Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Queen, a Bowling Green firefighter, 2011-2016, was subject to harassment because he is an atheist. According to Queen, he was forced to participate in Bible studies; his co-workers and supervisors badgered him regarding his sexuality and regularly disparaged minorities. In 2012, Queen complained to his supervisor, Rockrohr, who “responded in hostility.” Rockrohr later told Queen that he had discussed the matter with the fire chief and they both believed that Queen “needed to get employment somewhere else.” Queen apologized. Queen’s employment conditions did not improve. Queen was intentionally tripped while retrieving his gear and was regularly subject to disparaging remarks. Stress and anxiety caused Queen to take a leave of absence. While on leave, Queen received many phone calls from his supervisors asking why he was absent. Queen resigned and filed suit under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, alleging hostile work environment based on religion and gender, constructive discharge, retaliation, and violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment on hostile work environment based on religion and gender and the FMLA claims. On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of qualified immunity to the city on the claims for hostile work environment based on religion and for retaliation and denial of qualified immunity to Rockrohr for the retaliation claim. View "Queen v. City of Bowling Green" on Justia Law

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Under its collective bargaining agreement (CBA), Ford withholds union membership dues if an employee joins the union and signs a dues checkoff authorization. Resignation of membership does not extinguish the dues authorization; the CBA requires the employee to revoke a checkoff authorization within a specified window. To resign union membership, an employee must send a letter to the Union’s financial secretary, DePaoli, who then notifies Ford’s human resources manager to stop deducting dues from the employee’s paycheck. In February 2018, Stoner left DePaoli several voicemail messages. On March 5, DePaoli emailed the authorization form to Stoner. On March 9 Stoner sent a letter by certified mail stating that he was resigning from the Union and revoking his dues checkoff authorization. The Union received Stoner’s letter on March 12. DePaoli drafted a letter instructing Ford to stop deducting dues but is unsure whether he actually it. On March 19 Ford notified Stoner that it would continue deducting dues because it had not received a timely revocation. Ford deducted Stoner’s dues until mid-June. The Union reimbursed Stoner in part. The NLRB held that the Union’s failure to promptly process Stoner’s resignation violated the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 151–169. The Sixth Circuit granted enforcement, holding that the Union breached its duty of fair representation. The Union’s communications with Stoner evidenced “ill will” because of his decision to withdraw and support a finding that the Union’s conduct was in bad faith. View "United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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A “collective action” under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 216(b), alleged that Pilot, a nationwide chain of travel centers, alleged overtime violations. Pilot asserted that the claims are covered by an arbitration agreement. The district court granted conditional certification to 5,145 current and former employees as opt-in Plaintiffs. The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal from the denial of a motion to reconsider. Plaintiffs moved to compel the production of the opt-in Plaintiffs' employment dates. The parties reached a partial settlement, covering 1,209 opt-in Plaintiffs who had not signed an arbitration agreement. Pilot moved to compel the remaining Plaintiffs to arbitrate. Before the court ruled, Plaintiffs urged the court to grant its pending motion to produce employment dates, contending that several Plaintiffs were not employees on the date Pilot claimed they signed agreements. The court ordered Pilot to produce the dates. Pilot filed an unsuccessful motion to reconsider, arguing that whether Pilot must turn over those dates was a matter for arbitration. Pilot appealed. The district court, impeded in ruling on Pilot’s motion to compel arbitration because the employment dates had not been produced but unable to compel Pilot to produce the dates, denied, without prejudice, all outstanding motions. The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The district court has not yet denied a petition under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 16(a)(1)(B) Until the threshold issue of contract formation is decided, there is no need to address the scope of the district court’s authority. View "Taylor v. Pilot Corp." on Justia Law

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Beginning in 1965, Honeywell and the labor union negotiated a series of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). Honeywell agreed to pay “the full [healthcare benefit] premium or subscription charge applicable to the coverages of [its] pensioner[s]” and their surviving spouses. Each CBA contained a general durational clause stating that the agreement would expire on a specified date, after which the parties would negotiate a new CBA. In 2003, the parties negotiated a CBA obligating Honeywell to pay “not . . . less than” a specified amount beginning in 2008. The retirees filed suit, arguing that the pre-2003 CBAs vested lifetime, full-premium benefits for all pre-2003 retirees and that the CBAs of 2003, 2007, and 2011 vested, at a minimum, lifetime, floor-level benefits for the remaining retirees. The Sixth Circuit agreed with the district court that none of the CBAs vested lifetime benefits. Without an unambiguous vesting clause, the general durational clause controls. Reversing in part, the court held that the “not . . . less than” language unambiguously limited Honeywell’s obligation to pay only the floor-level contributions during the life of the 2011 CBA. The court rejected a claim that Honeywell acquired a "windfall" at the retirees' expense. View "International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. Honeywell International, Inc." on Justia Law

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Torres was a long-time employee at Vitale’s Italian Restaurants located throughout Western Michigan. Although Torres and other Vitale’s employees often worked more than 40 hours per week, they allege that they were not paid overtime rates for those hours. Vitale’s required the workers to keep two separate timecards, one reflecting the first 40 hours of work, and the other, reflecting overtime hours. The employees were paid via check for the first card and via cash for the second. The pay was at a straight time rate on the second card. Torres alleged that employees were deprived of overtime pay and that Vitale’s did not pay taxes on the cash payments. Torres sought damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961. The district court dismissed, holding that the remedial scheme of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, precluded the RICO claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. The claims based on lost wages from the alleged “wage theft scheme” cannot proceed. However, the FLSA does not preclude RICO claims when a defendant commits a RICO-predicate offense giving rise to damages distinct from the lost wages available under the FLSA. The court remanded Torres’s claim that Vitale’s is liable under RICO for failure to withhold taxes. View "Torres v. Vitale" on Justia Law

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Jones worked as a FedEx security officer, watching an X-ray monitor to detect weapons in packages being loaded on aircraft. Jones failed to detect a weapon. FedEx terminated his employment 12 days later, allegedly because he failed to detect that weapon. According to Jones, an African American, the consequences for failing to detect a weapon were harsher for him and another African American than they were for white officers. Jones filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC on April 25, 2018, 252 days after his termination. The EEOC issued a right-to-sue notice. Jones filed a Title VII action. FedEx argued that Jones failed to file his race-discrimination charge within 180 days of his termination as required by 42 U.S.C. 2000e5(e). Jones argued that the “filing deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis” and that the Tennessee Human Rights Commission categorically prohibits racial discrimination. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of his case, citing the Supreme Court’s 1988 decision, EEOC v. Commercial Office Products Company concerning states that have “fair employment practices agencies” in work-sharing agreements with the EEOC. Jones, a pro se litigant, was excused for not raising that argument before the district court; the court noted that Jones allegedly relied on the EEOC's advice that the 300-day filing period would apply. View "Jones v. Federal Express Corp." on Justia Law

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For many years, Small worked as an electrician at Memphis Light (ML). In 2013, he suffered an on-the-job injury that required him to change positions. Small expressed interest in becoming a revenue inspector. ML offered him work as a service dispatcher. Without another offer, Small accepted that position. Small raised concerns that the position would conflict with the practice of his religion (Jehovah’s Witness). Small had Wednesday evening and Sunday services and community work on Saturdays. ML denied his requests for reassignment, explaining that the accommodations would impose undue hardship and that its union required shifts to be assigned based on seniority. ML suggested that Small swap shifts with his co-workers or use paid time off. Later, ML offered Small the option to “blanket swap” shifts for an entire quarter. Small remained in the dispatcher position. In 2017, Small sued for disability and religious discrimination. The district court granted ML summary judgment. Small moved to enforce an alleged settlement agreement between the parties. The court found that the parties had never agreed to a settlement. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. ML offered a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for not giving Small a position as an inspector--its determination that Small physically could not do the work. ML did not have to offer any accommodation of his religion that would impose “undue hardship” on its business. The evidence indicated that the parties never agreed on the material terms of a settlement. View "Small v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water" on Justia Law

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Since 1997, Willard (born in 1953) has worked in automobile sales. Nationally, he performed within the top 125 of 3,500 Ford salespeople. Willard asserts that he faced “relentless” inappropriate statements about his age and the imminence of his retirement at Huntington Ford, where Willard was the oldest full-time new-car salesperson. When Willard complained, sales manager Calhoun told Willard that if he did not like it, he could leave. Willard reported the comments to general manager Schiller, who told Willard to stop taking new customers. Willard had minor disciplinary incidents in 2011, 2012, and 2014. In December 2016, Willard made a sarcastic remark to Duley, who lost her temper and “shoved” him. Duley resigned. Scoggin and Schiller suspended Willard for a week. After the suspension, they informed him that he had been terminated because he did not call in or show up for work and because of the Duley incident. Willard sued, alleging that Huntington misled him about the length of his suspension so that it could terminate him because of his age, citing the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621–634, and Michigan’s Civil Rights Act. The Sixth Circuit reinstated the case. The district court failed to view the record in the light most favorable to Willard, leading it to conclude erroneously that he did not offer indirect evidence of age discrimination. View "Willard v. Huntington Ford, Inc." on Justia Law

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Viet bought used copiers for Le and Le’s corporation and shipped the copiers to Vietnam for resale. After the relationship dissolved, Le sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 207(a)(1), alleging that he had typically worked 60 hours each week and that Le failed to pay overtime and that Le had not reimbursed him for expenses. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of Viet’s claim on summary judgment. Even assuming that Viet was an employee covered by the Act, he offered few details and no corroboration to support his estimate of his work hours. It is not clear that Viet was an employee. Le treated Viet as an independent contractor, using a 1099 tax form; Le did not set a work schedule or keep track of Viet’s hours. Le paid a fixed rate for each copier. View "Viet v. Le" on Justia Law

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Tchankpa suffered a serious shoulder injury while employed by Ascena Retail Group. Tchankpa contends that Ascena violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by not accommodating his injury and constructively discharging him. Tchankpa’s claim centers on his request for a work-from-home accommodation. He argues that Ascena failed to accommodate his disability by not allowing him to work from home three days per week. Tchankpa did not provide documentation outlining his medical restrictions for several months and no documentation explained why Tchankpa needed to work from home. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of Tchankpa’s claims. Employees cannot mandate a particular accommodation and an employer may request medical records supporting the employee’s requested accommodation. After finally providing a doctor’s note, Tchankpa resigned before Ascena fully responded. “The ADA is not a weapon that employees can wield to pressure employers into granting unnecessary accommodations or reconfiguring their business operations." View "Tchankpa v. Ascena Retail Group, Inc." on Justia Law