Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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Plaintiff appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to his former employer, Gestamp West Virginia, LLC, on his Family & Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and common law retaliatory-discharge claims. Gestamp fired Plaintiff after he missed work due to a recurring infection from an emergency appendectomy. The district court granted Gestamp’s summary judgment motion because Plaintiff, it said, didn’t comply with the company’s “usual and customary” absentee notice procedures, as the FMLA requires. 29 C.F.R. Section 825.303(c).On appeal, Plaintiff contends the district court erred because, through his dealings with Gestamp, the company’s “usual and customary” notice procedures for leaves of absence expanded beyond those in its written policy. And Plaintiff argues that he complied with his FMLA obligations by notifying Gestamp of his absences over Facebook Messenger, which the company had previously accepted.The Fourth Circuit agreed with Plaintiff’s reading of the FMLA regulations and find that he’s raised a jury question on whether using Facebook Messenger satisfied the Act’s requirements. But Gestamp counters that even if Plaintiff’s initial notice were adequate, he neglected his FMLA obligation to update the company on the duration of his absence, defeating his FMLA-interference claim. On this too, Plaintiff has raised a material factual dispute to survive summary judgment. Thus, the court vacated the district court’s judgment on his interference claim and remand.Finally the court agreed with Gestamp that the district court properly granted judgment against Plaintiff’s FMLA retaliation and common law retaliatory-discharge claims. Plaintiff hasn’t offered enough evidence that Gestamp fired him in retaliation for exercising his FMLA rights. View "Kasey Roberts v. Gestamp West Virginia, LLC" on Justia Law

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The National Labor Relations Board petitioned the Fourth Circuit to enforce its order imposing obligations on an employer. The charged employer, Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood, LLC, consented in a stipulated settlement agreement to the enforcement of the order, skipping a process of agency prosecution and adjudication. Constellium agreed to a factual statement, waived any defenses, and now dutifully agrees that the Fourth Circuit should enter a judgment against it.The Fourth Circuit dismissed the petition. The court held that it lacks jurisdiction to exercise judicial power when it would have no real consequences for the parties and would only rubberstamp an agreement the parties memorialized in writing and consummated before ever arriving on a federal court’s doorstep. The court further explained that the parties agree on every relevant question potentially before the court. That agreement led the parties to resolve this dispute among themselves before ever coming to federal court, leaving nothing for the court to do that would have real consequences in the world. And the Board agrees that Constellium has complied with the order and continues to do so. View "NLRB v. Constellium Rolled Products" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency alleging religious discrimination and retaliation under Title VII. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court explained that because the alleged discrimination and retaliation arose from Plaintiff’s failure to satisfy additional security requirements and would require the court to review the merits of the security-authorization decision, the court is bound by the decision in Department of the Navy v. Egan, 484 U.S. 518 (1988), to affirm the district court’s dismissal of this matter for lack of jurisdiction.   The court explained that it agrees that courts must exercise caution in expanding the reach of Egan. Nevertheless, the court declined to adopt the hardline position, urged by Plaintiff, that Egan’s rationale may only ever apply to determinations explicitly labeled “security clearances.” Rather, as in Foote and Sanchez, this case requires a more detailed analysis of whether the judgment at issue is of the type that Egan intended to shield from judicial review. Furhter, the court held that the CIA’s decision to stop Plaintiff’s assignee-security authorization processing is the kind of discretionary predictive judgment shielded from judicial review by Egan. View "Nathan Mowery v. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff claims that Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations discriminated against her based on her race by allowing a hostile work environment to pervade its manufacturing plant and by retaliating against her for accusing a co-worker of tampering with her machine. Bridgestone moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted summary judgment in Bridgestone’s favor on all claims.   On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the district court wrongly concluded that her hostile-work-environment claim was not supported by evidence of race-based harassment that was severe or pervasive enough. She also argues that her retaliation claim was based on a reasonable belief that the tampering with her machine was due to her race and that her transfer to KBN2 was causally related to her complaints.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff presented no evidence that would allow a jury to conclude that any tampering that occurred in 2018 was based on her race. The court explained that the totality of Plaintiff’s these allegations, and the evidence put forward to support them, fails to create a genuine question of material fact that racial discrimination in Bridgestone’s MTS department was so severe or pervasive that it constituted a hostile work environment. View "Laverne McIver v. Bridgestone Americas, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Board of Trustees of the Sheet Metal Workers’ National Pension Fund (“the Fund”) sought to recover a delinquent exit contribution from Four-C-Aire, Inc., a former participating employer, under Section 515 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). 29 U.S.C. Section 1145. The Fund claims Four-C-Aire’s obligation arose under a collective-bargaining agreement (“the CBA”) between the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association Local Union No. 58 and the Central New York Sheet Metal Contractors Association, a multiemployer bargaining unit. According to the Fund, Four C-Aire signed on to this preexisting agreement while it was a member of the Contractors Association.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding that Four-C-Aire adopted the agreement by its conduct. The court held that even if Four-C-Aire had preserved the issue, it’s meritless. The record contains several iterations of the written trust documents, including those imposing the exit-contribution requirement. And the Fund’s Director of Operations verified each version of the document in a declaration to the district court. Further, the court wrote there is no evidence the trust documents are invalid. In sum, Four-C-Aire offers no reason why the court shouldn’t enforce the plain terms of the agreement and trust documents, as ERISA requires. View "Board of Trustees v. Four-C-Aire, Inc." on Justia Law

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First Data Technologies, Inc. (“First Data”), a credit and debit card processing company, employed Plaintiff as a call center representative. Plaintiff submitted a request pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) as a result of back pain she was experiencing from an automobile accident that occurred 15 days earlier. After a series of contested events, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination against First Data with the EEOC, alleging disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Finding no evidence of an ADA violation, the EEOC issued a dismissal and notice of rights.   Plaintiff later filed a complaint in the district court and First Data moved to dismiss Cowgill’s FMLA retaliation claim as time-barred, as well as Plaintiff’s ADA retaliation claim because Plaintiff’s failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. Plaintiff appealed the district court’s dismissal of the ADA retaliation claim, as well as the grant of summary judgment as to the disability discrimination and failure-to-accommodate claims.   The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment because the court erred in holding that there are no genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment on the disability discrimination claim. The court explained that Plaintiff is entitled to the benefit of all inferences as the nonmovant, thus the court concluded that there is a genuine dispute as to whether Plaintiff met First Data’s legitimate expectations. Further, the court found that Plaintiff satisfied the final requirement of her disability discrimination claim because a reasonable factfinder could conclude that First Data’s proffered explanation served as pretext for an impermissible consideration. View "Terri Cowgill v. First Data Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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A former coal miner s filed a claim for benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act. An administrative law judge (ALJ) and the Benefits Review Board both determined that Petitioner, Edd Potter Coal Company, would be responsible in the event that the coal miner was entitled to benefits. Once the Board remanded the case to determine if benefits were in fact appropriate, Edd Potter decided to raise an Appointments Clause challenge. Both the ALJ and the Board concluded that Edd Potter had forfeited this issue by failing to timely raise it.    Given Edd Potter’s double forfeiture, the Fourth Circuit denied the petition for review. The court explained that the Department of Labor’s regulations requires issue exhaustion both before the ALJ and before the Board. The court wrote that it is firmly established that, before an agency, parties must raise all issues they seek to maintain on appeal “at the time appropriate under its practice.” United States v. L.A. Tucker Truck Lines, Inc., 344 U.S. 33 (1952). The court explained the Department’s regulations, the Board’s consistent practice, and the mandate rule’s application all point in the same direction as logic. On remand, parties may not raise whatever new issues they would like if they have previously failed to bring those issues to the attention of the ALJ and the Board. The mere fact of a remand does not wipe the whole slate clean. Further, the court found that Edd Potter forfeited its Appointments Clause claim not once but twice. View "Edd Potter Coal Company, Inc. v. DOWCP" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was transferred from a class where she instructed emotionally disturbed (“ED”) children to a class where Plaintiff worked with children with moderate intellectual disabilities. Plaintiff alleged that one of her students sexually harassed her between fall 2018 through mid-March 2019. This student, S.M., was an eight-year-old boy diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”). Although the teacher in the classroom recorded the incidents in her notes, or “point sheets,” where she detailed each student’s daily behavior, Plaintiff claims the teacher was generally dismissive of her concerns. After exhausting her remedies with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff filed suit against the Chesterfield County School Board (“the School Board”) alleging that she was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.   The district court granted the School Board’s motion for summary judgment. At issue on appeal is whether the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim on summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding that the record does not support a prima facie case for hostile work environment sexual harassment. The court explained that Plaintiff cannot primarily rely upon her own statements to argue that S.M.’s conduct surpassed what could be expected of an eight-year-old child with his disabilities after two special education experts testified that it did not—instead, she is required by law to demonstrate it. Further, even if Plaintiff established that S.M. targeted her because of sex, she would still be unable to meet the third required element—that is, show that S.M.’s conduct rose to the level of severe or pervasive. View "Regina Webster v. Chesterfield County School Board" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court’s new orders on damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs in his suit against American Airlines (“AA”) pursuant to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act ("USERRA"). Plaintiff challenged the district court’s determination as to the equivalence of the position as the basis for its reassessed damages as well as the methods by which the district court calculated the new costs and fees award.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s award. The court wrote that the sole factual determination before the district court on remand was whether the position AA offered to Plaintiff on October 22 was equivalent to his escalator position as a line pilot. Section 4313(a)(3)(A) instructs that the alternative position must be one the individual is “qualified to perform” and which is “equivalent in seniority, status, and pay.” The court explained that district courts are best positioned to make factual determinations concerning warranted damages and the need for costs and fees.   Here, the court held that Plaintiff’s arguments fail to convince the court of the clear error in the district court’s determination as to the equivalence of the position AA offered. Further, the district court’s total award in attorneys’ fees based on these calculations does not constitute an abuse of discretion. The court employed the proper methodology: It calculated the lodestar by multiplying a reasonable hourly rate by the number of hours reasonably expended, appropriately considering the relevant factors. Ultimately, Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that any aspect of the district court’s fee award determination constitutes an abuse of its broad discretion. View "Thomas Harwood, III v. American Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were fired from their Department of Public Safety positions with the Village of Bald Head Island (“the Village”), a municipality located in Brunswick County, North Carolina. Following their departures, Village employees published Plaintiffs’ termination letters and department separation affidavits which accused Plaintiffs of violating certain employee policy provisions. Plaintiffs filed suit alleging numerous claims. As relevant here, they brought defamation claims under North Carolina state law against the Village;.the Village Town Manager (“Manager”) ; and the Village Director of Public Safety (“Director”). The district court dismissed the defamation claims against the Village but found the Manager and Director liable for defamation for publishing the termination letters and separation affidavits, respectively. Defendants appealed and Plaintiffs cross-appealed as to the dismissal of the Village.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s (1) judgment against the Manager for libel per se arising from publication of the separation affidavits; (2) dismissal of all defamation claims against the Village; (3) denial of leave to amend to add the August 28, 2014 email as a third publication; (4) exclusion of the August 28 email for other purposes; (5) exclusion of Facebook posts; and (6) denial of Plaintiffs’ untimely Rule 59(e) motion seeking prejudgment interest. The court reversed the district court’s judgment against the Manager on all libel claims stemming from the publication of the termination letters for lack of actual malice. Finally, the court denied Plaintiffs’ pending motion, purportedly filed under Rule 60, “for corrections based on clerical mistakes, oversights, and omissions.” View "Thomas Cannon v. Calvin R. Peck, Jr." on Justia Law