Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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The Railroad sent Abernathy and Probus to repair a railroad crossing, which required them to transport ties several miles. The Railroad had a “tie crane,” which runs on the railroad tracks but it had been inoperable for years. The employees had two options: a backhoe or a pickup truck, traveling on public roads. Abernathy drove the backhoe. Probus drove the pickup, with the tools. Two ties fell out of the backhoe’s bucket. Abernathy stopped to lift the ties back into the bucket, injuring his back and smashing a finger. Despite the accident, the men finished the job. The following morning, Abernathy reported the injury. Abernathy worked through the pain on lighter duty for a year but was unable to return to his regular work. The Railroad terminated his employment. He had physical therapy, epidural injections, and surgery but continued to experience pain. At the time of trial, his surgeon had not cleared him for any type of work. Abernathy sued under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C 51. A jury found that Abernathy was 30 percent at fault and awarded a net amount, $525,000. The court awarded Abernathy prevailing party costs but declined to award witness fees above the statutory amount. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The jury could reasonably find that the Railroad did not provide Abernathy with appropriate equipment and that his working environment was not reasonably safe; a reasonable person in the Railroad’s position could have foreseen that transporting ties in a backhoe or pickup could lead to injury. There was sufficient evidence that the Railroad’s negligence played a part in causing Abernathy’s injury. View "Abernathy v. Eastern Illinois Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Progress Rail, a manufacturer, has Shop Rules; violations result in “disciplinary action ranging from reprimand to immediate discharge.” Progress hired McDaniel in 2005 as a Material Handler. In 2016, McDaniel complained that Howard, his supervisor, was giving overtime to younger workers. Shortly thereafter Howard issued McDaniel a disciplinary notice for using his cell phone while on work equipment in violation of Shop Rules. McDaniel denied talking on his phone but admitted that it was “on top of the truck” in violation of a Rule. McDaniel received a one-day suspension. Weeks later, Howard claimed McDaniel was using his cell phone to take pictures. McDaniel volunteered his phone to confirm he did not take any photographs. There was no discipline. McDaniel alleges that Howard then assigned him to sweeping and general maintenance duties for three weeks. Months later, McDaniel suffered a serious injury while attempting to move a 106-pound piece of machinery by hand. After investigatory interviews, with a Union Representative in attendance, McDaniel, age 55, was terminated. After filing an EEOC complaint, McDaniel sued, alleging discrimination on the basis of age and retaliation for complaining about a superior, citing the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621–34. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Progress. McDaniel has not supplied evidence of any similarly situated employee that would allow a fact-finder to determine whether any adverse employment action was the result of age discrimination or retaliation. View "McDaniel v. Progress Rail Locomotive, Inc." on Justia Law

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Biomet employed Yeatts in a role that included implementing compliance policies. In 2008, Biomet terminated its Brazilian distributor Prosintese, run by Galindo, after learning that Galindo had bribed healthcare providers, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 78dd-1. Prosintese still owned Brazilian registrations for Biomet’s products. Biomet could not quickly obtain new registrations, and, in 2009, agreed to cooperate with Prosintese and Galindo “to implement the new Biomet distributors.” A distributor that replaced Prosintese hired Galindo as a consultant. Yeatts communicated with Galindo in that new role. Biomet entered into a 2012 Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the Department of Justice, which required that Biomet engage an independent corporate compliance monitor. In 2013, Biomet received an anonymous whistleblower tip that Biomet continued to work with Galindo. Biomet informed the DOJ and the Monitor, terminated Yeatts, and included Yeatts on a Restricted Parties List. Biomet entered a second DOJ agreement that references Yeatts’s interactions with Galindo and paid a criminal penalty of $17.4 million. In Yeatts's defamation suit, the court granted Biomet summary judgment because Biomet’s statement that Yeatts posed a compliance risk was an opinion that could not be proven false and presented no defamatory imputation. Yeatts could not establish that Biomet made the statement with malice, so Biomet was protected by the qualified privilege of common interest and the public interest privilege. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, agreeing that inclusion of Yeatts on the Restricted Parties List conveyed no defamatory imputation of objectively verifiable or testable fact. View "Yeatts v. Zimmer Biomet Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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Hamilton operates a coal mine near Dahlgren, Illinois. On February 5, 2016, Leeper and 157 other full-time employees received a hand-delivered notice on Hamilton letterhead, stating that Hamilton was placing them “on temporary layoff for the period commencing on February 6, and ending on August 1, 2016.” The notice stated: “On August 1, 2016, you may return to your at-will employment with Hamilton” and explained that “[a] temporary layoff is treated as a termination of employment for purposes of wages and benefits.” Not long after receiving the notice, some mine workers began returning to work. Of the 158 notice recipients, 56 resumed their employment with full pay within six months. Leeper, a full-time Hamilton worker, filed a class action under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), which requires employers to give affected employees 60 days’ notice before imposing a “mass layoff.” 29 U.S.C. 2102(a)(1). WARN defines a mass layoff as an event in which at least 33% of a site’s full-time workforce suffers an “employment loss.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Hamilton because the worksite did not experience a “mass layoff.” The term “employment loss” is defined as a permanent termination, a layoff exceeding six months, or an extended reduction of work hours. View "Leeper v. Hamilton County Coal, LLC" on Justia Law

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Tile Shop, a specialty retailer, pays its commissioned sales staff a semimonthly “draw” of $1,000 ($24,000 annually) even if a sales associate earns less than that amount in commissions during the pay period. Tile reconciles and recovers any shortfall between earned commissions and the $1,000 draw in subsequent pay periods, but only from commissions in excess of $1,000. For 10 months Osorio sold products for Tile. When business was slow and his commissions totaled less than $1,000 in a pay period, Tile paid him the guaranteed $1,000 and reconciled the difference in later pay periods when his commissions exceeded $1,000. He quit and filed a class action alleging that Tile’s “recoverable draw” system violates the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, which prohibits employers from deducting more than 15% from an employee’s wages per paycheck as repayment for previous cash advances. The district judge rejected the claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Act prohibits “deductions by employers from wages or final compensation” unless specified conditions are met. 820 ILCS 115/9. Tile’s draw reconciliations are not “deductions” from wages or final compensation. The reconciliations determine the employee’s gross wages before tax withholding and other deductions are made. Considered in context, the term “deductions” as used in the Act refers to withholdings from an employee’s gross wages, not the formula used to calculate gross wages. View "Osorio v. The Tile Shop, LLC" on Justia Law

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Tracking a fugitive, Deputy Marshal Linder interrogated the fugitive’s father. Another deputy saw Linder punch the father. Linder was indicted for witness tampering and using excessive force and was put on leave. McPherson, the U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Illinois, instructed other deputies not to communicate with Linder or his lawyers without approval. The indictment was dismissed as a sanction. Linder returned to work. Linder filed a “Bivens action,” against McPherson and a suit against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b). The district court dismissed all of Linder’s claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed against the government alone. Section 2680(a) provides that the Act does not apply to “[a]ny claim ... based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a federal agency or an employee of the Government, whether or not the discretion involved be abused.” In deciding when federal employees needed permission to talk with Linder or his lawyer, McPherson exercised a discretionary function. The court rejected arguments that the discretionary function exemption does not apply to malicious prosecution suits. “Congress might have chosen to provide financial relief to all persons who are charged with crimes but never convicted. The Federal Tort Claims Act does not do this.” View "Linder v. McPherson" on Justia Law

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The named plaintiffs are Hispanic or Latino individuals who applied for employment as line workers at Ford’s Chicago assembly plant but were not hired. Millender is a black Ford employee and the Chairman of the United Auto Workers union for the plant. The plaintiffs allege a conspiracy between Millender, the Harvey unemployment office, and unknown Ford employees, to ensure that the plant predominantly hired black employees to the exclusion of Hispanic and Latino applicants. Millender allegedly believed black employees would be more likely to support him as a union leader. This resulted in a dearth of Hispanic and Latino workers, despite a sizable minority of Hispanic and Latino people in the surrounding area. The complaint alleges line workers at the plant are hired exclusively through the Harvey unemployment office. The district court dismissed the suit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, holding the claims were not “like or reasonably related to” claims asserted in their EEOC charges. The Seventh Circuit vacated as to Count II; those claims were properly exhausted before the EEOC. Count II describes conduct that is consistent with the conduct described in the charges, alleging a disparate impact upon Hispanic and Latino applicants caused by the skills test, and implicates the same individuals. Count I’s new claims of pre-test discrimination are not included in the EEOC charges and are incongruent with the allegations in the charges. View "Chaidez v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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Rozumalski started out as a water resources engineer at Baird’s Madison, Wisconsin, office in 2010.Rozumalski was sexually harassed by her direct supervisor, Riedel. When Rozumalski reported the harassment to her employer, Baird, the company responded by swiftly investigating the incident and firing Riedel in 2012. Rozumalski claims that Baird dismissed her in 2014 in retaliation for her role in Riedel’s firing, in retaliation for complaining about her supervisor’s continued friendship with Riedel, or as a result of sex discrimination. The district court rejected her claims on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While it may be possible for workplace harassment to haunt a victim’s ability to succeed long after the incident, the facts that Rozumalski has presented do not support a finding of retaliation or of discrimination. The court noted that Rozumalski conceded that the company found her work deficient and that she had been placed on an improvement plan. View "Rozumalski v. W.F. Baird & Associates, Ltd." on Justia Law

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During his probationary employment period, Smith challenged and failed to follow directions, was confrontational, engaged in unsafe conduct, and received unsatisfactory evaluations. He filed internal and union complaints, alleging abusive language, docking his hours, and racial discrimination. The Illinois Department of Transportation discharged Smith. Smith sued the Department under Title VII, arguing that it had subjected him to a hostile work environment and fired him in retaliation for his complaints about racial discrimination. The district court granted the Department summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court was within its discretion in concluding that Smith’s expert witness testimony was inadmissible as not based on “sufficient facts or data” under Federal Rule of Evidence 702(b). An affidavit sworn by one of Smith’s supervisors was inadmissible because it lacked a proper foundation and was “replete with generalized assertions." Given the extensive evidence that Smith was not meeting his employer’s legitimate expectations, a reasonable jury could not find that the Department fired him because of his protected activity rather than for his poor performance nor could a reasonable jury have resolved the hostile work environment claim in Smith’s favor. View "Smith v. Illinois Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Gupta joined Morgan Stanley and signed an employment agreement containing an arbitration clause; an employee dispute resolution program (CARE) applied to all U.S. employees. The CARE program did not then require employees to arbitrate employment discrimination claims but stated that the program “may change.” In 2015, Morgan Stanley amended its CARE program to compel arbitration for all employment-related disputes, including discrimination claims, and sent an email to each U.S. employee, with links to the new arbitration agreement and a revised CARE guidebook. The email attached a link to the arbitration agreement opt-out form and set an opt-out deadline, stating that, if the employee did not opt-out, continued employment would reflect that the employee agreed to the arbitration agreement and CARE guidebook and that opting out would not adversely affect employment status. Gupta did not submit an opt-out form or respond to the email. He continued to work at Morgan Stanley for two years until, he alleges, the company forced him to resign because of military leave. Gupta sued for discrimination and retaliation under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. 4301–35. The court agreed with that Illinois law permits an offeror to construe silence as acceptance if circumstances make it reasonable to do so; based on pretrial evidence, Gupta could not dispute he received the email. The Seventh Circuit affirmed an order compelling arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act, finding the existence of a written agreement to arbitrate, a dispute within the scope of that agreement, and a refusal to arbitrate. View "Gupta v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC" on Justia Law