Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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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

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Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Virginia state law against two Arlington County police officers and a mental health examiner, alleging that the Arlington County defendants unlawfully seized and detained her for a mental health evaluation in violation of the Fourth Amendment and falsely imprisoned her in violation of Virginia state law. Plaintiff also filed suit against her employer, PAE, and three of PAE's employees, alleging that the PAE defendants conspired with the Arlington County defendants to unlawfully seize her and falsely imprison her, also in violation of section 1983 and Virginia state law.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to the Arlington County defendants on plaintiff's section 1983 claims where the Arlington County defendants had probable cause to detain plaintiff for an emergency mental health evaluation. Even assuming that they did not have probable cause to detain plaintiff, the Arlington County defendants are entitled to qualified immunity because the unlawfulness of their conduct was not clearly established at the time. Even if plaintiff had properly raised her challenge, the court also affirmed the dismissal of the state law conspiracy claims against the Arlington County defendants where the officers had the requisite legal justification to detain plaintiff for the evaluation, and they followed the legal process provided by Virginia law in doing so.The court further affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's section 1983 claim against the PAE defendants where plaintiff's allegations that the officers conspired with the PAE defendants to illegally seize her and remove her from the workplace for a psychological evaluation is comprised of nothing more than conclusory assertions and rank speculation. Furthermore, plaintiff's state law conspiracy claims rest upon the same conclusory and speculative allegation that the PAE employees and the police officers conspired to violate her civil rights and to falsely imprison her, regardless of how she acted or what she said to the police. The court affirmed the dismissal of this claim as well. View "Barrett v. PAE Government Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former Deputy Commonwealth Attorney for Carroll County, Virginia, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that her former employer violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause by terminating her in retaliation for reporting alleged sex discrimination.In line with Fourth Circuit precedent and the majority of courts to consider the question, the court held that a pure retaliation claim is not cognizable under the Equal Protection Clause. The court explained that, to the extent a public employee contends she suffered adverse consequences for expressing complaints or reporting discrimination to her employer, her claim arises under the First Amendment. Furthermore, to the extent a public employee links an alleged retaliatory action to her gender, that allegation would constitute part of an equal protection discrimination claim, not a freestanding retaliation claim. In this case, plaintiff has not made such an allegation, nor has she pleaded a First Amendment action. Rather, the right to be free from retaliation for protesting sexual harassment and sex discrimination upon which plaintiff solely relies is a right created by Title VII, not the equal protection clause. The court noted that these existing legal avenues challenging public employer retaliation remain open to employees, but declined to create a new one under the auspices of the Fourteenth Amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's retaliation claim under the Equal Protection Clause. View "Wilcox v. Lyons" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), after his civilian employer did not promptly rehire him after he completed a tour of duty.The Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's discrimination claim under 38 U.S.C. 4311, holding that plaintiff has not pleaded sufficient factual content to support a "reasonable inference" that his military service was a motivating factor in any of the airline's conduct about which he complains; the district court did not err in ruling that American Airlines failed to discharge its statutory duty promptly; and the district court did not err in rejecting plaintiff's contention that American Airlines' conduct was willful. The court affirmed in part and vacated in part, remanding for the district court to recalculate damages, presumptively imposing backpay damages against American Airlines and denying damages for the period from October 22 to January 25, unless the offered position was not an equivalent under the Act. View "Thomas Harwood, III v. American Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment entered in favor of Rand in an action brought by plaintiff, a former employee, alleging that Rand unlawfully fired her for taking leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).The court affirmed and agreed with the district court that plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that Rand's justification for the termination was false and merely a pretext for retaliation. In this case, Rand presented a lawful explanation for firing plaintiff: performance problems. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding a former employee's testimony under Federal Rule of Evidence 403. View "Fry v. Rand Construction Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit pro se against Brivo, alleging discrimination based on race in violation of Title VII. In this case, within an hour of starting orientation at Brivo, Brivo's security architect approached plaintiff and confronted him about a newspaper article that he had found after running a Google search on plaintiff. The article reported plaintiff's tangential involvement in a shooting for which he faced no charges. Nonetheless, the security architect berated plaintiff about the incident, declared plaintiff unfit for employment at Brivo, and terminated him on the spot. The district court dismissed the case with prejudice, because plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts to plausibly support a claim of discrimination.The Fourth Circuit held that it had appellate jurisdiction despite the district court's dismissal of the complaint without prejudice. Under Domino Sugar Corp. v. Sugar Workers Local Union 392, 10 F.3d 1064, 1067 (4th Cir. 1993), the order is appealable because the district court held that the circumstances surrounding plaintiff's termination did not expose Brivo to legal liability, and plaintiff has no additional facts that could be added to his complaint; under Chao v. Rivendell Woods, Inc., 415 F.3d 342, 345 (4th Cir. 2005), the order is appealable because the district court dismissed the complaint and directed that the case be closed; and the order is likewise appealable under Chao and In re GNC Corp., 789 F.3d at 511, because plaintiff has elected to stand on his complaint as filed.On the merits, the court held that the district court did not err by dismissing the Title VII claims at this point in the proceedings. The court held that plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts to plausibly claim his termination or the Google search that lead to it was racially motivated. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Bing v. Brivo Systems, LLC" on Justia Law

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Fessler sued, alleging that his former employer, IBM. unlawfully “capped” his sale commissions despite representing to him that his commissions would be uncapped. The district court dismissed his claims on the basis that the Incentive Plan Letters (IPLs) that IBM presents to its employees foreclosed any reasonable expectation that Fessler would receive additional commissions.The Fourth Circuit vacated, finding that Fessler adequately stated claims for fraud, constructive fraud, unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and punitive damages. Although the IPLs stated that they did not constitute a promise and IBM reserved the right to adjust the plan’s terms,.Fessler can plausibly allege that he reasonably relied on PowerPoint presentations that repeatedly informed him that his commissions would be uncapped, and his past experience that IBM never capped a commission before 2016. A jury could find that since the representations that his commission would be uncapped were presented subsequent to Fessler receiving IPLs, it was reasonable for Fessler to understand them as adjustments to the plan’s terms. Fessler can plausibly allege the requisite intent to deceive, based on IBM’s motivation to recruit good salespeople who would not work for IBM if they knew that their commissions would be capped. Fessler’s quantum meruit claim is sufficient because of the lack of a meeting of the minds with regard to the exact payment he would receive for his work. View "Fessler v. IBM Corp." on Justia Law