Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

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Neal Bissonnette and Tyler Wojnarowski, distributors for Flowers Foods, Inc., a major producer and marketer of baked goods, sued the company for alleged violations of state and federal wage laws. Flowers Foods moved to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The key issue was whether the exemption from coverage under the FAA for any "class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce" is limited to workers whose employers are in the transportation industry.The District Court dismissed the case in favor of arbitration, stating that for Bissonnette and Wojnarowski to be exempt from the FAA, they must be "transportation workers." The court concluded that their broader scope of responsibility under the Distributor Agreements belied the claim that they were primarily truck drivers. The Second Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision on the alternative ground that Bissonnette and Wojnarowski "are in the bakery industry." According to the Second Circuit, §1 of the FAA exempts only "workers involved in the transportation industries."The Supreme Court of the United States disagreed with the Second Circuit's interpretation. The Court held that a transportation worker does not need to work for a company in the transportation industry to be exempt under §1 of the FAA. The Court emphasized that the relevant question is what the worker does for the employer, not what the employer does generally. The Court vacated the judgment of the Second Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The Court did not express an opinion on any alternative grounds in favor of arbitration raised below. View "Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries Park St., LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves Tracy White, an employee of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS), who filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa and DHS under the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA) alleging a hostile work environment. White's complaints about her supervisor led to his termination, but she remained employed at the agency. The jury awarded her $260,000 for past emotional distress and $530,000 for future emotional distress. The State appealed, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to prove White's hostile work environment claim, that the district court erred by admitting certain evidence and incorrectly instructing the jury, and that the future emotional distress damages were excessive.The district court had denied the State's pretrial motion to exclude certain evidence, referred to as "me too" evidence, as unduly prejudicial. This evidence consisted of reports of alleged discrimination experienced by other employees, which White, as a supervisor, had received and relied on to support her own hostile work environment claim. The State argued that such evidence, of which White was unaware, could not prove that she personally experienced a hostile work environment.The Supreme Court of Iowa agreed with the State, concluding that the harassment White personally experienced was not objectively severe or pervasive enough to alter the terms or conditions of her employment. The court held that the district court erred by denying the State's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). The court reversed the judgment for White and remanded the case for entry of an order granting the State's motion for JNOV. View "White v. State" on Justia Law

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Two campus police officers at Shepherd University, Jay Longerbeam and Donald Buracker, were terminated due to alleged "misconduct" and "unprofessionalism" during two incidents in 2018 and 2019. The officers claimed that their termination was a result of age and disability discrimination, retaliation under the West Virginia Human Rights Act (HRA), violation of the West Virginia Whistle-blower Law, and common law wrongful discharge. The Circuit Court of Jefferson County granted summary judgment against both officers on all claims.The officers appealed the decision, arguing that the lower court erred in finding no genuine issues of material fact and in its handling of the burden-shifting paradigm. They contended that their conduct during the incidents was legally proper and that the court failed to consider intervening acts of reprisal which were more temporally proximate to their protected activity than their discharge.The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia found that the lower court erred in its handling of the "temporal proximity" issue and the burden-shifting paradigm. The court also found that the officers offered more than sufficient evidence upon which a rational trier of fact could find retaliatory motivation. Therefore, the court reversed the lower court's grant of summary judgment as to the officers’ whistle-blower and Harless claims and remanded for further proceedings. However, the court affirmed the lower court's grant of summary judgment as to Buracker’s HRA disability discrimination claim, finding his evidence insufficient to create an inference of disability discrimination. View "Jay Longerbeam v. Shepherd University" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Ryan S., filed a class action lawsuit against UnitedHealth Group, Inc. and its subsidiaries (collectively, “UnitedHealthcare”) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). He alleged that UnitedHealthcare applies a more stringent review process to benefits claims for outpatient, out-of-network mental health and substance use disorder (“MH/SUD”) treatment than to otherwise comparable medical/surgical treatment. Ryan S. asserted that by doing so, UnitedHealthcare violated the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (“Parity Act”), breached its fiduciary duty, and violated the terms of his plan.The district court granted UnitedHealthcare’s motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) based primarily on its conclusions that Ryan S. failed to allege that his claims had been “categorically” denied and insufficiently identified analogous medical/surgical claims that he had personally submitted and UnitedHealthcare had processed more favorably.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part the district court’s judgment. The panel concluded that Ryan S. adequately stated a claim for a violation of the Parity Act. The panel explained that an ERISA plan can violate the Parity Act in different ways, including by applying, as Ryan S. alleged here, a more stringent internal process to MH/SUD claims than to medical/surgical claims. The panel also concluded that Ryan S. alleged a breach of fiduciary duty. However, as Ryan S. failed to identify any specific plan terms that the alleged practices would violate, the panel affirmed the dismissal of his claims based on a violation of the terms of his plan. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ryan S. v. UnitedHealth Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the procedural interplay between two Mississippi statutes—the Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA) and the Mississippi Whistleblower Protection Act (MWPA). Mark Johnson, the plaintiff, filed a retaliation complaint under the MWPA, alleging that he was fired from his position as general manager of the Clarksdale Public Utilities Authority (CPU) for reporting inefficiency and incompetence. Johnson later added claims for First Amendment retaliation and breach of contract.The district court held that the procedural requirements of the MTCA applied to Johnson’s MWPA claim, and because the court concluded he didn’t comply with them, it dismissed his claim. The district court also concluded that Johnson’s First Amendment retaliation and breach-of-contract claims were time-barred because the three-year statute of limitations for these claims ran after Johnson filed his first complaint but before he amended to add these claims—and neither claim relates back. Johnson appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was unable to make a reliable Erie guess as to whether the MTCA’s procedural requirements apply to MWPA claims because it lacked clear guidance from Mississippi courts on how the two statutes interrelate. Therefore, the court certified this question to the Supreme Court of Mississippi: When a plaintiff brings a claim against the government and its employees for tortious conduct under the MWPA, is that claim subject to the procedural requirements of the MTCA? View "Johnson v. Miller" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a workers' compensation claim filed by Dale Brooks, an employee of Benore Logistics Systems, Inc. Brooks claimed that he suffered a work-related repetitive trauma injury to his back due to the nature of his job as a "switcher" truck operator, which involved moving semitruck trailers and ocean freight containers to various points in a shipping yard. He substantiated his claim with medical evidence and testimony. However, his employer commissioned an ergonomics report that concluded his injury was statistically unlikely to have been caused by his work activities.The single commissioner ruled in Brooks's favor, but an appellate panel of the Workers' Compensation Commission relied on the ergonomics report, reversed the single commissioner, and denied Brooks's claim. The appellate panel concluded that Brooks's job was not repetitive and that it was statistically unlikely that his back injury was caused by his work duties. The court of appeals reversed this decision, holding that the appellate panel did not have the authority to determine whether Brooks's job was repetitive and that any reliance on the ergonomics report was impermissible.The Supreme Court of South Carolina affirmed the decision of the court of appeals as modified. The court agreed that the appellate panel erred in its reliance on the ergonomics report to deny Brooks's claim. The court held that while the Commission does have the authority to determine whether an employee's job is repetitive, the appellate panel's decision that Brooks's job was not repetitive was unsupported by the substantial evidence in the record. Furthermore, the court ruled that any reliance on an ergonomics report in a work-related repetitive trauma injury case is contrary to the rule of law and constituted reversible error by the appellate panel. The court remanded the matter to the Commission for it to calculate the benefits to which Brooks is entitled. View "Brooks v. Benore Logistics System, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between CP Anchorage Hotel 2, LLC, doing business as Hilton Anchorage, and Unite Here! Local 878, AFL-CIO, a union representing the hotel's housekeepers. The conflict arose in 2018 when the hotel underwent substantial renovations, including replacing old bathtub showers with walk-in, glass-walled showers in about half of the guest rooms. After the renovations, the hotel required the housekeepers to meet the same room-cleaning quotas as before, despite the housekeepers' claims that the rooms were now harder to clean and required different skills and equipment. The hotel also threatened to discipline housekeepers who failed to meet these quotas. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), arguing that the hotel's unilateral actions affected bargaining unit employees.The NLRB found that the hotel had committed unfair labor practices by failing to provide the union with requested information relevant to bargaining, unilaterally changing its housekeepers' duties by increasing the work required per room but maintaining the same room-cleaning quota, and threatening its housekeepers with discipline if they failed to comply with the increased workload requirements. The NLRB ordered the hotel to rescind the unlawful changes to the housekeepers' working conditions and to compensate the housekeepers for any loss of earnings due to the hotel's unlawful conduct.The hotel petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for review, arguing that decisions like the renovation decision did not require bargaining with a union. The court disagreed, finding that the hotel had an obligation to give the union a meaningful opportunity to bargain over the changes to the housekeepers' duties. The court denied the hotel's petition for review and granted the NLRB's cross-application for enforcement of its order. View "CP Anchorage Hotel 2, LLC v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The case involves Noah’s Ark Processors, LLC, and the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union. After the expiration of their previous collective-bargaining agreement, the parties began negotiations for a new one. The company's representative, however, had no decision-making authority, and the negotiations were brief and ineffective. Frustrated, the union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB filed a petition against Noah’s Ark in federal district court for injunctive relief, which was granted, ordering the company to return to the negotiating table. However, the company declared it was unwilling to negotiate and presented another final offer. The district court issued a contempt finding, and the NLRB determined that Noah’s Ark had failed to bargain in good faith.The parties met seven more times over the next two months, but the negotiations were unsuccessful. Noah’s Ark extended another final offer, which included terms the union had already rejected. The company declared another impasse and made changes unilaterally. The union filed another complaint, and an administrative-law judge found that Noah’s Ark had both bargained in bad faith and prematurely declared an impasse. The NLRB ordered Noah’s Ark to continue negotiating, provide backpay to its employees, reimburse the union for its bargaining expenses, and have its CEO read a remedial notice at an all-employee meeting.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that substantial evidence supported the NLRB's order and granted enforcement. The court found that Noah’s Ark did not take the negotiations seriously and did not approach the renewed negotiations with an open mind and sincere intention to reach an agreement. The court also agreed with the NLRB's finding that there was no good-faith impasse. The court did not consider Noah’s Ark's objections to the remedies imposed by the NLRB, as the company had not raised these specific objections before the NLRB. View "National Labor Relations Board v. Noah's Ark Processors, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves an appeal by SaniSure, Inc., against a trial court's decision not to compel arbitration in a dispute with its former employee, Jasmin Vazquez. Vazquez initially worked for SaniSure from July 2019, and as part of her employment, she signed an agreement to resort to arbitration for any disputes that might arise from her employment. She eventually terminated this employment in May 2021. She returned to work for SaniSure four months later without signing any new arbitration agreement or discussing the application of the previous arbitration agreement to her new employment.Vazquez's second employment with SaniSure ended in July 2022. Later, she filed a class-action complaint alleging that SaniSure had failed to provide accurate wage statements during her second tenure. She also signaled her intent to add a derivative action under the Labor Code Private Attorney Generals Act (PAGA). SaniSure responded by submitting a “cure letter” claiming that its wage statements now comply with the Labor Code and requested that Vazquez submit her claims to binding arbitration, which Vazquez disputed.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Six affirmed the trial court's denial of SaniSure’s motion to compel arbitration. The court found that SaniSure failed to show that Vazquez agreed to arbitrate claims arising from her second stint of employment. The court further concluded that there was no evidence of an implied agreement to arbitrate claims arising from the second employment period, as the agreement covering Vazquez’s first employment period terminated in May 2021. View "Vazquez v. SaniSure" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Idaho upheld a decision by the Idaho Industrial Commission that required an employer and its insurance company to pay the full amount of a medical invoice for an employee's workers' compensation claim, even though the employee's medical expenses were fully covered by Medicaid. The employee, Nickole Thompson, worked at Burley Inn, whose workers' compensation insurer was Milford Casualty Insurance Company. After Thompson suffered a work-related injury, Burley Inn and Milford denied her workers' compensation claim for a hip replacement surgery. Thompson underwent the surgery anyway, with Medicaid covering the cost.Thompson later filed a claim with the Industrial Commission, which found the hip replacement surgery was connected to her work injury and awarded her medical benefits based on the full invoice amount for the surgery. Burley Inn and Milford appealed the decision, arguing that the "full invoice" rule should not apply when Medicaid has already covered the medical expenses.The state Supreme Court, however, upheld the Commission's decision, asserting that excluding Medicaid recipients from the full invoice rule could encourage employers to deny workers' compensation claims of workers they suspect of being Medicaid recipients. The court also noted that the full invoice rule was consistent with Idaho's workers' compensation law and was intended to prevent employers from denying legitimate claims. The Court also concluded that the employer and insurer had standing to bring the appeal and that Thompson was not entitled to attorney fees on appeal. View "Thompson v. Burley Inn, Inc." on Justia Law