Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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After the DEA terminated Darek and Lisa Kitlinski's employment based on their refusal to participate in an internal investigation into their own allegations of misconduct by the DEA, the Kitlinskis alleged that the DEA terminated Darek in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), and that the DEA terminated Lisa in retaliation for her support of Darek’s USERRA claims against the DEA. The Kitlinskis also claim that the DEA retaliated against them for their prior protected activity in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the DEA, concluding that the Kitlinskis offer no evidence that Darek's military service or his prior USERRA-protected activity was a motivating factor in his termination. Furthermore, even assuming that Armstrong v. Index Journal Co., 647 F.2d 441, 448 (4th Cir. 1981), applies here, the court has little difficulty concluding that the DEA's interest in ensuring its employees' full participation in internal investigations outweighs any interest Lisa had in promoting USERRA's nondiscriminatory purpose. The court also concluded that no reasonable factfinder could conclude that the DEA terminated the Kitlinskis' employment in retaliation for engaging in protected activity. The court explained that the Kitlinskis offer no evidence showing that the DEA terminated their employment for any reason other than their conduct during the OPR investigation. The court rejected the Kitlinskis' remaining claims. View "Kitlinski v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two Maryland public school teachers, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging claims against the union defendants, a county school system, and various public officials, seeking relief for themselves and other non-union Maryland public school teachers who were compelled to pay "representation fees" to unions in order to be employed as Maryland public school teachers. Specifically, plaintiffs seek a refund of representation fees that they paid to the unions prior to the Supreme Court's decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018). In Janus, the Supreme Court decided that requiring non-union employees to pay representation fees to public-sector unions contravenes the First Amendment.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action based on failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Assuming without deciding that Janus is entitled to retroactive application, the court agreed with its six sister circuits and recognized that the good-faith defense is available to a private-party defendant under section 1983; union defendants are entitled to utilize the good-faith defense with respect to plaintiffs' Janus claim; and defendants are not required to refund the representation fees that plaintiffs paid to the union defendants prior to the Janus decision. In this case, because plaintiffs are unable to point to any identifiable fund in the union defendants' possession, the court followed the reasoning of the Sixth and Seventh Circuits and concluded that, in substance, plaintiffs' claim for relief is a claim for damages. Therefore, the union defendants are entitled to interpose the good-faith defense against that claim. Finally, the court rejected plaintiffs' contention that the good-faith defense is not available to the union defendants because it was not recognized as a defense to the most closely analogous tort — the tort of conversion — in 1871 when Congress enacted section 1983. Rather, abuse of process most closely corresponds to the union defendants' use of a Maryland statute to collect representation fees from non-union teachers, like plaintiffs. View "Akers v. Maryland State Education Ass'n" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by former ICE civil detainees, seeking wages owed under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for work performed while detained. The district court dismissed based on the grounds that this circuit and others have declined to extend the FLSA to custodial settings.The court concluded that appellants' claims are foreclosed by this circuit's precedent and the well-established principles governing the interpretation of the FLSA. The court explained that the FLSA was enacted to protect workers who operate within "the traditional employment paradigm," and persons in custodial detention—such as appellants—are not in an employer-employee relationship but in a detainer-detainee relationship that falls outside that paradigm. The court noted that the FLSA was a congressional creation, and its expansion is a matter for Congress as well. The court explained that what appellants propose is a fundamental alteration of what it means to be an "employee," and if Congress wishes to apply the FLSA to custodial detentions, it is certainly free to do so. View "Ndambi v. CoreCivic, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying plaintiff's motion seeking to recover reasonable attorney's fees, costs, and expenses from Montgomery County, Maryland. This case arose from the County's failure to reasonably accommodate plaintiff's disability. The district court concluded that plaintiff is not eligible for such an award because she was not a prevailing party under 29 U.S.C. 794a(b).The court found this case similar to Parham v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 433 F.2d 421 (8th Cir. 1970), and concluded that plaintiff is even more of a prevailing party than the Parham plaintiff. The court explained that plaintiff is not a prevailing party because she catalyzed the County to change its behavior by filing a lawsuit; rather, she is a prevailing party because she proved her claim to a jury before the County capitulated by transferring her to another call center. Furthermore, the transfer was key to the district court's subsequent finding that the County reasonably accommodated plaintiff and thus the district court's ultimate denial of plaintiff's request for equitable relief. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Reyazuddin v. Montgomery County, Maryland" on Justia Law

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Benjamin was hired as headmaster at the k-12, non-denominational, faith-based Epiphany School. Epiphany community members “evaluated Benjamin on various criteria[,] including ‘Christian Tradition.’” Benjamin, who describes himself as a Quaker of Jewish ethnicity, alleges that he was told by a board member that Epiphany community members did not see him as a “true Christian.” Benjamin’s time at Epiphany was marked by conflicts with students, parents, faculty, and staff. According to Defendants, Benjamin was hostile, inattentive to deadlines, and frequently absent from school events. According to Benjamin, the conflicts were driven by hostility toward his Jewish background, Quaker faith, and efforts to promote diversity. The Board held a forum at which Benjamin gave a speech explaining his religious beliefs. The parties disagree as to whether this speech was voluntary and as to whether Benjamin resigned or was terminated.Benjamin sued, alleging retaliation; discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, and disability; breach of contract, defamation, tortious interference with prospective economic relations; false imprisonment; assault; and violation of the North Carolina School Violence Prevention Act. The district court rejected some claims on summary judgment; a jury rejected the others. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, upholding rulings preventing Benjamin from introducing certain deposition testimony, implementing time limits for each side’s presentation of its case, admitting evidence about Benjamin’s misrepresentations regarding his prior employment, and declining to adopt Benjamin’s proposed jury instructions and verdict form for the breach of contract and defamation claims. View "Benjamin v. Sparks" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer, alleging claims of race- and gender-based discrimination under Title VII and racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 1981. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of her action for failure to state a claim, because plaintiff was not an "employee" of the firm she sought to sue. The court explained that plaintiff was a partner and equal owner of the firm, not an employee, and thus she is not within the scope of Title VII's coverage.In regard to plaintiff's section 1981 claim, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to plead specific factual allegations tending to corroborate her claim of eligibility for leave. In this case, plaintiff declined to indicate the nature of the medical conditions or events that allegedly qualified her for leave, despite being the individual best-positioned to do so. Furthermore, even if plaintiff's qualification for leave was assumed, plaintiff failed to allege that her race was the but-for cause of the Board's denial of her leave application as required by the Supreme Court's recent holding in Comcast Corporation v. National Association of African American-Owned Media, 140 S.Ct. 1009 (2020). As to plaintiff's one factually-specific, non-conclusory allegation of racially-motivated conduct, she failed to allege any facts linking it to the Board vote denying her short-term leave. View "Lemon v. Myers Bigel, P.A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Battalion Chiefs, filed suit against their employer, the City of Chesapeake Fire Department, for non-compliance with the overtime pay requirement of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Plaintiffs argue that none of the FLSA exemptions apply to them, both on their own terms and because the Battalion Chief position falls under a regulatory exception, 29 C.F.R. 541.3(b), that categorically withdraws certain first response workers from the exemptions' scope.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the fire department, holding that section 541.3(b) does not categorically except plaintiffs from the FLSA's system of exemptions, because plaintiffs are, first and foremost, managers within the fire department, not frontline firefighters. The court also held that plaintiffs satisfy all four prongs of the executive exemption and, as executive employees, are not due overtime pay under the FLSA. View "Emmons v. City of Chesapeake" on Justia Law

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In this Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) case, employees claim that tips and automatic gratuities cannot be considered in determining whether the restaurant met its FLSA obligations because they were paid through an unlawful tip pool. The employees alleged that the restaurant included in its tip pool employees who did not meet certain criteria in violation of the FLSA.The Fourth Circuit agreed with the district court that the automatic gratuities were not tips, but concluded that the district court erred in its application of the 7(i) exemption in 29 U.S.C. 207(i). In this case, the district court incorrectly held that the section 7(i) exemption satisfied both the restaurant's minimum-wage and overtime obligations. Rather, the exemption applies only to overtime obligations. Furthermore, the district court erred in declining to include tips when determining whether the automatic gratuities constituted more than half of the employees' compensation for a representative period. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for the district court to consider the 7(i) exemption. To the extent that, on remand, the restaurant's tip pool remains relevant to its FLSA obligations, the court concluded that there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether all of its participants customarily and regularly receive tips and, thus, whether the tip pool was lawful. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's judgment as to the retaliation claim. View "Wai Man Tom v. Hospitality Ventures LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Lowe's for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), claiming that Lowe's had forced him out of his director-level job even though, with reasonable accommodations for him after his knee surgery, he could still perform its essential functions. Plaintiff also alleged that Lowe's violated the ADA when it refused to reassign him to another director-level position, and that Lowe's discriminated against him in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Lowe's, holding that no reasonable jury could find that working over eight hours each day was anything less than an essential function of the Market Director of Stores (MDS) position; plaintiff could no longer perform the essential functions of his job without reasonable accommodation; and no reasonable accommodation, consistent with plaintiff's doctor's orders, would have allowed him to perform his job's essential functions. Furthermore, the court rejected plaintiff's contention that Lowe's violated his rights under the ADA by failing to reassign him to another vacant and comparable position where the record demonstrates that Lowe's extended reasonable accommodations to plaintiff, acting at every stage to ensure that his disability did not unfairly compromise his equality of opportunity at Lowe's. Finally, plaintiff failed to prove a prima facie case under the ADEA where he was not able to perform the essential functions of his MDS job with our without reasonable accommodations. View "Elledge v. Lowe's Home Centers, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the County in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging claims of discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff, an employee of the County who suffers from multiple sclerosis, filed suit alleging that she faced unlawful discrimination based on her disability when the County laterally transferred her to another department, and that the transfer came in retaliation for filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).The court held that a transfer is not an adverse action when it is voluntarily requested and agreed upon. In this case, plaintiff requested a lateral transfer, and the County agreed to place her in a position with the same pay and similar responsibilities. Therefore, plaintiff failed to show an adverse action and the district court correctly determined that she failed to make out a prima facie case of discrimination and retaliation. View "Laird v. Fairfax County" on Justia Law