Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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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

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In 2017, SCANA, an electric and natural gas public utility, halted construction at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in South Carolina. WEC, a contractor with SCANA, laid off its employees working at the project, as did Fluor, a subcontractor hired by WEC. Employees of WEC and Fluor sued SCANA and Fluor, alleging that the companies failed to give notice of the plant closure and layoffs as required under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, 29 U.S.C. 2102(a).The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. None of the plaintiffs were “employees” of SCANA. There was no common ownership between SCANA and WEC or Fluor, nor did they share any directors or officers. WEC and Fluor were responsible for hiring, firing, and paying their own personnel and decided which employees would be responsible for accomplishing which tasks. WEC and Fluor employees did not even receive SCANA’s employee handbook, nor were they at all integrated with SCANA’s human resources department. WEC and Fluor operated “distinct businesses that were not dependent” on SCANA. Fluor was relieved of any obligation to provide 60 days of notice by the unforeseeable business circumstances exception. View "Pennington v. Fluor Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Clinic hired Gamboa, who signed several onboarding documents. Weeks later, Gamboa sustained an injury to her hand that affected her work. After Gamboa requested medical accommodations, the Clinic terminated her employment. Gamboa sued for discrimination, retaliation, and failure to provide reasonable accommodation. The Clinic moved to compel arbitration, arguing that Gamboa had signed an arbitration agreement as part of her required onboarding documents.The court of appeal affirmed the denial of that motion. The Clinic failed to prove the existence of an arbitration agreement by a preponderance of the evidence after Gamboa produced evidence disputing an agreement. The Clinic may have met its burden on the first step by attaching to Lopez’s (the Clinic’s director of human resources) declaration a copy of the arbitration agreement purporting to bear Gamboa’s signature but Gamboa met her burden on the second step by filing an opposing declaration, saying she did not recall the agreement and would not have signed it if she had been aware of it. Lopez did not explain how she knew Gamboa had seen, much less signed, the arbitration agreement. View "Gamboa v. Northeast Community Clinic" on Justia Law

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PG sought to vacate a labor arbitration award. In many labor disputes, both the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. 185(a), and the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 10, provide means for seeking vacatur or confirmation of arbitration awards. The statutes employ distinct procedural vehicles, require litigants to meet different legal standards, and prescribe separate limitations periods. PG argued that even if it filed its complaint outside of the applicable limitations period for an LMRA action, it filed within the FAA’s 90-day limitations period for motions to vacate an arbitration award.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of PG’s action as untimely. Although a party may bring both an LMRA action and an FAA motion challenging or confirming certain labor arbitration awards, PG did not proceed by motion as required by the FAA, and so did not properly invoke that statute. PG’s LMRA Section 301 action was untimely. The court clarified the procedures for seeking to vacate or confirm an arbitration award under the LMRA and under the FAA. View "PG Publishing Co v. Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law

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Dr. Placzek, a physician, entered into an employment agreement with MCHS In 2015, Placzek had a miscarriage, which required time off. MCHS provides Short-Term Disability (STD) benefits but Placzek did not submit an STD claim. MCHS later gave her five days of STD benefits. In 2016, Dr. Placzek took 12 weeks of maternity leave; she used STD benefits for the first six weeks. For the last six weeks of maternity leave, Placzek wanted to use vacation time. Placzek was eligible for an educational-loan reimbursement of $15,000 per year; if the physician terminates the agreement “except for a breach by the Medical Center,” the physician must repay two reimbursements. In 2017, Placzek resigned; her appointment at Mayo Clinic had been terminated unilaterally by Mayo in 2016. Placzek brought a Minnesota Whistleblower Act (MWA) claim against Mayo, alleging retaliation for reporting a violation of law and a breach-of-contract claim against MCHS for failing to provide additional STD benefits for her miscarriage, improperly paying her STD benefits for her maternity leave, and not allowing her to use paid vacation for her maternity leave. She sought a declaratory judgment that she need not repay her educational-loan reimbursement. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the rejection of all of her claims. Although she worked some of her full-time hours at a Mayo Clinic site, Placzek was an independent contractor, not a Mayo employee for MWA purposes. MCHS did not breach the employment agreement in calculating her benefits or in denying her paid vacation time. View "Placzek v. Mayo Clinic" on Justia Law

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Avenoso, a maintenance supervisor, had long-term disability insurance under a Reliance policy, governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B). The policy provided two years of benefits if the claimant showed that he was unable to perform the material duties of his current occupation and provided continued benefits if the claimant showed that he was unable to perform the material duties of any occupation. Avenoso left his job due to lower-back pain and underwent back surgery. Reliance approved two years of benefits. At the end of the two years, Reliance informed Avenoso that it would discontinue benefits because Avenoso had not shown that he was unable to perform the material duties of any occupation.Avenoso had an MRI; the results appeared relatively mild. Avenoso sent Reliance a note from his physician, recommending that Avenoso “avoid lifting, bending and prolonged sitting” due to his lower back condition. He was receiving Social Security disability benefits. Following a “functional-capacity evaluation,” a physical therapist concluded Avenoso did not demonstrate an ability to tolerate an 8-hour workday. An independent medical evaluation concluded that Avenoso retained sedentary-work capacity and was “able to work 8 hours a day but was engaging in “symptom magnification.” A vocational-rehabilitation specialist identified five “viable sedentary occupational alternatives” consistent with Avenoso’s physical capacities. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Avenoso. The district court’s finding that Avenoso lacks sedentary-work capacity was not clearly erroneous. View "Avenoso v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Co" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants in an action brought by plaintiff, an oil-platform worker, after he injured his back while building scaffolding. Plaintiff filed suit against the companies managing both the day-to-day construction and the overall construction project. The court concluded, however, that a reasonable jury could not find that either company was liable for the worker's injury because neither was his direct employer. In this case, the Hickman factors weigh in favor of holding that plaintiff was Grand Isle and BP's independent contractor. Furthermore, the court agreed with the district court that the operational-control exception did not apply as to either BP or Grand Isle. View "Coleman v. BP Exploration & Production, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Union represents employees at Constellium’s plant. In 2013, after Constellium attempted to change retirees’ health benefits, the Union sued. In 2017, the Fourth Circuit held, in "Barton," that, because the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) stated that retiree health benefits would endure only for the CBA's term, they did not vest. Constellium and the Union subsequently negotiated another CBA, effective through September 2022, which outlines retiree healthcare benefits. Constellium sent a letter to its Medicare-eligible retirees, announcing changes to their healthcare coverage.The Union initiated a grievance, citing the CBA’s guarantee of retiree health benefits for the CBA’s term. Constellium claimed that the change did not violate the CBA and that Barton permitted the change with respect to retirees who retired under previous CBAs. Constellium unsuccessfully sought a declaratory judgment that it prevailed on preclusion grounds; the district court reasoned that whether Barton precluded arbitration was a question for the arbitrator.An arbitrator ruled in favor of the Union, reasoning that “the question of whether retiree health benefits were vested or durational”—which was “central” in Barton—was "a red herring” because the Union’s new claims did not depend on whether the benefits were vested or durational, but focused on the terms of the 2017 CBA, under which Constellium was obligated to maintain the same health benefits for the relevant retirees throughout the CBA's full term. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of Constellium’s motion to vacate the arbitrator’s award. View "Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood, LLC v. United Steel, Paper & Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial & Service Workers International Union" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, formerly employed as deputy sheriffs, filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action alleging that defendants violated their First Amendment rights based on Defendant Cole's retaliatory employment actions taken after plaintiffs supported his political opponent. The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed the complaints.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not err in interpreting Curtis v. Christian County, 963 F.3d 777 (8th Cir. 2020), by concluding that even if plaintiff is a first responder and other provisions of Missouri law protect against discharge for engaging in political activity, because he was a Missouri deputy sheriff, plaintiff was legally terminated and Cole did not violate plaintiff's constitutional rights. The court explained that whether Cole violated plaintiffs' state statutory political activity rights is an inquiry separate from whether he violated their First Amendment rights. The court's conclusion that Cole committed no unconstitutional act necessarily resolves the municipal liability issue involving Christian County and the Christian County Commissioners, sued in their official capacities. Because Cole is entitled to qualified immunity under Curtis, the court did not address plaintiffs' second argument about affirmative defenses. View "Burns v. Cole" on Justia Law