Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

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St. Vincent Hospital adopted a COVID-19 vaccine requirement. Employees had until November 12, 2021 to get vaccinated unless they received a medical or religious exemption. In reviewing exemption requests, St. Vincent considered the employee’s position and amount of contact with others, the current health and safety risk posed by COVID, and the cost and effectiveness of other safety protocols. Dr. Halczenko treated gravely ill children, including those suffering from or at risk of organ failure.St. Vincent denied Halczenko’s request for religious accommodation on the ground that “providing an exemption to a Pediatric Intensivist working with acutely ill pediatric patients poses more than a de minim[i]s burden to the hospital because the vaccine provides an additional level of protection in mitigating the risk associated with COVID.” Halczenko and four other St. Vincent employees filed an EEOC complaint. The others—a nurse practitioner and three nurses, including two in the pediatric ICU—were granted religious accommodations. St. Vincent terminated Halczenko’s employment. Halczenko attributes his lack of success in finding new work to his non-compete agreement with St. Vincent, his preference not to move his family, and the limited demand for an unvaccinated physician in his specialty. In a purported class action, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of preliminary relief, concluding that Halczenko had shown neither irreparable harm nor an inadequate remedy at law. View "Halczenko v. Ascension Health, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (MMBA; Gov. Code 3500) requires public agencies to meet and confer (bargain) in good faith with recognized employee organizations regarding changes to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. The Associations filed unfair practice complaints alleging the County violated the MMBA when its board of supervisors placed Measure P on the November 2020 ballot. The measure, which the voters ultimately approved, amends the Sonoma County Code to enhance the investigative and oversight authority of the County’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) over the Sonoma County Sheriff-Coroner's office.The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), which has jurisdiction over MMBA claims, agreed, finding that, before placing the measure on the ballot, the County was required to bargain with the Associations. The court of appeal reversed in part and remanded. PERB failed to consider whether the decision to place certain Measure P provisions on the ballot significantly and adversely affected the working conditions of the Associations’ members and exceeded its authority by issuing a remedial order declaring voter-approved Measure P provisions void and unenforceable. View "County of Sonoma v. Public Employment Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Several public-sector employees filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 seeking to recover any agency fees taken from their paychecks by the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association and Santa Clara County. Specifically, Plaintiffs sought a refund for fees paid before the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Janus v. Am. Fed’n of State, Cnty., & Mun. Emps., Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018) (prohibiting public-sector unions from collecting compulsory agency fees).In the district court, Defendants successfully moved for summary judgment, claiming they were entitled to a good-faith defense because their actions were expressly authorized by then-applicable United States Supreme Court law and state law. Plaintiffs appealed.On appeal, Plaintiffs acknowledge that Danielson v. Inslee, 945 F.3d 1096 (9th Cir. 2019) precludes their claim against the Union. The Ninth Circuit held that the rule announced in Danielson also applies to municipalities because "precedent recognizes that municipalities are generally liable in the same way as private corporations in sec. 1983 actions." Thus, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' claim against both the Union and the County. View "SEAN ALLEN V. SANTA CLARA CNTY CORR. POA" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit was tasked with determining whether the Tampa Electric Company violated OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response  (“HAZWOPER”) standard when employees at one of its power plants responded to an ammonia release without donning certain protective gear.   The case arose when one of the underground pipes became over-pressurized, and, as it was designed to do, the system automatically diverted ammonia from that pipe to the sump. About 45 minutes after the ammonia began to vent, a security guard heard the alarm sounding at the skid and smelled ammonia. He began having trouble breathing and reported the leak. Once notified, control-room personnel dispatched “rovers”—specially trained response employees—to manage the ammonia release   Because the rovers arrived at the skid without a “self-contained breathing apparatus[es],” OSHA fined Tampa Electric $9,054 under 29 C.F.R. Section 1910.120(q)(3)(iv). Tampa Electric appealed the citation. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (“Commission”) held that Tampa Electric’s response to the ammonia release wasn’t an “emergency response” within the meaning of the HAZWOPER standard and, therefore, that the company hadn’t violated that standard. The Eleventh Circuit denied the petition for review and affirmed the order of the Commission. The court held that the release here was controlled— or, in the words of the regulation, that it wasn’t “uncontrolled.” Because the response to it wasn’t an “emergency response,” the HAZWOPER standard didn’t apply to the rovers’ conduct. And because the HAZWOPER standard didn’t apply, Tampa Electric didn’t violate it. View "U.S. Department of Labor v. Tampa Electric Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff an attorney employed by the Atlanta Housing Authority (“AHA”), which is a recipient of federal grant funds—was fired after challenging the negotiation tactics of AHA’s new CEO (“CEO”). Plaintiff’s complaints filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) inspector general and the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia were both dismissed for failure to state a claim under the NDAA.   On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the district court erroneously concluded that Section 4712 did not apply to her as an employee of a federal “grantee,” and erroneously found that she merely alleged a difference of opinion, not a specific violation of a contract or grant.   The Eleventh Circuit agreed with Plaintiff that she falls within the class of disclosing persons protected by Section 4712, however, the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court explained that when Congress and the President enacted Section 4712 of the NDAA, they extended its protections to employees of federal grantees, not just federal contractors. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court’s holding that employees like Plaintiff could not qualify for whistleblower protections. However, Plaintiff failed to show that her belief that the CEO’s actions evinced gross mismanagement was reasonable. Nor did she show that she had a reasonable belief that the CEO’s actions constituted an abuse of authority or a violation of a law, rule, or regulation. Thus, Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. View "Karen Fuerst v. The Housing Authority of the City of Atlanta, Georgia" on Justia Law

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Petitioners are truck drivers previously employed by real party in interest Haralambos Beverage Co. (Haralambos). Petitioners' filed a putative wage and hour class action alleging, among other things, that Haralambos failed to provide meal and rest breaks in violation of Labor Code sections 226.7 and 512 and the Industrial Welfare Commission’s Wage Order No. 9-2001. Nearly two years later, on December 28, 2018, the FMCSA issued an order concluding that California’s meal and rest break rules are laws “‘on commercial motor vehicle safety,’” are preempted pursuant to title 49 United States Code section 31141 (section 31141).   Thereafter, Haralambos filed a motion to strike the class allegations on federal preemption grounds, which the parties agreed was a request to strike petitioners’ third and fourth causes of action for failure to provide meal and rest breaks. On August 18, 2021, the superior court granted the motion and struck the two causes of action.   The Second Appellate District granted Petitioners’ petition for writ of mandate. The court held that in light of the FMCSA’s authority to determine and communicate what it is preempting, its use of language suggesting prospective application only, and its failure to expressly extend its decision to pending claims, the court concluded the Preemption Decision does not apply to bar claims arising from conduct that occurred prior to the decision, i.e., before December 28, 2018. View "Garcia v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Washington enacted a workers’ compensation law that applied only to Hanford site workers who were “engaged in the performance of work, either directly or indirectly, for the United States.” The Hanford site, once used to produce nuclear weapons, is undergoing decontamination. Most workers involved in the cleanup process are employed by private companies under contract with the federal government; a few are state employees, private employees, and federal employees. As compared to Washington’s general workers’ compensation scheme, the law made it easier for Hanford's federal contract workers to establish entitlement to workers’ compensation, thus increasing workers’ compensation costs for the federal government. The Ninth Circuit upheld the law as within the scope of a federal waiver of immunity, 40 U.S.C. 3172.A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. Washington’s law facially discriminates against the federal government and its contractors; section 3172 does not clearly and unambiguously waive immunity from discriminatory state laws, so Washington’s law is unconstitutional. While section 3172(a) says that “[t]he state authority charged with enforcing and requiring compliance with the state workers’ compensation laws . . . may apply [those] laws to all land and premises in the State which the Federal Government owns,” and “to all projects, buildings, constructions, improvements, and property in the State and belonging to the Government, in the same way, and to the same extent as if the premises were under the exclusive jurisdiction of the State,” the waiver does not “clear[ly] and unambiguous[ly]” authorize a state to enact a discriminatory law that facially singles out the federal government for unfavorable treatment.The Court held that the case was not moot, despite Washington’s enactment of a new statute that, arguably, applies retroactively. View "United States v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the order of the superior court granting declaratory and injunctive relief in favor of Plaintiff in this action brought under the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights (LEOBOR), holding that remand was required for an order complying with the provisions of R.I. Gen. Laws 42-28.6-4 and restoration of Plaintiff's salary and benefits to the status quo ante.Plaintiff filed a complaint against the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation and related defendants (collectively, Defendants) seeking a judgment declaring that she was entitled to the rights and benefits set forth under LEOBOR and seeking reinstatement to her position as the deputy chief of the Rhode Island Airport Police Department (RIAPD). The Supreme Court vacated the judgment in part, holding (1) Plaintiff was entitled to the protections granted to law enforcement officers in the LEOBOR statute; and (2) because Defendants terminated Plaintiff in violation of section 42-28.6-4(a) Plaintiff was entitled to all of the salary and benefits she would have received had she not been wrongfully terminated. View "Ricci v. R.I. Commerce Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals denying a writ of mandamus ordering the Industrial Commission of Ohio to vacate its decision granting a specific safety requirement (VSSR) award to Josue Morales, holding that Target Auto Repair failed to establish plain error in the proceedings below.Morales sustained injuries while working as a technician for Target Auto Repair. His workers' compensation claim was allowed for multiple conditions. The Commission further granted Morales's application for a VSSR award in the amount of fifty percent of the maximum weekly rate. Target Auto Repair subsequently brought this mandamus action. The court of appeals denied the mandamus request. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Target Auto Repair may not appeal the court of appeals' adoption of findings of fact or conclusions of law to which it failed timely to object. View "State ex rel. Target Auto Repair v. Morales" on Justia Law

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Stamey began working at Forest River in 2007 at age 51. He accumulated a strong work record, receiving several raises and avoiding any discipline. Stamey claims that his coworkers began harassing him in 2017 when he was 61. The alleged harassment continued for roughly 10 months and included verbal harassment, which Stamey described as escalating to the point where he “caught old age insults practically every morning on [his] way into the building, when [he] left for the day, during breaks, and whenever [he] walked into other parts of the plant.” The harassment also included interference with Stamey’s work. His coworkers repeatedly defaced his workstation, writing profanity on his tool cabinet, in the bathroom, and around the plant, and zip-tying his tools together. He resigned in 2018 at age 62 and sued, alleging that the company constructively discharged him in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by refusing to address a relentless and ruthless campaign of age‐based harassment by his coworkers.The district court granted River Forest summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed. While the case is close, viewing the facts and drawing all reasonable inferences in Stamey’s favor, a jury could return a verdict in Stamey’s favor. If Forest River shows that Stamey’s account lacks credibility, the company may prevail. View "Stamey v. Forest River, Inc." on Justia Law