Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Kerson v. Vermont Law School, Inc.
Plaintiff painted two large murals directly onto the walls inside a building on the campus of Defendant-Appellee Vermont Law School, Inc. The work stirred controversy, which eventually prompted the law school to erect a wall of acoustic panels around the murals to permanently conceal them from public view. Kerson brought suit against the law school, alleging that obscuring his work behind a permanent barrier violated his rights under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (“VARA”), which creates a cause of action for artists to prevent the modification and, in certain instances, destruction of works of visual art. The Second Circuit affirmed. The court held that merely ensconcing a work of art behind a barrier neither modifies nor destroys the work, as contemplated by VARA, and thus does not implicate VARA’s protections. The court explained that this case presents weighty concerns that pin an artist’s moral right to maintain the integrity of an artwork against a private entity’s control over the art in its possession. On the facts presented here, the court resolved this tension by hewing to the statutory text, which reflects Congress’s conscientious balancing of the competing interests at stake. Because mere concealment of the Murals neither “modifies” nor “destroys” them, the Law School has not violated any of VARA’s prohibitions. As such, VARA does not entitle Plaintiff to an order directing the Law School to take the barrier down and continue to display the Murals. View "Kerson v. Vermont Law School, Inc." on Justia Law
Stafford v. Int’l Bus. Machs. Corp.
Petitioner is a former employee of International Business Machines Corporation (“IBM”) who signed a separation agreement requiring confidential arbitration of any claims arising from her termination. Petitioner arbitrated an age-discrimination claim against IBM and won. She then filed a petition in federal court under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) to confirm the award, attaching it to the petition under seal but simultaneously moving to unseal it. Shortly after she filed the petition, IBM paid the award in full. The district court granted Petitioner’s petition to confirm the award and her motion to unseal. On appeal, IBM argued that (1) the petition to confirm became moot once IBM paid the award, and (2) the district court erred in unsealing the confidential award. The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s confirmation of the award and remanded with instructions to dismiss the petition as moot. The court reversed the district court’s grant of the motion to unseal. The court explained that Petitioner’s petition to confirm her purely monetary award became moot when IBM paid the award in full because there remained no “concrete” interest in enforcement of the award to maintain a case or controversy under Article III. Second, any presumption of public access to judicial documents is outweighed by the importance of confidentiality under the FAA and the impropriety of Petitioner’s effort to evade the confidentiality provision in her arbitration agreement. View "Stafford v. Int'l Bus. Machs. Corp." on Justia Law
Carr v. New York City Transit Authority
Plaintiff appealed the district court’s judgment dismissing her claims of age, race, and gender discrimination and retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. Section 621 et seq., Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e et seq., and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. Section 1981. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the district court applied an incorrect legal standard to her retaliation claim and that it erroneously concluded that she had failed to demonstrate that Defendants’ race-neutral explanations for not selecting her for two internal promotions were pretextual. The Second Circuit affirmed. The court held that Plaintiff has not demonstrated that Defendants’ explanations for her non-promotions were pretextual. Second, the court held that although the district court applied an incorrect standard to her retaliatory hostile work environment claim, Plaintiff has nevertheless failed to make out a prima facie case of retaliation and did not demonstrate that her employer’s non-retaliatory explanations were pretextual. The court explained that Defendant’s evidence supporting summary judgment established that Plaintiff received negative performance evaluations because she was not adequately or timely completing her duties and had become increasingly challenging to work with. The court wrote that Plaintiff has not rebutted this showing with evidence demonstrating that the reasons the NYCTA provided for the poor performance reviews were pretextual. Instead, she argues that the performance reviews must have been retaliatory due to their temporal proximity to her complaints. But she offers nothing more to establish causation. View "Carr v. New York City Transit Authority" on Justia Law
In re IBM Arb. Agreement Litig.
Plaintiffs are twenty-six former employees of International Business Machines Corporation (“IBM”) who signed separation agreements requiring them to arbitrate any claims arising from their termination by IBM. The agreements set a deadline for initiating arbitration and included a confidentiality requirement. Plaintiffs missed the deadline but nonetheless tried to arbitrate claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”). Their arbitrations were dismissed as untimely. They then sued IBM in district court, seeking a declaration that the deadline is unenforceable because it does not incorporate the “piggybacking rule,” a judge-made exception to the ADEA’s administrative exhaustion requirements. Shortly after filing suit, Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment and attached various documents obtained by Plaintiffs’ counsel in other confidential arbitration proceedings. IBM moved to seal the confidential documents. The district court granted IBM’s motions to dismiss and seal the documents. On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that (1) the filing deadline in their separation agreements is unenforceable and (2) the district court abused its discretion by granting IBM’s motion to seal. The Second Circuit affirmed. The court first wrote that the piggybacking rule does not apply to arbitration and, in any event, it is not a substantive right under the ADEA. Second, the court held that the presumption of public access to judicial documents is outweighed here by the Federal Arbitration Act’s (“FAA”) strong policy in favor of enforcing arbitral confidentiality provisions and the impropriety of counsel’s attempt to evade the agreement by attaching confidential documents to a premature motion for summary judgment. View "In re IBM Arb. Agreement Litig." on Justia Law
Roberts v. Genting
On January 6, 2014, Defendant Genting New York LLC, d/b/a Resorts World Casino New York City ("Genting"), closed the Aqueduct Buffet (the "Buffet"), a restaurant located inside the Resorts World Casino (the "Casino") where Plaintiffs worked. Genting gave Plaintiffs no notice of the closure, which took effect the same day and resulted in 177 employees being laid off. The next week, Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Genting, alleging that its failure to provide notice violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (the "WARN Act"), and New York Labor Law Section 860 et seq. (the "New York WARN Act"). On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court denied Plaintiffs' motion and granted Genting's. On appeal, Plaintiffs argue that the district court erred in granting summary judgment for Genting because, they claim, a reasonable jury could only conclude that the Buffet was either an operating unit or a single site of employment under the WARN Acts. The Second Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part. The court explained that Genting is not entitled to summary judgment because a reasonable finder of fact could conclude that the Buffet was an operating unit. Likewise, there is also evidence in the record to support the conclusion that the Buffet was not an operating unit. It will be for the finder of fact at trial to weigh the evidence comprising the "somewhat mixed" record in this case to answer the question. The court concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment for Genting and in dismissing Plaintiffs' claims under the WARN Acts. View "Roberts v. Genting" on Justia Law
Local Union 97, Int’l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, AFL-CIO v. Niagara Mohawk
Defendant Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation (the "Company"), which does business as National Grid, is an electric and natural gas utility that operates throughout New York State. According to Plaintiff Local Union 97, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFL-CIO (the "Union"), Defendant agreed to provide to certain retired employees, former members of the Union. The Union filed a motion to compel arbitration pursuant to section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. Section 185(a). The same day, the Company filed a motion for summary judgment dismissing the Complaint. The district court granted the Union's motion to compel arbitration, denied the Company's motion for summary judgment, and ordered that the case be closed. The Second Circuit affirmed, holding that the agreement covers the dispute. The court explained that when it negotiated the Agreement, the Union bargained both for health insurance benefits for retired employees and for a grievance procedure that included, where necessary, access to arbitration. The court explained that it expressed no view on the merits of the Union's grievance; that is a question for the arbitrator. But interpreting the collective bargaining agreement in light of the principles the Supreme Court reaffirmed in Granite Rock, it is clear that the parties intended to arbitrate this dispute. View "Local Union 97, Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, AFL-CIO v. Niagara Mohawk" on Justia Law
E. Jean Carroll v. Donald J. Trump
Defendant Donald J. Trump and Appellant the United States of America appealed from a district court judgment denying their motion to substitute the United States in this action pursuant to the Westfall Act of 1988. In the Second Circuit’s prior opinion, the court vacated the district court’s judgment that Trump did not act within the scope of his employment, and the court certified to the D.C. Court of Appeals the following question: Under the laws of the District, were the allegedly libelous public statements made, during his term in office, by the President of the United States, denying allegations of misconduct, with regards to events prior to that term of office, within the scope of his employment as President of the United States? The D.C. Court of Appeals reformulated our certified question in two parts, asking (1) whether the D.C. Court of Appeals should opine on the scope of the President of the United States’ employment and (2) how the court might clarify or modify the District of Columbia’s law of respondeat superior to resolve the issue in this appeal. The D.C. Court of Appeals answered the former part in the negative and provided additional guidance in response to the latter. Having vacated the district court’s judgment in the court’s prior opinion, the court remanded for further proceedings consistent with the guidance provided in the D.C. Court of Appeals’ opinion. View "E. Jean Carroll v. Donald J. Trump" on Justia Law
Buon v. Spindler, et al.
Plaintiff appealed from the district court’s judgment dismissing all claims against Defendants-Newburgh Enlarged City School District, Superintendent, and Assistant Superintendent. Plaintiff, an African American woman of West Indian descent who served as principal of South Middle School, asserts claims of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the Title VII claim to the extent the claim is based on alleged adverse employment actions in May 2019 and vacated the district court’s judgment to the extent it dismissed the Section 1983 claim and the remainder of the Title VII claim. The court remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings, including a determination as to whether Plaintiff should be provided with an extension of time to effectuate proper service as to the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent. The court explained that taking the allegations in the FAC as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff’s favor, the FAC meets that pleading standard with respect to the denial of the position for RISE administrator, the denial of her application to administer the summer-school program, and the termination of her position as SMS principal. Accordingly, the court explained that Plaintiff has stated plausible discrimination claims under Title VII and Section 1983, and the district court erred in dismissing them. Therefore, Plaintiff may proceed with her Section 1983 claim as to all three alleged adverse employment actions and with her Title VII claim against the School District. View "Buon v. Spindler, et al." on Justia Law
Chinniah v. Fed. Energy Regul. Comm’n
Pro se Plaintiff filed a whistleblower claim against his former employer, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and his former supervisors in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. But before doing so, Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA) and the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. The district court thus dismissed the claim for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s whistleblower claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Plaintiff did not file a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel or the Merit Systems Protection Board, as required by the CSRA. Instead, he went straight to federal court. The district court thus lacked “jurisdiction to entertain a whistleblower cause of action . . . in the first instance” because Plaintiff failed to follow the proper administrative process. Second, the court wrote that Plaintiff’s argument that his failure to exhaust should be excused on equitable grounds is meritless. The court noted that it has “no authority to create equitable exceptions to jurisdictional requirements.” And, in any event, Plaintiff offers no reason why he should be granted such an equitable exception. View "Chinniah v. Fed. Energy Regul. Comm'n" on Justia Law
McCutcheon v. Colgate-Palmolive Co.
Plaintiffs brought a class action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), arguing that Defendant Colgate-Palmolive Co. miscalculated residual annuities based on an erroneous interpretation of its retirement income plan and improperly used a pre-retirement mortality discount to calculate residual annuities, thereby working an impermissible forfeiture of benefits under ERISA. The district court granted summary judgment to Plaintiffs on these claims. Colgate appealed that order and the final judgment of the district court. The Second Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the text of the RAA is unambiguous and requires Colgate to calculate a member's residual annuity by subtracting the AE of LS from that member's winning annuity under Appendix C Section 2(b). Further, the court wrote that Colgate's "same-benefit" argument does not disturb our conclusion that the RAA's language is unambiguous. Because "unambiguous language in an ERISA plan must be interpreted and enforced in accordance with its plain meaning," the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the class Plaintiffs as to Error 1. View "McCutcheon v. Colgate-Palmolive Co." on Justia Law