Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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After plaintiff was terminated by his former employer for violating company policies prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace, he filed suit alleging that the stated basis for his termination was pretext and that the real reason he was fired was age discrimination and retaliation, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The district court granted defendants judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).Although on a Rule 12(c) motion the district court should not have weighed the plausibility of competing allegations in the movant's pleading or considered evidence extrinsic to the non-movant's pleading, the court affirmed the district court's judgment because plaintiff's complaint failed to plead that either his age or protected speech was a but-for cause of his termination. Likewise, plaintiff's retaliation claim fails for similar reasons. View "Lively v. WAFRA Investment Advisory Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, four Black firefighters who suffer from a skin condition that causes pain and sometimes scarring when they shave their facial hair, filed suit alleging that the FDNY discriminated against them in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and various other laws. Plaintiffs' claims stemmed from the FDNY's refusal to offer them a medical accommodation to the department's grooming policy. The policy requires firefighters to be clean shaven in the areas where an oxygen mask or "respirator" seals against their skin.The Second Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs on their ADA claim, holding that the OSHA regulation, 29 C.F.R. 1910.134(g)(1)(i)(A), unambiguously prohibits plaintiffs' proposed accommodation and that a binding federal regulation presents a complete defense to an ADA failure-to-accommodate claim. Furthermore, plaintiffs waived the issue of alternative accommodation because they failed to raise it until their reply brief on appeal. The court also concluded that plaintiffs' Title VII disparate impact claim mirrors their ADA claim and meets a similar fate. The court explained that, although plaintiffs have made a prima facie case, the FDNY has conclusively rebutted that case by showing that complying with the respiratory-protection standard is a business necessity. Just as in the ADA context, the court concluded that Title VII cannot be used to require employers to depart from binding federal regulations. Nor can the court agree with plaintiffs that the FDNY's failure to consistently enforce the respiratory-protection standard means that complying with the regulation is not a business necessity. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Bey v. City of New York" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a lieutenant with the Binghamton Police Department, filed suit against the City, the City's mayor, and two Department officials, alleging that he was racially harassed by members of the Department and retaliated against for voicing concerns about discrimination.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's retaliation claim because the complaint does not support an inference that he was punished for engaging in protected speech. Although the complaint does not "enumerate" a claim for discrimination alongside the cause of action for retaliation, the court found that plaintiff does identify a discrimination claim. In this case, the introduction of the complaint specifies that plaintiff brings a "claim for discriminatory conduct based on Hispanic origin . . . pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981." Furthermore, the complaint includes numerous factual allegations sufficient to notify defendants that plaintiffs seeks redress for discriminatory conduct. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, and vacated and remanded in part for further proceedings. View "Quinones v. City of Binghamton" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff maintains that the Act's three-year statute of limitations for willful violations should apply to his claim because he alleged that his employer willfully violated the Act. Plaintiff asks the court to infer willfulness from the mere fact that he was asked for a period of time to perform job responsibilities typically performed by non-exempt employees even though he was classified as exempt.The court held that the mere allegation of willfulness is insufficient for a plaintiff to secure the benefit of the three-year exception to the Act's general two-year statute of limitations at the pleadings stage. Rather, for the three-year exception to apply at the pleadings stage, a plaintiff must plead facts that plausibly give rise to an inference of willfulness. In this case, plaintiff failed to do so because his allegations permit at most an inference that defendants negligently failed to reclassify him as a non-exempt employee which, without more, is insufficient. The court explained that plaintiff fails to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of defendants' willfulness. Instead, he pleads facts that are merely consistent with defendants' purported willfulness, and thus his claim stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility. View "Whiteside v. Hover-Davis, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a putative class action on behalf of himself and similarly-situated employees of Joe's Shanghai restaurant, alleging violations of the New York Labor Law (NYLL). The district court certified the class action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) of all nonmanagerial employees at the Flushing, Queens location of Joe's Shanghai on the NYLL claims. However, five days before the trial was scheduled to start, the district court sua sponte decertified the class, determining that class counsel was no longer adequately representing the class. The district court held a bench trial on plaintiff's individual claims and entered judgment in favor of plaintiff against three of the defendants.As a preliminary issue, the Second Circuit concluded that, although plaintiff prevailed on the merits of his claims, this appeal is not moot because he maintains standing as to the class certification issue. On the merits, the court concluded that because class counsel's conduct made clear that counsel was no longer adequately representing the class, the district court acted within its discretion in decertifying the class. In this case, the record is replete with counsel's shortcomings before the class was decertified. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Jianmin Jin v. Shanghai Original, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a retired "dual status technician" with the National Guard, argues that the civil service pension he received in connection with his employment as a dual status technician – a civilian position that requires concurrent National Guard membership – is not subject to reduction under the Social Security Act's Windfall Elimination Provision because the pension falls within an exception applicable to payments based wholly on work performed as a member of a uniformed service. The district court granted summary judgment to plaintiff and the Administration appealed.The Second Circuit reversed the Administration's calculation of plaintiff's Social Security retirement benefits. The court read the plain language of the statute and used traditional tools of statutory interpretation, holding that a civil service pension based on federal civilian employment as a dual status technician does not fall within the uniformed service exception. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings consistent with the court's opinion. View "Linza v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a carman for Metro-North, filed suit under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, alleging unlawful retaliation for his refusal to walk outdoors to another building in the railyard in allegedly unsafe winter conditions or, in the alternative, for his reporting those unsafe conditions to a foreman.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of Metro-North's motion for summary judgment, holding that the district court did not commit reversible error. The court adopted the "reasonableness" definition in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act context, which means that a "reasonable belief contains both subjective and objective components," and applied it in the FRSA context. The court agreed with Metro-North and the district court that plaintiff has not identified a genuine dispute of material fact over whether the walkways were safe or over the reasonableness of his own assessment. In this case, plaintiff did not submit any specific evidence to support his generalized contention that the walkways at the railyard were unsafe, other than to assert that other employees slipped as they walked. The court concluded that plaintiff's subjective assessment alone cannot create a genuine issue of material fact.The court agreed with the Seventh and Eighth Circuits and held that some evidence of retaliatory intent is a necessary component of an FRSA claim. The court considered the Eighth Circuit's Gunderson factors and concluded that plaintiff's protected activity was not a contributing factor in his discharge. Finally, the court considered plaintiff's remaining arguments and found them to be without merit. View "Tompkins v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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The Union represented the workers at the Old Brookville campus. In 2016, LIU contracted out that work to A&A, which became the employer of those workers and assumed an existing collective bargaining agreement, set to expire in August 2017. A&A and the Union entered into a successor CBA, which requires Union membership after 30 days but allows A&A to hire “substitute employees” “to fill in for employees who are out on disability or worker’s compensation or approved extended leaves.” The Union rejected a provision that would have permitted A&A to use non-union “temporary employees” at will for up to 90 days. The agreement has an arbitration provision.Union members noticed new, non-union employees in late 2017. A&A indicated that they were "substitute employees." The Union determined that the number of claimed substitutes exceeded the number of members out on disability, worker’s compensation, and other approved leaves of absence and sent a written grievance. The Union framed the arbitration issue: whether A&A violated the CBA by utilizing temporary employees ... to perform bargaining unit work. A&A argued that the Arbitrator was confined to the issue proposed by the Union in its original grievance, which mentioned only “substitute employees.”The arbitrator held that A&A had violated the CBA and issued an award of $1,702,263.81. The Second Circuit affirmed. The arbitrator did not exceed his authority. While worded differently, the issue that the arbitrator ruled on was substantially identical to the issue in the grievance letter. A party that has previously agreed to arbitrate cannot frustrate the process by refusing to agree on the form of the issue. The arbitrator’s interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement was more than colorable. View "A&A Maintenance Enterprise, Inc. v. Ramnarain" on Justia Law

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Time Warner petitions for review of a Board ruling that Time Warner committed an unfair labor practice in violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act by coercively interrogating employees about communications leading to an unprotected demonstration and work stoppage that contravened the no-strike agreement between Time Warner and the Union.The Second Circuit held that the Board's standard, interpreted to prohibit Time Warner from coercively questioning employees who participated in an unprotected work stoppage about any communication prior to the stoppage except to identify actual participants, represented an unexplained and unjustified departure from the Board's precedents. The court explained that the portion of the Board's standard requiring that in coercive questioning, employers "focus closely" on unprotected activity where it might touch on protected activity has a reasonable basis in law, but the Board's requirement that an employer "minimize" intrusion into Section 7 activity in such questioning, at least as understood by the Board in this case, does not. Because the Board's enunciated standard, at least as applied here, lacks a reasonable basis in law, the court vacated the Board's ruling and remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the Board should determine, employing a standard consistent with its precedent, whether Time Warner's questioning interfered unreasonably with employees' rights protected by Section 7. View "Time Warner Cable of New York City LLC v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Dylan filed suit in district court seeking a declaration of its rights and obligations under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The district court converted defendants' motion to dismiss into a motion to compel arbitration and granted the motion, dismissing Dylan's complaint without prejudice.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal; clarified that the district court had federal question jurisdiction to decide whether Dylan was entitled to the declaratory relief requested; and held that, because the Funds have adequately initiated arbitration, regardless of timing, Dylan is required to arbitrate by the terms of the CBA. The court also agreed with the district court's analysis that it was proper in this case to compel arbitration and dismiss Dylan's complaint without prejudice. The court considered Dylan's remaining arguments and found them to be without merit. View "Dylan 140 LLC v. Figueroa" on Justia Law