Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Crain, a Black woman, became the Chief of the Environmental Management Service at the VA Center in July 2014, subject to a year-long supervisory probationary period, with a GS-12 pay grade. Before Crain applied, she was told that if she successfully completed her probationary period, the Center would try to get the position’s pay grade increased to the GS-13 level. After Crain assumed the position, her supervisor added responsibilities to the role in an effort to justify a higher pay grade and asked Scaife, an HR classification specialist, to upgrade the role. Scaife concluded that she was unable to “justify anything higher than a GS-12.” Crain alleges that six White service chiefs’ pay grades were elevated to GS-13 or GS-14. During Crain’s tenure as Chief of EMS, several performance and behavior-related concerns arose.In June 2015, Crain was notified that she had failed to satisfactorily complete her supervisory probationary period and was being reassigned to a different role with the same salary. The memo identified multiple “performance-based deficiencies” as the basis for the decision. Months before her reassignment, Crain had initiated an EEOC complaint. After her reassignment, Crain sued under Title VII. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the VA, rejecting Crain’s claims of disparate pay based on her race and that she was removed as Chief of EMS in retaliation for filing an EEOC complaint. View "Crain v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit three times ordered Neises to bargain with the Union that represents its employees. After reaching numerous tentative agreements on articles to be included in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), Neises retracted those tentative agreements without good cause. The NLRB sought to hold Neises in contempt. The court appointed a Special Master to resolve factual disputes. After more than a year of discovery, motions, and deliberation, the Master found, by clear and convincing evidence, that Neises should be held in contempt.The Seventh Circuit held Neises in contempt and imposed most of the NLRB’s proposed sanctions, including a $192,400 fine. Neises significantly violated an unambiguous command to bargain in good faith by retracting, without good cause, the aspects of the CBA to which it tentatively had agreed. The record clearly and convincingly establishes that Neises disobeyed a court order. The court rejected arguments that the NLRB did not have the authority to file the contempt petition and that the petition was not properly ratified; that the Report improperly decided that the parties reached tentative agreements; and that Neises did not violate an unambiguous command because the judgment and consent order do not use the phrase “in good faith” and such a phrase is too vague anyway. View "National Labor Relations Board v. Neises Construction Corp." on Justia Law

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Xiong is Hmong and speaks English as a second language. He joined the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh as its Director of Affirmative Action in 2018, reporting to Kuether, Associate Vice Chancellor of Human Resources. Kuether found Xiong’s work to be of poor quality. Xiong gave Kuether a self-assessment as part of his annual performance review in which he claimed he was being paid less because he is Hmong. Kuether canceled his review meeting, declined to reschedule it, and did not share the final written performance review with him.When Xiong wanted to hire a compliance officer who had a law degree and would add diversity to the HR department, which was primarily white, Kuether questioned Xiong’s judgment. Xiong recalls Kuether saying “people of color are not a good fit.” Kuether denies saying anything like that. After multiple cross-accusations, Xiong demanded that he no longer report to Kuether. Xiong says he also raised concerns about the HR department’s hiring and promotion policies. The next day, Xiong was terminated for insubordination and poor work performance.Xiong sued, alleging discrimination and retaliation under Title VII. The Seventh Circuit reversed, in part, summary judgment in favor of the University. Because the University fired Xiong one day after his whistleblowing, a reasonable jury could infer that his termination was retaliatory. Employers often have mixed motives for adverse actions against employees. The existence of both prohibited and permissible justifications reserves the question for a jury. View "Xiong v. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System" on Justia Law

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Alley, working at Penguin Random House’s warehouse, was promoted to the management position of Group Leader. Penguin required all managers and supervisors to report sexual harassment allegations and provided clear instructions, including how to report anonymously. Alley received a copy of this policy and participated in training that referred to it. In 2019, Penguin employee Guzman informed Alley that Lillard was sexually harassing her. Alley conducted her own investigation. Haines, Guzman’s then-coworker and roommate, submitted a corroborating statement. Alley also contacted Pendleton, a former Penguin employee, who had stopped coming to work months earlier; Alley suspected it involved Lillard.Haines and another employee went to HR independently, reporting that Lillard was sexually harassing Guzman. Penguin investigated. Alley admitted that she already knew of Guzman’s allegations and that she had contacted Pendleton. She forwarded the statements from Guzman and Haines. Alley later alleged that she too had been sexually harassed by Lillard starting in 2015. Golladay, her former Group Leader, acknowledged that Alley had reported the harassment and that he did not report it. Golladay was not disciplined. Penguin terminated Lillard and demoted Alley.Alley sued, alleging retaliation under Title VII and breach of contract under Indiana law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of both claims, Alley was demoted for her failure to report allegations as required by Penguin policy. She did not engage in statutorily protected activity. View "Alley v. Penguin Random House" on Justia Law

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In May 2020 Rehm expressed concern that Haven was not doing enough to protect her and other employees from COVID. Dillett, Haven’s Director of Operations and co-owner, did not appreciate Rehm’s suggestions. Rehm sent a staff-wide email criticizing Dillett’s handling of COVID health risks. Dillett fired her. After Rehm complained to the NLRB, Dillett threatened legal action. An ALJ found that Haven had unlawfully terminated and threatened Rehm, National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(1). The Board ordered Haven to compensate Rehm for lost pay and expenses, offer to rehire her, notify her that it had removed references to her unlawful termination from her employee file, post notices of employee rights, and file a sworn certification of compliance.The Seventh Circuit summarily enforced that order in September 2021. Haven did not comply. In December 2022, the Seventh Circuit directed Haven to respond to the Board’s contempt petition. Haven disregarded a subsequent “show cause” order. The Seventh Circuit entered a contempt order, requiring Haven to pay a fine of $1,000, plus a fine of $150 per day for every day of the next week that Haven fails to comply, beginning on February 28, 2023. The daily fine will increase by $100 each day that Haven fails to comply beyond the next week. The court will forgive the fines if Haven files a sworn statement within seven days demonstrating full compliance. View "National Labor Relations Board v. Haven Salon + Spa, Inc" on Justia Law

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Ross worked as a sales representative for First Financial until 2018. Ross sued First Financial and two of its senior executives for sales commissions he claimed he was owed. Under the terms of his employment contract, Ross could earn a commission both when a customer first leased an item from First Financial and then at the end of a lease term, if the customer either extended the lease or purchased the equipment outright. In early 2017, First Financial acted to reduce future commission rates. Ross argued that First Financial breached his contract by applying the new, lower commission rates to end-of-lease transactions that occurred after the change took effect if the leases originally began before the change.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The company’s commission payments to Ross were correct because commissions on end-of-lease transactions are not earned until the customer actually agrees to and pays for the new transactions. Although Ross was reluctant to accept the new plan, he still accepted it by continuing to work for First Financial under its terms. View "Ross v. First Financial Corporate Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2013, University Park hired Bradley as chief of police; in 2014 it renewed his contract for two years. In 2015, after new elections changed the balance of political power, Bradley was fired without notice or an opportunity for a hearing. Bradley filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 2016, the district court held that Bradley failed to state a viable procedural due process claim. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. The village had conceded that Bradley had a property interest in his job; firing Bradley without notice or an opportunity to be heard would have deprived him of that property without due process of law. The court rejected the district court’s view that the due process violation by the mayor and village board was “random and unauthorized.”On remand, the district court permitted the defendants to reverse course and argue that Bradley did not have a property interest in his job. The court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed with respect to Bradley’s federal claim against the village. The defendants should be held to their unconditional concession. The court remanded for a determination of relief on the due process claim against the village and to allow the district court, if necessary, to address Mayor Covington’s qualified immunity defense. View "Bradley v. Village of University Park" on Justia Law

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A collective bargaining agreement (CBA), covered employees at United’s Indiana distribution center, prohibiting strikes and lock-outs during the life of the agreement. Negotiations over a successor agreement were ongoing when the existing agreement expired in September 2019. The agreement provided: So long as negations are ongoing, all terms and provisions of the existing CBA will continue to apply. However, “[i]n the event of a strike, the provisions of this section do not apply.” Bargaining over a new agreement came to a standstill on September 20. On December 12, Local 414 went on strike with a picket line at the Indiana facility. On December 17, Local 414 began additional picketing at United’s Minnesota and Wisconsin distribution centers. Workers there walked off the job. On December 18, Local 414 ended the strike and ceased picketing at the other sites. In July 2020, Local 414 engaged in another strike in Indiana.United filed suit under the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185, alleging that the strikes violated the CBA’s no-strike provisions. Local 414 moved to compel arbitration of the claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the claims were not subject to arbitration. The arbitration procedure is focused exclusively on employee-initiated grievances and does not apply to employer-initiated grievances. The arbitration clause is not reasonably susceptible to an interpretation that includes an employer-initiated dispute regarding the CBA’s terms. View "United Natural Foods, Inc. v. Teamsters Local 414" on Justia Law

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Wirth was employed as an RLJ office manager, paid on an hourly basis, and required to clock in and out. RLJ closed its offices every day from 1−2 pm and did not schedule patients during that time. Employees were expected to take an hour-long unpaid lunch break during which they were free to leave the office. Wirth clocked out for less than 30 minutes 89 times during the nine months of her employment. Wirth’s supervisor repeatedly told her to take full lunch breaks. After Wirth was terminated, she filed suit, arguing that RLJ failed to compensate her for lunch breaks in violation of Wisconsin’s Wage Payment and Collection Laws, which requires employers to compensate employees for breaks less than 30 minutes, but not for meal periods of 30 minutes or more during which the employee is completely relieved from duty. Although RLJ paid her for the time she was clocked in during the lunch hour, Wirth argued that RLJ was also required to pay her for the time she was clocked out and admittedly not working.The Seventh Circuit affirmed that under Wisconsin law, RLJ was not required to compensate Wirth for the lunch periods as long as it consistently provided her with a break of at least 30 minutes. The court found that Wirth chose not to take the full lunch break even though her job duties did not prevent her from doing so “to increase her earnings.” View "Wirth v. RLJ Dental, S.C." on Justia Law

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From 1993-2017, Chicago treated O’Hare Airport aviation security officers as law-enforcement personnel, able to make arrests while employed and carry concealed firearms after retirement. The officers were unarmed and reported to the Commissioner of Aviation rather than the Chief of Police. In 2017 Chicago concluded that they are not law enforcement personnel. The Illinois Labor Relations Board sustained the decision. Neither the union nor any of its members contested that decision in state court. Three aviation security officers filed a federal suit, contending that the reclassification violated the Due Process Clause.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. There is no “fundamental right” to be a law enforcement officer. Although the Chicago Code says that the officers “shall be sworn in as special policemen,” the process due for any violation of state or local law or of a collective-bargaining agreement is the opportunity to sue in state court. The union bypassed that opportunity in 2018. A suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 is not a way to supersede that decision. The collective-bargaining agreement does not promise that aviation security officers will remain law enforcement officials and the correct entity to seek review was the union, not individual members. The court upheld a $40,0000 award of costs. View "Yates v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law