Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries
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
Pollock v. Tri-Modal Distribution Services, Inc.
The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the court of appeal and its award of costs on appeal, holding that a claim for failure to promote brought under the harassment provision of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Cal. Gov. Code 12940, subd. (j), 12960, accrues, and thus the statute of limitations begins to run, at the point when an employee knows or reasonably should know of the employer's allegedly unlawful refusal to promote the employee.Plaintiff alleged that her employer passed her over for promotions because she refused to have sex with the company's executive vice-president, Michael Kelso. The trial court granted summary judgment for Kelso, finding no triable issue of fact as to Kelso's statute of limitations defense. The court of appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for Kelso and two other defendants and awarded costs on appeal to all three defendants. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the court of appeals erred in concluding that the statute of limitations began to run when Plaintiff's employer offered a promotion to someone else and she accepted it; and (2) the court of appeal erred in awarding costs on appeal to Defendants without first finding that Plaintiff's underlying claim was objectively groundless. View "Pollock v. Tri-Modal Distribution Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Alaska Department of Corrections v. Wozniak
After initially disputing that a corrections officer was permanently and totally disabled from injuries suffered at work, the State conceded his disability status. The parties did not enter into a written settlement or stipulation because they disagreed about the amount of attorney’s fees the State should pay the officer’s attorney. After a hearing the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board awarded attorney’s fees under AS 23.30.145(a) in two parts: it awarded a specific amount of fees for work up to the time of the hearing and statutory minimum fees of 10% of ongoing benefits as long as the officer received permanent total disability benefits. The State appealed to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission, which affirmed the Board’s decision because in the Commission’s view the award was not manifestly unreasonable. The State then appealed the Commission’s decision to us. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the Commission. View "Alaska Department of Corrections v. Wozniak" on Justia Law
Communications Workers of America v. National Labor Relations Board
T-Mobile’s Wichita service center employs approximately 600 customer service representatives. Since 2009, the Union has been attempting to organize the workers. In 2015, Befort, a customer service representative, emailed her coworkers on her work computer from her work email address encouraging them to join union organizing efforts. She sent several separate email batches sent over the course of a day, while she was on break or finished with her shift, stating, “contact me with any questions, but please do so outside of working hours.” T-Mobile reprimanded Befort for sending the email and sent a facility-wide email stating that it did not permit its employees to send mass emails through the company email system for non-business purposes. An ALJ held that T-Mobile violated the National Labor Relations Act by discriminating against the employee based on the union-related content of her email. The Board reversed, distinguishing evidence that T-Mobile had previously permitted mass emails on the ground that those emails were not similar in character to Befort’s email. The D.C. Circuit reversed. The Board erred by relying on its own post hoc distinction between permissible and impermissible employee conduct to reject the evidence of disparate treatment. The policies and rationales that T-Mobile offered in defense of its actions do not support them. Actions taken and statements made by T-Mobile in response to Befort’s email reflect a singling out of union content. View "Communications Workers of America v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law
Lively v. WAFRA Investment Advisory Group, Inc.
After plaintiff was terminated by his former employer for violating company policies prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace, he filed suit alleging that the stated basis for his termination was pretext and that the real reason he was fired was age discrimination and retaliation, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The district court granted defendants judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).Although on a Rule 12(c) motion the district court should not have weighed the plausibility of competing allegations in the movant's pleading or considered evidence extrinsic to the non-movant's pleading, the court affirmed the district court's judgment because plaintiff's complaint failed to plead that either his age or protected speech was a but-for cause of his termination. Likewise, plaintiff's retaliation claim fails for similar reasons. View "Lively v. WAFRA Investment Advisory Group, Inc." on Justia Law