Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Heimbach, et al. v. Amazon.com, et al.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals certified two questions to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: (1) whether time spent on an employer’s premises waiting to undergo, and undergoing, mandatory security screening is compensable as “hours worked” within the meaning of the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act1 (“PMWA”); and (2) whether the doctrine of de minimis non curat lex, as described in Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680 (1946), applied to bar claims brought under the PMWA. This case arose out of a class action suit for unpaid wages brought by Appellants Neil Heimbach and Karen Salasky (“Employees”) who worked for Appellees (collectively “Amazon”) at Amazon’s warehouse facility in Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court replied: (1) time spent on an employer’s premises waiting to undergo, and undergoing, mandatory security screening constituted “hours worked” under the PMWA; and (2) there exists no de minimis exception to the PMWA. View "Heimbach, et al. v. Amazon.com, et al." on Justia Law
City of Johnstown v. WCAB (Sevanick)
Appellant, the City of Johnstown ("Johnstown"), contended that a party asserting a firefighter cancer claim had to satisfy the requirements of both Section 301(c)(2) and Section 301(f) of the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act to establish a viable claim. Michael Sevanick was a firefighter for Johnstown for twenty-nine years. After retirement, he worked a a car dealership. Nine years after he retired, Sevanick was diagnosed with kidney cancer. In 2016, he filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, alleging that his cancer was caused by exposure to a carcinogen recognized as a Group 1 carcinogen by IARC during his time as a firefighter. The Workers' Compensation Judge found in Sevanick's favor, and Johnstown appealed. The Workers' Compensation Appeals Board found that Section 301(c)(2) did not apply, but rather that the limitations of Sevanick's claim were governed by Section 301(f). The Board reasoned that Section 301(f) created a new timeframe for cancer-related occupational disease claims made by firefighters. Because Sevanick raised his claim well within 600 weeks from his last date of employment as a firefighter, the Board concluded the claim was timely. The Commonwealth Court agreed with that determination. Johnstown petitioned for Allowance of Appeal for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine whether a firefighter making a claim under Section 108(r) of the Act had to comply with the timing requirements of Section 301(c)(2). The Supreme Court concluded that the time for filing a Section 108(r) firefighter cancer claim was governed by Section 301(f) alone. Therefore, the Commonwealth Court's ruling was affirmed. View "City of Johnstown v. WCAB (Sevanick)" on Justia Law
Pgh. Logistics Systems, Inc. v. Beemac Trucking, et al.
Pittsburgh Logistics Systems, Inc. (“PLS”) was a third-party logistics provider that arranged the shipping of its customers’ freight with selected trucking companies. Beemac Trucking (“Beemac”) was a shipping company that conducted non-exclusive business with PLS. In 2010, PLS and Beemac entered into a one-year Motor Carriage Services Contract (“the Contract”), which automatically renewed on a year to year basis until either party terminated it. The Contract contained both a non-solicitation provision and the no-hire provision. In this appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether no-hire, or “no poach,” provisions that were ancillary to a services contract between business entities, were enforceable under the laws of the Commonwealth. While the Contract was in force, Beemac hired four PLS employees. PLS sued Beemac, alleging breach of contract, tortious interference with contract, and a violation of the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act. PLS also sued the four former employees, alleging they had breached the non-competition and non-solicitation provisions of their employment contracts. The trial court held the worldwide non-compete clauses in the employees' contracts were “unduly oppressive and cannot be subject to equitable modification.” With respect to the contract between the companies, the trial court held the pertinent no-poach clause was void against public policy. “If additional restrictions to the agreement between employer and employee are rendered unenforceable by a lack of additional consideration, PLS should not be entitled to circumvent that outcome through an agreement with a third party.” Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgments, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pgh. Logistics Systems, Inc. v. Beemac Trucking, et al." on Justia Law
Sadler v. WCAB (Apl of: Phila Coca-Cola Co.)
In 2012, Appellee Carl Sadler was injured while working as a production manager for Philadelphia Coca-Cola Company (“PCCC”). PCCC issued a notice of compensation payable, acknowledging Sadler’s injuries as a right pinky finger amputation and a low back sprain, and providing that Sadler was entitled to a weekly disability rate of $652 based upon an average weekly wage of $978. On August 13, 2013, Sadler was charged with a crime in New Jersey. Because he could not post bail, Sadler remained incarcerated for 525 days, until January 22, 2015, when he pled guilty. At sentencing, immediately after accepting Sadler’s plea, the trial court sentenced him to 525 days of incarceration, gave him credit for time served, and immediately released him from custody. Months later, Sadler filed a petition seeking review of his average weekly wage. PCCC responded with a suspension petition, contending that Sadler was not entitled to retain the benefits he received while incarcerated and asking that his benefits be adjusted to prevent him from being unjustly enriched for the amounts received during that time. The petitions were heard by a workers’ compensation judge, who concluded that PCCC was entitled to reimbursement for benefits paid to Sadler during his pre-conviction incarceration. The judge did not provide for a future credit against benefits to be paid to Sadler, but rather ordered that PCCC should petition the Supersedeas Fund for reimbursement. PCCC appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, and Sadler cross-appealed. The Board modified the workers’ compensation judge’s decision by allowing PCCC to seek a credit against Sadler’s future payments, but affirmed in all other respects. Sadler appealed to the Commonwealth Court. He maintained that his workers’ compensation benefits had been improperly suspended because he spent no time in incarceration after his conviction, as is required pursuant to the clear language of Section 306(a.1). The Commonwealth Court agreed. PCCC appealed, asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court whether the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding it was not entitled to a reimbursement of the benefits paid to Sadler during his pre-conviction incarceration while awaiting trial. Finding no merit to PCCC's arguments, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court. View "Sadler v. WCAB (Apl of: Phila Coca-Cola Co.)" on Justia Law
Lowman v. Unemp. Comp. Bd. of Review
In a matter of first impression, the issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was the appropriate test to determine whether a claimant who is otherwise entitled to receive unemployment compensation benefits due to a separation from employment becomes ineligible for those benefits as a result of being self-employed pursuant to Section 402(h) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (the Act, known as the self-employment exclusion). The Court held that Section 4(l)((2)(B), 43 P.S. section 753(l)(2)(B), contained the appropriate test for determining whether or not an individual is in self-employment. If an individual was not in “self-employment,” then he remained eligible for benefits. Applying that test to the facts of this case, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's ruling that the claimant was not self-employed. View "Lowman v. Unemp. Comp. Bd. of Review" on Justia Law
Renner v. CCP of Lehigh Co., et al
In this appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether application of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”) to the judicial branch of our tripartite form of government violated separation of powers principles. On April 3, 1989, the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas (“CCP”) Office of Adult Probation hired Appellant Michael Renner as a Parole Officer. In July 2011, Appellant informed Lehigh County Chief Probation Officer John Sikora that he had been diagnosed with a serious mental health condition and was hospitalized; he was subsequently absent from work for 4 to 6 weeks. During Appellant’s absence, Sikora telephoned him numerous times to confirm the legitimacy of Appellant’s condition. Upon his return to work, Appellant alleged Sikora and Lehigh County Benefits Manager Mark Surovy, both of whom supervised Appellant, pressured Appellant to resign or take a leave of absence. Appellant confronted Sikora about his hostilities towards him, but Sikora refused to discuss the matter. Subsequently, in March 2014, Sikora terminated Appellant for failing to administer a urine test to an offender under his supervision. Appellant claimed the test was not required and that the reason for his termination was pretextual. Appellant protested his termination to then-President Judge of the CCP Carol McGinley, but Judge McGinley refused to take any action. As a result, Appellant claimed he could not obtain other employment in any other court system, and, in 2014, he filed a charge of unlawful discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was dual-filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”), against Lehigh County Adult Probation, Sikora, and Surovy. Thereafter, Appellant completed training as a municipal officer, and, subsequently, was offered a police officer position by Northampton and Fountain Hill Boroughs. Appellant alleged that the CCP and Lehigh County learned that Appellant was offered employment as a police officer, and caused an order to be issued banning Appellant from possessing a firearm or taser in the Lehigh County Courthouse, Old Courthouse, and Government Center. As a result, Northampton and Fountain Hill Boroughs rescinded their employment offers. Appellant eventually got his gun possession ban lifted, but as a condition, the CCP and Lehigh County required him to undergo a medical exam, which Appellant contended was a violation of the PHRA. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that application of the PHRA to the judiciary would violate separation of powers principles, and thus, affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Renner v. CCP of Lehigh Co., et al" on Justia Law
Dana Holding Corp. v. WCAB (Smuck)
In Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Derry Area School District), 161 A.3d 827 (2017), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a statutory regime per which the duration of workers’ compensation benefits could be curtailed was invalid, since integral terms of the enactment yielded an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. The issue this case presented for the Court's review concerned the retroactive application of Protz to a scenario in which the pertinent constitutional challenge to the statute was advanced during the course of direct appellate review. In 2000, Appellee David Smuck (“Claimant”) suffered a work-related back injury, for which he received total disability benefits since 2003. Appellant Dana Holding Corporation (“Employer”) requested an IRE pursuant to the then-extant impairment rating regime. Claimant appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (the “WCAB” or the “Board”), and the proceedings before the Board were stayed at Employer’s behest pending the Protz decsion. Ultimately, Claimant's total disability status was reinstated as of the date of the disputed IRE. The Employer appealed, but the Commonwealth Court affirmed, finding Protz did not apply retroactively. The Supreme Court agreed: "a disability modification is not vested when it remains subject to a preserved challenge pursued by a presently aggrieved claimant." View "Dana Holding Corp. v. WCAB (Smuck)" on Justia Law
Harrison v. Health Network Lab, et al.
In a discretionary appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether the superior court erred in holding the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) did not preclude a wrongfully terminated employee from filing a court action for retaliatory discharge under the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law when the plaintiff reported discriminatory conduct made unlawful by the PHRA, but was not herself the subject of the underlying discrimination. After careful review, the Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err in so holding, and therefore affirmed. View "Harrison v. Health Network Lab, et al." on Justia Law
Rullex Co., LLC. v. Tel-Stream, Inc.
In this appeal by allowance, a covenant not to compete was executed by an employee after the first day of employment. The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the employer could enforce that provision in the post-employment timeframe although no new consideration was supplied in connection with its execution. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly denied a motion for a preliminary injunction: there was no evidence suggesting that, as of the commencement of the employment relationship, there was a meeting of the minds as to the noncompete agreement (NCA), or that the employee otherwise manifested his assent to provisions of the NCA that he was given, or an intent to be bound by them. View "Rullex Co., LLC. v. Tel-Stream, Inc." on Justia Law
N Berks Reg. Police Comm. v. Berks Co. FOP
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the Northern Berks Regional Police Commission’s petition for appeal in this Police and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act (Act 1111) grievance arbitration appeal. An arbitrator reinstated Officer Charles Hobart to the Northern Berks Police Department, but the trial court vacated the award based on a finding that the award required the Department to commit an illegal act. The trial court’s ruling was based on factual developments occurring after Hobart’s termination. The Commonwealth Court reversed, finding that Hobart had not yet exhausted administrative remedies that would theoretically remove the purported illegality. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found the arbitrator's award was not illegal, and therefore reversed the Commonwealth Court. View "N Berks Reg. Police Comm. v. Berks Co. FOP" on Justia Law