Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
by
The case revolves around Jay Anthony Dobyns, a former agent with the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), who sued the United States for failing to adequately protect him and his family from threats related to his undercover work. The government counterclaimed, alleging that Dobyns violated his employment contract and several federal regulations by publishing a book based on his experience as an agent and by contracting his story to create a motion picture. The Court of Federal Claims found that the government had not breached the settlement agreement but had breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, awarding Dobyns emotional distress damages. The court also found that the government was not entitled to relief on its counterclaim.The government appealed the Claims Court’s judgment to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which reversed the finding that the government breached the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing. Dobyns, having prevailed on the government’s counterclaim, sought attorneys’ fees and costs. However, the Claims Court denied his application for attorneys’ fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) as untimely. Dobyns appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that the Claims Court had abused its discretion and applied the incorrect legal standard. The Appeals Court held that the filing deadline for fee applications under EAJA is subject to equitable tolling. It found that Dobyns had justifiably relied on the government's representations about the procedure for Claims Court judgments, and thus his motion for attorneys’ fees under EAJA should be accepted as timely. The court reversed the Claims Court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Dobyns v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Kevin D. Jones, an attorney, held a term position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) before transferring to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). At the USDA, Jones primarily provided advice and counsel regarding discrimination complaints filed against the agency and litigated ensuing discrimination claims before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). At the ATF, Jones served as an advisor to the Professional Review Board (PRB) as part of a team of attorneys in the Management Division of the ATF Office of General Counsel (OGC). After three months at the ATF, Jones was asked to resign due to his lack of contract law experience. Jones filed a complaint alleging discrimination and lack of due process in his termination.The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) dismissed Jones's administrative appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The Administrative Judge (AJ) of the MSPB found that Jones was not an "employee" as defined by 5 U.S.C. § 7511(a)(1)(B) because his positions at the USDA and ATF were not the same or similar. The AJ noted several distinctions between the tasks Jones performed at each agency. Jones did not appeal the Initial Decision to the full Board, so the AJ’s Initial Decision became the Final Decision of the Board.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board's decision. The court found that the AJ did not err in her determination that Jones's positions at the USDA and ATF were not similar. The court also found that the AJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the court affirmed the Board's determination that it lacked jurisdiction to hear Jones's appeal. View "Jones v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

by
In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the plaintiff, Dr. Leslie Boyer, alleged that a violation of the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) occurred when the United States government set her pay lower than a male comparator in the same job role. The Court of Federal Claims had granted a summary judgment in favor of the United States, stating that the pay differential was justified by a “factor other than sex,” namely Dr. Boyer’s prior salary. The Court of Federal Claims relied on the pay-setting statutes, 5 U.S.C. § 5333 and 38 U.S.C. § 7408, which allow consideration of prior pay in hiring, to arrive at this conclusion.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed this judgment, stating that the EPA applies equally to the United States as to other employers and that mere reliance on prior compensation alone is not an affirmative defense to a prima facie case under the EPA unless the employer can demonstrate that the prior pay itself was not based on sex. The court concluded that the employer can only rely on prior pay if either (1) the employer can demonstrate that prior pay is unaffected by sex-based pay differentials or (2) prior pay is considered together with other, non-sex-based factors. The court remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this interpretation. View "BOYER v. US " on Justia Law

by
The case involved Sha’Lisa Lewis, a former correctional officer at the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina, who contested her termination from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) during her probationary period. Lewis contended that she did not receive notification of her termination until after her probationary term had ended. She argued that she was denied due process protections, such as a proposed removal action and a reasonable opportunity to respond.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit examined the issue, focusing on the interpretation of 5 C.F.R. § 315.804, which mandates that an agency notify an employee in writing about the reasons for termination and the effective date. The court ruled that while the agency must notify the employee, the regulation does not necessitate the employee's actual receipt of the notice before the end of the probationary period. The court held that termination is effective if the agency does all that could be reasonably expected under the circumstances to deliver the notice before the end of the probationary period.In Lewis's case, the court concluded that BOP had made reasonable efforts to notify her of her termination before the end of her probationary period. Thus, the court affirmed that Lewis was effectively terminated as a probationary-period employee. View "LEWIS v. BOP " on Justia Law

by
Dennis Erb was discharged from his position as an Intelligence Research Specialist with the Department of Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) for repeatedly providing false information on his timecard and failing to abide by his supervisor's instructions. The Merit Systems Protection Board (Board) upheld Treasury's decision to remove Mr. Erb. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board's decision, finding that substantial evidence supported the Board's determination that Mr. Erb intentionally falsified his timecard and that the Board correctly upheld the charges of both falsification and failure to follow instructions. The court also found no error with the Board's decision to uphold Treasury's selected penalty of removal. The court reasoned that Mr. Erb's misconduct was repetitive and serious, undermining the efficiency and discipline of the service. Therefore, the court found that the penalty of removal was not unreasonable. View "ERB v. TREASURY " on Justia Law

by
In this case, the plaintiff, Jason Lambro, worked as a studio technician for the Voice of America (VOA), a federal agency, under a series of contracts. Lambro alleged that he should have been classified as an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and thus entitled to benefits such as overtime pay. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the FLSA itself, through its definitional provisions, provides the applicable standard for recognizing an employment relationship for FLSA purposes. Therefore, the court had to evaluate whether Lambro was employed by VOA under the FLSA's own standard for being employed. The court rejected the lower court's conclusion that the FLSA does not cover a person asserting coverage as a federal government employee unless a congressional authorization outside the FLSA creates the asserted employment relationship with the federal government. The court vacated the lower court’s dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Lambro v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Williams was a Beaumont, Texas federal corrections officer beginning March 4, 2018. In 2016, Williams met Hayes. The two were engaged and had a child in September 2018. Hayes had been in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) custody from 2005-2013, including at FCC-Beaumont. He was on supervised release until July 15, 2018. Williams knew Hayes had been incarcerated but was unaware he had been in federal custody. In May 2019, after learning of the relationship, BOP placed Williams on administrative reassignment. Under the Standards of Employee Conduct, employees may not “become emotionally, physically, sexually, or financially involved with inmates, [or] former inmates.” If employees engage in improper contact, they must report the contact. A “former inmate” is an inmate for whom less than one year has elapsed since release from BOP custody or federal court supervision. Hayes met this definition until July 15, 2019. Williams learned, on June 3, 2019, that Hayes had been incarcerated in federal prison. She reported her relationship the next day. BOP issued a notice of proposed removal. The warden sustained the charges and removed Williams.An arbitrator sustained the charge of improper contact but did not sustain the charge of failure to report and upheld the removal, finding that the warden considered the relevant "Douglas" factors and exercised his discretion “within tolerable limits of reasonableness.” The Federal Circuit vacated. The arbitrator failed to independently analyze the appropriateness of alternative sanctions and accepted for sanctions purposes the warden’s fact findings which the arbitrator had rejected. View "Williams v. Bureau of Prisons" on Justia Law

by
Nordby served as an administrative law judge with the Social Security Administration. He was also a First Lieutenant in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the Army Reserve. From January-May 2017, Nordby was activated under 10 U.S.C. 12301(d) to perform military service in the Army Reserve; he conducted basic training for new Judge Advocates in Georgia and Virginia. Federal employees who are absent from civilian positions due to military responsibilities and who meet the requirements listed in 5 U.S.C. 5538(a) are entitled to differential pay to account for the difference between their military and civilian compensation.The agency denied Nordby’s request for differential pay, reasoning that those called to voluntary active duty under section 12301(d) are not entitled to differential pay. The Merit Systems Protection Board rejected Nordby's argument that he was called to duty under section 101(a)(13)(B)— “any [] provision of law during a war or during a national emergency declared by the President or Congress” and that his activation was “during a national emergency” because the U.S. has been in a continuous state of national emergency since September 11, 2001. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Nordby failed to allege any connection between the training and the ongoing national emergency that resulted from the September 11 attack. View "Nordby v. Social Security Administration" on Justia Law

by
Moore is a male Examination Manager at the SEC's Washington, D.C. headquarters. Two women Examination Managers in that office perform the same work as Moore under similar working conditions. In 2014, the SEC initiated a Pay Transition Program to recalibrate its employees’ pay so that they could receive credit for years of relevant work experience regardless of their SEC hire date. The Program was open to all SEC employees from September 14-October 14, 2014. The women applied for the Program during this open period. Moore did not, due to family-related issues occupying his attention. The SEC permitted 10 other employees with extenuating circumstances to apply for the Program in November-December 2014. Program pay adjustments began taking effect around June 2015; the women’s salaries were increased. In August-September 2016, Moore unsuccessfully tried to apply for the Program.Moore's Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. 206(d), lawsuit argues that the SEC lacks justification for any Program-related pay differential between him and the women because the application process was unnecessary, given that the SEC always had the necessary information in its records and the SEC had no valid basis for creating, or not extending, an application deadline. The Federal Circuit vacated the dismissal of Moore’s complaint, first overruling its own 2009 decision, Yant, which added an element to the prima facie case–a showing that the pay differential “is either historically or presently based on sex.” The court remanded for consideration on non-Yant grounds. View "Moore v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Rueter worked for NOAA under his supervisor, Dr. Bolden. In November 2014, two female employees of agency contractors informed Bolden of incidents that had occurred at a Halloween costume party and the following morning, when Rueter engaged in inappropriate conduct directed at them. In June 2015, Rueter loudly yelled disrespectful accusations at Bolden in her office. In November 2016, Rueter’s second-level supervisor issued a letter to Rueter proposing that he be removed from his position for misconduct. Rueter filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). The agency stayed the removal action for several months at OSC’s request. In September 2017, Rueter’s third-level supervisor rescinded the first proposed removal letter and issued a second notice of proposed removal, which charged conduct unbecoming a federal employee and disrespectful conduct toward a supervisor, explaining in detail the specifications supporting each charge.Rueter, claiming that his removal was retaliation for his complaints against Bolden, unsuccessfully appealed his subsequent removal to the Merit Systems Protection Board. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting Rueter’s claims that three internal, ex parte emails deprived him of due process, that the Board improperly denied his request to have certain testimony at the removal hearing, and that he was improperly denied in camera inspection of certain documents. The emails did not provide new and material evidence nor apply undue pressure on the deciding official to remove Rueter. View "Rueter v. United States Department of Commerce" on Justia Law