Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries
Morris v. BNSF Railway Co.
Morris worked for nine years as a train conductor for BNSF. The company fired him after he committed two speeding infractions during a single shift on a train carrying hazardous chemicals and failed to follow company rules requiring self-reporting of the violations. Morris, who is African American, invoked Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1), and sued to challenge his termination, alleging that BNSF punished him more severely than non-black employees who committed similar safety violations. A jury found in his favor. Morris was awarded $531,292 in back pay, $137,450 in front pay, $275,000 in compensatory damages and punitive damages of $370,000The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the viability of Morris’s theory of discrimination, the sufficiency of his evidence, discovery rulings, and remedies. Morris introduced comprehensible and detailed evidence about how other employees were treated after committing safety violations. Although the supervisor responsible for any race-based discrimination did not make the termination decision, that supervisor’s decision to channel Morris down the path of formal discipline was based on race. The district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to order reinstatement. View "Morris v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law
Wilcox v. Lyons
Plaintiff, a former Deputy Commonwealth Attorney for Carroll County, Virginia, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that her former employer violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause by terminating her in retaliation for reporting alleged sex discrimination.In line with Fourth Circuit precedent and the majority of courts to consider the question, the court held that a pure retaliation claim is not cognizable under the Equal Protection Clause. The court explained that, to the extent a public employee contends she suffered adverse consequences for expressing complaints or reporting discrimination to her employer, her claim arises under the First Amendment. Furthermore, to the extent a public employee links an alleged retaliatory action to her gender, that allegation would constitute part of an equal protection discrimination claim, not a freestanding retaliation claim. In this case, plaintiff has not made such an allegation, nor has she pleaded a First Amendment action. Rather, the right to be free from retaliation for protesting sexual harassment and sex discrimination upon which plaintiff solely relies is a right created by Title VII, not the equal protection clause. The court noted that these existing legal avenues challenging public employer retaliation remain open to employees, but declined to create a new one under the auspices of the Fourteenth Amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's retaliation claim under the Equal Protection Clause. View "Wilcox v. Lyons" on Justia Law
Delta Sandblasting Co., Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board
The Ninth Circuit denied Delta's petition for review challenging the Board's order ruling that it committed an unfair labor practice when it decreased its employees' hourly pension contribution rate to the Pacific Coast Shipyards Pension Fund without first notifying or bargaining with their union. The panel granted the Board's cross-application for enforcement of its order.The panel held that the Board properly ruled that the "written agreement" requirement, defining pension contributions, in Section 302(c)(5)(B) of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), was satisfied in this case. The panel explained that substantial evidence supported the Board's finding that Schedule A was incorporated into the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and that the CBA met Section 302's requirements. The panel also held that the Board properly ruled that Delta's failure to notify or bargain with its union over the pension contribution rate decrease was an unfair labor practice under Sections 8(a)(1) and 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). View "Delta Sandblasting Co., Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law
Blue Fountain Pools and Spas Inc. v. Superior Court
Daisy Arias suffered sustained, egregious sexual harassment for most of the time she was employed by defendant-petitioner, Blue Fountain Pools & Spas, Inc. The primary culprit was defendant-petitioner, Sean Lagrave, a salesman who worked in the same office as Arias. Arias says Lagrave did everything from repeatedly asking her for dates to grabbing her and describing "his own sexual prowess." Arias complained about Lagrave’s conduct repeatedly over the course of her employment, but things came to a head on April 21, 2017: Lagrave yelled at Arias in front of coworkers, used gender slurs, and then physically assaulted her, bumping her chest with his own. Arias called the police and later left work. Arias told the owner, defendant-petitioner, Farhad Farhadian, she wasn’t comfortable returning to work with Lagrave. Farhadian did nothing initially, refused to remove Lagrave, then terminated Arias’s health insurance, and finally told Arias to pick up her final paycheck. Though Farhadian claimed Arias had quit, she says she was fired. Arias filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and received a right to sue letter on August 14, 2017. She then filed this lawsuit alleging, relevant to this appeal, hostile work environment sex discrimination and failure to prevent sexual harassment. Petitioners moved for summary judgment, seeking, among other things, to have the hostile work environment claim dismissed as time-barred and the failure to prevent harassment claim dismissed as having an insufficient basis after limiting the allegations to the conduct that wasn’t time-barred. The trial court concluded Arias had created a genuine issue of material fact as to all her causes of action and denied the motion. Petitioners brought a petition for writ of mandate, renewing their statute of limitations argument, claiming Arias could not establish a continuing violation because she admitted she had concluded further complaints were futile. The Court of Appeal concluded Arias has shown she could establish a continuing violation with respect to all the complained of conduct that occurred during Farhadian’s ownership of the company. Further, the Court determined there was a factual dispute over whether and when Arias’s employer made clear no action would be taken and whether a reasonable employee would have concluded complaining more was futile: "that question must be resolved by a jury." The Court denied petitioners' request for mandamus relief and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Blue Fountain Pools and Spas Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law
Kurtzhals v. County of Dunn
Dunn County Sergeant Kurtzhals threatened physical violence against one of his fellow officers, Deputy Rhead. The Sheriff’s Office put him on temporary paid administrative leave and ordered him to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation. Kurtzhals, believing that his supervisors took this action because they knew that Kurtzhals has a history of PTSD stemming from his military service, not because his conduct violated the County’s Workplace Violence Policy and implicated public safety, sued for employment discrimination, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12112. The district court concluded that no reasonable jury could find that Kurtzhals’s PTSD was the “but for” cause of Dunn County’s action or that it was plainly unreasonable for Kurtzhals’s superiors to believe that a fitness-for-duty examination was warranted, and granted the county summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Kurtzhals had no evidence to support his claim of pretext; there is no evidence that his supervisors knew about Kurtzhals’s PTSD. Contrary to Kurtzhals’s argument that he and Rhead acted in a comparable fashion and should have been treated similarly, the record reflects that only Kurtzhals explicitly threatened physical violence. Rhead may have behaved in an intimidating fashion towards Kurtzhals, but their behavior was not identical. View "Kurtzhals v. County of Dunn" on Justia Law
Calhoun v. Jack Doheny Companies, Inc.
JDC sought a preliminary injunction against its former employee for breach of a non-compete agreement. The district court denied the motion for a preliminary injunction in all its parts and with no concessions.The Fifth Circuit held that the district court, after acknowledging the agreement to be overbroad, erred in declining to adjudicate reformation of the agreement. In this case, the district court should have considered reformation of the agreement in the process of deciding the preliminary injunction motion. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded to the district court to allow relevant evidence and argument from the parties concerning reformation. Furthermore, the court noted that the district court should then decide what reformation, if any, would be reasonable under Texas law, and proceed to adjudicate the preliminary injunction motion in the light of its findings on reformation. View "Calhoun v. Jack Doheny Companies, Inc." on Justia Law
Karst Robbins Coal Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs
In 1983, Rice sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), 30 U.S.C. 901–45. The Department of Labor (DOL) looks to employers that employed the miner for at least one year and are capable of paying benefits. The miner’s most recent employer that meets these requirements is the “responsible operator.” Employers must either qualify as a self-insurer or purchase BLBA insurance. KRCC operated a coal mine where Rice worked in 1982-1983 but he was employed by a separate corporate entity, KRMS, which charged KRCC for the cost of Rice’s labor. The entities' ownership and management overlapped; KRMS had no assets and operated out of KRCC's offices. KRCC obtained BLBA coverage from Bituminous Casualty but only listed 10 employees. The other 150 were employed by KRMS. An ALJ identified KRMS as the responsible operator, then denied Rice’s claim on the merits. Rice appealed; KRCC and Bituminous successfully moved to be dismissed from the case, because the ALJ identified KRMS as the responsible operator.In 2002, Rice filed another BLBA claim. DOL again notified KRCC and Bituminous that KRCC might be the responsible operator. Bituminous claims it “denied coverage based on the fraudulent arrangements” between KRCC and KRMS. DOL refused to dismiss Bituminous.The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that DOL was collaterally estopped from finding that KRCC was the responsible operator; that Bituminous was entitled to rescind its insurance agreement based on fraud by KRCC; and that delays in DOL administrative proceedings violated its right to due process. View "Karst Robbins Coal Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs" on Justia Law
Six Dimensions, Inc. v. Perficient, Inc.
Six Dimensions filed suit against a former employee and a competitor, Perficient, alleging claims for breach of contracts, unfair competition, and misappropriation of trade secrets.The Fifth Circuit reversed the part of the judgment holding that the employee breached an employment contract and owed damages to Six Dimensions. The court held that the district court abused its discretion in denying the employee an opportunity to extend the arguments she had already made about the 2014 Agreement and have them apply to the 2015 Agreement. However, the court held that the district court did not reversibly err in interpreting California law and concluding that California's strict antipathy towards restraint of trade of any kind in California Business and Professions Code section 16600 voids the nonsolicitation provision here. The court also found no error in the district court's refusal to apply California's Unfair Competition Law, and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to find the jury's verdict contrary to the weight of the great evidence as to the misappropriation claim. Therefore, the court otherwise affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Six Dimensions, Inc. v. Perficient, Inc." on Justia Law
Southern Farm Bureau Life Ins. Co. v. Thomas
Former Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company employees Regina Thomas and Pam Pilgrim filed suit against the company claiming they were wrongfully discharged. While recognizing Mississippi is an at-will-employment state, the former employees alleged Southern Farm Bureau’s employee handbook altered their at-will status. They insisted the handbook conferred certain substantive and procedural rights, including the right not to be discriminated against based on gender and age, which they suggest they were denied. But upon review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the employee handbook expressly disclaimed the formation of any employment contract. "So under Mississippi law, Thomas and Pilgrim remained at-will employees. This meant they could be fired for good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all, except for reasons independently declared legally impermissible." Rather than having exhausted their administrative remedies, as was required when bringing a gender-discrimination claim, they asked the Supreme Court to create an exception to an already existing exception to the at-will doctrine, which would have allowed them to avoid the express procedural requirements for federal discrimination claims. But the Mississippi Supreme Court has recognized that creating exceptions to the at-will doctrine was a legislative concern, not a judicial task. "Because Congress has already created a discrimination-based exception to the at-will doctrine—which Thomas and Pilgrim failed to pursue - we reject their request." View "Southern Farm Bureau Life Ins. Co. v. Thomas" on Justia Law
Pierri v. Medline Industries, Inc.
Pierri began working for Medline in 2011. In 2015, Pierri’s grandfather fell ill. Pierri's supervisor, Tyler, allowed Pierri to work 10‐hour shifts four days a week in order to take his grandfather on weekly hospital trips. Six months later, Tyler told Pierri to return to five‐day, eight-hour shifts. Tyler offered to let Pierri work Tuesday through Saturday, but Pierri wanted to attend school on Saturdays. Pierri began using one day per week of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave. Tyler harassed him and refused to assign him research and development work, on which Pierri’s bonus depended. Pierri complained to Medline’s HR department; the harassment continued. Citing stress, Pierri started full‐time FMLA leave in March 2016. In September, Medline then approved him for disability leave. In March 2017, Medline contacted Pierri’s attorney to find out whether he planned on returning. Pierri did not respond. Medline terminated his employment.Pierri had filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and then filed suit, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12112(b)(4), for his association with his ailing grandfather, and retaliation 42 U.S.C. 12203. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Medline. Pierri failed to present material facts in dispute that would show that Medline discriminated against him for his association with his grandfather or that he suffered an adverse employment action. Pierri’s failure to respond about returning to work caused his termination, not retaliation for his complaints. View "Pierri v. Medline Industries, Inc." on Justia Law