Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

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The Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) brought actions against claimants Frank Lucente and Michael Herzog, respectively, to appeal the decisions of the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission (MCAC) that claimants were not required to pay restitution and fraud penalties under the Michigan Employment Security Act (MESA) despite the fact that they had improperly received unemployment benefits after becoming employed full-time and providing inaccurate responses to certification questions concerning their new employment. The Michigan Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals correctly held that MCL 421.62 authorized the UIA to issue original fraud and restitution determinations that were not subject to the constraints of MCL 421.32a. However, it erred by concluding that the UIA’s decision to issue “redeterminations” in these cases was of no substantive effect. "The UIA must issue an original determination alleging fraud, and its failure to do so was grounds for invalidating the 'redeterminations' in this case. On this issue, the payment of benefits cannot serve as an original 'determination' on the alleged fraud, and the UIA’s issuance of determinationless 'redeterminations' deprives claimants of their right to protest. When UIA-initiated review of a past-paid benefit results in a decision that the claimant received benefits during a period of ineligibility or disqualification and owes restitution as a result, the UIA must begin with an original 'determination' as described in MCL 421.62. The Court of Appeals' judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Michigan Unemployment Ins. Agy. v. Lucente" on Justia Law

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Sanchez oil was sued by a subcontractor of a contractor for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). After unsuccessfully requesting indemnification from Crescent, which hired the subcontractor, Sanchez filed a third-party complaint alleging breach of contract for Crescent's failure to indemnify Sanchez and failure to comply with the FLSA.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of Sanchez's motion for summary judgment and grant of Crescent's motion, finding material fact issues as to whether the subcontractor was an "independent contractor" or otherwise was exempt from the FLSA. The court also found material fact issues regarding whether Crescent unreasonably withheld consent to the settlement. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Sanchez Oil & Gas Corp. v. Crescent Drilling & Productions, Inc." on Justia Law

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Alaska Communications provides telecommunications services throughout Alaska and in Oregon. While most of the company’s employees are based in Alaska, some are in Oregon. The union that represents a majority of the company’s employees did not previously represent any of the Oregon-based employees and sought to hold a representation election among a subset of the Oregon-based employees. The National Labor Relations Board certified a voting group that differed slightly from the petitioned-for unit, 29 U.S.C. 157, and that group voted to join the preexisting bargaining unit. The petitioned-for unit encompassed 12 Cable Systems Group employees, including both Holmes and Pavlenko. The Board excluded those individuals as being supervisors and added the only two employees who had not been included in the petition, finding that their exclusion “would unduly fragment the workforce and render the proposed Voting Group an irrational and indistinct one.”The D.C. Circuit rejected the company’s challenge to the certification of the voting group. The D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of the Board. The Board permissibly adjusted the composition of the voting group and permissibly determined that the group shares a community of interest with the preexisting bargaining unit it voted to join. View "Alaska Communications Systems Holdings, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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In this action brought by a physician alleging that the defendant hospitals and medical staff members unlawfully retaliated against him for raising concerns about patient care the Supreme Court held that Defendants were not entitled to wholesale dismissal of Plaintiff's claims under the anti-SLAPP law.Defendants sought to strike Plaintiff's retaliation claims under the anti-SLAPP statute, arguing that any claim arising from the peer review process targets protected speech or petitioning activity and therefore must be afforded anti-SLAPP protection. The trial court granted Defendants' motion. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that the anti-SLAPP statute does not protect actions taken with a retaliatory motive. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that Defendants demonstrated that some, but not all, of the claims collected was unlawful acts of retaliation in Plaintiff's first cause of action arose from protected speech or petitioning activity. View "Bonni v. St. Joseph Health System" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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