdict on the section 1983 claim and remitted the compensatory award to $300,000, Title VII’s maximum; awarded Vega back pay and benefits, plus a tax-component award of $55,924.90; and ordered the District to reinstate Vega. The Seventh Circuit affirmed except for the grant of the tax-component award, which it vacated and remanded for the district court to explain its calculation. View "Vega v. Chicago Park District" on Justia Law
Babb v. Wilkie
Babb, a VA pharmacist, filed suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 633a(a). The district court granted the VA summary judgment, finding that Babb had established a prima facie case but that the VA had proffered legitimate reasons for the challenged actions, and that no jury could reasonably conclude that those reasons were pretextual. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. Section 633a(a) demands that federal sector personnel actions be untainted by any consideration of age. The ADEA does not require proof that a federal employment decision would have turned out differently if age had not been taken into account. If age is a factor in an employment decision, the statute has been violated. It is not anomalous to hold the federal government to a stricter standard than private employers or state and local governments. But-for causation is important in determining the appropriate remedy. To obtain reinstatement, damages, or other relief related to the end result of an employment decision, a showing that a personnel action would have been different if age had not been taken into account is necessary, but if age discrimination played a lesser part in the decision, other remedies may be appropriate. View "Babb v. Wilkie" on Justia Law
EEOC v. Vantage Energy Services, Inc.
After the EEOC brought an enforcement action against Vantage on behalf of an employee, Vantage moved to dismiss based on the EEOC's failure to exhaust administrative remedies. In a one-sentence judgment, the district court agreed and dismissed. The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the EEOC intake questionnaire was sufficient as a charge and, although verified outside of the filing period, was "timely" by virtue of the relation-back regulation. The court noted that the dilatory response of the employee's counsel to the EEOC's months-long requests to file his client's verified charge was inexcusable, and counsel should never ignore applicable Americans with Disabilities law and regulations. Furthermore, the Supreme Court's decision in Edelman v. Lynchburg College, 535 U.S. 106, 113, 118, 122 S. Ct. 1145, 1149, 1152 (2002), and Fed. Express Corp. v. Holowecki, 552 U.S. 389, 402, 128 S. Ct. 1147, 1158 (2008), were designed to accomplish fair and efficient resolution of discrimination complaints filed more often than not by pro se individuals. View "EEOC v. Vantage Energy Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Fraser v. Patrick O’Connor & Assoc.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of plaintiffs, property tax consultant employees, holding that plaintiffs were not exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) because the firm pointed to no job responsibility carried out by a property tax consultant that related in any way to the management or general business operations of the company or its customers. The court also held that the fluctuating-workweek method did not apply in this case, because the preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that there was no mutual agreement between plaintiffs and the firm that plaintiffs would be paid a fixed weekly salary regardless of the number of hours worked. View "Fraser v. Patrick O'Connor & Assoc." on Justia Law
International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. Honeywell International, Inc.
Beginning in 1965, Honeywell and the labor union negotiated a series of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). Honeywell agreed to pay “the full [healthcare benefit] premium or subscription charge applicable to the coverages of [its] pensioner[s]” and their surviving spouses. Each CBA contained a general durational clause stating that the agreement would expire on a specified date, after which the parties would negotiate a new CBA. In 2003, the parties negotiated a CBA obligating Honeywell to pay “not . . . less than” a specified amount beginning in 2008. The retirees filed suit, arguing that the pre-2003 CBAs vested lifetime, full-premium benefits for all pre-2003 retirees and that the CBAs of 2003, 2007, and 2011 vested, at a minimum, lifetime, floor-level benefits for the remaining retirees. The Sixth Circuit agreed with the district court that none of the CBAs vested lifetime benefits. Without an unambiguous vesting clause, the general durational clause controls. Reversing in part, the court held that the “not . . . less than” language unambiguously limited Honeywell’s obligation to pay only the floor-level contributions during the life of the 2011 CBA. The court rejected a claim that Honeywell acquired a "windfall" at the retirees' expense. View "International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. Honeywell International, Inc." on Justia Law
Cabarrus County Board of Education v. Department of State Treasurer
In this dispute concerning the manner in which the cost of pensions for certain retirees should be funded, the Supreme Court held that the Administrative Procedure Act's (APA) rulemaking procedures bind how the Retirement System's Board of Trustees adopt "cap factors" under the anti-pension spiking provision at issue in this case. In order to calculate the retirement benefit cap applicable to each retiree, the Act to Enact Anti-Pension-Spiking Legislation by Establishing a Contribution-Based Benefit Cap directs the Retirement System's Board of Trustees to adopt a contribution-based benefit cap factor recommended by an actuary, which the Board had traditionally adopted by resolution. Here, the Retirement System determined that Dr. Barry Shepherd's pension benefits were subject the contribution-based benefit cap. The trial court concluded that the Board of Trustees' adoption of the cap factor was void because the action was subject to rulemaking under the APA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Board of Trustees was required to adopt the statutorily mandated cap factor utilizing the rulemaking procedures required by the APA; and (2) the Retirement System erred by billing the Board of Education an additional amount relating to Dr. Shepherd's pension, in light of the Board of Trustees' failure to adopt the necessary cap factor in an appropriate manner. View "Cabarrus County Board of Education v. Department of State Treasurer" on Justia Law