Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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Plaintiffs deliver baked goods by truck to stores and restaurants in designated territories within Connecticut. They brought an action in district court on behalf of a putative class against Flowers Foods, Inc. and two of its subsidiaries, which manufacture the baked goods that the plaintiffs deliver. Plaintiffs allege unpaid or withheld wages, unpaid overtime wages, and unjust enrichment pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act and Connecticut wage laws. The district court granted Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration and dismissed the case.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s order compelling arbitration and dismissing the case. The court explained that it concludes that an individual works in a transportation industry if the industry in which the individual works pegs its charges chiefly to the movement of goods or passengers, and the industry’s predominant source of commercial revenue is generated by that movement. Here, because Plaintiffs do not work in the transportation industry, they are not excluded from the FAA, and the district court appropriately compelled arbitration under the Arbitration Agreement. View "Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought a class action complaint against Cellular Sales of New York, LLC and Cellular Sales of Knoxville, Inc. (“Cellular”) for unfair wage deductions, unpaid compensable work, untimely commissions, unjust enrichment, and failure to pay minimum wage and overtime under the FLSA and New York Labor Law. Essentially, Plaintiffs claim that Defendants misclassified them as independent contractors instead of employees as defined by the FLSA and [New York Labor Law], thus depriving them of employee benefits required by law.   Cellular appealed the district court’s order granting attorney’s fees to Plaintiffs. Cellular argued that (1) the district court abused its discretion in finding that Plaintiffs’ successful minimum wage and overtime claims were sufficiently intertwined with their unsuccessful unfair wage deduction, unpaid compensable work, and untimely commissions claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law; and (2) regardless of whether the claims were intertwined, that the district court abused its discretion in reducing the attorney’s fees award by only 40 percent given Plaintiffs’ relative lack of success. 
 The Second Circuit affirmed. The could be explained that Plaintiffs brought wage-and-hour statutory claims that clearly arise from a common nucleus of operative fact regarding their time working for Cellular. Thus, the district court’s finding that the discovery involved in litigating the unpaid overtime wage claims is inseparable from the discovery involved in the unfair wage deductions, unpaid compensable work, or untimely commissions claims is well supported.  Further, the court affirmed the attorney’s fee awards explaining that fee awards are reviewed under a deferential abuse of discretion standard. View "Holick v. Cellular Sales" on Justia Law

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The case concerned the scope of the audit authority of a multi-employer employee benefit fund covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). The New York State Nurses Association Benefit Fund (the “Fund”) sought an audit of the Nyack Hospital’s (the “Hospital’s”) payroll and wage records. The Hospital objected, claiming that the Fund had the authority to inspect only the payroll records of employees the Hospital identified as members of the collective bargaining unit. The district court held that the Fund was entitled to the records of all persons the Hospital identified as registered nurses but not to the records of any other employees.   The Second Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. The court reversed to the extent the district court granted the Hospital’s cross-motion for summary judgment and denied the Fund’s motion for summary judgment. To the extent the district court granted the Fund’s motion for summary judgment and denied the Hospital’s cross-motion for summary judgment, the court affirmed. The court held that the audit sought by the Fund was authorized by the Trust Agreement and that the Hospital did not present evidence that the audit constituted a breach of the Fund’s fiduciary duty under ERISA. Accordingly, the audit was within the scope of the Fund trustees’ authority under the Supreme Court’s decision in Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund v. Central Transport, Inc., 472 U.S. 559 (1985). View "New York State Nurses Association Benefits Fund v. The Nyack Hospital" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff a former bus driver for Defendant Maine-Endwell Central School District (the “School District”), appealed the dismissal of his complaint by the district court. Plaintiff contends that the School District violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him for speech he purports to have made in his capacity as a union leader. In his complaint, however, Plaintiff merely alleged that he had argued with a School District mechanic – and later, a few School District officials – over the frequency with which bus safety issues should be reported. He did not allege that the School District’s existing policy permitted unsafe buses to remain on the roads, nor did he allege that daily reporting would improve public safety.   The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his complaint, holding that Plaintiff failed to allege that he engaged in speech protected under the First Amendment. The court explained that the specific details of Plaintiff’s complaint suggest that Plaintiff’s arguments with fellow School District personnel were had in his capacity as a School District employee, not as a private citizen. Plaintiff’s primary argument to the contrary boils down to a series of assertions that he was speaking in his capacity as a union official. But even assuming these assertions are entitled to be assumed true, the court has expressly rejected any categorical rule that when a person speaks in his capacity as a union member, he speaks as a private citizen Accordingly, the court concluded that Plaintiff’s Complaint does not support a plausible inference that he spoke as a citizen, or that he spoke on a matter of public concern. View "Shara v. Maine-Endwell Cent. Sch. Dist.," on Justia Law

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The case concerns the extent of an employer’s obligation to provide accommodations to a job applicant with a disability under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (incorporating the standard set forth in Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act) and under generally parallel state and city law. Plaintiff alleged that MTA Bus discriminated against him on the basis of his disability when it denied him the assistance of an American Sign Language interpreter for its knowledge-based pre-employment examination. The district court ruled that Plaintiff must show that he was “otherwise qualified” for the Assistant Stockworker position to maintain his Rehabilitation Act claim and that, at summary judgment, Plaintiff had not met this requirement.The Second Circuit affirmed. The court first considered whether an applicant who cannot establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether he is “otherwise qualified” for the desired employment position can survive summary judgment on a failure-to-accommodate claim arising from the employer’s pre-employment testing protocols. Second, the court examined whether Plaintiff made such a showing as to the Assistant Stockworker position that he sought.The court explained that there is no genuine dispute that Plaintiff—entirely independent from his hearing impairment—did not have the experience required to qualify for the desired position. MTA Bus put forth evidence that Defendant was not qualified for the Associate Stockworker position and Defendant has failed to identify any material facts in rebuttal. View "Williams v. MTA Bus Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff claimed that UBS Securities, LLC and UBS AG (together “UBS”) fired him in retaliation for reporting alleged fraud on shareholders to his supervisor. Plaintiff sued UBS under the whistleblower protection provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”), 18 U.S.C. Section 1514A, and he ultimately prevailed at trial.   The Second Circuit vacated the jury’s verdict and remanded to the district court for a new trial. The court explained that the district court did not instruct the jury that a SOX anti-retaliation claim requires a showing of the employer’s retaliatory intent. Section 1514A prohibits publicly traded companies from taking adverse employment actions to “discriminate against an employee . . . because of” any lawful whistleblowing act. 18 U.S.C. Section 1514A(a). Accordingly, the court held that this provision requires a whistleblower-employee, like Plaintiff, to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer took the adverse employment action against the whistleblower-employee with retaliatory intent—i.e., an intent to “discriminate against an employee . . . because of” lawful whistleblowing activity. The district court’s legal error was not harmless. View "Murray v. UBS Securities" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a police officer for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“MTA”), sued the MTA under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”), alleging that the MTA negligently failed to provide him with a safe workplace when it sent him on patrol in a vehicle without a prisoner compartment. A jury found the MTA liable and awarded Plaintiff damages. The MTA moved for judgment as a matter of law notwithstanding the verdict, arguing that it is immune from liability pursuant to the governmental function defense and that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict because it lacked expert testimony. The district court denied that motion, holding that the governmental function defense does not apply in FELA cases.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court held that the FELA does not abrogate the governmental function defense, and therefore the defense is available in FELA cases. Though the governmental function defense was available for the MTA to assert, the MTA failed to show that the defense barred liability in this case. Here, the defense did not apply on the merits in this case, however, because the MTA has failed to show that it performed a discretionary governmental function when committing the allegedly negligent acts. Additionally, the court held that expert testimony was not required in this case. Further, the court could not say that the evidence supporting the jury’s verdict for Plaintiff was legally insufficient. View "Ojeda v. MTA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff worked as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines. She alleged that, while working on an airplane, she heard a passenger refer to her using a racist remark and reported the passenger’s remark to the pilot. The pilot responded by demanding that Plaintiff “step out on the jet bridge with the passenger,” and when she refused the pilot had her removed from the plane. Plaintiff reported the pilot’s conduct to her supervisor, and within two months of these events Plaintiff alleged she was subjected to random drug testing, wrongfully suspended, and ultimately fired. She filed a complaint in state court, alleging retaliation and vicarious liability under the New York City Human Rights Law. (“NYCHRL”) Delta removed the case to federal district court and moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The district court granted the motion, holding that Leroy failed adequately to allege that Delta had discriminated against her and that she therefore failed to allege retaliation for a protected activity under the NYCHRL.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling dismissing Plaintiff’s claims finding that her complaint did not allege facts adequate to support a good-faith, reasonable belief that Delta engaged in discrimination against her. The court explained that the NYCHRL prohibits retaliation for “opposing [the] employer’s discrimination.” To succeed on a retaliation claim, the plaintiff must at least have a good-faith, reasonable belief that she was opposing an unlawful employment practice. On the facts as alleged, Plaintiff could not have reasonably and in good faith believed that the passenger’s comment or the pilot’s conduct was an unlawful employment practice. View "Leroy v. Delta Air Lines, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, sued her former employer, alleging a variety of employment law violations. Defendant moved to dismiss her suit and to compel arbitration. Defendant supported the motion by presenting an arbitration agreement bearing what appeared to be the worker’s electronic signature. In a sworn declaration, however, the worker categorically and specifically denied that the signature was hers. She also pointed to other circumstantial evidence as to its inauthenticity. The district court concluded that the worker’s evidence was insufficient to create a triable issue of fact, and so granted the restaurant’s motion.   The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s grant of Defendant’s motion to dismiss and to compel arbitration. The court held that the district court erred when it disregarded Plaintiff’s sworn declaration as “nothing more than a de facto extension of [her] pleadings.”The court explained that it resolves agreement-formation questions by applying the law of the state at issue. Here, under New York law, when moving to compel arbitration, “[t]he party seeking . . . arbitration bears an initial burden of demonstrating that an agreement to arbitrate was made.” As such, the burden shifted to Plaintiff, who needed to counter with at least “some evidence . . . to substantiate [her] denial” that an agreement had been made. Here, Plaintiff’s detailed accounting, under oath, is “some evidence” that she did not agree to arbitration. Thus, there is a triable issue of fact as to whether she ever received, or became aware of, Defendant’s arbitration agreements, regardless of whether she ultimately signed them. View "Barrows v. Brinker Restaurant Corporation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, who deliver baked goods in designated territories in Connecticut, brought an action on behalf of a putative class against the manufacturer of the baked goods that Plaintiffs deliver. The district court compelled arbitration pursuant to an arbitration agreement that is governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) and Connecticut law. Plaintiffs claimed that they are not subject to the FAA because Section 1 of the FAA excludes contracts with “seamen, railroad employees, [and] any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” 9 U.S.C. Section 1. The exclusion is construed to cover “transportation workers.”   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision ordering arbitration and dismissing Plaintiff’s lawsuit against Defendant for unpaid or withheld wages, unpaid overtime wages, and unjust enrichment. The court held that Plaintiffs did not qualify as transportation workers.The court reasoned that though Plaintiffs spend appreciable parts of their working days moving goods from place to place by truck, the stores and restaurants are not buying the movement of the baked goods, so long as they arrive. The charges are for the baked goods themselves, and the movement of those goods is at most a component of the total price. The commerce is in breads, buns, rolls, and snack cakes--not transportation services. View "Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries" on Justia Law