Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Tonkyro v. Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs
The Eleventh Circuit sua sponte vacated its previous opinion and substituted the following opinion.These appeals arose from a Title VII action filed by four ultrasound technologists against the Secretary, alleging that their supervisors and coworkers retaliated against them and subjected them to a hostile work environment at the Tampa VA because they engaged in protected EEOC activity. One plaintiff also alleged that she was subjected to a hostile work environment based on her sex. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Secretary. Because two intervening decisions changed the law applicable to plaintiffs' discrete retaliation claims and retaliatory hostile work environment claims, the court remanded those claims to the district court with the instruction that it analyze the claims consistent with the intervening decisions. Because the intervening decisions did not, in the court's judgment, affect the resolution of the sex-based hostile work environment claim in this case, the court considered that claim alone and affirmed the district court's decision to enter summary judgment for the Secretary.In this case, the court concluded as an initial matter that most of the named co-worker's conduct lacks the necessary sexual or other gender-related connotations to be actionable sex discrimination. The court explained that nothing in the record allows the conclusion that the coworker's conduct had anything to do with plaintiff's sex; the context surrounding the coworker's inappropriate touching of plaintiff shows that the touching was not sex based; and there is no evidence suggesting that the angry looks, harsh words, and silent treatment that the coworker gave plaintiff were influenced by plaintiff's sex. Even if the coworker's conduct was based on plaintiff's sex, her claim would still fail because the conduct is insufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of plaintiff's employment. View "Tonkyro v. Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law
Bailey v. Metro Ambulance Services, Inc.
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to AMR in a Title VII action brought by plaintiff, alleging failure to accommodate his religious requirement, discrimination on the basis of religion, and retaliation for filing a discrimination claim. Plaintiff's action stemmed from AMR's refusal to allow him to work emergency transports with his goatee, which he grew as part of his practice of Rastafarianism.In regard to plaintiff's disparate-treatment claims based on religion, the court concluded that plaintiff forfeited any "convincing mosaic" argument in support of his traditional religious disparate-treatment discrimination claim. Furthermore, plaintiff made no other argument to support that version of his disparate-treatment discrimination claim. In regard to plaintiff's religious-discrimination claim based on AMR's alleged failure to provide plaintiff with a reasonable accommodation of his religious practice of wearing a beard, the court concluded that AMR offered plaintiff a reasonable accommodation by providing him with an opportunity to maintain his beard and to work on the non-emergency-transport side of its operations, for which DeKalb County's facial-hair policy did not apply. The panel explained that his terms and conditions of employment would not have been affected by the accommodation AMR offered. In regard to the retaliation claim, the record indicates that the but-for cause of plaintiff's termination was AMR's belief that he had given an untrue answer on his employment application. Therefore, his retaliation claim necessarily fails. View "Bailey v. Metro Ambulance Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Ramji v. Hospital Housekeeping Systems, LLC
After plaintiff seriously injured her knee while at work, Hospital Housekeeping told her nothing about her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), instead handling the injury solely as a workers' compensation claim. Hospital Housekeeping subsequently discharged plaintiff after she could not perform the essential-functions test before returning to work. Plaintiff filed suit for interference under the FMLA and the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Hospital Housekeeping.The Eleventh Circuit held that plaintiff was entitled to FMLA rights; plaintiff demonstrated that Hospital Housekeeping denied her a leave benefit under the FMLA where it did not give her any FMLA notice whatsoever and thus failed to satisfy its notice obligations; and a material issue of fact exists over whether an uninterrupted twelve-week FMLA leave period would have made a difference to whether plaintiff could have passed her essential-functions test and returned to work. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's entry of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ramji v. Hospital Housekeeping Systems, LLC" on Justia Law
Babb v. Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs
On remand from the Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded on plaintiff's age discrimination and gender discrimination claims, affirming the Title VII retaliation and hostile work environment claims. Plaintiff sought rehearing, arguing that the Supreme Court's decision in her case also undermined the court's Trask-based rejection of her Title VII retaliation claim and that an intervening 11th Circuit decision, Monaghan v. Worldpay US, Inc., 955 F.3d 855 (11th Cir. 2020), gutted the precedent on which the court had relied in rejecting her hostile work environment claim.The Eleventh Circuit held that the Supreme Court's decision in plaintiff's case undermined Trask v. Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, 822 F.3d 1179 (11th Cir. 2016), to the point of abrogation and that the standard that the Court articulated there now controls cases arising under Title VII's nearly identical text. The court also held that Monaghan clarified the court's law governing what the court called "retaliatory-hostile-work-environment" claims, and that the standard for such claims is, as the court said there, the less onerous "might have dissuaded a reasonable worker" test articulated in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006), and Crawford v. Carroll, 529 F.3d 961 (11th Cir. 2008), rather than the more stringent "severe or pervasive" test found in Gowski v. Peake, 682 F.3d 1299 (11th Cir. 2012). Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's Title VII retaliation and hostile work environment claims and remanded for the district court to consider those claims under the proper standards. View "Babb v. Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law
Tonkyro v. Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs
These appeals arose from a Title VII action filed by four ultrasound technologists against the Secretary, alleging that their supervisors and coworkers retaliated against them and subjected them to a hostile work environment at the Tampa VA because they engaged in protected EEOC activity. One plaintiff also alleged that she was subjected to a hostile work environment based on her sex. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Secretary.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court's entry of summary judgment was proper as to plaintiffs' discrete retaliation claims. Likewise, the court reached the same conclusion about the one employee's sex-based hostile work environment claim. However, after summary judgment was entered in this case, Monaghan v. Worldpay U.S. Inc., 955 F.3d 855, 862 (11th Cir. 2020), clarified that retaliatory hostile work environment claims are not governed by the "severe or pervasive" standard applied by the district court here. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's order as to that claim and directed the district court to analyze the claim in light of Monaghan. View "Tonkyro v. Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law
St. Elien v. All County Environmental Services, Inc.
The Eleventh Circuit held that evidence that an employee makes three to five phone calls per week to out-of-state customers and vendors provides a legally sufficient basis for a reasonable jury to find that the employee falls within the coverage of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The court vacated the district court's judgment concluding otherwise and remanded for further proceedings. In this case, there is no contention that plaintiff produced goods for commerce and a rational jury could have found that plaintiff was engaged in commerce. Therefore, plaintiff was covered under the FLSA. View "St. Elien v. All County Environmental Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Hickman v. Spirit of Athens, Alabama, Inc.
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' False Claims Act (FCA) retaliation claim. Plaintiffs, employees of a nonprofit, suspected that their employer was committing fraud and alleged that they were terminated based on their attempt to uncover the fraud. However, in this case, the employees never had reason to believe that their employer made any false claims to the federal government. Therefore, without any reason to believe that their employer had filed a false claim against the government, they did not have any reason to believe that they were investigating a FCA violation, rather than a garden-variety fraud. The court explained that the employees may well have acted in good faith to attempt to uncover what they feared were shady practices, but the FCA is not a general anti-fraud statute. View "Hickman v. Spirit of Athens, Alabama, Inc." on Justia Law
Munoz v. Selig Enterprises, Inc.
Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Selig on her claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's claim of retaliation under the FMLA where a reasonable jury could find that plaintiff suffered retaliation for intending to use FMLA leave in the future. In this case, there are a number of factual disputes that are material to plaintiff's FMLA retaliation claim and thus summary judgment was not appropriate. However, the court affirmed in all other respects, holding that plaintiff is not disabled under the ADA and that plaintiff has not identified any evidence that she was terminated as a result of Selig's failure to give her notice of her FMLA rights. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Munoz v. Selig Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law
Vasconcelo v. Miami Auto Max, Inc.
Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Miami Auto Max violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, seeking over $12,000 in unpaid wages and liquidated damages. After defendant refused an offer of judgment for $3,500, he went to trial and prevailed, winning a verdict for $97 plus an equal amount in liquidated damages. The district court awarded him 37 percent of his requested attorney's fees and taxed against him the costs incurred by the parties after the offer of judgment. Plaintiff appeals both the final judgment and the order awarding fees and taxing costs.The Eleventh Circuit dismissed in part and affirmed in part, holding that plaintiff's appeal of the final judgment is untimely and that his appeal of the order awarding attorney's fees and taxing costs has no merit. In this case, the district court acted within its discretion to award a reasonable fee in light of plaintiff's limited success at trial, where he recovered only $194.40 after demanding $12,795.30. Furthermore, the district court correctly applied Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68 to tax the parties' post-offer costs against plaintiff. View "Vasconcelo v. Miami Auto Max, Inc." on Justia Law
Tracy v. Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees
Plaintiff filed suit against the University and others alleging that the parties' collective bargaining agreements' (CBA) "Conflict of Interest/Outside Activities" policy was unconstitutionally vague, that his termination breached the CBA, and that the University had used his insubordination as a pretext for First Amendment retaliation. Plaintiff's action stemmed from the University's termination of plaintiff after he attracted national news media attention for publicly questioning whether the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting had in fact occurred.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's summary judgment rulings and its denial of plaintiff's post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial. The court held that the district court correctly concluded that plaintiff's failure to exhaust the CBA's mandatory grievance-and-arbitration procedures barred his claim that the University breached the CBA by firing him. Although the court affirmed the district court on the constitutional claims, the court applied a different analysis. Without deciding the issue, the court assumed for the purposes of this appeal that plaintiff could constitutionally challenge the Policy on vagueness grounds. The court held that plaintiff's vagueness challenge failed on the merits, and his facial and as-applied First Amendment challenges to the Policy's reporting requirement failed. Furthermore, plaintiff's challenge to the Policy's conflict-of-interest provision failed on the merits. Because plaintiff's constitutional challenges failed, his declaratory judgment claim based on the same grounds also failed. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the Faculty Senate meeting transcript. View "Tracy v. Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees" on Justia Law