Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
by
Appellant Fraternal Order of Police ("FOP") sought the benefit of a grievance arbitration award that was overturned by an appeals court. The City of Pittsburgh hosts an annual marathon which, in 2016, was organized and administered by several large, private companies. About 100 police officers were needed to provide crowd control, road closures, and traffic management for the event. Initially, the Bureau of Police solicited volunteers from among those officers who would otherwise be off duty to work under a secondary employment arrangement. Numerous positions remained unfilled, and the Bureau asked approximately 70 officers to work on their "pass days." These officers were paid a minimum of four hours overtime at a time-and-a-half rate, plus additional overtime for any more hours worked. Pursuant to the terms of the CBA, the FOP filed a grievance asserting the City violated the bargaining agreement by “mandating officers work secondary employment when the CBA states it is strictly voluntary.” The City stressed that the CBA specifically established a rate of pay for scenarios in which officers are required to work outside of their regularly scheduled shifts, and that officers had been compensated by the City in strict conformity with this provision. An arbitrator ultimately ruled in favor of the FOP, but an appeals court reversed, finding "no authority within the four corners of the collective bargaining agreement to justify the award." Disagreeing with the Commonwealth Court's affirmance of the appeals court, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for reinstatement of the arbitration award. View "City of Pgh v. Frat. Order of Police" on Justia Law

by
In September 2013, Tawny Chevalier filed a class action complaint against General Nutrition Centers, Inc., a Delaware corporation, and General Nutrition Corporation, a Pennsylvania corporation (collectively GNC). The case involved the calculation of overtime compensation for non-exempt salaried workers under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act of 1968 (PMWA), and the related regulations adopted by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (Pennsylvania Regulations). Specifically, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed whether these statutory and regulatory provisions allowed for the usage of the Fluctuating Work Week method (FWW Method) for calculating overtime compensation for salaried employees working fluctuating hours. As explained in detail below, we affirm the Superior Court’s decision rejecting the use of the FWW Method under the PMWA and the Pennsylvania Regulations, which were distinguishable from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which overtly adopted the FWW Method for salaried employees working fluctuating hours. Chevalier had previously been employed by GNC as a store manager and senior store manager, earning a set weekly salary plus commissions, regardless of the number of hours she worked in a given week. GNC additionally paid her overtime for any hours worked in excess of forty hours in a week by utilizing the FWW Method explained below. Essentially, Chevalier argued that the FWW Method did not satisfy the PMWA’s requirement that employees “shall be paid for overtime not less than one and one-half times the employe[e]'s regular rate.” The Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s decision to reject GNC’s use of the FWW Method for calculating Plaintiffs’ overtime compensation to the extent it used a 0.5 multiplier. View "Chevalier v. General Nutrition Centers" on Justia Law

by
This appeal involved an airline employee who was injured while riding an airport shuttle bus to an employee parking lot after her shift ended. The question before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the employee’s injury can be said to have occurred on the airline’s premises for purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Act even though the City of Philadelphia owned both the shuttle bus and the employee parking lot. The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court, Appeal Board, and WCJ correctly concluded that the lot in which the employee parked her vehicle was integral to the company’s business operations. The employee used the airport parking lot and shuttle service to enter and exit her workplace. As part of the airline’s business relationship with the airport, it clearly was aware that the Division of Aviation would make employee parking available to the airline’s employees. “Indeed, the evidence presented to the WCJ suggests that, had the Division not done so, US Airways would have been obligated under its collective bargaining agreement with the Association of Flight Attendants to reimburse flight attendants like Bockelman for the cost of airport parking.” View "US Airways, et al. v. WCAB (Bockelman)" on Justia Law

by
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Plaintiffs William DeForte and Evan Townsend were employed as police officers with the Borough of Worthington (the “Borough”). Neither officer was salaried or received benefits. Instead, they were paid hourly wages and, moreover, were simultaneously employed by other police forces. The Borough’s police force consisted of four part-time officers, including Plaintiffs. On November 5, 2012, the Borough terminated Plaintiffs’ employment without affording any process. Plaintiffs brought separate actions (which were consolidated) against the Borough at the federal district court. Plaintiffs asserted, inter alia, that the Borough Code or the Tenure Act conferred a constitutionally-protected property interest in their continued employment, and the lack of any process associated with their dismissal violated their federal due process rights. They requested relief under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The Borough moved for summary judgment. In ruling on the motion, the district court considered whether Plaintiffs were entitled to civil-service protections in connection with their dismissal under either the Police Tenure Act, or the Borough Code, The Supreme Court, answering the two-part question forwarded by the Third Circuit: (1) the civil service protections embodied in the Borough Code and the Tenure Act were broadly in pari materia insofar as they were intended to govern all borough police forces; and (2) when calculating the size of a borough police force in any given case, the same test should be used. More particularly, the “normal working hours” criterion contained in the Borough Code should be employed to determine how many members a borough police force has for purposes of deciding whether the Tenure Act’s two-officer maximum or the Borough Code’s three-officer minimum was implicated. View "Deforte v. Boro of Worthington" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the Commonwealth Court disregarded the law when it vacated a grievance arbitration award based on its independent interpretation of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). Millcreek Township Educational Support Personnel Association (the “Association”) and Millcreek Township School District (the “District”) were parties to a CBA that became effective on July 1, 2011, and was set to expire on June 30, 2016. Negotiations for a successor CBA began January 26, 2016 when the Association offered its initial proposal to the District. Approximately one month later, the District presented a counter proposal in which it sought, among other items, to eliminate a no subcontracting provision. The Association rejected this proposal. On March 29, 2016, with successor CBA negotiations ongoing between the Association and the District, the District issued a request for proposals (“RFP”) seeking quotes from prospective bidders for the provision of custodial labor services. On April 7, 2016, upon learning that the District had issued an RFP to subcontract the bargaining unit’s work, the Association filed a grievance with the District. Pursuant to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decisions under the Public Employee Relations Act (“PERA”), a reviewing court had to apply the highly deferential two-prong “essence test” to grievance arbitration awards: (1) the court had to decide whether the issue was encompassed by the CBA; and (2) the court had to uphold the arbitrator’s award if the arbitrator’s interpretation could rationally be derived from the CBA. Subject to a narrow exception for awards that violate a dominant public policy, proper application of the essence test prohibits a court from vacating an arbitrator’s award unless “the award indisputably and genuinely is without foundation in, or fails to logically flow from, the [CBA].” The Supreme Court had "no trouble" concluding that the award in this case drew its essence from the CBA and because no public policy would be violated by its enforcement, it reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court. View "Millcreek Twp SD v. Millcreek Twp ESPA" on Justia Law

by
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to consider whether Section 614 of Municipalities Planning Code, 53 P.S. section 10614, which set forth the powers of a zoning officer, provided sufficient basis to determine, absent evidence of actual job duties, if a zoning officer was a management-level employee under the Public Employe Relations Act (PERA). Because the Supreme Court held that Section 614 did not render a zoning officer a management-level employee, the Court held that such evidence was required, and therefore reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Exeter Twp. v. PLRB, Teamsters Local Union" on Justia Law

by
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether the Commonwealth Court erred in holding appellant Daniel Harmon was disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits pursuant to Section 402.6 of the Unemployment Compensation Law. Appellant was a part-time employee at Brown’s Shop Rite beginning February 14, 2013. By December, he was convicted of driving with a suspended license and sentenced to a term of 60 days’ imprisonment to be served on 30 consecutive weekends, beginning March 14, 2014 and ending August 7, 2014. Appellant’s employment with Brown’s Shop Rite was terminated on March 24, 2014 due to a violation of company policy, which was unrelated to his incarceration. He then filed for benefits and received them for the week ending March 29, 2014 through the week ending July 26, 2014. This period included weeks when appellant was serving his sentence of weekend incarceration. The Supreme Court held appellant was not disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits, and therefore reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Harmon v. UCBR" on Justia Law

by
In 2003, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (“DCED”) designated the City of Pittsburgh as a financially distressed municipality under the Municipal Financial Recovery Act (“Act 47”). The City’s collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) with Appellant Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 (the “Union”) expired on December 31, 2014. As the parties were unable to reach consensus on a new CBA, they entered into interest arbitration governed by the Policemen and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act (“Act 111”). After an evidentiary hearing encompassing ten days of testimony before an Act 111 arbitration panel, the panel issued a final award covering years 2015-2018. The Award contained numbered factual findings one of which included a list of itemized findings relating to the City’s population, income, housing vacancy rate, and, most relevantly, the City’s police officer compensation as measured against other economically and demographically comparable subdivisions. The Union’s financial expert had testified in a prior matter in 2014 that the City’s police pay was above the median of a comparison group; the City’s police officers paid substantially lower contributions toward health insurance than other City employees for the same coverage level; and the Union’s own financial expert believed City police officers were paid competitively. The Union filed an appeal in the Commonwealth Court, contending that the Award deviated from the Plan by failing to ensure competitive compensation for police officers as required by the Plan. The Union argued that the court had jurisdiction to rule on its appeal per Section 252(e) of Act 47. Te Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the Commonwealth Court properly held that the Union’s challenge to the Award fell outside the scope of Section 252(e). Accordingly, that court’s order quashing the parties’ appeals was affirmed. View "FOP Fort Pitt v. City of Pgh" on Justia Law

by
This appeal presented an issue of whether a workers’ compensation insurance carrier could bring a third-party action against an alleged tortfeasor on behalf of an injured employee to recoup the amount paid in workers’ compensation benefits where the employee did not independently sue the tortfeasor, did not join in the insurer’s action, and did not assign her cause of action to the insurer. In 2013, Chunli Chen was standing in the parking lot of Thrifty Rental Car when she was struck by a rental vehicle operated by Kafumba Kamara. When the accident occurred, Chen was in the course of her employment with Reliance Sourcing, Inc., which maintained workers’ compensation coverage through The Hartford Insurance Group (“Appellee” or “Insurer”). Insurer had paid $59,424.71 in medical and wage benefits to Chen pursuant to her employer’s workers’ compensation insurance policy. Chen did not seek to recover damages for her injuries by filing an action against Kamara and/or Thrifty Rental Car (collectively referred to herein as “Appellants” or “Tortfeasors”) and did not assign her cause of action against Tortfeasors to Insurer. In 2015, when the two-year statute of limitations was about to expire on Chen’s cause of action, Insurer sought to effectuate its subrogation right under Section 319 of the Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”) by filing a praecipe for a writ of summons against Tortfeasors. “Reaffirming the well-settled proposition that the right of action against the tortfeasor remains in the injured employee,” the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that, unless the injured employee assigns her cause of action or voluntarily joins the litigation as a party plaintiff, the insurer may not enforce its statutory right to subrogation by filing an action directly against the tortfeasor. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the Superior Court’s judgment and reinstated that of the trial court, which sustained the preliminary objections filed by the tortfeasor and dismissed the insurer’s complaint with prejudice. View "Hartford Ins. Grp. v. Kamara" on Justia Law

by
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review in this matter to determine whether an employer has a legal duty to use reasonable care to safeguard its employees’ sensitive personal information that the employer stores on an internet-accessible computer system. Barbara Dittman, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated (collectively, Employees), filed the operative class action complaint in this matter against UPMC d/b/a the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and UPMC McKeesport (collectively, UPMC), alleging that a data breach had occurred through which the personal and financial information, including names, birth dates, social security numbers, addresses, tax forms, and bank account information of all 62,000 UPMC employees and former employees was accessed and stolen from UPMC’s computer systems. Employees further alleged that the stolen data, which consisted of information UPMC required Employees to provide as a condition of their employment, was used to file fraudulent tax returns on behalf of the victimized Employees, resulting in actual damages. Employees asserted a negligence claim and breach of implied contract claim against UPMC. The Supreme Court held an employer has a legal duty to exercise reasonable care to safeguard its employees’ sensitive personal information stored by the employer on an internet- accessible computer system. Furthermore, the Court held that, under Pennsylvania’s economic loss doctrine, recovery for purely pecuniary damages is permissible under a negligence theory provided that the plaintiff can establish the defendant’s breach of a legal duty arising under common law that is independent of any duty assumed pursuant to contract. As the Superior Court came to the opposite conclusions, the Supreme Court vacated its judgment. View "Dittman v. UPMC" on Justia Law