Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries
Ulrey v. Reichhart
School Superintendent Reichhart granted an adult student permission to possess cigarettes on school grounds. Ulrey, the assistant principal, disagreed with that decision. Without approaching Reichhart first, Ulrey called the president of the school board, who emailed Reichhart to express concern about his decision. Reichhart rebuked Ulrey for going over his head, threatening to reprimand her formally. She apologized. Three months later, she resigned during a meeting with Reichhart. Ulrey filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Reichhart and the school board, claiming that Reichhart violated her First Amendment rights by retaliating for her speech about a student discipline issue and that the defendants coerced her to resign, depriving her of her property interest in her job without due process of law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Ulrey spoke about the discipline issue in her capacity as an employee, so the First Amendment did not protect her speech. Ulrey failed to present sufficient evidence sufficient that her resignation was involuntary. The test is not whether the employee was happy about resigning or even whether the employer asked for the resignation. Ulrey offered to resign because Reichhart’s “vibes” and “physical demeanor” communicated his desire to fire her. That is not enough to treat the defendants as if they had denied her the extensive procedural protections available if she had wanted to contest a possible termination. View "Ulrey v. Reichhart" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Labor & Employment Law, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Jimenez v. U.S. Continental Marketing, Inc.
U.S. Continental Marketing Inc. (USCM), a manufacturing company that made shoe care products, relied on temporary employees for much of its workforce and contracts for employees' services with Ameritemps, Inc. Elvia Velasco Jimenez worked for USCM as either a direct or temporary employee for five years before her employment was terminated. At that point, she was performing a supervisory role as a line lead in USCM's production department, overseeing as many as thirty colleagues, including both temporary and direct employees of USCM. Jimenez's supervisor was a direct USCM employee. Jimenez asserted claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) against USCM. Jimenez's claims required a threshold showing that USCM was her employer. Disputing that assertion at trial, USCM framed the inquiry as a contest of relative influence between the direct and contracting employers, asking the jury during closing arguments, "Did [USCM] have control over plaintiff more than the temp agency?" The jury agreed with USCM and returned a special verdict finding that USCM was not Jimenez's employer. Jimenez moved for a new trial, unsuccessfully, and judgment was entered in favor of USCM. On appeal, Jimenez argued there was insufficient evidence to support the special verdict finding and asked the Court of Appeal to reverse the judgment. The Court determined the undisputed evidence demonstrated USCM exercised considerable direction and control over Jimenez under the terms, conditions, and privileges of her employment. And although the parties contested the characterization of Jimenez's termination, the appropriate inquiry in the temporary-staffing context was whether the contracting employer terminated the employee's services for the contracting employer (which USCM did), not whether the contracting employer terminated her employment with her direct employer (which USCM did not do). Accordingly, without expressing any opinion as to the ultimate merit of Jimenez's claims, the Court reversed judgment as to three claims and. The matter was remanded for a new trial at which the jury should be instructed that USCM was Jimenez's employer. View "Jimenez v. U.S. Continental Marketing, Inc." on Justia Law
Weaver v. City of Everett
Michael Weaver, a former City of Everett firefighter, contracted melanoma. He filed a temporary disability claim, which the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (Department) denied, finding the melanoma was not work related. The melanoma spread to Weaver's brain, for which he filed a permanent disability claim. The Department denied it as precluded by the denial of the temporary disability claim. The issue his case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata properly precluded Weaver's permanent disability claim. The Court found collateral estoppel did not apply because the doctrine would work an injustice in this situation, given that Weaver did not have sufficient incentive to fully and vigorously litigate the temporary disability claim in light of the disparity of relief between the two claims. Likewise, the Court held that res judicata did not apply because the two claims did not share identical subject matter, given that the permanent disability claim did not exist at the time of the temporary disability claim. View "Weaver v. City of Everett" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Government & Administrative Law, Labor & Employment Law, Personal Injury, Washington Supreme Court
Abernathy v. Eastern Illinois Railroad Co.
The Railroad sent Abernathy and Probus to repair a railroad crossing, which required them to transport ties several miles. The Railroad had a “tie crane,” which runs on the railroad tracks but it had been inoperable for years. The employees had two options: a backhoe or a pickup truck, traveling on public roads. Abernathy drove the backhoe. Probus drove the pickup, with the tools. Two ties fell out of the backhoe’s bucket. Abernathy stopped to lift the ties back into the bucket, injuring his back and smashing a finger. Despite the accident, the men finished the job. The following morning, Abernathy reported the injury. Abernathy worked through the pain on lighter duty for a year but was unable to return to his regular work. The Railroad terminated his employment. He had physical therapy, epidural injections, and surgery but continued to experience pain. At the time of trial, his surgeon had not cleared him for any type of work. Abernathy sued under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C 51. A jury found that Abernathy was 30 percent at fault and awarded a net amount, $525,000. The court awarded Abernathy prevailing party costs but declined to award witness fees above the statutory amount. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The jury could reasonably find that the Railroad did not provide Abernathy with appropriate equipment and that his working environment was not reasonably safe; a reasonable person in the Railroad’s position could have foreseen that transporting ties in a backhoe or pickup could lead to injury. There was sufficient evidence that the Railroad’s negligence played a part in causing Abernathy’s injury. View "Abernathy v. Eastern Illinois Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Posted in: Labor & Employment Law, Personal Injury, Transportation Law, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Walden v. Nevada
The Ninth Circuit extended the holding in Embury v. King, 361 F.3d 562 (9th Cir. 2004), and held that a State that removes a case to federal court waives its immunity from suit on all federal-law claims in the case, including those federal-law claims that Congress failed to apply to the states through unequivocal and valid abrogation of their Eleventh Amendment immunity. Plaintiffs, a group of correctional officers, filed suit alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by Nevada. Nevada then removed the case to federal court, moving for judgment on the pleadings based on state sovereign immunity from suit. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's holding that Nevada waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity as to plaintiffs' FLSA claims when it removed this case to federal court. View "Walden v. Nevada" on Justia Law
Smith v. Haynes & Haynes P.C.
Plaintiff filed suit against defendants, a law firm and its partners, alleging claims for unpaid overtime and retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), breach of contract, and slander. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants. The court vacated the district court's determination that the overtime and breach of contract claims were barred by the doctrine of judicial estoppel, holding that the district court did not have the benefit of Slater v. U.S. Steel Corp., 871 F.3d 1174 (11th Cir. 2017) (en banc) (Slater II), at the time of its ruling. On remand, the district court must apply Slater II's "all the facts and circumstances" test to determine plaintiff's intent when she made omissions in her bankruptcy and district court filings. Furthermore, the court held that it was error for the district court to ground judicial estoppel in the inconsistencies between plaintiff's initial and amended complaints. In regard to the retaliation claim, the court held that the district court correctly granted summary judgment to defendants, rejecting plaintiff's claim that defendants conspired with others in taking retaliatory actions against plaintiff's attorney. View "Smith v. Haynes & Haynes P.C." on Justia Law
Koenig v. Warner Unified School District
Ron Koenig was the superintendent and principal of the Warner Unified School District (the district). He and the district entered an agreement to terminate his employment one year before his employment agreement was due to expire. Under the termination agreement, Koenig agreed to release any potential claims against the district in exchange for a lump sum payment equivalent to the amount due during the balance of the term of his employment agreement, consistent with Government Code section 53260. The district also agreed to continue to pay health benefits for Koenig and his spouse "until Koenig reaches age 65 or until Medicare or similar government provided insurance coverage takes effect, whichever occurs first." The district stopped paying Koenig's health benefits 22 months later. Koenig then sued to rescind the termination agreement and sought declaratory relief he was entitled to continued benefits pursuant to his underlying employment agreement, which provided that Koenig and his spouse would continue receiving health benefits, even after the term of the agreement expired. After a bench trial, the trial court determined the district's promise in the termination agreement to pay health benefits until Koenig turned 65 violated section 53261, was unenforceable, and rendered the termination agreement void for lack of consideration. Both Koenig and the district appealed the judgment entered after trial. Koenig contended the trial court properly determined the termination agreement was void but should have concluded he was entitled to continued health benefits until the age of 65. The district contended the trial court erred when it concluded the termination agreement was void; rather, the trial court should have severed the termination agreement's unenforceable promise to continue paying benefits, enforced the remainder of the termination agreement, and required Koenig to pay restitution for benefits paid beyond the term of the original agreement. The Court of Appeal concluded the termination agreement's unlawful promise to pay health benefits in excess of the statutory maximum should have been severed to comply with sections 53260 and 53261, Koenig did not establish he was entitled to rescind the termination agreement, and the district was entitled to restitution for health benefits paid beyond the statutory maximum. Judgment was reversed and the trial court directed to enter judgment in favor of the district for $16,607. View "Koenig v. Warner Unified School District" on Justia Law
Posted in: California Courts of Appeal, Civil Procedure, Contracts, Government & Administrative Law, Government Contracts, Labor & Employment Law
Bortolotti v. Universal Terrazzo & Tile Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the court of appeals' decision reducing Terry Bortolotti's weekly income benefit awarded by the workers' compensation court from the maximum to the minimum and eliminating the award of out-of-pocket medical expenses, holding that the reduced weekly benefit was correct but that the medical expense award should be reinstated. In upholding the reduced weekly benefit, the Supreme Court held (1) the compensation court erroneously based the determination of Bortolotti's average weekly wage on a superseded and inoperative pleading, and the court of appeals' determination of average weekly wage was supported by competent evidence in the record; and (2) as to Bortolotti's medical expenses, the court of appeals failed to give Bortolotti's testimony the inferences mandated by the deferential standard of review. View "Bortolotti v. Universal Terrazzo & Tile Co." on Justia Law
Javitz v. County of Luzerne
Javitz accepted an “at-will” position as Luzerne County's Director of Human Resources. Javitz participated in meetings with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which resulted in ASFSCME filing an unfair labor practices suit. Javitz claimed that a document filed in that lawsuit was a transcript of the meetings. She suspected that a county employee had recorded the meeting without Javitz’s consent—a crime under Pennsylvania law. Javitz's supervisor agreed that the meeting may have been recorded; they met with the District Attorney, who indicated that she would refer the matter to the Office of the Attorney General due to a conflict of interest. Javitz claims that the County Manager intervened and instructed the District Attorney to drop the matter. Javitz followed up about the investigation. Javitz alleges that county employees retaliated against her. Within weeks Javitz was fired. The County maintains that Javitz was fired because of her conduct toward unions, her failure to follow directions, and her handling of employment applications. The district court rejected her claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Third Circuit affirmed that Javitz did not have a property interest in her employment; her termination did not violate her due process rights. The court reversed as to a First Amendment claim: Who Javitz spoke to, what she spoke about, and why she spoke fall outside the scope of her primary job duties. Javitz was a citizen speaking to a matter of public concern. View "Javitz v. County of Luzerne" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Labor & Employment Law, US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Petrone v. Werner Enterprises, Inc.
Plaintiff and others filed a class action against defendants, alleging claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Nebraska law, arising out of an eight-week student-driver training program operated by defendants and intended for new truck drivers. The Eighth Circuit agreed with defendants that the district court abused its discretion by granting plaintiffs' request to extend the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b) disclosure deadline, despite finding that good cause for the extension had not been shown, based on an erroneous application of Rule 37(c)(1). The court held that the error was not harmless because the jury clearly relied on the opinion of plaintiff's expert in reaching the damages award. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Petrone v. Werner Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law