Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Plaintiff claimed her employment was terminated in retaliation for complaining she was going to be paid late. She filed a complaint against a department head within the Texas A&M Engineering Station in his individual capacity (“DH”), alleging he violated the anti-retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”)  DH moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s retaliation claim because the suit was barred by sovereign immunity, and in the alternative, that he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court determined that neither immunity applied.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the rejection of sovereign immunity as a defense, affirmed the denial of the defense of sovereign immunity and vacated the judgment denying the defense of qualified immunity. The court held that holding public officials individually liable for retaliation under the FLSA also is consistent with the court’s prior holdings regarding individual liability in other FLSA contexts. However, the court wrote it discovered no Fifth Circuit opinion that holds qualified immunity is a defense under the FLSA. The court concluded that Plaintiff’s claim would be barred by qualified immunity because she does not allege that DH violated a clearly established law. However, the antecedent question is whether qualified immunity applies to the FLSA to begin with. The court, therefore, remanded for the district court to decide this question in the first instance. View "Stramaski v. Lawley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are nine female detention service officers working at the Dallas County Jail who are employed by Defendant-Appellee Dallas County Sheriff’s Department. Dallas County (“the County”). A gender-based scheduling policy went into effect and only male officers were given full weekends off whereas female officers were allowed two weekdays off or one weekday and one weekend day off. Plaintiffs alleged that they were told that it would be safer for the male officers to be off during the weekends as opposed to during the week.   Plaintiffs filed suit against the County for violations of Title VII and the Texas Employment Discrimination Act (the “TEDA”). On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that the district court erred by considering whether the County’s scheduling policy constituted an adverse employment action rather than applying the statutory text of Title VII and the TEDA. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s motion to dismiss The court held that Plaintiffs’ did not plead an adverse employment action, as required under the Fifth Circuit’s Title VII precedent. The court explained that the conduct complained of here fits squarely within the ambit of Title VII’s proscribed conduct: discrimination with respect to the terms, conditions, or privileges of one’s employment because of one’s sex. Given the generally accepted meaning of those terms, the County would appear to have violated Title VII. However, the court explained it is bound by the circuit’s precedent, which requires a Title VII plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that she “suffered some adverse employment action by the employer.” View "Hamilton v. Dallas County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was an engineer for the City of Pharr, Texas. When his supervisors asked him to sign a document he did not believe was true, Plaintiff refused. Ultimately, he was terminated and filed this case against the city and two of Plaintiff's supervisors.Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court held a hearing and denied Defendant's motion. Two days later, the court entered a minute order; however, no written order was attached. Exactly 412 days later, Defendant appealed the denial of his motion for summary judgment, claiming that the court's oral ruling was not appealable and that he is technically appealing the court's refusal to rile on his motion.The Fifth Circuit rejected Defendant's reasoning. A bench ruling can be effective without a written order and triggers appeal deadlines if it is final. Here, the court's order was final. While the district court's ruling did not comply with Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 58, an alternate interpretation would give Defendant infinite time to appeal. View "Ueckert v. Guerra" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former FBI special agent, asked a federal district court to order the FBI to issue him a top-secret clearance and reinstate his employment. He also sought damages against FBI officials for revoking his clearance and suspending him, for preventing him from taking other employment while suspended, and for delaying the release of letters that Plaintiff says contain his protected speech. The district court dismissed those claims. It concluded that Plaintiff has no cause of action against the officers in their individual capacities. And it reasoned that its subject matter jurisdiction does not include the power to order the FBI to reinstate his security clearance.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff’s claims must be dismissed. His claims seeking to reverse his suspension and termination fall outside the district court’s subject-matter jurisdiction. And he has no cause of action to bring the remaining individual capacity claims. The court explained that the Supreme Court has twice rejected federal employees’ attempts to sidestep the Civil Service Reform Act (“CSRA’s”) remedial scheme. The court found that just as the CSRA precludes extra-statutory review of “adverse actions” defined by Section 7712, it precludes extra-statutory review of ancillary constitutional claims brought as a “vehicle by which [plaintiffs] seek to reverse” those adverse actions. View "Zummer v. Sallet" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a class action complaint against their former employer, US Well Services, Inc. (“US Well”) for allegedly violating the WARN Act by terminating them without advance notice. The WARN Act requires covered employers to give affected employees sixty days’ notice before a plant closing or mass layoff. 29 U.S.C. Section 2102(a). The Act provides three exceptions to the notice requirement—including the natural-disaster exception, under which no notice is required.   The parties cross-moved for summary judgment. US Well argued that COVID-19 was a natural disaster under the WARN Act, and consequently, that it was exempt from the WARN Act’s notice requirement pursuant to the natural-disaster exception. Plaintiffs countered that COVID-19 was not a natural disaster and was not a direct cause of their layoffs.   Plaintiffs filed an interlocutory appeal seeking reversal of the district court’s order denying their motions for summary judgment and reconsideration. In its order denying Plaintiffs’ motions, the district court certified two questions for interlocutory appeal: (1) Does COVID-19 qualify as a natural disaster under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act’s (“WARN Act” or “the Act”) natural-disaster exception, 29 U.S.C. Section 2102(b)(2)(B)?; (2) Does the WARN Act’s natural-disaster exception, 29 U.S.C. Section 2102(b)(2)(B), incorporate but-for or proximate causation?   The Fifth Circuit held that the COVID-19 pandemic is not a natural disaster under the WARN Act and that the natural-disaster exception incorporates proximate causation. The court explained that based on the DOL regulation’s “direct result” requirement and binding precedent equating direct cause with proximate cause, the court held that the WARN Act’s natural-disaster exception incorporates proximate causation. View "Easom v. US Well Services" on Justia Law

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Rusco Operating, L.L.C. and Planning Thru Completion, L.L.C. are two companies that offer an online application (“app”) that connects oil field workers looking for work with oil-and-gas operators looking for workers. The companies seek to intervene here because some app-using workers have opted-in as plaintiffs alleging claims for unpaid overtime, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, against an operator that used the app to hire them. The app companies’ asserted interests in the litigation related to arbitration agreements between them and the workers, their belief that a win by the workers would destroy their business model, and a demand for indemnity allegedly made by Defendant operator for liability it might incur as to Plaintiffs’ claims. The district court found these interests insufficient to justify intervention and denied leave   The Fifth Circuit reversed, concluding that the arbitration agreements at issue give rise to sufficient interest in this action to support the app companies’ intervention. The court explained that Appellants  have shown adequate interest in the subject of this lawsuit by virtue of their contracts with the parties, and “disposing of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the [Intervenors’] ability to protect [their] interest.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 24(a)(2). By contrast, no other party in this action will adequately represent the Intervenors’ interest. They should therefore be allowed to intervene of right. View "Field v. Rusco Operating" on Justia Law

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Appellant is a pipeline-inspection company that hires inspectors and sends them to work for its clients. When Plaintiff was hired, Appellant had him sign an Employment Agreement that contained an arbitration clause. That arbitration provision explained that Plaintiff and Appellant agree to arbitrate all claims that have arisen or will arise out of Plaintiff’s employment. Appellant staffed Plaintiff on a project with Defendant, a diversified energy company that stores and transports natural gas and crude oil.   Alleging that the Fair Labor Standards Act entitled him to overtime pay, Plaintiff filed a collective action against Defendant; he brought no claims against Appellant. Appellant moved to intervene. The magistrate judge granted that motion, explaining that Appellant met the criteria for both permissive intervention and intervention as of right. Appellant claimed that it was an “aggrieved party” under Section 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) and thus could compel arbitration. The magistrate judge rejected all the motions. The district court affirmed.   The Fifth Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction Appellant’s appeal. The court held that Appellant is not an aggrieved party under Section 4 of the FAA and cannot compel arbitration. The court explained it is only where the arbitration may not proceed under the provisions of the contract without a court order that the other party is really aggrieved. Here, Plaintiff only promised to arbitrate claims brought against Appellant. Claiming that Plaintiff did not arbitrate its claims with Defendant is therefore not an allegation that he violated his agreement with Appellant. View "Hinkle v. Phillips 66 Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued her employer under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), claiming that Defendant engaged in unlawful age discrimination and retaliation. Plaintiff filed a motion with the district court requesting additional time so that Defendant could respond to her requests for production. The court denied the motion and Plaintiff later filed a supplement to her Rule 56(d) motion, again asking the court to defer consideration of Defendant’s summary-judgment motion and allow Plaintiff to conduct discovery, or alternatively, deny Defendant’s motion. The district court granted Defendant’s motion and entered final judgment in their favor.   The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s order and held that a district court cannot deny discovery rights protected by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court explained that a Rule 56(d) movant first must demonstrate that additional discovery will create a genuine issue of material fact. Here, Plaintiff identified such evidence for (1) her age-discrimination claim, and (2) her retaliation claim. The court reasoned it was an abuse of discretion for the district court to deny Plaintiff the opportunity to conduct discovery on the relevant issues in question and then fault her for having “no evidence of a causal connection” between her protected activity and the adverse employment actions. Further, the fact that Plaintiffs requests for discovery were repeatedly denied does not reveal a lack of diligence on her part. View "Bailey v. KS Mgmt Services" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that her former employer, Circassia Pharmaceuticals (“Circassia”), fired her for discriminatory and retaliatory reasons. The district court granted summary judgment for Circassia, holding that Owens had failed to create a genuine dispute of material fact as to pretext.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for Defendant in Plaintiff’s employment discrimination lawsuit. The court held even when an employee presents evidence that would allow a jury to conclude that an employer’s proffered justification for an adverse action is false, that does not necessarily permit a rational inference that the real reason was discrimination Plaintiff provided enough evidence to permit a finding that Circassia’s proffered justification for her termination is false. But she has presented a mere scintilla of evidence that the true reason for her termination was discriminatory animus, and “the burden of proof [is hers] throughout.” The court held that summary judgment for Circassia is therefore appropriate because Plaintiff's evidence is of insufficient “nature, extent, and quality” to permit a reasonable factfinder to resolve “[t]he ultimate determination” of discrimination in her favor. Finally, the court reasoned that Plaintiff failed to raise additional arguments regarding pretext to support her retaliation claim, thus falling short of creating a genuine dispute of material fact. View "Owens v. Circassia Pharmaceuticals" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a foreign oil company, contracted with Ecuador to develop an oil-rich region of the rainforest. Defendant paid its Ecuadorian employees a sizable portion of its annual profits. The government canceled the exploration contract and expropriated Occidental’s property, leading to massive losses. Profits and profit-sharing abruptly ceased. Occidental sought arbitration and, a decade later, received a nearly billion-dollar settlement from Ecuador. Plaintiffs, a group of Occidental’s former Ecuadorian employees, then sued Occidental, claiming the arbitration settlement represented profits they were entitled to share. The district court correctly dismissed the employees’ claims. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims holding that Defendant owes its former employees no shared profits for the relevant year. The court reasoned that under the plain terms of Ecuadorian law, a company’s profit-sharing obligation depends on the profits lawfully declared in its annual tax returns. Plaintiffs maintained that tax returns are “not the exclusive mechanism for determining profit-sharing liability.” However, the court held Ecuador's law is clear that the calculation [of profits shall be conducted on the basis of the declarations or determinations prepared for the payment of Income Tax, and Occidental’s tax returns for the interrupted year of 2006 showed not profits but losses. View "Cisneros Guerrero, et al v. Occidental Petro, et a" on Justia Law