Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
by
The case involves Cynthia Allen and Kristine Webb, who filed a class action lawsuit against their employer, AT&T Mobility Services, LLC, alleging pregnancy discrimination under Title VII. The district court denied their motion for class certification, and the plaintiffs settled with AT&T and voluntarily dismissed their case. The following day, Amanda Curlee, who claimed she would have been a member of the proposed class, sought to intervene in the case to appeal the denial of class certification. The district court allowed her to intervene, and she immediately appealed.The district court had denied the original plaintiffs' motion for class certification, and the plaintiffs subsequently settled with AT&T and voluntarily dismissed their case. The court had not addressed the merits of any plaintiff's discrimination claims. Amanda Curlee, who claimed she would have been a member of the proposed class, sought to intervene in the case to appeal the denial of class certification. The district court allowed her to intervene.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit dismissed Curlee's appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court found that there was no final decision as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1291 because the district court had not resolved the merits of any plaintiff's discrimination claims. The court held that Curlee, as an intervenor, must litigate her claims on the merits before she can appeal the denial of class certification. The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to hear Curlee's appeal because there was no final judgment in the case. View "Curlee v. AT&T Mobility Services, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around an employment discrimination suit filed by Dr. Tara Loux against her former employers, BayCare Medical Group and St. Joseph’s Hospital. Dr. Loux sought to discover BayCare’s internal documents about the performance of other doctors who were not fired despite also committing errors. BayCare objected to disclosing certain documents, such as its “quality files” and “referral logs,” arguing that they were privileged under the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005. The Act creates a statutory privilege for work product prepared for or reported to patient safety organizations.The district court ordered BayCare to produce the disputed documents, concluding that the Act does not privilege documents if they have a “dual purpose,” only one of which relates to making reports to a patient safety organization. The court held that these documents were not privileged because BayCare used information in the documents for other purposes, such as internal safety analysis and peer review.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit disagreed with the district court's interpretation of the Act. The appellate court found that the district court had applied an incorrect "sole purpose" standard to assess whether BayCare’s quality files and referral logs fell under the privilege. The court held that the Act does not require that privileged information be kept solely for provision to a Patient Safety Organization. The court granted BayCare's petition for a writ of mandamus, directing the district court to vacate its orders compelling the disclosure of the privileged documents and reconsider BayCare’s assertion of privilege consistent with the appellate court's opinion. View "In re: Baycare Medical Group, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Angela Poer, a white woman, was employed as an Administrative Services Manager by the Jefferson County Commission. She alleged that her supervisor, a black woman, discriminated against her based on her race. Poer claimed that her request for a lateral transfer or reassignment was denied and that she was ultimately terminated due to her race. She sought damages including reinstatement and back pay.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Commission, finding that Poer failed to present any evidence showing that she was terminated or discriminated against because of her race. The court also declined to consider Poer’s argument that the Commission’s employment decisions were forms of retaliation in response to her grievances, as this argument was raised for the first time at summary judgment.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court found that Poer had not presented a convincing mosaic of circumstantial evidence that would support even an inference at summary judgment, let alone a jury finding at trial, that the Commission terminated her because of her race. The court also agreed with the district court that Poer could not raise a retaliation claim for the first time at summary judgment. View "Poer v. Jefferson County Commission" on Justia Law

by
The plaintiff, Tammie Terrell, an African-American nurse, applied for a Chief Nurse position at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital but was not selected. She sued the Secretary of Veterans Affairs under Title VII, alleging race and national-origin discrimination, retaliation, and a discriminatory and retaliatory hostile work environment. The district court granted summary judgment for the Secretary on all counts.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Terrell failed to provide evidence that her race or national origin was a but-for cause of her non-selection or that it tainted the hiring process. The court also found that Terrell did not engage in any protected Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) activity that could form the basis for a retaliation claim. Furthermore, the court found that Terrell did not provide evidence that she experienced a hostile work environment due to her race, national origin, or EEO activity.Finally, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Terrell's Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment, finding that Terrell was attempting to relitigate her case and present evidence that she could have raised at the summary-judgment stage. View "Terrell v. Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

by
A Black woman, Erika Buckley, filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of the Army, alleging that her former colleagues at Martin Army Hospital engaged in conduct that was racially discriminatory. Buckley, a speech pathologist, claimed her colleagues diverted white patients from her care, encouraged white male patients to complain about her, and engaged in other race-based harassing conduct. The Secretary moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted on all counts. Buckley appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the lower court's decision regarding Buckley's retaliation claims, but vacated the lower court's decision on her race-based disparate treatment claim and her race-based hostile work environment claim. The court found that Buckley had provided enough evidence to suggest that her race played a role in the decision-making process leading to her dismissal, even if her race was not the but-for cause of the dismissal. The court also concluded that Buckley had provided sufficient evidence to establish a hostile work environment claim. The case was sent back to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the appeals court's opinion. View "Buckley v. Secretary of the Army" on Justia Law

by
In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Tyler Copeland, a transgender male, sued his employer, the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC), for workplace harassment. Copeland was a sergeant at a prison in Georgia and alleged that, after coming out as transgender at work, he endured constant and demeaning harassment from colleagues at various levels, despite repeated complaints to supervisors and HR personnel.He brought three claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The first was that his employer had created a hostile work environment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of GDOC, concluding that the harassment Copeland experienced was not sufficiently severe or pervasive. However, the appellate court disagreed and vacated the summary judgment on this claim.The second claim was that Copeland had been denied promotion due to his transgender status. The district court also granted summary judgment on this count, as Copeland failed to provide evidence that those who decided not to promote him were aware of his protected conduct. The appellate court affirmed this decision.The third claim was that GDOC had retaliated against Copeland for engaging in a protected practice, namely opposing sex discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment on this count as well, and the appellate court affirmed the decision, citing lack of evidence of causation.In summary, the appellate court vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment on the hostile work environment claim but affirmed the summary judgments on the failure to promote and retaliation claims. The case was remanded for the district court to consider the fifth element of Copeland’s hostile work environment claim. View "Copeland v. Georgia Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed an appeal by Dr. LeThenia Joy Baker against her former employer, Upson Regional Medical Center. Dr. Baker alleged that Upson violated the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by providing her a less favorable bonus compensation structure than that of her male colleague. Though Upson admitted that Dr. Baker was paid less than her male colleague, they argued that the pay disparity was due to the male doctor's greater experience, not his gender. The district court ruled in favor of Upson, stating that the EPA claim failed as Upson established a defense that the bonus structure, which paid Dr. Baker less than her comparator, was based on factors other than sex.The Eleventh Circuit upheld the district court's decision, stating that Upson had met its burden of proving that the difference in bonus compensation was based on factors other than sex. The court clarified that under the EPA, it only consists of a two-step analysis. First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case showing that she performed substantially similar work for less pay. Second, if the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to prove that the pay differential was justified under one of the Equal Pay Act’s statutory exceptions. If the employer fails, the plaintiff wins. The plaintiff is not required to prove discriminatory intent on the part of the defendant. The court concluded that no reasonable jury could find in favor of Dr. Baker on the question of whether her sex was considered in the different bonus structure she agreed to. View "Baker v. Upson Regional Medical Center" on Justia Law

by
In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the plaintiffs, Honeyfund.com Inc, Chevara Orrin, Whitespace Consulting LLC, and Primo Tampa LLC, challenged a Florida law known as the Individual Freedom Act. This law bans certain mandatory workplace trainings that espouse or promote a set of beliefs related to race, color, sex, or national origin deemed offensive by the state. The plaintiffs asserted that the Act violated their rights to free speech and was both vague and overbroad. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, with the understanding that the Act was both unconstitutionally vague and an unlawful content- and viewpoint-based speech restriction. Florida appealed this decision.The appellate court held that the Act was indeed a violation of the First Amendment. The court rejected Florida's argument that the Act regulated conduct, not speech, noting that the Act's restrictions were based on the content and viewpoint of the speech in the prohibited meetings. The court applied strict scrutiny, determining that the Act was not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. It also rejected Florida’s attempt to tie the Act to Title VII, a federal law prohibiting employment discrimination, stating that having similar asserted purposes did not make the two laws equivalent. The plaintiffs' claim of irreparable injury due to an ongoing violation of the First Amendment was also acknowledged. The court thus affirmed the district court's order preliminarily enjoining the operation of the provision. View "Honeyfund.Com Inc v. Governor, State of Florida" on Justia Law

by
In this case, Plaintiff Jennifer Akridge, a former employee of Alfa Mutual Insurance Company, appealed the entry of summary judgment in favor of Alfa on her claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Akridge had multiple sclerosis and severe migraines, and she alleged that the company wrongfully terminated her to avoid paying for her healthcare costs. Alfa argued that it eliminated her position because her duties were automated and no longer needed, and the company wanted to cut business expenses.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment ruling. The court found that Akridge failed to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the ADA. Even if she had, her evidence failed to show that Alfa’s reason for firing her (that her position was no longer needed and it wished to cut business expenses) was pretext for disability discrimination. The court also rejected Akridge's argument that she merely needs to show that her disability was a motivating factor, rather than a but-for cause, of her termination. The court clarified that, unlike Title VII, the ADA does not incorporate the motivating-factor causation standard, and an ADA plaintiff must show that a cause was outcome determinative. Therefore, it upheld the district court’s decision that Akridge did not produce sufficient evidence to suggest that her termination was a result of discrimination based on her disability.The court also affirmed the district court's award of $1,918 in discovery sanctions against Akridge. The lower court found that Akridge's motion to compel a certain deposition was not substantially justified, and the appeals court found no error or abuse of discretion in that ruling. View "Akridge v. Alfa Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

by
In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the plaintiff, Taquila Monroe, was a former employee of Fort Valley State University's Head Start and Early Head Start department. She sued the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (the "Board") under the False Claims Act's (FCA) anti-retaliation provision, alleging that she was terminated for reporting mismanagement and misuse of federal and state funds meant for the Head Start programs. The district court granted the Board's motion to dismiss, citing the Board's sovereign immunity. The central issue on appeal was whether the FCA's anti-retaliation provision abrogates sovereign immunity for lawsuits against states, and whether the Board is an arm of the state entitled to the same immunity.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that Congress did not unequivocally express its intent to subject states to suits under the FCA's anti-retaliation provision, and therefore did not abrogate sovereign immunity. The court also held that the Board is an arm of the state and thus entitled to sovereign immunity. In reaching these conclusions, the court considered how Georgia law defines the Board, the degree of control the state exercises over the Board, the Board's source of funding, and who would be responsible for a judgment against the Board. The court found that all of these factors pointed to the Board being an arm of the state that is entitled to sovereign immunity. View "Monroe v. Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia" on Justia Law