Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries
Wheeler v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co.
After plaintiff, who was employed by Hulcher Services, lost several fingers at work in an accident at the railyard, he filed suit against Norfolk, the railyard owner, under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA).The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Norfolk, concluding that plaintiff failed to show that he was an employee of Norfolk and thus he could not recover under FELA. The court explained that plaintiff failed to show that Norfolk controlled the performance of his work or retained the right to do so. View "Wheeler v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law
Kengerski v. Harper
Kengerski, a Captain at the Allegheny County Jail, made a written complaint to the jail Warden alleging that a colleague had called his biracial grand-niece a “monkey” and then sent him a series of text messages with racially offensive comments about his coworkers. Seven months later, Kengerski was fired. He contends the firing was retaliation for reporting his colleague’s behavior and sued t under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-3(a). The district court granted the defendant summary judgment, holding that Kengerski, who is white, could not maintain a claim for Title VII retaliation.The Third Circuit vacated. Title VII protects all employees from retaliation when they reasonably believe that behavior at their work violates the statute and they make a good-faith complaint. Harassment against an employee because he associates with a person of another race, such as a family member, may violate Title VII by creating a hostile work environment. A reasonable person could believe that the Allegheny County Jail was a hostile work environment for Kengerski. Kengerski may not ultimately succeed on his retaliation claim or even survive summary judgment on remand. The county claims that it fired him for an unrelated reason that is unquestionably serious: mishandling a sexual harassment claim. View "Kengerski v. Harper" on Justia Law
Hairston v. Wormuth
Plaintiff, a former employee of the Pine Bluff Arsenal, filed suit against the Army under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that she was subject to a hostile work environment based on sex and that the Army retaliated against her after she reported sexual harassment. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the Army.The Eighth Circuit concluded that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of the Army on plaintiff's hostile work environment claim where she failed to establish that the harassment she experienced was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive working environment. However, the court concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the Army on plaintiff's retaliation claim where she presented enough admissible evidence to raise a genuine doubt as the legitimacy of the Army's stated motive for her termination. Accordingly, the court remanded this claim for further proceedings. View "Hairston v. Wormuth" on Justia Law
Indeck Energy Services, Inc. v. DePodesta
Indeck develops, owns, and operates conventional and alternative fuel power plants. DePodesta, Indeck's vice president of business development, had overall responsibility for Indeck’s electrical generation project development efforts. Dahlstrom was director of business development. DePodesta and Dahlstrom had signed confidentiality agreements.In 2010, Dahlstrom founded HEV, a consulting firm that develops electrical power generation projects. DePodesta later became a member of HEV. In 2013, DePodesta, Dahlstrom, and HEV formed an LLC to develop natural-gas-fired, simple cycle power plants in Texas. The two subsequently copied and removed from Indeck’s premises thousands of documents and files. DePodesta resigned from Indeck on November 1, 2013, and Dahlstrom on November 4. They did not tell anyone at Indeck that they intended to pursue an opportunity with a new LLC. In 2014, Indeck filed suit, alleging breach of the confidentiality agreements and fiduciary duties,” seeking injunctive relief and disgorgement.The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. Indeck’s confidentiality agreement was unenforceable as overbroad and Indeck failed to prove it had sustained injury based on any breach. Any profits from breaches of fiduciary duty after the defendants were speculative; there was no identifiable fund traceable to those breaches, so a constructive trust was not available. However, defendants breached their fiduciary duties during their employment and were required to disgorge their salaries. Indeck failed to prove the injury necessary for its claim of usurpation of a corporate opportunity. View "Indeck Energy Services, Inc. v. DePodesta" on Justia Law
Mahler v. Judicial Council of California
Retired superior court judges who have participated in the Temporary Assigned Judges Program (TAJP) challenged recent changes to the program made by the Chief Justice, including limits on the duration of service in the program with some exceptions. Plaintiffs, claiming these changes discriminate against “older” retired judges, filed suit, alleging disparate impact age discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The trial court dismissed without leave to amend on the ground legislative immunity bars the suit.The court of appeal reversed and remanded to allow the plaintiffs to amend their complaint. Legislative immunity shields the Chief Justice and the Judicial Council from suit, regardless of the nature of the relief sought, to the extent plaintiffs’ discrimination claim is based on the Chief Justice’s promulgation of changes to the TAJP. Legislative immunity does not foreclose suit to the extent the claim is based on the defendants’ enforcement of the challenged provisions through individual judicial assignments. Judicial immunity applies to the Chief Justice’s assignment of individual judges under the new TAJP provisions, and while judicial immunity forecloses monetary relief, it does not foreclose prospective declaratory relief. The plaintiffs’ current allegations are insufficient but a disparate impact age discrimination claim can be based on disparate impact on an older subgroup within the class of persons protected under the Act--employees 40 years of age and older. View "Mahler v. Judicial Council of California" on Justia Law
Hobbs v. EVO, Inc.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in an overtime-wage dispute brought by field engineers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA). The court concluded that, because administrative duties are EVO's only basis for claiming the highly-compensated employee (HCE) exemption, the failure to show either type of administrative responsibility means EVO has also failed to show that plaintiffs are covered by the HCE exemption. For similar reasons, the court concluded that EVO cannot prevail on its more ambitious theory that each plaintiff is exempt as an administrative employee under 29 C.F.R. 541.200.Furthermore, because precedent allows the district court to rely on a record-based estimate, and because EVO did not raise other possible ways plaintiffs might have used to make their estimates more accurate, the court saw no basis for reversing the damages award. Finally, the district court was correct that plaintiffs' argument that their bonuses were hours-based was not supported by the evidence, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney's fees. View "Hobbs v. EVO, Inc." on Justia Law
Hollingsworth v. Heavy Transport, Inc.
After Kirk Hollingsworth was involved in a fatal accident while working for HT, Hollingsworth's wife and son filed a wrongful death action against HT and Bragg. Plaintiffs alleged that HT lacked the required workers' compensation insurance at the time of the incident, and therefore plaintiffs were entitled to sue Bragg/HT under Labor Code section 3706. Bragg/HT then filed an application for adjudication of claim with the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB). In the Court of Appeal's previous opinion, Hollingsworth v. Superior Court (2019) 37 Cal.App.5th 927 (Hollingsworth I), the court held that the superior court, which had exercised jurisdiction first, should resolve the questions that would determine which tribunal had exclusive jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims. Following remand, plaintiffs claimed that they were entitled to a jury trial on the factual issues that would determine jurisdiction. The trial court ultimately entered a judgment terminating proceedings in the superior court, and plaintiffs appealed.The Court of Appeal concluded that, although a jury may determine questions relevant to workers' compensation exclusivity when the issue is raised as an affirmative defense to common law claims, jurisdiction under Labor Code section 3706 is an issue of law for the court to decide. In this case, plaintiffs asserted jurisdiction under section 3706, and thus it was appropriate for the court, not a jury, to determine the questions relevant to jurisdiction. Therefore, there was no error in denying plaintiffs' request for a jury trial. The court also found that the trial court's consideration of parol evidence was not erroneous, and that substantial evidence supports its findings. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Hollingsworth v. Heavy Transport, Inc." on Justia Law
Duda, et al. v. Elder
The elected Sheriff of El Paso County, Colorado, and head of the Paso County Sheriff’s Office (“EPSO”), fired Keith Duda, a patrol sergeant. Duda believed he was fired for supporting candidate Mike Angley, who challenged Sheriff Elder's reelection bid, and for giving an interview to a local newspaper about sexual harassment and other misconduct at the EPSO. Duda brought First Amendment retaliation claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. At summary judgment, the district court denied qualified immunity to Sheriff Elder. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to Sheriff Elder on Duda’s Angley speech claim. The district court did not err in finding a constitutional violation. On the reporting claim, Sheriff Elder did not contest there was a constitutional violation. Instead, he argued no law clearly established it was unconstitutional to terminate Duda for the reporting speech, contending the district court incorrectly relied on Wulf v. City of Wichita, 883 F.2d 842 (10th Cir. 1989). To this, the Tenth Circuit affirmed because Wulf was substantially similar to the facts of this case. "Under Wulf, it was 'sufficiently clear that every reasonable official [in Sheriff Elder’s position] would have understood' that firing Mr. Duda based on his speech reporting misconduct at EPSO to The Independent was unconstitutional." View "Duda, et al. v. Elder" on Justia Law
Gilbert v. Stewart
In 2006, plaintiff Brenda Gilbert divorced her husband, Monroe Gilbert, who acquired sole possession of the family’s vehicle, which was still registered in plaintiff’s name. In April 2014, Monroe informed plaintiff that he had to report to the Woodland Park Municipal Court (WPMC) regarding many outstanding traffic tickets; the court summonses were issued in plaintiff’s name. On April 15, 2014, plaintiff met Monroe and his attorney, defendant Kenyatta Stewart, at WPMC. The matter was adjourned, and plaintiff, defendant, and Monroe discussed the best way to resolve the outstanding summonses. Plaintiff did not retain defendant as her attorney or request that he represent her; nor did defendant bill plaintiff or enter into a fee agreement with her. Nevertheless, he indicated to plaintiff that the optimal resolution would be for her to plead guilty to the charges because Monroe was at greater risk of license suspension due to his poor driving record. Plaintiff worked in the Passaic probation department since 1994. The parties disputed the extent to which defendant advised plaintiff of certain risks associated with the plea agreement. It was undisputed that defendant failed to advise plaintiff of the impact that a guilty plea might have on her public employment. In July 2014, plaintiff, through different counsel, challenged her conviction; ultimately the disposition against her was vacated, her fines were repaid to her, and the charges against plaintiff were dismissed. Plaintiff ultimately filed a complaint against defendant, alleging he breached a duty of care by “engaging in a clear conflict of interest” and urging her to enter into “unwarranted guilty pleas.” Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that he was not the proximate cause of plaintiff’s harm because any discipline from her employer resulted from her failure to notify, not her conviction. Judgment was entered in defendant's favor. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding a jury should have decided whether defendant’s legal advice was a substantial factor in plaintiff's demotion and suspension. View "Gilbert v. Stewart" on Justia Law
Threat v. City of Cleveland
The plaintiffs, captains in Cleveland’s Emergency Medical Service division, belong to the same union; all are black. Each fall, captains bid on their schedules for the upcoming year. The city uses a seniority-based bidding system to assign shifts. The collective bargaining agreement also allows Carlton, the EMS Commissioner, to transfer up to four captains to a different shift that conflicts with a captain’s first choice. The 2017 bidding generated a schedule in which three plaintiffs were slated to work a day shift together; only black captains would staff the shift. Carlton removed Anderson from that day shift and replaced him with a white captain to “diversify the shift.” Informal discussions failed. Discrimination charges were filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and the federal EEOC. A rebidding generated a schedule that again resulted in reassignment to “create diversity.” A local news station ran a story about the shift situation.The captains sued, bringing discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII and Ohio law, and a section 1983 claims based on the federal constitution. The district court ultimately rejected all of the claims, reasoning the captains could not show that the shift change subjected them to a “materially adverse employment action.” The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. Shifts count as “terms” of employment under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1) and the shift change is not “de minimus.” View "Threat v. City of Cleveland" on Justia Law