Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Grubhub, an online and mobile food-ordering and delivery marketplace, considers its delivery drivers to be independent contractors rather than employees. The plaintiffs alleged, in separate suits, that Grubhub violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay them overtime but each plaintiff had signed a “Delivery Service Provider Agreement” that required them to submit to arbitration for “any and all claims” arising out of their relationship with Grubhub. Grubhub moved to compel arbitration. The plaintiffs responded that their Grubhub contracts were exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Section 1 of the FAA provides that “nothing herein contained shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” 9 U.S.C. 1. Both district courts compelled arbitration.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The FAA carves out a narrow exception to the obligation of federal courts to enforce arbitration agreements. To show that they fall within this exception, the plaintiffs had to demonstrate that the interstate movement of goods was a central part of the job description of the class of workers to which they belong. They did not even try to do that. View "Wallace v. Grubhub Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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Adams, superintendent of the school district in 2013-2016, requested a forensic audit of the district’s expenditures and subsequently had disputes with board members that involved Adams filing a police complaint. The Board of Education revoked an offer to extend her three-year contract. Adams suspended the district’s business manager for financial irregularities. The Board blocked her email and told state education officials that Adams was no longer superintendent. Adams filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. A jury awarded $400,000 in damages.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that the police report was not a personal grievance, but a matter of public concern within the scope of the First Amendment. The potential for physical altercations between public officials implies that an important public institution was not working properly, particularly given that a proposed forensic audit “seems to have unsettled at least one" Board member. The police report and the controversy more generally could have affected the outcome of elections and the daily management of the school system. The record permitted a reasonable jury to find that an ordinary employee in Adams’s position would be deterred from speaking by the prospect of losing her job and was permitted to consider the possibility that Adams would have remained on the job longer had she kept silent. Damages for a First Amendment violation are not limited by the duration of contracts. View "Adams v. Board of Education Harvey School District 152" on Justia Law

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Sommerfield was born in Germany, where some of his family members had died in concentration camps. He emigrated, settled in Chicago, and joined the police department. His supervisor was Sergeant Knasiak. For years, Sommerfield endured vicious anti-Semitic abuse from Knasiak. After Knasiak insulted the Mexican ethnicity of Sommerfield’s girlfriend, Sommerfield filed a formal complaint register (CR). Two days later, Knasiak accused Sommerfield of insubordination for an unrelated incident, recommending suspension. This was the only CR Knasiak had ever issued. Sommerfield’s five-day suspension was unprecedented for the minor infraction of “failure to report location.” Later Sommerfield was denied a promotion, although he was rated “well-qualified.” Sommerfield sued. The court dismissed Knasiak. Sommerfield won a jury verdict of $30,000 against Chicago.Sommerfield again sued Knasiak and the city in 2008, alleging harassment, discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and national origin, and retaliation based on protected activities. The district court dismissed the claims against the city but awarded Sommerfield $540,000 in punitive damages, $8,703.96 in pre-judgment interest, plus another $54,315.24 in economic damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While the evidence was not “overwhelming,” there was ample evidence from which the jury could conclude that Knasiak filed the CR out of discriminatory animus and that Knasiak was the real decision-maker with respect to the adverse actions taken against Sommerfield. Upholding the award of punitive damages, the court stated that, although Knasiak’s harassment never turned physically violent, his conduct was “extremely reprehensible.” View "Sommerfield v. Knasiak" on Justia Law

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In 2013, LeVan was elected to the office of Milton Township Assessor, displacing his political rival, Earl. Shortly after he took office, LeVan discharged a group of Deputy Assessors who had publicly supported Earl in his run for reelection. The dismissed employees sued LeVan under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Deputy Assessor position is not one for which political affiliation is a valid job requirement, as the position did not authorize the employees to have meaningful input in policy decisions.The district court concluded that LeVan is not entitled to qualified immunity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Unless political affiliation is an appropriate job requirement, the First Amendment forbids government officials from discharging employees based on their political affiliation. Taking as true the plaintiffs’ well-pleaded allegations about the characteristics of the Deputy Assessor position, a reasonable actor in LeVan’s position would have known that dismissing the deputies based on their political affiliation violated their constitutional rights. View "Hanson v. LeVan" on Justia Law

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Tonyan, a Dunham’s store manager, suffered a series of injuries, requiring multiple surgeries and restrictions to her shoulder, arm, and hand movement. After her doctor imposed permanent restrictions, including one preventing her from lifting more than two pounds with her right arm, Dunham’s fired her. Dunham’s claims, because of its lean staffing model, that store managers must perform various forms of physical labor, such as unloading and shelving merchandise, as essential functions of their job duties.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of her claims, alleging disparate treatment and failure to accommodate her disability, 42 U.S.C. 12112(a) and 42 U.S.C. 12112(b)(1)–(7). Physical tasks were essential functions of Tonyan’s job; in light of the severe restrictions on her movement, no reasonable factfinder could determine that Tonyan was capable of performing the essential functions of her position. The court rejected Tonyan’s argument under the FLSA “primary duty” test for overtime exemption; an exempt employee may spend more than 50 percent of his time performing non‐exempt work, such as manual labor. Tools were available throughout Tonyan’s employment and they did not permit Tonyan to perform her duties, which she delegated. Even with tools, a person restricted to lifting no more than two pounds with one of her arms could not lift canoes, for instance, to their proper storage space. View "Tonyan v. Dunham's Athleisure Corp." on Justia Law

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A 2012-2015 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) contained a union security clause that required Maysteel employees either to become union members or to pay a “service fee for representation.” Under a dues check‐off provision, Maysteel, with an employee’s authorization, deducted dues or fees from the employee’s paycheck. A new agreement was to take effect on March 5, 2015, the day after the old agreement expired; the parties agreed to implement it on March 2, with the start of a new pay period. The new agreement was actually signed on March 18. On March 11, Wisconsin’s Act 1, a right-to-work law prohibiting union security clauses, took effect and applied to CBAs “upon renewal, modification, or extension of the agreement occurring on or after” that date.Plaintiffs unsuccessfully demanded that Maysteel stop fee deductions, then filed charges with the NLRB, which negotiated a settlement that did not require reimbursement of the deductions or invalidation of the union security clause. The plaintiffs sued, alleging unfair labor practices under state law. Defendants removed the case to federal court. The judge denied remand and granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The federal question at the heart of the complaint was whether the 2012 CBA was "renewed, modified, [or] extended on or after March 11, 2015.” Wisconsin is not entitled to give an independent answer to this question, different from federal law. The CBA was formed before Act 1 took effect. View "Sarauer v. International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers" on Justia Law

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FedEx twice fired Kotaska because she could not lift up to 75 pounds. The first time, she was limited to lifting only 60 pounds after a shoulder injury. Eventually, her condition improved so that she could lift 75 pounds to her waist. A FedEx supervisor rehired her “oě the books.” Within three, FedEx discovered her capabilities above the waist remained severely limited and dismissed her again. Kotaska filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101–12213.The district court granted FedEx summary judgment because Kotaska had not shown she was a qualięed individual or that the second dismissal was in retaliation for her complaints about the first. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The parties agree that lifting packages, including above the waist and shoulders, is an essential function (really the essential function) of a handler. Kotaska did not dispute FedEx’s judgment that a handler must be able to lift up to 75 pounds by herself and up to 150 pounds with help. Whatever precise weight a handler might need to lift above the waist or shoulders, no reasonable fact-finder could place that weight within Kotaska’s stringent medical restrictions. View "Kotaska v. Federal Express Corp." on Justia Law

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McCray worked at the Milwaukee VA Vet Center as a readjustment counselor, 1997-2000. After earning a Master’s degree, he returned to the VA in 2004 as a Mental Health Case Manager. McCray had served in the Army for eight years in the 1980s and sustained multiple physical and mental injuries. In 2013, his VA disability rating was 100 percent. McCray also suffers from hypertension, arthritis, diabetes, sarcoidosis (in remission), and PTSD.McCray alleges that the VA failed to accommodate his disabilities and that he suffered disparate treatment as an African-American man. The van McCray used to transport VA clients allegedly lacked adequate legroom and was unsafe; the VA waited 11 months before replacing it. In 2013, McCray experienced difficulty concentrating at work, which he attributed to discrimination and retaliation by co‐workers after he filed EEOC charges. After returning from a leave of absence and experiencing panic attacks, his reassignment request was denied. McCray indicated that he could probably continue working in an office on a lower floor. That request was denied, although there were vacant offices lower in the building.The district court dismissed his suit under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. 701. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. McCray’s complaint presents a plausible claim for relief based on the delay in accommodating his disability with respect to the van. On remand, McCray can further develop his office space claim. McCray waived his disparate treatment claims. View "McCray v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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Delgado, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, sought relief under the Whistleblower Protection Act, 5 U.S.C. 1214(q)(1)(A), 2302(b)(8), for retaliation he suffered after reporting his suspicions that another ATF agent may have committed perjury during a federal criminal trial. In 2018, the Seventh Circuit held that the Merit Systems Protection Board had acted arbitrarily in dismissing his administrative appeal under the Act and that Delgado had properly alleged “a protected disclosure” and had exhausted his administrative remedies so that the Board had jurisdiction to evaluate his claim. On remand, the Board, acting only through an Administrative Judge (since 2017 the Board has lacked a quorum), denied relief.The Seventh Circuit remanded, only with respect to the relief Delgado is entitled-to. The Administrative Judge “paid only lip-service” to its earlier decision, “ignoring critical holdings and reasoning.” Delgado proved that he made a disclosure that was protected under the Act and proved retaliation for his protected disclosure, which affected decisions to deny him several promotions. Noting that it had “already remanded, only to be met by obduracy,” and that the government had the opportunity to offer evidence to support its affirmative defense, which fails as a matter of law, the court held that Delgado is entitled at least to pay and benefits as if he had been promoted effective March 2014. View "Delgado v. United States Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Henderson joined the VA police department Hines VA Hospital in 1986. Henderson filed an employment discrimination action against the Department of Veteran Affairs. After being denied a promotion in 2013, Henderson, who is African American, alleged race and age discrimination and retaliation claims, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment for the VA, following a remand for a determination of whether the VA’s explanations for not selecting Henderson for a criminal investigator position were a pretext for racial discrimination. The district court acted properly with respect to testimony on subjects not disclosed in Henderson’s interrogatory answer. Henderson failed to explain the substance of the testimony he sought to present so it is not possible to conclude that the district court erred in excluding it. The court’s decision that it would not permit evidence of discriminatory action against other African Americans after the award of the criminal investigator job was proper because some of those actions are in litigation; the slight additional value from the cumulative evidence was outweighed by the risk of jury confusion. View "Henderson v. Wilkie" on Justia Law