Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's rulings in an action brought by plaintiff against Wal-Mart Stores under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Texas law. Plaintiff, a pharmacist and black man from Cameroon, West Africa, alleged that Wal-Mart intentionally subjected and/or allowed him to be subjected to discrimination based on race, color, and national origin, illegal harassment, and a hostile work environment. Plaintiff also alleged that Wal-Mart retaliated against him for complaining about discrimination and asserting his rights.The court concluded that the district court did not reversibly err in granting summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart on plaintiff's hostile work environment claim where it is not evident that a triable dispute exists relative to whether Wal-Mart remained aware that plaintiff suffered continued harassment and failed to take prompt remedial action. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in instructing the jury and in refusing to provide the specific Cat's Paw instructions that plaintiff requested. The court also concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's verdict on the retaliation claim under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1981; the court rejected challenges to the jury verdict form; and the court rejected claims challenging the punitive damages award and claims of evidentiary errors. View "Wantou v. Wal-Mart Stores Texas, LLC" on Justia Law

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After petitioner was injured on the job while employed by Ameri-Force, he successfully obtained a workers' compensation award after filing a claim with the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs of the U.S. Department of Labor. The Fifth Circuit concluded that petitioner is entitled to attorney's fees under the plain text of 33 U.S.C. 928(b) and reversed the decision of the Benefits Review Board, remanding for further proceedings. In this case, all the criteria of an award of attorney's fees under section 928(b) are satisfied as to the claims examiner's August 24, 2016 recommendation. View "Rivera v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Home Depot, plaintiff's former employer, in an action alleging personal injury claims stemming from a workplace incident. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that Home Depot breached its duty to provide him with proper assistance, equipment, and training to safely execute "flat stacking," a process of rearranging building materials.The court affirmed in part, concluding that there is no genuine dispute of material fact as to plaintiff's claims for inadequate assistance and training. In this case, Home Depot had no duty to provide assistance that was unnecessary to the job's safe performance. However, the court concluded that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to plaintiff's claim for inadequate equipment. The court explained that there are factual disputes over whether Home Depot had a duty to provide a back brace and whether the lack of a back brace was the proximate cause of plaintiff's injury. Accordingly, the court vacated in part and remanded. View "Molina v. Home Depot USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the Department's motion for judgment on the pleadings, holding that Louisiana has not waived its sovereign immunity for claims under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In this case, plaintiff filed suit for disability discrimination under the Act after he was terminated from his job of nearly twenty-four years based on his medical problems. The court also denied plaintiff's request to certify a question to the Louisiana Supreme Court, concluding that this case does not present a genuinely unsettled matter of Louisiana law and thus certification is not appropriate. View "Fletcher v. Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development" on Justia Law

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An Angel Brothers construction crew was installing a drainage pipe alongside a road. For two days, the crew had adequate protection from cave-ins. On day three, the work was too close to the street to continue with “benching” the walls of the excavation. Angel’s safety manager told foreman Vidal to use a trench box, which is placed in the ditch and has walls that guard against cave-ins. Vidal did not follow those instructions. Vidal admitted that he allowed Fonseca to work without the trench box because Fonseca would only need to spend 10-15 minutes inside the excavation; installing the trench box would have blocked the adjoining intersection and taken more time. Vidal and another employee stood by while Fonseca worked in the trench.An OSHA Compliance Officer happened to visit the worksite and issued a citation for violating the requirement that “[e]ach employee in an excavation shall be protected from cave-ins by an adequate protective system,” 29 C.F.R. 1926.652(a)(1). An ALJ assessed a $35,000 penalty. The Commission affirmed, reasoning that Vidal’s knowledge as a supervisor flowed to the company, that the company did not prove that it effectively enforced safety rules or disciplined employees for safety violations, and that the conduct was willful. The Fifth Circuit upheld the findings. Imputing the supervisor’s knowledge of the safety violation to the employer is appropriate in this situation under basic agency principles. View "Angel Brothers Enterprises, Ltd. v. Walsh" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's holding that the school system did not violate the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) when it failed to provide plaintiff, a retired employee, notice of her right to continue her insurance coverage. The court explained that, while the placement on unpaid leave was a reduction of hours, it was not a qualifying event because it did not cause a loss of coverage. However, plaintiff's retirement caused a loss of coverage, and thus a qualifying event occurred, and the district court erred in concluding otherwise. The court further explained that a loss of coverage does not need to be contemporaneous to the qualifying event. Rather, the relevant question is whether a loss of coverage occurred within 18 months of a qualifying event. In this case, changes in the terms and conditions of plaintiff's coverage occurred within 18 months of her retirement. The court affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's request for payment of her medical expenses; remanded the district court's decision not to award statutory penalties or attorneys' fees to plaintiff; and vacated the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion to alter or amend judgment or for a new trial. View "Randolph v. East Baton Rouge Parish School System" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants in an action brought by plaintiff, an oil-platform worker, after he injured his back while building scaffolding. Plaintiff filed suit against the companies managing both the day-to-day construction and the overall construction project. The court concluded, however, that a reasonable jury could not find that either company was liable for the worker's injury because neither was his direct employer. In this case, the Hickman factors weigh in favor of holding that plaintiff was Grand Isle and BP's independent contractor. Furthermore, the court agreed with the district court that the operational-control exception did not apply as to either BP or Grand Isle. View "Coleman v. BP Exploration & Production, Inc." on Justia Law

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After the Board concluded that NYPS committed an unfair labor practice and ordered NYPS to reinstate an employee and make him whole, NYPS appealed the Board’s liability finding but failed to file an opening brief. The Fifth Circuit entered a default judgment and the Board held a compliance proceeding to determine damages. At the proceeding, an ALJ awarded some $91,000 in backpay to the employee.The Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court's findings support the Board's conclusion that petitioners constitute a single employer. In this case, substantial evidence supports the Board's finding that there is common ownership and financial control among petitioners; substantial evidence supports the Board's finding of an interrelation of operations between all five petitioners; the record supports the Board's finding that a common cast of characters, who operate on a "readily fungible" team, manage the companies; and substantial evidence once supports the Board's findings that there is centralized control over critical policy matters.The court rejected petitioners' contention that the underlying 2013 merits order is void ab initio because of the Supreme Court's holding in NLRB v. Noel Canning, 573 U.S. 513, 519 (2014). The court affirmed the Board's order to pay the employee backpay except for the portion of that order awarding backpay for the period of October 2014 to 2018. As to that part of the order, the court reversed and remanded. Finally, the court rejected petitioners' evidentiary arguments. View "New York Party Shuttle, LLC v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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This case concerns OSHA's November 5, 2021 Emergency Temporary Standard requiring employees of covered employers to undergo COVID-19 vaccination or take weekly COVID-19 tests and wear a mask.The Fifth Circuit granted petitioners' motion for a stay pending review, holding that the Nken factors favored a stay. The court concluded that petitioners' challenges to the Mandate are likely to succeed on the merits. The court stated that, on the dubious assumption that the Mandate does pass constitutional muster, it is nonetheless fatally flawed on its own terms. The court wrote that the Mandate's strained prescriptions combine to make it the rare government pronouncement that is both overinclusive (applying to employers and employees in virtually all industries and workplaces in America, with little attempt to account for the obvious differences between the risks facing, say, a security guard on a lonely night shift, and a meatpacker working shoulder to shoulder in a cramped warehouse) and underinclusive (purporting to save employees with 99 or more coworkers from a "grave danger" in the workplace, while making no attempt to shield employees with 98 or fewer coworkers from the very same. The court found that promulgation of the Mandate grossly exceeds OSHA's statutory authority and found arguments to the contrary unavailing.The court also concluded that it is clear that denial of petitioners' proposed stay would do them irreparable harm where the Mandate threatens to substantially burden the liberty interests of reluctant individuals, companies, and the States. In contrast, the court stated that a stay will do OSHA no harm whatsoever. Finally, the court concluded that a stay is firmly in the public interest. View "BST Holdings, LLC v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration" on Justia Law

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Houston began working for TDA in 2012. Houston’s responsibilities required on-site inspections to confirm compliance with state and federal regulations. Houston suffers from lupus, anemia, and other illnesses, requiring her to be absent from work and sometimes take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In 2016, Houston returned to her position after a long-term medical leave and submitted a request for accommodations permitting her to telework and to work a compressed workweek. TDA allowed Houston to work four 10-hour days but denied the telework request because Houston’s duties could not be performed solely from home and Houston needed training to improve performance.Later in 2016, Houston received warnings for “failure to meet expectations,” excessive absenteeism and tardiness, inadequate job performance, insubordination, leaving work early, accruing overtime without approval, late arrivals to sites being audited, failure to submit accurate and timely administrative reviews, and failure to follow TDA’s travel policy. An April 2017 warning notified Houston that she was on a 90-day probation period. When the probationary period ended, TDA discharged Houston because of her failure to correct her performance deficiencies, excessive absenteeism and tardiness unrelated to protected FMLA leave, and insubordination. The Fifth Circuit affirmed summary judgment, rejecting Houston’s FMLA retaliation claim, 29 U.S.C. 2601, and her Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 701, discrimination claim.TDA established legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for Houston’s termination; Houston failed to raise a disputed material fact showing that those reasons were pretextual. View "Houston v. Texas Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law