Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

by
In 2007, Tactile hired Sempowich — a woman. In 2014, Tactile promoted Sempowich — then 49 years old — to be the regional sales manager, supervising a team of up to 15 people. Later that year, Tactile hired Seeling — 46-year-old man — as the regional sales manager for another region. In 2018, Sempowich was notified that she would no longer be a regional manager. Her region was reassigned to Seeling. She could retain her base salary in a newly-created marketing position, which she regarded as a demotion. She did not accept the position and was terminated.In Sempowich’s suit, alleging Title VII discrimination, retaliation, and Equal Pay Act claims, the parties disputed whether she me the company’s performance goals, the district court granted Tactile summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit vacated. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Sempowich, there is an issue of material fact as to whether Tactile’s asserted expectations were legitimate or genuine. Sempowich presented substantial evidence that they were not. The district court also erred in applying the same-actor inference, under which if the plaintiff’s “hirer and the firer are the same individual and the termination of employment occurs within a relatively short time span following the hiring, a strong inference exists that discrimination was not a determining factor.” View "Sempowich v. Tactile Systems Technology, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part as modified and reversed in part the judgment of the district court finding that the City of Bellevue, Nebraska unconstitutionally impaired its contractual obligations and ordering the City to insert certain language into the document governing the retirement plan, holding that the district court erred in part.After the City increased the amount it regularly deducted from its police officers' paychecks to fund their retirement plan, a group of officers and their union (collectively, Plaintiffs) filed suit, alleging that the City had violated the Contracts Clauses and Takings Clauses of the state and federal constitutions. The district court granted the motion in part, finding that the City unconstitutionally impaired its contractual obligations and ordering the City to insert certain language into the retirement plan. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the district court's order should be modified to remove the language in question; and (2) the district court made a legal error by finding that Plaintiffs were not the prevailing parties. View "Abbott v. City of Bellevue" on Justia Law

by
Davis, a former Congressman, mayoral candidate, candidate for governor of Alabama, and federal prosecutor, is Black. In 2016, he became Executive Director of LSA, a non-profit law firm serving low-income Alabamians. Davis experienced problems with some of his subordinates and colleagues; some complained to LSA’s Executive Committee. On August 18, 2017, as Davis left work, he was informed that the Executive Committee had voted to suspend him with pay pending an investigation of those complaints. A “Suspension Letter” cited spending decisions outside the approved budget, failure to follow LSA's hiring policies and procedures, creating new initiatives without Board approval, and creating a hostile work environment for some LSA employees. LSA posted a security guard in front of its building and hired Mowery, an Alabama political consultant, to handle public relations related to Davis’s suspension. Mowery had handled one of Davis’s failed political campaigns until their relationship soured; Mowery had worked for the campaign of Davis’s opponent in another race.Days later, Davis notified the Board of his resignation. He filed suit, alleging race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 1981 and under Title VII, and defamation. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Being placed on paid leave was not an adverse employment action and Davis did not raise a fact issue on his constructive discharge claim. LSA’s disclosures to Mowery did not constitute “publication”—an essential element of defamation. View "Davis v. Legal Services Alabama, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The plaintiffs (collectively, "Gunther") in this case were flight attendants who alleged their employer, Alaska Airlines, Inc. (Alaska), failed to provide California Labor Code section 226(a)-compliant wage statements. They sought penalties under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). After a bench trial, the trial court concluded that section 226(a) applied to the flight attendants because their employment was based in California and Alaska’s wage statements did not comply with section 226(a). The court found Alaska liable for over $25 million in heightened penalties under section 226.3 of PAGA. In a postjudgment order, the court awarded Gunther attorney’s fees. Notwithstanding the implications of Ward v. United Airlines, Inc., 9 Cal.5th 732 (2020, "Ward I"), Alaska contended that section 226(a) could not be applied to the flight attendants because it was preempted by federal law. Alaska also raised multiple challenges to PAGA penalties, including that the trial court erred in awarding heightened penalties under section 226.3 of PAGA. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal rejected Alaska’s argument that application of section 226 was preempted by federal law and affirmed the trial court’s determination that the flight attendants in this case were entitled to section 226(a)-compliant wage statements. The Court also concluded, however, that the trial court erred in awarding heightened penalties under section 226.3 because the plain language of the statute provided that heightened penalties applied only where the employer failed to provide wage statements or failed to keep required records, which was not the situation here. The Court found reversal of the penalty award did not require vacation of the attorney’s fees award. In the unpublished portion of its opinion, the Court rejected Alaska’s defenses to the application of section 226(a). View "Gunther v. Alaska Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law

by
An Angel Brothers construction crew was installing a drainage pipe alongside a road. For two days, the crew had adequate protection from cave-ins. On day three, the work was too close to the street to continue with “benching” the walls of the excavation. Angel’s safety manager told foreman Vidal to use a trench box, which is placed in the ditch and has walls that guard against cave-ins. Vidal did not follow those instructions. Vidal admitted that he allowed Fonseca to work without the trench box because Fonseca would only need to spend 10-15 minutes inside the excavation; installing the trench box would have blocked the adjoining intersection and taken more time. Vidal and another employee stood by while Fonseca worked in the trench.An OSHA Compliance Officer happened to visit the worksite and issued a citation for violating the requirement that “[e]ach employee in an excavation shall be protected from cave-ins by an adequate protective system,” 29 C.F.R. 1926.652(a)(1). An ALJ assessed a $35,000 penalty. The Commission affirmed, reasoning that Vidal’s knowledge as a supervisor flowed to the company, that the company did not prove that it effectively enforced safety rules or disciplined employees for safety violations, and that the conduct was willful. The Fifth Circuit upheld the findings. Imputing the supervisor’s knowledge of the safety violation to the employer is appropriate in this situation under basic agency principles. View "Angel Brothers Enterprises, Ltd. v. Walsh" on Justia Law

by
Chavez-Cortez filed a representative cause of action under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA, Lab. Code 2698), seeking civil penalties for wage-and-hour violations. The suit was dismissed for failure to satisfy the requirement of notice to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA). Relying on precedent (Khan), the defendants argued that the notice provided did not inform the LWDA “of the claims of any other alleged similarly situated but unidentified individuals” or that Chavez-Cortez “intended to pursue this matter on behalf of these unnamed individuals.”The court of appeal reversed. The notice at issue in Khan differs substantially from plaintiffs’ notice; here, the plaintiffs’ notice alerted the agency and defendants to ongoing Labor Code violations that were not by nature isolated or unique to plaintiffs. The notice was not deficient for failing to reference other aggrieved employees implicated by the representative action. Plaintiffs’ letter provided fair notice to the agency of representative claims for meal breaks, rest breaks, and overtime violations. View "Santos v. El Guapos Tacos, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-Appellant Viktorya Reznik appealed the district court’s dismissal of her Title VII retaliation action against her former employer, Defendant-Appellee inContact, Inc. (inContact). From January 2018 to May 2019, Reznik worked as a Director of Project Management for inContact, a Utah-based corporation offering cloud-based services to companies using call centers. In April 2019, Reznik received internal complaints about racial slurs in the workplace from two native Filipino employees who worked in the company’s Manila, Philippines office. They claimed that an inContact manager, Scott Mendenhall, had repeatedly subjected them and other native Filipino employees to racial slurs, calling them “monkeys” and “not human.” Mendenhall worked in the same Salt Lake County facility as Reznik. Weeks after Reznik reported the harassment to company management, she was terminated as "not a good culture fit" and "not a good fit." Following Reznik’s termination and administrative exhaustion, she filed her Title VII complaint in federal district court. inContact moved to dismiss and the district court granted the motion. According to the district court, Reznik failed to state a claim because she did not show an objectively reasonable belief that she opposed conduct unlawful under Title VII. Finding Reznik's belief she was opposing conduct unlawful under Title VII was objectively reasonable, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal. View "Reznik v. inContact" on Justia Law

by
The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted three certified questions from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. In this case, Curt Hall sued UBS Financial Services Inc. (UBS) (his former employer) and Mary Reid, a former co-worker, seeking to hold them liable for damages he allegedly incurred when he was fired by UBS. Hall's claims against UBS included one for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and Hall's claims against Reid included one for tortious interference with contractual relations. The certified questions concerned the nature of Hall's at-will employment and the viability of Hall's causes of action in the employment at-will context. Hall did not concede he was an at-will employee. The Supreme Court held: (1) terminable at-will employment relationships are contractual in nature as a matter of law; (2a) the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing may arise in the context of terminable-at-will employment relationships; (2b) an employer's termination of an at-will employee does not constitute a breach of the relationship such that it may give rise to a claim by the former employee against the employer for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (3) potential liability extends to third parties who are not fellow employees of the terminated employee. The Court issued a caveat to its responses to the district court's questions: it answered all questions under the assumption that no exception to the doctrine of at-will employment applies "our answers to these questions do not alter the established rule that, as long as an exception does not apply, an employer may terminate an at-will employee for any reason without incurring liability." View "Hall v. UBS Financial Services Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's holding that the school system did not violate the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) when it failed to provide plaintiff, a retired employee, notice of her right to continue her insurance coverage. The court explained that, while the placement on unpaid leave was a reduction of hours, it was not a qualifying event because it did not cause a loss of coverage. However, plaintiff's retirement caused a loss of coverage, and thus a qualifying event occurred, and the district court erred in concluding otherwise. The court further explained that a loss of coverage does not need to be contemporaneous to the qualifying event. Rather, the relevant question is whether a loss of coverage occurred within 18 months of a qualifying event. In this case, changes in the terms and conditions of plaintiff's coverage occurred within 18 months of her retirement. The court affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's request for payment of her medical expenses; remanded the district court's decision not to award statutory penalties or attorneys' fees to plaintiff; and vacated the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion to alter or amend judgment or for a new trial. View "Randolph v. East Baton Rouge Parish School System" on Justia Law

by
Moniz managed a staffing firm's (Adecco’s) relationship with Google. Correa was assigned to work at Google. Moniz and Correa sued Adecco to recover civil penalties for alleged violations of the Labor Code. Under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), an employee aggrieved by alleged Labor Code violations may act as an agent of the Labor Workforce and Development Agency (LWDA) to bring an action to recover civil penalties. If an aggrieved employee settles such an action, the court must review and approve the settlement; civil penalties are distributed 75 percent to the LWDA and 25 percent to the aggrieved employees.Moniz settled her case first. The court approved the settlement. Correa challenged the settlement process and approval, including the manner in which the court treated Correa's and LWDA's objections to the settlement, the standard used by the court to approve the settlement, numerous alleged legal deficiencies, and the trial court’s ruling denying her attorney fees and an incentive payment. The court of appeal reversed. While the court applied an appropriate standard of review by inquiring whether the settlement was “fair, adequate, and reasonable” as well as meaningful and consistent with the purposes of PAGA, it is not possible to infer from the record that the trial court assessed the fairness of the settlement’s allocation of civil penalties between the affected aggrieved employees or whether such allocation comports with PAGA. View "Moniz v. Adecco USA" on Justia Law