Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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Plaintiff was working as a human resources manager for Georgia Pacific when she gave deposition testimony in a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against her former employer. A week after finding out that she had testified against her former employer, Georgia Pacific fired her. Plaintiff then sued Georgia Pacific for unlawfully retaliating against her in violation of Title VII.   The district court granted summary judgment to Georgia Pacific because it interpreted Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision as inapplicable. Georgia Pacific defends the summary judgment in its favor on the two grounds the district court gave and also puts forward three grounds that the court did not reach, contending that: Plaintiff's complaint goes beyond the scope of her EEOC charge; she has not established a genuine issue of material fact on causation; she has not established a genuine issue of material fact on pretext.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed and held that the district court erred on both grounds it gave for entering summary judgment against Plaintiff. The court explained that neither the manager exception nor the requirement that an employee’s conduct relates to her current employer has any basis in the statutory text. They are not a part of Title VII’s opposition clause or participation clause. Additionally, Georgia Pacific’s proposed alternative grounds for summary judgment each fail. Plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies, and she has created a genuine issue of material fact on both causation and pretext. View "Marie Patterson v. Georgia Pacific, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs worked as property damage investigators for OSP Prevention Group. After their employment with OSP ended, Plaintiffs brought Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) claims against the company and its owner (collectively, “OSP”) for unpaid overtime wages. The district court granted summary judgment in OSP’s favor after concluding that Plaintiff fit within an FLSA exemption covering “administrative” employees. They both contend that they weren’t administrative employees but instead were “production” employees who performed the core service that OSP sold to its clients: investigating damage to property.   The Eleventh Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court finding that OSP has failed to show that the FLSA’s administrative exemption applies to Plaintiffs. The court explained that Plaintiffs engaged in OSP’s core function of damage investigations. Given the nature of their employer’s business, their investigative factfinding duties amounted to production work. Those duties did not involve “work directly related to [OSP’s] management or general business operations.” 29 C.F.R. Section 541.200(a)(2). The court wrote it need not address whether their work met the additional administrative exemption requirement of “includ[ing] the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.” Section  541.200(a)(3). Both requirements must be met for the exemption to apply. View "Philip Fowler, et al v. OSP Prevention Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit was tasked with determining whether the Tampa Electric Company violated OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response  (“HAZWOPER”) standard when employees at one of its power plants responded to an ammonia release without donning certain protective gear.   The case arose when one of the underground pipes became over-pressurized, and, as it was designed to do, the system automatically diverted ammonia from that pipe to the sump. About 45 minutes after the ammonia began to vent, a security guard heard the alarm sounding at the skid and smelled ammonia. He began having trouble breathing and reported the leak. Once notified, control-room personnel dispatched “rovers”—specially trained response employees—to manage the ammonia release   Because the rovers arrived at the skid without a “self-contained breathing apparatus[es],” OSHA fined Tampa Electric $9,054 under 29 C.F.R. Section 1910.120(q)(3)(iv). Tampa Electric appealed the citation. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (“Commission”) held that Tampa Electric’s response to the ammonia release wasn’t an “emergency response” within the meaning of the HAZWOPER standard and, therefore, that the company hadn’t violated that standard. The Eleventh Circuit denied the petition for review and affirmed the order of the Commission. The court held that the release here was controlled— or, in the words of the regulation, that it wasn’t “uncontrolled.” Because the response to it wasn’t an “emergency response,” the HAZWOPER standard didn’t apply to the rovers’ conduct. And because the HAZWOPER standard didn’t apply, Tampa Electric didn’t violate it. View "U.S. Department of Labor v. Tampa Electric Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff an attorney employed by the Atlanta Housing Authority (“AHA”), which is a recipient of federal grant funds—was fired after challenging the negotiation tactics of AHA’s new CEO (“CEO”). Plaintiff’s complaints filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) inspector general and the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia were both dismissed for failure to state a claim under the NDAA.   On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the district court erroneously concluded that Section 4712 did not apply to her as an employee of a federal “grantee,” and erroneously found that she merely alleged a difference of opinion, not a specific violation of a contract or grant.   The Eleventh Circuit agreed with Plaintiff that she falls within the class of disclosing persons protected by Section 4712, however, the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court explained that when Congress and the President enacted Section 4712 of the NDAA, they extended its protections to employees of federal grantees, not just federal contractors. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court’s holding that employees like Plaintiff could not qualify for whistleblower protections. However, Plaintiff failed to show that her belief that the CEO’s actions evinced gross mismanagement was reasonable. Nor did she show that she had a reasonable belief that the CEO’s actions constituted an abuse of authority or a violation of a law, rule, or regulation. Thus, Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. View "Karen Fuerst v. The Housing Authority of the City of Atlanta, Georgia" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a claim against Miami-Dade County under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Plaintiff claimed she was a county employee and that the County abused the Program to save labor costs; the County argued that Plaintiff was never a county employee. As part of cross-motions, the parties stipulated that Plaintiff’s participation in the Program “solely to acquire “training in forensic photography.” The District Court determined that Plaintiff was an intern, not an employee, using the primary beneficiary test adopted by the Eleventh Circuit.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court first explained that Plaintiff does not qualify as a volunteer under the volunteer exception. Further, under the internship exception, an intern learning under an employer is not considered “employed” by the FLSA so long as the intern is the primary beneficiary of the relationship. To determine who the primary beneficiary of an intern-employer relationship is, the court looks to seven non-exhaustive factors.   Here, the facts show that Plaintiff learned forensic photography from a highly regarded county program for free and over a six-month period. And in participating in the Program, Plaintiff clearly understood that she would not be paid and that she was not entitled to a job with Miami-Dade County following her internship.  Further, Plaintiff gained both valuable practical experience and training from forensic photography professionals and Program assignments throughout the entirety of her participation. Likewise, the County’s receipt of some benefit from Plaintiff’s internship under the sixth factor does not transform the County into the primary beneficiary of its relationship with Plaintiff. View "Brandi McKay v. Miami-Dade County" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs are “business development managers” tasked with persuading corporate customers to purchase vehicles for their fleets. The task often requires over 40 hours of effort per week, and the plaintiffs argue that they are entitled to overtime compensation. The defendants argue that the plaintiffs are covered by the administrative exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).Under the FLSA, employees who work over 40 hours per week are generally entitled to time-and-a-half overtime compensation. However, not all workers qualify, as the statute exempts employees working in “a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity.” The plaintiffs contend that they do not meet the third prong of the exemption, which requires that they exercise discretion and independent judgment concerning matters of significance. The court reasoned that a worker need not have “limitless discretion” or a total lack of supervision to qualify as an administrative employee. Further, the defendant pointed to ample evidence that the plaintiffs exercised discretion in their job pursuits. The court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment finding that the administrative exemption in the FLSA applies to the plaintiffs. View "Alicia Brown v. Nexus Business Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a group of tipped employees at Nusret, filed suit under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), challenging Nusret's compensation scheme. Plaintiffs alleged that from November 1, 2017, through January 18, 2019, the restaurant paid them less than the required federal minimum and overtime wages and forced them to participate in an illegal tip pool with non-tipped employees.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that Nusret's mandatory 18% "service charge" is not a tip under the FLSA and associated regulations and could lawfully be used to offset Nusret's wage obligations under the FLSA. The court agreed with the district court that the mandatory service charge was a bona fide service charge and not a tip because it was a compulsory charge for service, and the decision to pay it—and the amount to pay—were not determined solely by the customer. The court declined to reach the merits of plaintiffs' remaining arguments and affirmed the district court's award of summary judgment in favor of Nusret. View "Compere v. Nusret Miami, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of defendant in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging race discrimination after defendant terminated plaintiff. The court concluded that the district court properly found that plaintiff failed to show that defendant engaged in race discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas framework. However, in the alternative, plaintiff provided a convincing mosaic of discrimination sufficient to survive summary judgment at this stage. In this case, plaintiff has met his burden of showing factual disputes that should be decided by a jury—a jury whose role it is to weigh conflicting evidence and make any necessary credibility determinations. Therefore, the court remanded for further consideration. View "Jenkins v. Nell" on Justia Law

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Norton operated a pressure washer on a Tampa Convention Center dock that had no guardrails or barricades and was surrounded on three sides by water. Norton fell into the bay while working and drowned. He was wearing rubber boots and was not wearing a personal flotation device. During an investigation, an OSHA officer did not identify any incidents of employees falling off the dock before Norton’s accident, but did learn that two employees who had pressure washed the same dock voluntarily wore personal flotation devices. OSHA issued a citation to C&W for its failure to provide and require the use of a personal flotation device and proposed a $12,675 penalty.Eleventh Circuit precedents required proof either that the use of personal flotation devices was an industry custom or that C&W had “clear actual knowledge that personal protective equipment was necessary under the circumstances.” OSHA did not present any evidence of industry custom. An ALJ concluded that C&W had “clear actual knowledge" that personal protective equipment was necessary, given “an open and obvious hazard.” The Eleventh Circuit vacated the citation. The Commission misapplied the standard for actual knowledge in the absence of industry custom. A finding that C&W had actual knowledge of the requirement to provide and require the use of personal flotation devices for employees when they pressure washed the dock was not supported by substantial evidence. View "C&W Facility Services, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law

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Davis, a former Congressman, mayoral candidate, candidate for governor of Alabama, and federal prosecutor, is Black. In 2016, he became Executive Director of LSA, a non-profit law firm serving low-income Alabamians. Davis experienced problems with some of his subordinates and colleagues; some complained to LSA’s Executive Committee. On August 18, 2017, as Davis left work, he was informed that the Executive Committee had voted to suspend him with pay pending an investigation of those complaints. A “Suspension Letter” cited spending decisions outside the approved budget, failure to follow LSA's hiring policies and procedures, creating new initiatives without Board approval, and creating a hostile work environment for some LSA employees. LSA posted a security guard in front of its building and hired Mowery, an Alabama political consultant, to handle public relations related to Davis’s suspension. Mowery had handled one of Davis’s failed political campaigns until their relationship soured; Mowery had worked for the campaign of Davis’s opponent in another race.Days later, Davis notified the Board of his resignation. He filed suit, alleging race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 1981 and under Title VII, and defamation. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Being placed on paid leave was not an adverse employment action and Davis did not raise a fact issue on his constructive discharge claim. LSA’s disclosures to Mowery did not constitute “publication”—an essential element of defamation. View "Davis v. Legal Services Alabama, Inc." on Justia Law