Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
National Labor Relations Board v. Alternative Entertainment, Inc.
The National Labor Relations Board sought enforcement of its Order finding that AEI violated the National Labor Relations Act by barring employees from pursuing class-action litigation or collective arbitration of work-related claims and by forbidding an AEI technician from discussing a proposed compensation change with his coworkers and by firing that technician for discussing the proposed change and complaining to management about it. AEI employees sign an agreement that “Disputes … relating to your employment” must, at the election of the employee or the company, be resolved “exclusively through binding arbitration” and that “you and AEI also agree that a claim may not be arbitrated as a class action, also called ‘representative’ or ‘collective’ actions, and that a claim may not otherwise be consolidated or joined with the claims of others.” AEI’s employee handbook prohibits “[u]nauthorized disclosure of business secrets or confidential business or customer information, including any compensation or employee salary information.” The Sixth Circuit enforced the order. An arbitration provision requiring employees covered by the Act individually to arbitrate all employment-related claims is not enforceable. The evidence was adequate to support the ALJ’s factual findings and conclusion that DeCommer was fired for engaging in protected, concerted activity View "National Labor Relations Board v. Alternative Entertainment, Inc." on Justia Law
Stone Surgical LLC v. Stryker Corp.
Ridgeway was employed as a Stryker sales representative from 2001-2013. Stryker’s faxed employment offer stated Ridgeway’s employment was contingent on his signing and returning an offer letter, a form non-compete agreement, and a code of conduct. From 2000-2005, Stryker used the same form non-compete agreement with all employees, which included a one-year non-compete clause, a customer non-solicit clause, an employee non-solicit clause, and a Michigan choice-of-law clause and a Michigan forum-selection clause. Ridgeway signed and returned the documents. Despite becoming one of Stryker’s top performers, in 2013, Ridgeway considered working for Stryker’s competitor, Biomet. Ridgeway claims that Stryker indicated that he was not covered under a non-compete agreement. Stryker terminated his employment and Ridgeway began working for Biomet within his former Stryker Louisiana-based sales territories. Stryker filed suit. The district court denied Ridgeway’s motion to dismiss based on the forum-selection clause in the non-compete agreement. Biomet terminated Ridgeway for fear of liability. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Stryker on its breach-of-contract, breach-of-fiduciary-duty, and misappropriation-of-trade-secrets claims and awarded damages in the amount of $745,195. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Ridgeway’s challenges to the authenticity of the agreement and to the choice of law provision. View "Stone Surgical LLC v. Stryker Corp." on Justia Law
Mayhew v. Town of Smyrna
Reporting regulatory violations “up the chain” to supervisory governmental employees can constitute speech on a matter of public concern, for purposes of First Amendment retaliation claim. Mayhew, a long-time employee of Smyrna’s wastewater-treatment plant, reported violations of state and federal requirements and voiced concerns about the hiring of a manager’s nephew without advertising the position. His reports went up the chain of command to government employees. Mayhew was terminated, allegedly because the plant manager no longer felt that he could work with him. The district court rejected his claim of First Amendment retaliation on summary judgment, reasoning that Mayhew’s speech did not involve matters of public concern. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part, stating that “constitutional protection for speech on matters of public concern is not premised on the communication of that speech to the public.” Nor must courts limit reports of wrongdoing to illegal acts; a public concern includes “any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community.” View "Mayhew v. Town of Smyrna" on Justia Law
Savage v. Federal Express Corp.
Member of Naval Reserve, terminated by private employer, established a prima facie case under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Savage worked as an aviation mechanic for FedEx, 2001-2012, simultaneously serving as a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve. He was terminated by FedEx for violating its reduced-rate shipping policy and acceptable conduct policy. He had never been disciplined before his termination; he claims he was unaware of a change in policy that prohibited use of an employee discount for shipping items sold on eBay. FedEx had accommodated his military duties and employs other members of the military. Savage had complained, to a third-party administrator, about a miscalculation in his pension benefits. Savage claimed discrimination, retaliation, and improper benefit calculations under USERRA, 38 U.S.C. 431. The district court granted FedEx summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part, finding that Savage provided evidence of a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether FedEx correctly calculated his pension contributions under section 4318. Savage also provided evidence of disparate treatment, motivated by his protected status, with respect to misuse of the shipping discount, sufficient to survive summary judgment. The court concluded that Savage had not been targeted for investigation. View "Savage v. Federal Express Corp." on Justia Law
Reese v. CNH Industrial, N.V.
Plaintiffs, CNH employees who retired between 1994 and 2004, filed suit in 2004, seeking a declaration that they were entitled to lifetime healthcare benefits without paying premiums, based on collective-bargaining agreements (CBAs), negotiated by UAW beginning in 1971. The case was remanded to the district court twice. While the second remand was pending, the Supreme Court (Tackett, 2015) abrogated Sixth Circuit precedent creating an inference in favor of employees in collective-bargaining cases. Initially, the district court ruled in favor of CNH, noting that it was “[c]onstrained by the Supreme Court’s decision” in Tackett. On reconsideration, the district court found not only that plaintiffs’ rights were vested even after Tackett, but also that CNH’s proposed changes were unreasonable. The Sixth Circuit affirmed as to vesting, noting that the CBA is ambiguous and extrinsic evidence indicated that parties intended for the healthcare benefits to vest for life. The court remanded because the court failed to properly weigh the costs and the benefits of the proposed plan, as previously instructed. “To find ambiguity in this case, partially from the silence as to the parties’ intentions, does not offend the Supreme Court’s mandate from Tackett that we not infer vesting from silence.” View "Reese v. CNH Industrial, N.V." on Justia Law
Marshall v. Rawlings Co.
After taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2601, for mental-health problems, which are a disability covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12112, Marshall was demoted and then fired by the Rawlings Company. The district court rejected, on summary judgment, Marshall’s claims of FMLA interference, FMLA retaliation, ADA retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Sixth Circuit affirmed as to Marshall’s claims of FMLA interference and intentional infliction of emotional distress, but reversed as to the FMLA retaliation and ADA retaliation claims, applying the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting test. There are genuine disputes of material fact concerning whether specific individuals were biased against Marshall and whether those individual influenced the decision-maker. View "Marshall v. Rawlings Co." on Justia Law
International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. Kelsey-Hayes Co.
Plaintiffs, Medicare-eligible retirees from Kelsey-Hayes' Detroit automotive plant, retired before the plant’s 2001 closing and were members of a UAW bargaining unit. The final (1998) collective bargaining agreement (CBA) provided for comprehensive healthcare for retirees. A Plant Closing Agreement stated that it did not extinguish pension or retiree healthcare obligations. Kelsey-Hayes continued to provide retiree healthcare coverage for 10 years, consistent with the 1998 CBA. In 2011, Kelsey-Hayes announced that it was replacing the retirees’ group-insurance plan with company-funded health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) from which retirees could purchase individual Medicare supplemental insurance plans. In 2012, Kelsey-Hayes contributed $15,000 to each participant’s HRA; in 2013 and 2014, it contributed $4,300 per year. Plaintiffs sued under the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001. The Sixth Circuit stayed litigation pending the Supreme Court’s 2015 Tackett decision. The district court then granted the plaintiff-retirees partial summary judgment and ordered defendants to reinstate the group insurance plan. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, distinguishing the language and history of the Kelsey-Hayes CBAs from the language at issue in Tackett. Tackett explicitly overruled Sixth Circuit precedent and held that a presumption toward lifetime benefits violates basic principles of contract interpretation; however, pre-Tackett courts’ interpretation of language that parties subsequently agree to maintain can inform interpretation of their intent at the time they entered into the CBA. View "International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. Kelsey-Hayes Co." on Justia Law
Cole v. Meritor, Inc.
In 2008, the Sixth Circuit held that the retired employees of Meritor and Meritor’s predecessors had a vested right to lifetime healthcare benefits. A petition for rehearing was held in abeyance for eight years while the parties attempted to settle their dispute. During the intervening eight years, the Supreme Court abrogated precedent on which the Sixth Circuit had relied, holding that a series of collective bargaining agreements materially indistinguishable from those involved in the Meritor case did not provide the retirees with lifetime healthcare benefits. On rehearing, the Sixth Circuit entered a superseding opinion and reversed, acknowledging that the case is now controlled by the Supreme Court’s decisions in Tackett (2015) and Gallo (2016) and that the language of the documents does not guarantee lifetime benefits. View "Cole v. Meritor, Inc." on Justia Law
Phillips v. UAW International
Phillips worked at the MGM Detroit casino from 1999-2015. Beginning in 2001, she belonged to Local 7777, a UAW International affiliate. In 2002, she became the Local’s chairperson. Phillips, an African-American, claims that UAW employees Johnson and Kagels, created a racially hostile work environment in violation of Title VII and the Michigan Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Phillips described “a smattering of offensive conduct” from 2012-2014, including an alleged statement that the “problem with the Union was that there are too many blacks” and speaking “in a condescending tone when dealing with black union members as compared to white members.” Phillips claims that, in a 2013 meeting, Johnson demanded to know the race of each grievant and then separated the grievances into piles based on whether they were filed by “white” or “black” union members and said he intended to withdraw the grievances filed by African-American union members. Johnson and Kagels denied all of the alleged misconduct. The district court dismissed the case. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that no matter who can be held liable for hostile work environment claims under Title VII, Phillips fails to create a genuine issue of material fact that she was subjected to one. View "Phillips v. UAW International" on Justia Law
Vance v. Amazon.com, Inc.
Online retailers (Amazon) operate a Shepherdsville, Kentucky warehouse fulfillment center, where hourly workers fill orders, track merchandise, and process returns. Plaintiffs regularly worked at least 40 hours a week. Amazon tracked their hours with a “time clock” system; before permitting “clocked out” employees to leave, Amazon required them to “proceed through a lengthy theft-prevention security screening operation,” which took 10-30 minutes. Plaintiffs sued, alleging that nonpayment for the time spent in security screening violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201, and its state-law counterpart. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred five related actions to the Western District of Kentucky for consolidation. While the cases were pending, the Supreme Court held, in Integrity Staffing v. Busk (2014), that security screenings were noncompensable under the Portal-to-Portal Act, which excludes certain “preliminary” and “postliminary” activities from the FLSA’s compensation requirements. Plaintiffs withdrew their FLSA claims, but argued that Integrity Staffing did not foreclose their claim to overtime under the Kentucky Wages and Hours Act. The district court granted Amazon judgment on the pleadings. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that Integrity Staffing was not an FLSA decision but rather a Portal-to-Portal Act decision and that Kentucky never enacted a Portal-to-Portal Act of its own. View "Vance v. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law