Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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Lincare, Inc. terminated Plaintiff, concluding that she had violated Lincare’s “Corporate Health Care Law Compliance Program” and “Code of Conduct.” While Plaintiff does not dispute her conduct, she contends that Lincare discriminated against her on the basis of sex because it gave a fellow male employee, who had engaged in similar conduct, only a “final written warning.” Plaintiff filed suit alleging violations of the West Virginia Human Rights Act. The district court found Lincare liable to Plaintiff and awarded her damages. On appeal, Lincare contends that there was no evidence of discrimination on the basis of sex and that, therefore the district court’s finding that it violated the Human Rights Act was clearly erroneous. Plaintiff cross-appealed, contending that the district court erred in determining her compensatory damages award.   The Fourth Circuit reversed. The court explained that while the district court’s findings are entitled to substantial deference, the core evidence showed that Plaintiff was fired by a woman and replaced by a woman and that, during the entire process, there was no indication that gender was even remotely a factor in Lincare’s decision. The only explanation Plaintiff offered to substantiate the claim that Lincare had discriminated against her on the basis of sex was her “belief” that she and her comparator “were doing the same thing” and the fact that “he’s a man; [she’s] a woman.” The court wrote that Plaintiff failed to present evidence sufficient for a factfinder to conclude that it was the product of discrimination based on sex. View "Chandra Balderson v. Lincare Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioner, an employee of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security (“ICE” or “Agency”), petitions for review of the final judgment of the Merit Systems Protection Board (the “Board”), which rejected Petitioner’s claim that the Agency suspended him for two days in retaliation for his disclosures of misconduct.   The Fourth Circuit denied the petition. The court explained that after conducting a hearing and considering the evidence, the administrative judge denied the corrective action sought by Petitioner, concluding that Petitioner’s protected disclosures were not contributing factors to the discipline imposed and, alternatively, that the Agency proved by clear and convincing evidence that it would have taken the action even in the absence of the disclosures. The court denied the petition explaining that the administrative judge committed no legal error and his factual findings are supported by substantial evidence. View "Yuriy Mikhaylov v. Dept. of Homeland Security" on Justia Law

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Appellant American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 3 (“Appellant”) filed suit against the State of Maryland alleging that the State breached a statutorily formed contract with current state employees to provide them with certain prescription drug benefits upon retirement. The district court agreed that Maryland law created a contract, it held that the contract was unilateral in nature and that the promised benefits do not vest until an employee retires with sufficient years of service. The district court determined that the current employees represented by Appellant had no vested contractual right to the retirement prescription drug benefits and dismissed the complaint.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. However, the court did so because it found that the statutory language does not create a contract with state employees. The court explained that in reviewing the language of the statutes at issue, it concluded that they do not create a contract binding upon the State. While Section 2-508 does “entitle” retirees to a subsidy, it does not include any unmistakable contract language. Rather, it only “entitles” a retiree to the “same State subsidy allowed a State employee.” The court explained that nothing in Sections 2-508 or 2-509.1 leaves the court with an unmistakably “clear indication that the legislature intended to bind itself contractually.” Therefore, “all doubts must be resolved in favor of the continuance of the power” of the state legislature to modify or repeal enactments of a previous legislature. View "AFSCME Maryland Council 3 v. State of Maryland" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant brought suit against Defendant-Appellee the City of Salem, Virginia, alleging that Salem failed to promote her based on her age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Bandy sought a booking-coordinator position at the Salem Civic Center (the Center), but Salem passed her up and instead hired a significantly younger candidate. Following discovery, Salem moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted. Plaintiff appealed.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the finding that no reasonable jury could find that Salem did not promote Plaintiff because of her age. The court explained that Plaintiff asserted that her employer preferred to hire “young men” and “stacked” the interview committee against her by excluding human resources representatives. These assertions amount to little more than speculation. Human resources remained involved in the hiring process and screened every applicant to ensure that they were minimally qualified. Moreover, Plaintiff was not even among the top three candidates for the position, and one of the candidates ranked ahead of her was, in fact, a woman older than her. Crucially, the evidence demonstrated that the interview committee hired the other employee over Plaintiff for a number of legitimate reasons: his job experience, particularly in promotion and marketing; higher education in sports, communication, and executive leadership; sales background; enthusiasm; and preparation. View "Tammy Bandy v. City of Salem, Virginia" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (“Amtrak”), alleging that Amtrak suspended and subsequently terminated him based on his race in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. Section 1981. Following discovery, Amtrak moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted. Plaintiff appealed.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the district court properly granted summary judgment to Amtrak because Plaintiff failed to present a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Amtrak suspended and terminated him based on race. The court reasoned that Amtrak “considers insubordination a terminable offense due to its severity and adverse impact in the workplace.” As such, Plaintiff did not demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether he satisfactorily performed his job duties. Further, Plaintiff did not show that he was treated differently than other similarly situated employees outside his protected class. View "Duncan Giles v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff claimed Atlas Box and Crating Company, fired him because of his race. Allen filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Atlas and the staffing agency, and concedes he received right-to-sue letters by August 8, 2018. Plaintiff, acting pro se, delivered four documents to the clerk of the district court. The applications were stamped “filed” and entered as filed motions on the district court’s electronic docket. On November 8, 2018—92 days after Plaintiff received the right-to-sue letters—a magistrate judge recommended denying the motions for relief from the filing fee. Four days after Plaintiff paid the filing fee and 131 days after he received the right-to-sue letters—the district court directed the clerk to file Plaintiff’s complaint. Eight months later, the district court granted summary judgment for Defendants on the ground that Plaintiff’s action was time-barred. The district court concluded Plaintiff was not entitled to equitable tolling.   The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment. The court held that Plaintiff commenced this action within the statutory period by timely delivering a complaint to the district court clerk. Because he did so, no consideration of equitable tolling is necessary. The court held that an action under federal law is commenced for limitations purposes when a plaintiff delivers a complaint to the district court clerk—regardless of whether the plaintiff pays the filing fee, neglects to do so, or asks to be excused from the fee requirement. View "Andrew Allen v. Atlas Box and Crating Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff a longtime employee of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”), commenced this action against DEQ, claiming that it paid her less than it paid a male employee with the same position doing equal work, in violation of the Equal Pay Act. The district court entered summary judgment against Plaintiff, concluding that she lacked evidence to demonstrate that any higher-paid male employee was doing work “virtually identical” to the work she was doing. Indeed, the court explained that the record showed that the male employee whom Plaintiff had identified as a comparator was doing different and more complex work than she was, such that she could not show that she was paid less for equal work.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court did not err in concluding that Plaintiff could not establish that she and the male employee performed “equal work.” To be sure, Plaintiff and the male employee performed similar work. But the differences in the actual work performed and the level of complexity involved were significant enough that their work cannot be fairly described as “substantially equal” or “virtually identical,” as required to establish a claim under the Equal Pay Act. View "Elizabeth Polak v. Virginia Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company denied Plaintiff’s claim for long-term disability benefits after concluding that she was not “Totally Disabled” as defined by her disability insurance plan. Plaintiff brought an under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. Section 1132(a)(1)(B), arguing that the denial of benefits violated that Act. After conducting a bench trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52, the district court awarded judgment to Plaintiff. Reliance appealed, arguing that courts in the Fourth Circuit are required to resolve ERISA denial-of-benefits cases via summary judgment and that the district court erred in dispensing with this case through a bench trial. Reliance also argued that this Court must review the district court’s legal conclusions.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court first held that because the plan at issue here did not require objective proof of disability, the court rejected Reliance’s contention that Plaintiff’s claim fails for the lack of such evidence. Further, the court wrote that the record supports the district court’s determination that Plaintiff’s disability was not limited to a “specific locale.” Accordingly, the court agreed that Plaintiff was “totally disabled” under the terms of the plan. View "Anita Tekmen v. Reliance Standard Life Ins." on Justia Law

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Appellant appealed the district court’s dismissal of her amended complaint filed against her former employer, the United States Department of the Army. Appellant alleged that she experienced a hostile work environment due to race-based harassment from a co-worker and retaliation by her supervisors through both discrete acts and a retaliatory hostile work environment.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Appellant’s discrete-act retaliation claim but vacated its dismissal of her race-based hostile work environment and retaliatory hostile work environment claim. The court explained that Appellant has stated a prima facie case. The court wrote that an “employee’s decision to report discriminatory behavior cannot immunize that employee from those petty slights or minor annoyances that often take place at work and that all employees experience,” but the consistent (even if not constant) conduct Appellant alleged plausibly qualifies as materially adverse. The court further wrote that it agreed that Appellant failed to allege a non-speculative link between her Title VII claim and her non-selection. View "Marie Laurent-Workman v. Christine Wormuth" on Justia Law

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Three independent contractors of Eastman Chemical Company were severely injured, one of them fatally, when a pump exploded during maintenance. Eastman moved to dismiss their state-law personal injury suits, contending that the contractors qualified as Eastman’s “statutory employees” under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law – which would mean that workers’ compensation was their exclusive remedy and that the courts lacked jurisdiction to hear their claims.   The district court agreed that Plaintiffs were Eastman’s “statutory employees” under the workers’ compensation law and dismissed their actions. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit held their cases in abeyance pending the decision of South Carolina’s Supreme Court in Keene v. CNA Holdings, LLC, 870 S.E.2d 156 (2021).   The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s ruling. The court explained that in Keene, when an employer makes a “legitimate business decision” to outsource a portion of its work, the contractors it hires to perform that work are not “statutory employees” for workers’ compensation purposes. 870 S.E.2d at 163. No party here contests that Eastman’s outsourcing of its maintenance and repair work was a “legitimate business decision.” It follows that the plaintiffs, independent contractors performing maintenance at the time of the 2016 pump explosion, were not statutory employees and may bring personal injury actions. View "Sallie Zeigler v. Eastman Chemical Company" on Justia Law