Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals' decision upholding an administrative law judge's (ALJ) award of benefits to Deborah Duckworth, holding that the ALJ had the authority to determine the manifestation date for cumulative trauma injury and properly applied controlling law to the facts of this case.On appeal, Ford Motor Company argued that the ALJ exceeded the scope of his authority in determining the manifestation dates of Duckworth's cumulative trauma injuries. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the ALJ had the authority to determine the manifestation date of Duckworth's cumulative trauma injury; and (2) Ford Motor Company was not deprived of due process because it had adequate notice and opportunity to be heard on the statute of limitations issue. View "Ford Motor Co. v. Duckworth" on Justia Law

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Rembert, a nurse, routinely worked more than 40 hours per week for A Plus but did not receive overtime. Rembert filed a purported class action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Department of Labor investigated. The court certified a class and ordered A-Plus to provide a list of persons potentially fitting within the class. The deadline passed. A magistrate scheduled a phone conference; defense counsel failed to appear. A Plus provided responsive information about five weeks after the deadline. The parties began discovery, which was notable for defense counsel’s repeated failure to comply. Rembert’s counsel finally filed a motion to compel. The magistrate granted the motion and ordered A Plus to pay “reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.” Defense counsel failed to respond. Rembert filed another motion. As a result of the DOL investigation, some class members received full payment of the amounts owed to them. The parties ultimately agreed to the entry of judgment in favor of Rembert and the remaining class members, $18,961.Rembert moved for an award of fees and costs under the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. 216(b). Her lawyers requested hourly rates of $350 and $300, respectively, and submitted detailed records for 21.2 hours of work for the motion to compel and 98.7 hours on the remainder of the case. The court approved the rates but reduced counsel’s total compensable hours to 46.2 and cut the fee award an additional $1,660. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The plaintiffs obtained 100% of the recovery due to them. The court did not explain which hours it rejected and apparently did not consider the impact of delays caused by defense counsel. The court remanded with instructions to grant the petition for fees and costs in the amount of $38,765.00. View "Rembert v. A Plus Home Health Care Agency, LLC" on Justia Law

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Marnocha, a board-certified doctor in pediatrics and neonatal-perinatal medicine, received her license in 1981 and joined St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indianapolis in 1987. In 2017, Dr. Marandi began became the Executive Director of the pediatric service for St. Vincent, which has two locations. Marandi concluded there were too many neonatologists on staff. In formulating his restructuring plan, Marandi reviewed workflows and schedules, before deciding to terminate the neonatologists at one of St. Vincent’s campuses. Standard restructure review required an HR employee, to assess the impact on the entire targeted group, “to make sure that any business decisions [were not] based off of specifics to an individual and that [they are] specific to the organizational needs.” In 2018, Marandi discharged Marnocha and four of her colleagues. Four of the terminated neonatologists interviewed for one open position at the other campus. A 35-year-old (Landis) was chosen; the others were over 50 years old.Marnocha filed suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of St. Vincent. Marnocha failed to establish that the doctors at the other campus were similarly situated; she did not provide their ages, work history, performance reviews, supervisors, or qualifications. The two work environments are distinct, varying by NICU level, acuity, and pace. The record supports a range of legitimate, non-age-related reasons for hiring Landis over Marnocha. View "Marnocha v. St. Vincent Hospital and Health Care Center, Inc." on Justia Law

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Dr. Khungar, a pediatrician, worked for Access. A year into her employment, in August 2015, she received a “final warning” from the regional medical director based on Khungar’s accessing of a patient’s medical file to obtain a coworker’s phone number, in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Khungar then reported an earlier incident in which the clinic manager referred to Khungar’s Indian ethnicity. in May 2016, complaints about Khungar began rolling into the Human Resources department (HR) from staff and the parents of her minor patients.Chief Medical Officer Mejia recommended Khungar’s termination based on the nature and volume of the complaints. He later testified that he was unaware of Khungar’s race, religion, and national origin. HR ratified Mejia’s recommendation. After she was notified of the decision, Khungar asserted that her past complaints of “cultural insensitivity” had never been addressed. HR repeatedly attempted to meet with Khungar, but Khungar canceled. Khungar filed an EEOC charge. Before leaving, Khungar made statements that were perceived to be threatening, which caused HR to fire Khungar immediately and employ a security guard for several weeks.Khungar filed suit, alleging discrimination and retaliation under Title VII. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that Khungar “cannot make out a prima facie case of discrimination.” Rhe evidence showed nondiscriminatory and nonpretextual reasons for Khungar’s termination. Khungar “failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether [her] protected activity caused her termination.” View "Khungar v. Access Community Health Network" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' False Claims Act (FCA) retaliation claim. Plaintiffs, employees of a nonprofit, suspected that their employer was committing fraud and alleged that they were terminated based on their attempt to uncover the fraud. However, in this case, the employees never had reason to believe that their employer made any false claims to the federal government. Therefore, without any reason to believe that their employer had filed a false claim against the government, they did not have any reason to believe that they were investigating a FCA violation, rather than a garden-variety fraud. The court explained that the employees may well have acted in good faith to attempt to uncover what they feared were shady practices, but the FCA is not a general anti-fraud statute. View "Hickman v. Spirit of Athens, Alabama, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the Labor and Industrial Relations Appeal Board's (LIRAB) denial of Petitioner's request to reopen her workers compensation claims pursuant to Haw. Rev. Stat. 386-89, holding that the LIRAB's finding that Petitioner failed to provide substantial evidence of a mistake was clearly erroneous.After her employment was terminated Petitioner was diagnosed with a disease known as multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Petitioner filed multiple claims for workers' compensation benefits. At issue was the LIRAB's denial of Petitioner's request to reopen her claims and the ICA's affirmance of the denial. The LIRAB determined that Petitioner failed to produce substantial evidence to support her allegations of a mistake in fact related the the LIRAB director's determination that Petitioner had not suffered a compensable illness because MCS is not an "injury per se." The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's affirmance of the LIRAB's finding that Petitioner failed to provide substantial evidence of a mistake, holding that there was substantial evidence supporting Petitioner's contention that it was a mistake to dispose of her claims on the basis that MCS is not a legitimate diagnosis. View "Porter v. Queen’s Medical Center" on Justia Law

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Benjamin was hired as headmaster at the k-12, non-denominational, faith-based Epiphany School. Epiphany community members “evaluated Benjamin on various criteria[,] including ‘Christian Tradition.’” Benjamin, who describes himself as a Quaker of Jewish ethnicity, alleges that he was told by a board member that Epiphany community members did not see him as a “true Christian.” Benjamin’s time at Epiphany was marked by conflicts with students, parents, faculty, and staff. According to Defendants, Benjamin was hostile, inattentive to deadlines, and frequently absent from school events. According to Benjamin, the conflicts were driven by hostility toward his Jewish background, Quaker faith, and efforts to promote diversity. The Board held a forum at which Benjamin gave a speech explaining his religious beliefs. The parties disagree as to whether this speech was voluntary and as to whether Benjamin resigned or was terminated.Benjamin sued, alleging retaliation; discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, and disability; breach of contract, defamation, tortious interference with prospective economic relations; false imprisonment; assault; and violation of the North Carolina School Violence Prevention Act. The district court rejected some claims on summary judgment; a jury rejected the others. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, upholding rulings preventing Benjamin from introducing certain deposition testimony, implementing time limits for each side’s presentation of its case, admitting evidence about Benjamin’s misrepresentations regarding his prior employment, and declining to adopt Benjamin’s proposed jury instructions and verdict form for the breach of contract and defamation claims. View "Benjamin v. Sparks" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer, alleging claims of race- and gender-based discrimination under Title VII and racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 1981. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of her action for failure to state a claim, because plaintiff was not an "employee" of the firm she sought to sue. The court explained that plaintiff was a partner and equal owner of the firm, not an employee, and thus she is not within the scope of Title VII's coverage.In regard to plaintiff's section 1981 claim, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to plead specific factual allegations tending to corroborate her claim of eligibility for leave. In this case, plaintiff declined to indicate the nature of the medical conditions or events that allegedly qualified her for leave, despite being the individual best-positioned to do so. Furthermore, even if plaintiff's qualification for leave was assumed, plaintiff failed to allege that her race was the but-for cause of the Board's denial of her leave application as required by the Supreme Court's recent holding in Comcast Corporation v. National Association of African American-Owned Media, 140 S.Ct. 1009 (2020). As to plaintiff's one factually-specific, non-conclusory allegation of racially-motivated conduct, she failed to allege any facts linking it to the Board vote denying her short-term leave. View "Lemon v. Myers Bigel, P.A." on Justia Law

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Mouton-Miller worked for the Postal Service as an Audit Manager. Her position was classified as GG-0511-14, step 8, with a salary of $128,081. In 2017, Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General hired Mouton-Miller for the position of Supervisory Auditor, classified as GS-0511-14, step 8, with an initial pay rate of $142,367. There was no break between her Postal Service employment and her Homeland Security employment. Mouton-Miller’s Homeland Security position was subject to a one-year supervisory probationary period before becoming final. In March 2018, less than one year after beginning her position, Mouton-Miller received notice that she had “performed unsatisfactorily.” She was reassigned to the nonsupervisory position of Communications Analyst, GS-0301-14, step 7, with a $129,937 salary.The Merit Systems Protection Board dismissed Mouton-Miller’s appeal, determining that it lacked jurisdiction because the challenged agency action was excluded from the Board’s jurisdiction by 5 U.S.C. 7512(C). The Federal Circuit affirmed. For Mouton-Miller’s demotion to be an agency action subject to Board review, she must have completed the probationary period referred to in 5 U.S.C. 3312(a)(2). Mouton-Miller spent less than one year in her supervisory position at Homeland Security and her previous role at the Postal Service was in the excepted service; she has not satisfied the required supervisory probationary period. View "Mouton-Miller v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Elmer Branch brought a putative class action against his employer, defendant Cream-O-Land Dairy, on behalf of himself and similarly situated truck drivers employed by defendant, for payment of overtime wages pursuant to the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (WHL). The WHL created an exemption from an overtime compensation requirement for employees of a “trucking industry employer.” In response to plaintiff’s argument that defendant failed to pay truck drivers as mandated by N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(b)(1), defendant argued that it was exempt from that provision as a trucking industry employer under N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(f). Defendant also asserted that it was entitled to invoke the absolute defense set forth in N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2 because it had relied in good faith on three matters in which the Department had investigated its operations and concluded that it was a “trucking industry employer.” The trial court viewed those decisions to satisfy N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2’s standard for the good-faith defense and granted summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s claims. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that none of the determinations on which defendant relied met the requirements of the good-faith defense under the plain language of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2. The Appellate Division also rejected defendant’s invocation of a 2006 Opinion Letter by the Director of the Division that for certain employees of trucking industry employers, N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4 “establishes their overtime rate at 1 1/2 times the minimum wage” because defendant did not represent that it had relied on that letter when it determined its overtime compensation. The New Jersey Supreme Court concurred with the Appellate Division that none of the decisions identified by defendant satisfied the requirements of the good-faith defense under the plain language of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2. The Court acknowledged, however, the dilemma faced by an employer such as defendant, which repeatedly prevailed in overtime disputes before subordinate Department employees but was unable to seek a ruling from the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (Commissioner) because each of those disputes was resolved without further review. This matter was remanded to the trial court for consideration of defendant’s argument that it was a trucking-industry employer within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(f), and for determination of whether defendant complied with the applicable WHL overtime standards in compensating its employees. View "Branch v. Cream-O-Land Dairy" on Justia Law