Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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The judicially mandated exhaustion requirement is a nonjurisdictional precondition to suit under section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act. Plaintiff filed suit against his union and former employer under section 301 for breach of a collective bargaining agreement that governed his employment. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the action based on failure to exhaust the agreement's grievance procedures. The court held that the district court erred in treating exhaustion as a matter of jurisdiction. The court also held that the district court erred in holding that the collective bargaining agreement in fact required exhaustion. View "Staudner v. Robinson Aviation, Inc." on Justia Law

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IPC hired Ray in 2002. McDowell was Ray’s supervisor. In 2013, Ray was transferred to the shipping department where she reported to Owens and to McDowell when Owens was not present. In 2003, McDowell started acting inappropriately toward Ray, including asking Ray to engage in sexual activity with him. On one occasion, McDowell grabbed Ray’s thigh. In 2013, Ray reported McDowell’s behavior to Owens and to supervisor, Smith. Both offered to report Ray’s allegations. Ray declined out of fear of retaliation, but frequently called Owens requesting to leave work because of McDowell’s conduct. Under IPC’s policy, when a supervisor is notified of potential harassment, the supervisor is required to report that allegation. Neither supervisor formally reported any of Ray’s complaints. In 2014, McDowell learned that Ray had complained and confronted Ray, who denied making any complaints. Around the same time, McDowell informed Ray that she could no longer perform voluntary overtime work, which represented a significant portion of her income. Other operators still were allowed to work voluntary overtime. Ray reported McDowell’s conduct to IPC’s human resources department. Investigators obtained evidence of the harassment from other employees and concluded that McDowell was lying but IPC did not discipline McDowell. Ray complained about McDowell twice more; IPC did not discipline McDowell, but instructed him to stop “manually adjust[ing] the line.” Ray sued, alleging hostile work environment and retaliation, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The Fourth Circuit vacated summary judgment that had been entered in favor of IPC, finding genuine issues of material fact on both claims. View "Ray v. International Paper Co." on Justia Law

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Ott worked for Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS). In 2010, she learned that a pediatrician had molested her daughter, causing Ott to develop PTSD and severe anxiety. She took medical leave and transferred to a different location. Ott says that her co-worker harassed Ott about her daughter and Ott’s mental health for a year and that DPSCS ignored the harassment. Ott’s performance deteriorated. DPSCS forced her to resign in March 2014. While still employed, Ott filed an EEOC discrimination charge, which proceeded slowly; eventually, the agency found reasonable cause for Ott’s claims and referred them to the Department of Justice, which issued a right to sue notice in July 2016. Ott filed suit in October 2016, asserting claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her Rehabilitation Act claims as untimely. Because the Rehabilitation Act does not contain a limitations period, courts borrow the time limit from the most analogous state law claim and have previously applied Maryland’s three-year general civil case limitation. After the Fourth Circuit last addressed the issue, Maryland amended its Fair Employment Practices Act (MFEPA) to align more closely with the Rehabilitation Act so that the MFEPA qualifies as the most analogous Maryland law. The MFEPA’s two-year statute of limitations applies and bars Ott’s claims. Ott did not meet the exacting standard for invoking the doctrine of equitable tolling. View "Ott v. Maryland Department of Public Safety" on Justia Law

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AirFacts appealed the district court's judgment for defendant on AirFacts' breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets claims. Determining that it had jurisdiction, the court held that AirFacts did not abandon its claim under Paragraph 4.2 of the Employment Agreement and vacated as to this issue. In regard to the breach of contract claim, the court held that there was no legal error in the district court's conclusion that defendant did not misappropriate the Proration Documents in emailing them to himself for continued AirFacts business. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "AirFacts, Inc. v. De Amezaga" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the employer in an action alleging that the unauthorized review and disclosure of plaintiff's confidential personnel files to support her racial and religious discrimination claims constituted protected activity under Title VII. The court held that, under the opposition clause, unauthorized disclosures of confidential information to third parties are generally unreasonable. In this case, plaintiff's unauthorized review and duplication of confidential personnel files did not constitute protected opposition or participation activity. The court also held that section 704(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not protect a violation of valid state law that poses no conflict with Title VII. The court explained that, like in plaintiff's opposition claim, she failed to meet her burden of proving that the sheriff terminated her employment because she engaged in protected activity. View "Netter v. Barnes" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to grant preliminary injunctive relief under section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 29 U.S.C. 160(j), as requested to preserve the ability of the National Labor Relations Board to award relief after the completion of the ongoing agency process adjudicating unfair labor practice charges against two hospitals because the Board failed sufficiently to demonstrate that the effectiveness of its remedial power was in jeopardy in this case. A union filed unfair labor practice charges with the Board alleging that two hospitals had refused to bargain collectively and in good faith with the union. The Board later filed petitions in the district court against the hospitals under section 10(j) requesting preliminary injunctions - pending the final disposition of the matters pending before the Board - that would direct the hospitals to bargain with the union in good faith. The Board alleged that preliminary injunctive relief was necessary to prevent declining employee support for the union. The district court declined to grant relief. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the Board’s arguments for injunctive relief failed to demonstrate that the Board’s ability to redress the alleged unfair labor practices will be impaired or frustrated. View "Henderson v. Bluefield Hospital Co." on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from and action brought by three police officers against the Town, alleging claims related to the officers' termination. On appeal, the officers challenged the district court's post trial rulings. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court erred when it concluded that each plaintiff's claim arose out of the "same" wrongful act and, in the alternative, the meaning of "interrelated" was unambiguous, and that under that unambiguous meaning, plaintiffs' claims arose out of "interrelated" acts. Therefore, the Town waived its governmental immunity for up to $1 million per plaintiff for damages resulting from the three wrongful terminations of plaintiffs, subject to the $3 million Annual Aggregate Limit of the Town's insurance policy. The panel also held that although the police chief was not a final policymaker of the Town regarding plaintiffs' terminations, the town manager was a final policymaker. Therefore, Bralley's unconstitutional actions may fairly be characterized as actions of the Town such that the Town may be held liable to plaintiffs for damages under section 1983. The panel reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's First Amendment claims against the Town and remanded with instructions to enter judgment for plaintiffs. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding Plaintiff Medlin 1.75 years of front pay. View "Hunter v. Town of Mocksville" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The court held that plaintiff engaged in protected activity under Title VII when she complained about what she reasonably believed to be a hostile environment and that her engagement in protected activity caused the City to fire her. In this case, a reasonable jury could find that the City knew or should have known that plaintiff was complaining about a Title VII violation and that her complaints caused her termination. Therefore, plaintiff has established a prima facie case of retaliation, and the district court's grant of summary judgment was improper. View "Strothers v. City of Laurel, Maryland" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's defamation suit against her employer, Remedi, in an action alleging that a coworker engaged in crude, baseless, and ignorant speculation about the reasons for plaintiff's absence from work to undergo a medical procedure. The court held that the coworker's statement, while offensive and odious, would not support an action against Remedi under Virginia law because a company cannot be held liable for employee statements made outside the scope of employment. View "Garnett v. Remedi SeniorCare of Virginia" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to defendants, the town manager and its director of public safety, regarding plaintiffs' alleged due process violations after plaintiffs were terminated from their employment with the Department of Public Safety based on the content of private text messages. The court held that defendants deprived plaintiffs of constitutionally cognizable liberty interests under clearly established law, and plaintiffs were not afforded due process of law. The court held, however, that the district court erred in holding that defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity as to plaintiffs' First Amendment claims. In this case, plaintiffs' evidence did not establish beyond debate that their interest in speaking freely outweighed the Department's interest in maintaining order and discipline. Therefore, the court reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cannon v. Village of Bald Head Island" on Justia Law