Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Facebook employee Bigger sued Facebook alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, overtime-pay requirements, on behalf of herself and all similarly situated employees. The district court authorized notice of the action to be sent to the entire group of employees. Facebook argued the authorization was improper because many of the proposed recipients had entered arbitration agreements precluding them from joining the action. The Seventh Circuit remanded, stating that, in authorizing notice, the court must avoid even the appearance of endorsing the action’s merits. A court may not authorize notice to individuals whom the court has been shown entered mutual arbitration agreements waiving their right to join the action and must give the defendant an opportunity to make that showing. When a defendant opposing the issuance of notice alleges that proposed recipients entered such arbitration agreements, the court must determine whether a plaintiff contests the defendant’s assertions about the existence of valid arbitration agreements. If no plaintiff contests those assertions, then the court may not authorize notice to the employees whom the defendant alleges entered valid arbitration agreements. If a plaintiff contests the defendant’s assertions, then— before authorizing notice to the alleged “arbitration employees”—the court must permit the parties to submit additional evidence on the agreements’ existence and validity. View "Bigger v. Facebook, Inc." on Justia Law

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Youngman, a Peoria County Juvenile Center counselor, was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor and acromegaly in 1993 and had surgery to remove the tumor and part of his pituitary gland. He had a thyroidectomy in 2011, resulting in hypothyroidism and hypocalcemia. The Center’s superintendent reviewed the rotation of assignments and decided that every counselor needed to be trained in and rotated through all assignments, including the control room. Youngman had only worked in the control room on 10-14 occasions during his 13 years at the Center. Youngman was assigned to work in the control room for a week in 2012 but was not told that this was for training purposes and would only be temporary. Youngman informed his supervisor that he could no longer work in the control room because he experienced headaches, nausea, and dizziness. He was placed on medical leave and instructed that he could return to work when his condition improved. After Youngman’s leave time expired, his position was filled; he found employment elsewhere. He filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging that his employer had refused to accommodate his disability. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, citing the lack of proof of a causal nexus between Youngman’s hypothyroidism and the limitation for which he sought an accommodation. View "Youngman v. Peoria County" on Justia Law

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United Airlines hired Taha in 1988 and laid him off in 2003. He retained recall rights under a collective bargaining agreement. After a 12-year furlough, Taha returned to work. Weeks later, Taha learned his mother had suffered a heart attack. She lived in Saudi Arabia. Taha asked for six months off to travel and care for her. United gave him 30 days. He sought assistance from Starck, a human resources representative, and the union’s president, Stripling. United denied Taha’s extended-leave request in a letter sent to his Indiana home. Taha never saw it; he remained in Saudi Arabia and did not return to work, which the airline construed as job abandonment. He was fired. Taha grieved his firing. At a Joint Board of Adjustment (JBA) hearing, Stripling represented Taha. The JBA denied Taha’s grievance. Taha asked the union to demand arbitration; the union replied, more than six months later, that the CBA barred further pursuit of his grievance. Taha then sued, alleging a breach of the duty to fairly represent him under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. 151–188. He cited only two facts: before the JBA hearing began, Taha overheard Stripling and Starck “chatt[ing] genially” about Starck acquiring airline tickets for Stripling’s friends, and, during the hearing, Stripling “prevented Taha from presenting several strong and important exhibits.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint, finding no evidence of unlawful union conduct. View "Taha v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters" on Justia Law

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Lett worked as an investigator for Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability. In 2016, Lett was investigating police involvement in a particular civilian shooting. The Chief Administrator, Fairley, directed Lett to include in the report a finding that police officers had planted a gun on the shooting victim. Lett refused because he did not believe that the evidence supported that finding. Lett raised his concerns with Fairley’s deputy, who spoke with Fairley. Soon after, Lett was removed from his investigative team, then removed from investigative work, and ultimately assigned to janitorial duties. Fairley opened an internal investigation that concluded that Lett had violated the office’s confidentiality policy. Fairley ordered that Lett be fired. Lett initiated a grievance through his union. The arbitrator ordered the office to reinstate Lett with back pay and to expunge his record. Fairley immediately placed Lett on administrative leave with pay. Lett was assigned on paper to the Police Department’s FOIA office but was not allowed to return to work. Lett sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging First Amendment retaliation for his refusal to write a false report and Monell liability for the city and Fairley in her official capacity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. Lett spoke pursuant to his official duties and not as a private citizen when he refused to alter the report; the First Amendment does not apply. View "Lett v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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The Chicago Police Department (CPD) periodically administered an examination for sergeants seeking promotion to lieutenant. While the CPD retained discretion over whom to promote, those who scored highest on the exam were generally first in line. Word has served with the CPD since 2001. When he took the exam in 2006, he was ranked 150th. The sergeants ranked 1-149 received promotions; Word was the highest-scoring sergeant who did not. In 2015, when Word next took the exam, his ranking fell to 280th. He was passed over. Word alleges that three senior CPD leaders each had “wives or paramours” who were sergeants who took the 2015 exam and then received promotions. Word alleges that one defendant had early access to the exam and provided test content to the wives and paramours. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit, which alleged violations of equal protection and due process under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and breach of contract. While Illinois law prohibits “wilfully or corruptly furnish[ing] to any person any special or secret information,” there is no property interest in any municipal promotional process. Class-of-one equal protection claims are barred in the public employment context. Word’s s theory does not amount to gender discrimination. There was no contract and Word has not plausibly alleged that the city and exam administrator intended to confer legally enforceable rights on the test takers. View "Word v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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A group of students who worked part-time for the University of Chicago Libraries wanted to collectively bargain with their university employer. The University believed the student group was ineligible for collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 157, and wanted to introduce evidence to support this argument at a hearing before the National Labor Relations Board. The evidence was intended to support its claim that the students are temporary employees who do not manifest an interest in their employment terms and conditions that is sufficient to warrant collective-bargaining representation. The Board determined that the University’s proposed evidence would not sustain the University’s position that the students were ineligible for collective bargaining and did not admit the University’s evidence. The Seventh Circuit granted a petition for enforcement of the Board’s order requiring the University to bargain with the group. The Board’s refusal to admit the University’s evidence was not an abuse of discretion and did not violate the University’s due process rights. Under prevailing Board law, short-term student employees may collectively bargain; the Board was not obliged to receive evidence to support a position that is unsustainable under prevailing Board law. View "University of Chicago v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Burciaga lost his job and filed for bankruptcy a week later. On the date the bankruptcy proceeding began, Burciaga’s former employer owed him approximately $24,000 for unused vacation time. Illinois treats vacation pay as a form of wages. Exemptions for debtors in Illinois rest on state law, 11 U.S.C. 522(b)(2). Burciaga asked the district court to treat 85% of the vacation pay as exempt from creditors’ claims. Illinois permits creditors to reach 15% of unpaid wages but forbids debt collection from the rest. The Chapter 7 Trustee, objected. The bankruptcy judge and district court sided with the Trustee. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding nothing ambiguous about Illinois law or section 522(b)(2) and (3)(A); 85% of unpaid wages are exempt from creditors’ claims in Illinois, and vacation pay is a form of wages. View "Burciaga v. Moglia" on Justia Law

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Sergeant Mueller took a leave of absence from the Joliet Police Department to report for active duty in the Illinois National Guard Counterdrug Task Force. The Department placed him on unpaid leave, Mueller resigned from his National Guard position and sued the city and his supervisors for employment discrimination, citing the Uniformed Service Members Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which prohibits discrimination against those in “service in a uniformed service.” The district court dismissed, finding that National Guard counterdrug duty was authorized under Illinois law and not covered by USERRA. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that “service in the uniformed services” explicitly covers full-time National Guard duty, including counterdrug activities, 38 U.S.C. 4303(13). USERRA does not limit protection to those in “Federal service” like the Army or Navy but to those in “service in a uniformed service,” which explicitly includes Title 32 full-time National Guard duty. The Posse Comitatus Act likewise only bars the Army and Air Force from domestic law enforcement, but does not apply to Title 32 National Guard duty, 18 U.S.C. 1385. View "Mueller v. City of Joliet" on Justia Law

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Stegall applied and interviewed for a Social Security Administration (SSA) service representative position in 2010. Stegall claims she received an offer of employment at the end of her interview. Stegall subsequently disclosed her physical and mental disabilities, which she claims prompted the SSA to rescind the offer. The SSA denied offering Stegall a position, stating it never extends offers of employment during interviews, and that it deemed Stegall not motivated for public service due to her answers in the interview. Stegall claimed discrimination based on race and her mental and physical disabilities. The SSA denied Stegall’s claim. She appealed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and filed suit. Before trial, Stegall dismissed her race and mental disability discrimination claims. A jury found that Stegall had a disability, that the SSA regarded her as having a disability, and that the SSA failed to hire Stegall, but that even without her physical disability, Stegall would not have been hired. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the verdict went against the manifest weight of the evidence and that the court abused its discretion in admitting evidence relating to subsequent contradictory statements about her disability and evidence that SSA ultimately hired a candidate with a disability. View "Stegall v. Saul" on Justia Law

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Harnishfeger published a book under a pseudonym, Conversations with Monsters: Chilling, Depraved and Deviant Phone Sex Conversations, concerning her time as a phone‐sex operator. A month later, Harnishfeger began a one‐year stint with the Indiana Army National Guard as a member of the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program, a federal anti-poverty program administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). When Harnishfeger’s National Guard supervisor discovered Conversations and identified Harnishfeger as its author, she demanded that CNCS remove Harnishfeger. CNCS complied and ultimately cut her from the program. Harnishfeger filed suit alleging First Amendment and Administrative Procedure Act violations. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part. The book is protected speech; it was written and published before Harnishfeger began her VISTA service. Its content is unrelated to CNCS, VISTA, and the Guard. It was written for a general audience, concerning personal experiences and is a matter of public concern. A jury could find that Harnishfeger’s National Guard supervisor infringed her free-speech rights by removing her from her placement because of it. The supervisor’s actions were under color of state law, so 42 U.S.C. 1983 offers a remedy, and she was not entitled to qualified immunity. There is no basis, however, for holding CNCS or its employees liable. Harnishfeger failed to show a triable issue on any federal defendant’s personal participation in a constitutional violation. View "Harnishfeger v. United States" on Justia Law