Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
James Brown v. Marc Linder
Plaintiff and Defendant both work for the State of Iowa. Plaintiff is a urologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics; Defendant is a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law. After Defendant criticized Plaintiff’s expert testimony in a case unrelated to this one, Plaintiff sued Defendant under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, alleging that Defendant retaliated against him for engaging in constitutionally protected speech. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s claim on multiple grounds, including that Plaintiff failed to allege plausibly that Linder’s conduct was under color of state law. Plaintiff argues that his complaint contains ample facts that together plausibly allege that Defendant acted under color of state law. These include that Defendant (1) identified himself as a state employee when he criticized Plaintiff in the newspaper articles, (2) relied on “the prestige of his official position with [UI] to gain credibility with his audience,” and (3) “used the instrumentalities and resources of the State of Iowa to facilitate his retaliatory conduct.” The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court agreed with the district court that Plaintiff failed to plead adequately that Defendant’s retaliatory actions were under color of state law. Contrary to Plaintiff’s insistence, our case law is clear that a state employee, merely by publicly identifying himself as such, does not act under color of state law. Further, even assuming that a public university professor acts in his official capacity or within the scope of his employment when he comments on public affairs, it would not necessarily follow that he acts under color of state law. View "James Brown v. Marc Linder" on Justia Law
Maria Mayorga v. Marsden Building Maintenance
Plaintiff sued her former employer, Marsden Building Maintenance, L.L.C., alleging wage discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliation in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA). Plaintiff appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Marsden. Plaintiff argued that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on her wage discrimination claim. Plaintiff also argued that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Marsden on her sex discrimination claim. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court held that on the record, Marsden has met its burden to prove the pay differential between Plaintiff and her male counterparts was based on a factor other than sex. Further, the court wrote that Plaintiff offered no evidence to support her sex discrimination allegation. Plaintiff took issue with how Marsden’s operations manager conducted himself in the role of operations manager. But none of the evidence she presented supports a reasonable inference that his decision to fire her is “more likely than not” explained by an intent to discriminate against her on the basis of her sex. View "Maria Mayorga v. Marsden Building Maintenance" on Justia Law
Margaret Corkrean v. Drake University
Plaintiff, a former employee of Drake University (Drake), brought this action against Drake and her former supervisor, (collectively, Appellees), after her 2019 termination. Plaintiff alleged disability discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA), as well as retaliation and discrimination based on the exercise of her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellees on all of Plaintiff’s claims. On appeal, Plaintiff challenged the district court’s grant of summary judgment on her retaliation claims under the FMLA, ICRA, and ADA, as well as her discrimination claim under the FMLA. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that here, Appellees have established a robust, well-documented set of legitimate reasons for Plaintiff’s termination—and Plaintiff does not dispute them. These reasons include a plethora of performance deficiencies, such as failing to pay staff members the appropriate amounts and missing deadlines, as well as non-FMLA tardiness and attendance problems. Here, the only evidence of pretext Plaintiff provides is: (1) a tenuous temporal connection between her harassment complaints and negative performance reviews; (2) a one-month temporal connection between her filing an NLRB complaint and her termination; and (3) Drake’s failure to follow its harassment-complaint policies. Therefore, the court held that Plaintiff’s FMLA claims fail as a matter of law because she has presented insufficient evidence of pretext. View "Margaret Corkrean v. Drake University" on Justia Law
Cons. Laborers Welfare Fund v. RoadSafe Traffic Systems, Inc.
A collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) required RoadSafe Traffic Systems, Inc. to contribute to four employee benefits Funds. The Funds sued for unpaid contributions, alleging that the CBA unambiguously requires contributions for all hours worked by covered employees, regardless of the type of work performed. RoadSafe countered that the CBA unambiguously requires contributions only for construction and highway work. The district court granted summary judgment to RoadSafe. The issue on appeal was whether the CBA obligates RoadSafe to make contributions to the Funds for all or only specified types of work The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that by its plain language, Article V of the CBA limits RoadSafe’s contribution obligations to “Building Construction” and “Highway/Heavy” categories of work. Because work coded as NON or “shop hours” is not within the definitions of either “Building Construction” or “Highway/Heavy,” the CBA does not require RoadSafe to make contributions for the coded work. Therefore, the district court properly granted summary judgment to RoadSafe. View "Cons. Laborers Welfare Fund v. RoadSafe Traffic Systems, Inc." on Justia Law
The Religious Sisters of Mercy v. Xavier Becerra
The Religious Sisters of Mercy, Sacred Heart Mercy Health Care Center, SMP Health System, and the University of Mary (collectively, “RSM plaintiffs”) filed suit, alleging that the Department of Health and Human Services (‘HHS’) had violated, among other things, the APA, the First Amendment, and the RFRA. Additionally, the Catholic Benefits Association (CBA); Diocese of Fargo (Diocese); Catholic Charities North Dakota (“Plaintiffs”) filed suit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to the RFRA against HHS’s and the EEOC’s interpretation and enforcement of the relevant statutes to the extent they required the CBA plaintiffs to “provide, perform, pay for, cover, or facilitate access to health services for gender transition.” The district court held that the RFRA entitles Plaintiffs to permanent injunctive relief. On appeal, HHS and the EEOC (collectively, “the government”) challenge the district court’s grant of declaratory and permanent injunctive relief to Plaintiffs. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court first held that the CBA lacks associational standing to sue on behalf of unnamed members. However, the court held that Plaintiffs have satisfied the elements necessary to establish standing to challenge the government’s interpretation of Section 1557. Moreover, the court wrote that contrary to the government’s position, we conclude that the district court correctly determined that the CBA plaintiffs face a “credible threat” of enforcement from the EEOC. Accordingly, the court concluded that the district court correctly held that “intrusion upon the Catholic Plaintiffs’ exercise of religion is sufficient to show irreparable harm.” View "The Religious Sisters of Mercy v. Xavier Becerra" on Justia Law
Anthony Slayden v. Center for Behavioral Medicine
Plaintiff worked as a security officer at the Center for Behavioral Medicine (CBM). Plaintiff sued CBM, alleging a racially hostile environment, disparate treatment based on race, retaliation, and constructive discharge in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court granted summary judgment to CBM. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that while Plaintiff argued that his retaliation claims are like or related to the substance of his EEOC charge, he doesn’t address how they are related, thus the court considered the argument waived. Further, the court wrote that Plaintiff’s argument fails on the merits too. Plaintiff testified to three occasions he considered retaliation by HR, all of which occurred in mid-to-late 2019. But the charge’s only references to HR’s actions were about the finding that Plaintiff’s August 2018 grievance was unsubstantiated and HR’s failure to provide a grievance or complaint form when Plaintiff asked for one. Plaintiff never claimed that either action was retaliatory. Further, the court found that Plaintiff has not exhausted his constructive discharge claim either. Here, Plaintiff’s charge gave no indication that he was about to be constructively discharged, and Plaintiff did not resign from CBM until approximately five months after he filed his charge. View "Anthony Slayden v. Center for Behavioral Medicine" on Justia Law
Joseph Mobley v. St. Luke’s Health System, Inc.
Plaintiff sued St. Luke’s pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 42 U.S.C. Section 1981. Plaintiff alleged that St. Luke’s: discriminated against him on the basis of his disability, gender, and race; failed to accommodate him; and retaliated against him. St. Luke’s sought summary judgment on all issues, and the district court granted St. Luke’s motion. Plaintiff appealed the district court’s ruling regarding only his claims of disability discrimination under the MHRA and failure to accommodate under the ADA and the MHRA. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the record demonstrates several steps that St. Luke’s took in response to Plaintiff’s request for accommodation. Thus, because there is no triable issue as to whether St. Luke’s acted in good faith, the court wrote it need not reach the final step of the analysis, which is whether St. Luke’s could have reasonably accommodated Plaintiff. Accordingly, the court affirmed summary judgment on Plaintiff's failure-to-accommodate claim. Likewise, in opposing St. Luke’s motion for summary judgment before the district court, Plaintiff failed to argue his constructive discharge claim. View "Joseph Mobley v. St. Luke's Health System, Inc." on Justia Law
Christopher Thompson v. University of Arkansas Brd of Trustees
Plaintiff, a campus police officer, initiated a retaliation action after he was terminated following an incident where he responded to a call for an intoxicated man who had lost consciousness. Employer's reason for Plaintiff's discharge was that he did not properly handle the situation, and it warranted termination. The trial court accepted Employer's reason as non-pretextual and granted Employer's motion for summary judgment.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding there are no genuine disputes of material fact that would allow a reasonable jury to find in favor of Plaintiff. Assuming without deciding that Plaintiff established a prima facie case of retaliation, Employer's proffered reason for Plaintiff's termination was legitimate and non-pretextual. View "Christopher Thompson v. University of Arkansas Brd of Trustees" on Justia Law
Frederick Rozo v. Principal Life Insurance Co.
Principal Life Insurance Company (Principal) offers a product called the Principal Fixed Income Option (PFIO), a stable value contract, to employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. Plaintiff on behalf of himself and a class of plan participants who deposited money into the PFIO, sued Principal under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), claiming that it (1) breached its fiduciary duty of loyalty by setting a low-interest rate for participants and (2) engaged in a prohibited transaction by using the PFIO contract to make money for itself. The district court granted summary judgment to Principal after concluding that it was not a fiduciary. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that Principal was a fiduciary. On remand, the district court entered judgment in favor of Principal on both claims after a bench trial. Plaintiff challenges the court’s judgment. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court agreed with the district court that Principal and the participants share an interest because a guaranteed CCR that is too high threatens the long-term sustainability of the guarantees of the PFIO, which is detrimental to the interest of the participants. The question then becomes whether the court clearly erred by finding that Principal set the CCR in the participants’ interests. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by finding that the deducts were reasonable and set by Principal in the participants’ interest of paying a reasonable amount for the PFIO’s administration. Finally, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Principal on the prohibited transaction claim because it is exempted from liability for receiving reasonable compensation. View "Frederick Rozo v. Principal Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Robert Gelschus v. Clifford Hogen
Plaintiff made contributions to a 401(k) plan during her employment at Honeywell International Inc. She originally designated her husband, Defendant, as the sole beneficiary in the event of her death. The parties later divorced and in the marital termination agreement (MTA), they agreed that Plaintiff will be awarded, free and clear of any claim on the part of Defendant’s, all of the parties’ right, title, and interest in and to the Honeywell 401(k) Savings and Ownership Plan. Plaintiff submitted a change-of-beneficiary form to Honeywell. She, however, did not comply with a requirement. Plaintiff died in 2019 and Honeywell paid the benefits to Defendant. The personal representative of Plaintiff’s estate sued Honeywell for breach of fiduciary duty, and Defendant for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, conversion, and civil theft. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Honeywell and reversed summary judgment for Defendant on the breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims. The court explained that even if the Plan gave the administrator discretion to accept Plaintiff’s defective Form, it is not an abuse of discretion to act in accordance with plan documents. ERISA directs administrators to “discharge [their] duties . . . in accordance with the documents and instruments governing the plan.” Thus, because Honeywell followed plan documents in rejecting Plaintiff’s defective change-of-beneficiary form and distributing benefits, the breach of fiduciary duty claim fails. Further, even if the MTA were ambiguous, a reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff and Defendant intended for the MTA to waive his beneficiary interest in the 401(k). View "Robert Gelschus v. Clifford Hogen" on Justia Law