Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff appealed an adverse jury verdict on his retaliation claims under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, challenging the jury instructions. The Eighth Circuit agreed with plaintiff that the jury instructions misstated the "honestly held belief" defense in the context of the Act's contributing-factor standard, and misallocated and misstated the burden of proof. The court explained that the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that intentional retaliation in response to protected conduct served as a contributing factor in an adverse employment action, and the defendant then bears the burden of proving an affirmative defense. In this case, the "honestly held belief" instruction failed to reference the contributing-factor standard and the instructions as a whole expressly incorporated this defense into plaintiff's case. Therefore, this failure to allocate the burden of proof to BNSF and to identify that burden of proof as clear and convincing evidence constituted prejudicial error. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Blackorby v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Rozumalski started out as a water resources engineer at Baird’s Madison, Wisconsin, office in 2010.Rozumalski was sexually harassed by her direct supervisor, Riedel. When Rozumalski reported the harassment to her employer, Baird, the company responded by swiftly investigating the incident and firing Riedel in 2012. Rozumalski claims that Baird dismissed her in 2014 in retaliation for her role in Riedel’s firing, in retaliation for complaining about her supervisor’s continued friendship with Riedel, or as a result of sex discrimination. The district court rejected her claims on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While it may be possible for workplace harassment to haunt a victim’s ability to succeed long after the incident, the facts that Rozumalski has presented do not support a finding of retaliation or of discrimination. The court noted that Rozumalski conceded that the company found her work deficient and that she had been placed on an improvement plan. View "Rozumalski v. W.F. Baird & Associates, Ltd." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the county's motion to dismiss a putative class action under the Fair Labor Standards Act based on Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds. The panel weighed the factors set out in Mitchell v. Los Angeles Community College District, 861 F.2d 198 (9th Cir. 1988), and held that the county was not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity because it is not an arm of the state when it administers the In-Home Supportive Services program. The panel also held that the Supreme Court has not overruled or undermined Mitchell in Hess v. Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation, 513 U.S. 30 (1994). Furthermore, the effective date of the rule is January 1, 2015; this date is not impermissibly retroactive; and the DOL's decision not to enforce a new rule does not obviate private rights of action. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ray v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Plains Trucking’s petitions sought supervisory writs from the North Dakota Supreme Court in two civil actions that arose out of an explosion on March 27, 2013. One worker, Trevor Davis, was killed, and another worker, Darian Songer Bail, was injured in the explosion that occurred while Davis and Songer Bail were cleaning a crude oil tanker trailer owned by MBI Energy Services. Plains Trucking asserted both Davis and Songer Bail were its employees and that the civil actions were barred by N.D.C.C. title 65. Respondent Songer Bail cross-petitioned for a supervisory writ to direct the district court in his case to vacate its order determining as a matter of law that he was Plains Trucking’s employee on the date of his injury. The cases were consolidated for oral argument to the Supreme Court. Exercising its original jurisdiction, the North Dakota Supreme Court granted Plains Trucking’s petitions and denied Songer Bail’s cross-petition. View "Plains Trucking, LLC v. Hagar, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2014, Leonard Taylor, then 55 years old, sustained severe work-related injuries when he fell 15 feet while employed as an electrician by Industrial Contractors, Inc. Taylor suffered multiple compression fractures of the thoracic vertebrae, with a fragment impinging the spinal cord resulting in partial paraplegia. Taylor underwent surgery and was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury, incomplete paraplegia at T5-6, neurogenic bowel and bladder, a closed head injury, and neuropathic pain. While at the hospital, Taylor exhibited numerous signs of cognitive dysfunction. Taylor was eventually transferred to a hospital rehabilitation unit where he received physical, occupational, and cognitive therapy. WSI accepted liability for Taylor’s claim and paid him benefits. WSI appealed a judgment affirming an Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) order finding Taylor had a retained earnings capacity of zero and he had good cause for noncompliance with vocational rehabilitation for failing to perform a good faith work search. Because the ALJ misapplied the law in determining Taylor had zero retained earnings capacity, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the judgment and remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings. View "WSI v. Taylor, et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals denying Appellant's request for a writ of mandamus ordering the Industrial Commission to vacate its order that terminated Appellant's permanent-total-disability (PTD) compensation and finding that Appellant had committed fraud while receiving PTD compensation, holding that the Commission abused its discretion in terminating Appellant's PTD compensation as of March 26, 2009. In denying Appellant's request, the court of appeals concluded that there was some evidence to support the Commission's finding that Appellant was engaged in sustained remunerative employment through activities he was performing at a raceway while receiving PTD compensation. On appeal, Defendant argued, among other things, that even if the activities he was engaged in could be construed as work, he was not working as of the effective date of the Commission's termination of his benefits. The Supreme Court agreed and remanded for an appropriate date of termination of Appellant's PTD compensation. In all other respects, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "State ex rel. Seibert v. Richard Cyr, Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Wayne Preve appealed a New Hampshire Department of Labor (DOL) ruling that he failed to prove that respondent Town of Epsom (Town) violated the New Hampshire Whistleblowers’ Protection Act. Petitioner worked for the Town’s Police Department since 1997, and served as the Chief of Police since 2004. In 2017, an incident occurred between an attorney and a Town police officer at the Circuit Court in Concord. Specifically, the attorney made a comment to the officer that insinuated the officer was a “sex offender.” The officer later informed petitioner of the attorney’s comment. Petitioner testified at the DOL hearing that, as a result of this incident, as well as additional alleged incidents between the attorney and the Town’s Police Department, petitioner believed that the attorney posed an “officer safety” issue. Petitioner decided to file a complaint against the attorney: he collected all of the data relating to the attorney in the police department’s computer database, and sent these materials to the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC), rather than the disciplinary body that oversees attorneys, the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC). A copy was also sent to the attorney. The attorney complained to the Town about petitioner’s conduct, threatening to sue the Town as a result of, among other things, petitioner’s disclosure of private information regarding the attorney and his family. The JCC returned the materials to the Town, stating that the JCC was not the correct entity with which to file a complaint regarding an attorney. The Town engaged Municipal Resources Inc. (MRI) to investigate petitioner’s conduct. The Town also instructed petitioner not to re-file the materials with the PCC. MRI issued a report concluding that some of petitioner’s actions were improper and may have violated certain statutes. The Town subsequently disciplined petitioner by suspending him for one week without pay and requiring him to attend training. After appealing this disciplinary action through the Town’s internal procedures, the petitioner filed a complaint with the DOL, arguing that the Town wrongfully retaliated against him for reporting the attorney in violation of the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act. The DOL essentially found that the petitioner had not produced “direct evidence that retaliation played a substantial role” in the Town’s decision to discipline him. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found the record supported the DOL’s conclusion. “As the DOL emphasized, the Town did not immediately discipline the petitioner upon learning that he filed a complaint regarding the attorney with the JCC; rather, the Town engaged a third-party, MRI, to conduct an investigation into the petitioner’s actions before imposing discipline. . . . Thus, we cannot say the DOL erred …in ruling petitioner failed to prove that the Town violated the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act.” View "Appeal of Preve" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against defendant under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), seeking to recover unpaid overtime wages. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendant because plaintiff was exempt from the FLSA. In this case, plaintiff fit within the highly compensated employee exemption to the FLSA. However, the court vacated the award of costs because the district court did not state its reasons for declining to award costs to the prevailing party. Accordingly, the court remanded the issue to the district court. View "Faludi v. U.S. Shale Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of Appellant's sexual harassment claims based on a hostile work environment, holding that the district court erred in concluding that alleged incidents of harassment that occurred earlier than 2014 were time-barred and that the error contributed to other flaws in the court's analysis. Appellant brought this action claiming sexual harassment and retaliation under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Puerto Rico Commonwealth law. Defendant asserted that he was sexually harassed for more than a decade and thus subjected to a hostile work environment and that managers at his workplace retaliated against him for complaining about this treatment. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant on all claims. The First Circuit remanded the case, holding (1) the district court did not err in dismissing the retaliation claims; but (2) a jury could reasonably find that incidents that allegedly occurred in 2014 were instances within the limitations period of a claimed pattern of sexually charged interactions, and the court's statute-of-limitations error necessarily impacted its assessment of the hostile work environment claim. View "Nieves-Borges v. El Conquistador Partnership, L.P." on Justia Law

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The Federal Railway Safety Act (FRSA) provides that if railroad carriers retaliate against employees who report safety violations, the aggrieved employee may file a complaint with OSHA within 180 days after the alleged retaliation, 49 U.S.C. 20109(d)(2)(A)(ii). The Secretary of Labor then has 210 days to issue a final decision. If the Secretary takes too long, the employee may file suit. Guerra, a Conrail conductor and brakeman, alleged that Conrail urged him to ignore safety regulations. When he refused, Conrail threatened him and eliminated incidental perks of his job. Guerra reported this to Conrail’s compliance office. He says he was told that if he kept reporting safety issues, there would be “undesirable consequences.” Soon after Guerra filed complaints about allegedly defective braking systems, a train Guerra was operating failed to brake properly and ran through a railroad switch. On April 6, 2016, Conrail notified Guerra that he would be suspended. On May 10, Guerra’s attorney, Katz, allegedly filed a FRSA complaint. Receiving no response, on November 28, Katz followed up with OSHA by email. OSHA notified Guerra that his claim was dismissed as untimely because OSHA first received Guerra’s complaint 237 days after the retaliation. Guerra attempted to invoke the common-law mailbox rule’s presumption of delivery. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The Third Circuit affirmed on other grounds. FRSA’s 180-day limitations period is a non-jurisdictional claim-processing rule. Guerra’s claim still fails because he has not produced enough reliable evidence to invoke the common-law mailbox rule. View "Guerra v. Consolidated Rail Corp" on Justia Law