Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
by
Three Anoka County residents sued a school district and teachers’ union about their union leave and reimbursement plan, alleging constitutional and statutory violations. The district court dismissed the case for lack of standing. The residents appealed.   The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment. The court explained that pleading jurisdiction requires only “a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction,” while pleading the merits requires not just “a short and plain statement of the claim,” but one that “show[s] that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Here, the residents adequately alleged they are school district taxpayers and identified a “municipal action” contributing to their injury. Specifically, the school district spends tax revenues on the allegedly illegal action because the collective-bargaining agreement requires it to provide up to 100 days of paid leave, and the union does not fully reimburse that expense. Since the district court did not address the preliminary injunction factors, the common approach is to remand for the district court to conduct the full analysis in the first instance. View "Don Huizenga v. ISD No. 11" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff worked at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) as the women’s softball head coach and part-time Director of Operations for the women’s hockey team. After UMD relieved Plaintiff of her hockey duties, she sued, claiming that she was fired for being gay. The district court granted summary judgment to UMD, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed.   The court explained that Title VII plaintiff can survive summary judgment either by (1) presenting direct evidence of discrimination, or (2) “creating the requisite inference of unlawful discrimination through the McDonnell Douglas analysis, including sufficient evidence of pretext.” Towery v. Miss. Cnty. Ark. Econ. Opportunity Comm’n, Inc., 1 F.4th 570 (8th Cir. 2021)   Here, Plaintiff did not present any direct evidence of discrimination, so the court analyzed her claims under the familiar McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. The court explained that. even assuming that Plaintiff could establish a prima facie case of discrimination, she has not met her burden of showing that UMD’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory justification for nonrenewal is pretextual. Plaintiff argued that UMD’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory justification isn’t credible because the accepted Division I practice of “cleaning house” when a head coach leaves is limited to firing coaching staff—not operations staff. The court reasoned that it finds it credible that UMD would want to allow its new head coach to choose her Director of Operations. Further, the court found that Plaintiff has not carried her ultimate burden of persuading the court that she was the victim of intentional discrimination. Out of four part-time hockey staff members, three were openly gay. View "Jen Banford v. Board of Regents of U of MN" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff, a former employee at Nebraska State College System’s (NSCS) Peru State College, brought Equal Pay Act and Title VII claims against NSCS after she received a terminal contract in 2018. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of NSCS on all of Plaintiff’s claims, and Plaintiff appealed.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed the ruling. The court explained that the parties do not dispute that another employee was paid more for the same position from when Plaintiff and the other employee were hired until Plaintiff’s promotion in 2017; thus, it is undisputed that Plaintiff set forth a prima facie case. The parties dispute, however, whether NSCS satisfied its burden to prove that the pay differential was based on a factor other than sex. The court agreed with the district court that NSCS met its burden. NSCS offered sufficient evidence that the other employee received a higher salary because he had significantly more experience than Plaintiff.Further, the court wrote that while Plaintiff maintains that her being hired before the other employee demonstrates her superior experience. This assumption is erroneous, as Plaintiff conflates Peru State’s hiring and salary decisions. Finally, even if Plaintiff proves causation, Plaintiff failed to put forth evidence demonstrating pretext in response to NSCS’s legitimate reason for issuing her a terminal contract. View "Ronicka Schottel v. Nebraska State College System" on Justia Law

by
This class action arises out of claims by commercial truck drivers who assert that they were not paid proper amounts while working for Werner Enterprises, Inc., and Drivers Management, LLC, (collectively Defendants) as part of Defendants’ Student Driver Program. In a previous appeal, we considered Defendants’ challenge to a jury verdict in favor of Philip Petrone and others (collectively, Plaintiffs) on some of Plaintiffs’ claims, concluding that the district court erred in amending the scheduling order to allow Plaintiffs to submit an expert report past the disclosure deadline without good cause.   Because the expert evidence was integral to the jury’s verdict, the Eighth Circuit determined that this error was not harmless, and vacated the judgment. The case returned to the court after the district court, on remand, entered judgment in favor of Defendants. The court then vacated the judgment. The court explained that read in its entirety, the decision left the door open for the district court to consider how to proceed in light of the Circuit Court’s ruling that the district court should not have granted the motion to amend the scheduling order. The court explained that its mandate thus did not direct the district court to affirmatively find in Defendants’ favor, and their suggestion to the contrary is without merit.   Finally, while the district court properly determined that Plaintiffs could not present evidence of damages through summary evidence pursuant to Rule 1006, it failed to conduct an analysis pursuant to Rule 37(c)(1) and failed to address Plaintiffs’ request for appointment of an expert pursuant to Rule 706. View "Philip Petrone v. Werner Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff worked at the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College (“UAPTC”). In April 2018, Plaintiff requested and received leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) to care for her mother who had cancer. After being notified that her position would be eliminated in an upcoming reorganization she applied for a different position. The hiring committee led by Defendant interviewed Plaintiff and five other candidates. After the interview, the committee hired another applicant to whom Defendant had given a more favorable interview score.   Plaintiff sued the Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas, members of the Board of the Trustees in their official capacities, the hiring committee director in his official and individual capacities, and UAPTC. Among other claims, she alleged that the hiring committee director violated the FMLA by discriminating and retaliating against her.   The district court denied the summary-judgment motion in relevant part, rejecting the hiring director’s qualified immunity defense on the ground that “qualified immunity is not available to defendants on an FMLA claim.” The Eighth Circuit remanded the case to the district court for consideration of the motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The court explained that the district court’s rejection of the hiring director’s qualified-immunity defense was based on a misreading of our statement in Darby v. Bratch. The court construed the statement in Darby about qualified immunity to mean that the FMLA clearly established the violative nature of the particular conduct in that case, not that qualified immunity can never be available on an FMLA claim. View "Rebecca Sterling v. Board of Trustees" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff, a woman with severe autism, and her mother, filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against Menards. Plaintiff's mother, who was also a plaintiff in the suit, arranged to have a job coach help Plaintiff obtain employment. However, despite the coach being willing to help Plaintiff through her orientation, Menards did not allow the coach to be present. After orientation, Plaintiff signed an arbitration agreement without the opportunity to show it to her job coach. Ultimately, Plaintiff was terminated and filed this case.Menards moved to compel arbitration. The district court denied Menards' request, resulting in this appeal.On appeal, the Eighth Circuit held that the fact Plaintiff's mother was appointed as Plaintiff's conservator did not necessarily mean that Plaintiff lacked the ability to enter into the contract. However, the court held that the record was not sufficiently developed to determine whether the facially valid contract was revocable under the void contract defense. Thus, the Eighth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying the motion to compel arbitration, and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Mary Triplet v. Menard, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Current and former Minnesota state employees brought an action seeking damages for money deducted from their paychecks by unions that represented their local bargaining units. Although the Supreme Court held the deduction practice unlawful in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018), the district court determined that the unions acted in good faith reliance on state statutes and existing judicial precedent. Accordingly, the court ruled that the unions were entitled to a defense to liability under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, and dismissed the employees’ claims.   The employees appealed arguing that there is no good-faith defense to liability for damages under Section 1983. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgments. The court explained because the unions collected fair-share fees under Minn. Stat. Section 179A.06 at a time when the procedure employed had been deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court, their reliance on the statute was objectively reasonable, and they are entitled to a good-faith defense. Even if subjective intent were deemed relevant, the employees have pleaded no facts to support a plausible inference that the unions collected these fees in subjective bad faith. The good-faith defense thus bars the employees’ claims for damages. View "Eric Brown v. AFSCME" on Justia Law

by
Appellants are four Minnesota state employees who sued unions that represented their local bargaining units. The employees sought monetary relief based on the amount of so-called “fair-share” fees that were deducted from employee paychecks for the benefit of the unions. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the unions.  On appeal, the employees argue that the district court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of the unions on each of the claims for retrospective relief.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that the unions’ reliance on Section 179A.06 was objectively reasonable. It is an open question whether subjective intent is relevant to the defense, but the employees did not present a submissible case that the unions collected fair-share fees in subjective bad faith in any event. Therefore, the district court correctly granted summary judgment for the unions on these claims.   The unions prevailed on motions for summary judgment. The rules of civil procedure provide those costs “should be allowed to the prevailing party,” unless the court or a federal statute or rule directs otherwise. Further, the employees point to no authority that requires a district court to reduce an award of costs because a defendant opted to forgo a motion to dismiss and to file a dispositive motion only after developing a factual record. A defendant may choose how best to defend a lawsuit, and if the case is resolved in favor of the defense on a motion for summary judgment, then the defendant is presumptively entitled to costs. View "Linda Hoekman v. Education Minnesota" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff, an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs, sued Denis McDonough, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, for disability discrimination. Plaintiff alleged three violations of the Rehabilitation Act: failure to accommodate; disability discrimination; and retaliation for requesting an accommodation. The district court granted summary judgment to Secretary McDonough.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that Plaintiff’s requested accommodation was not required under the Rehabilitation Act because it would impose an undue hardship on the VAPD. The court explained that Plaintiff’s accommodations would have violated the VAPD’s collective bargaining agreement, which requires that “[s]cheduled off-tours shall be rotated fairly and equitably among affected employees, i.e., day/evening, day/night.” Plaintiff’s requested accommodations are therefore presumptively unreasonable.   Plaintiff further argued that his reassignment was not reasonable for two reasons. First, he claimed that day shifts were not the only form of requested relief; they were just one of many possible accommodations the VAPD could have made. But the record undermines his argument. Further, he also suggested that his reassignment constituted an adverse employment action, not a reasonable accommodation. The VAPD provided the only available reasonable accommodation—reassignment. The district court was therefore correct to grant summary judgment to Secretary McDonough on Plaintiff’s failure to accommodate claim.   Moreover, Plaintiff claimed the unusual nature of his hiring process proves that the real reason for his non-selection was disability discrimination. However, showing that an interview process is “unusual” is not sufficient to prove that an employer’s proffered reason is pretextual. View "Jesse LeBlanc v. Denis McDonough" on Justia Law

by
The United States Secretary of Labor (“Secretary”) sued Alpha & Omega USA, Inc., d/b/a Travelon Transportation and its owner (together “Travelon”) for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Secretary. Travelon appealed, arguing the district court erred in granting the Secretary’s motion.   The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment finding that there were genuine issues of material fact regarding whether an employment relationship existed between Travelon and its drivers. The court wrote that when an employment relationship is in question, many courts decide whether workers are independent contractors or employees by applying the multi-factor “economic realities” test. This test examines six factors regarding the economic realities of the working relationship.   The court explained that here, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Travelon, issues of material fact remain as to the working relationship between Travelon and its drivers. Specifically, Travelon has offered evidence from which a rational trier of fact could find the “control,” “profits and losses,” and “integral to business” factors weigh in favor of the drivers being independent contractors.   Further, while the Secretary has shown evidence supporting an employment relationship between Travelon and its drivers, Travelon has also shown evidence of an independent contractor relationship. These competing narratives must be resolved before the district court makes its legal conclusion as to whether an employment relationship existed between Travelon and its drivers. View "Martin Walsh v. Alpha & Omega USA, Inc." on Justia Law