Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Baltrusaitis v. United Auto Workers
In 2011, the automaker FCA transferred the work that plaintiffs (engineers) had previously performed at FCA’s company headquarters to a new location. The plaintiffs filed a grievance with their union, UAW, in 2016. UAW failed to pursue it. In 2017, plaintiffs filed essentially the same grievance, but UAW again did not pursue it. By this time, plaintiffs had learned of a massive bribery scheme involving FCA and UAW; they believed that those bribes had affected the 2011 job-relocation process and UAW’s treatment of their grievances. In 2018, plaintiffs filed the same grievance again. Nearly two years later, UAW found the grievance meritorious.Plaintiffs sued FCA, UAW, and individual defendants in 2020, raising claims under the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. 185(a), and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims as untimely under the LMRA’s six-month limitations period. Plaintiffs pursuing a hybrid LMRA claim must sue once they “reasonably should know that the union has abandoned” their claim. Plaintiffs learned of their RICO injuries as early as 2011 and learned of the bribery allegations in 2017 but waited until 2020 to file their complaint, with no explanation for the delay. View "Baltrusaitis v. United Auto Workers" on Justia Law
Bennett v. Hurley Medical Center
In 2020, Bennett, a nursing student completing a clinical rotation at Hurley, requested that her service dog, Pistol, be permitted to accompany her. Pistol recognizes the symptoms Bennett exhibits just before a panic attack and alerts her so that she can take Ativan. Hurley agreed. Its Service Animal Policy largely tracks regulations implementing the ADA, 42 U.S.C. 12131. When Bennett brought Pistol to the hospital, one staff member and one patient reported allergic reactions. Hurley revoked Bennett’s ability to have Pistol with her at all times, stating the hospital remained “open to continued dialogue” and would provide space for a crate for Pistol on another floor and “make every effort to accommodate” unscheduled breaks. Hurley concluded that relocating staff and patients could compromise patient care. Moving nurses would be difficult; Hurley nurses are union members and the hospital was short-staffed during the pandemic. There were concerns about having a dog on a floor with immunocompromised or unconscious patients. Bennett finished her Hurley rotation without Pistol and without experiencing a panic attack. Bennett completed rotations at other hospitals with PistolThe Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of Bennett’s claims under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794, and Michigan law. Hurley’s concerns were with Pistol, not with Bennett’s medical condition. Hurley reasonably decided that Pistol posed a direct threat to the health and safety of patients and that the accommodations necessary to mitigate the risk were not reasonable. View "Bennett v. Hurley Medical Center" on Justia Law
Wilgar Land Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs
Adams, born in 1960, smoked about a pack a day starting at age 18 and worked in coal mines at times between 1979-1995, mostly underground using a “cutting machine” in the “dustiest” areas. Adams struggled to breathe after his retirement. Adams’s 1998 application under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901(b), was denied because he failed to prove that he had pneumoconiosis. In 2008, Adams sought benefits from Wilgar. His treating physician, Dr. Alam, identified the causes of his 2013 death as cardiopulmonary arrest, emphysema, coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, throat cancer, and aspiration pneumonia.A 2019 notice in the case stated “the Court may look to the preamble to the revised” regulations in weighing conflicting medical opinions. Wilgar unsuccessfully requested discovery concerning the preamble and the scientific studies that supported its conclusions. The ALJ awarded benefits, finding that Adams had “legal pneumoconiosis” and giving Dr. Alam’s opinion that Adam’s coal mine work had substantially aggravated his disease “controlling weight.” All things being equal, a treating physician’s opinion is “entitled to more weight,” 30 C.F.R. 718.104(d)(1). Wilgar's three experts had opined that Adams’s smoking exclusively caused his disease The ALJ gave “little weight” to these opinions, believing that they conflicted with the preamble to the 2001 regulation.The Benefits Review Board and Sixth Circuit affirmed. The preamble interpreted the then-existing scientific studies to establish that coal mine work can cause obstructive diseases, either alone or in combination with smoking. The ALJ simply found the preamble more persuasive than the experts. View "Wilgar Land Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs" on Justia Law
Allstates Refractory Contractors, LLC v. Su
Allstates, a full-service industrial general contractor, employs people throughout the country, subject to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. Allstates must comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) workplace safety standards. It has been the subject of enforcement actions, including a $10,000 fine for a 2019 catwalk injury. In a facial challenge to the OSH Act, Allstates argued that, because the only textual constraint on setting workplace-safety standards is that they be “reasonably necessary or appropriate,” 29 U.S.C. 652(8), OSHA does not have the constitutional authority to set those standards and employers do not have a duty to comply with OSHA’s standards. Allstates sought a permanent nationwide injunction. The district court granted the government summary judgment, reasoning that the “reasonably necessary or appropriate” standard provided an “intelligible principle” to satisfy the nondelegation doctrine because the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld similar delegations.The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding OSHA’s delegation constitutional. The Act provides an overarching framework to guide OSHA’s discretion, and the Act’s standards comfortably fall within limits previously upheld by the Supreme Court. “To require more would be to insist on a degree of exactitude which not only lacks legal necessity but which does not comport with the requirements of the administrative process.” View "Allstates Refractory Contractors, LLC v. Su" on Justia Law
McKinney v. Starbucks Corp.
Following news coverage of a unionization effort at one of its stores in Memphis, Starbucks fired seven people who worked there. The Union filed an action with the National Labor Relations Board under section 8 of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 157. Meanwhile, McKinney, a regional NLRB director, sought temporary injunctive relief pending the completion of the Board’s proceedings.The district court found reasonable cause to believe that Starbucks had violated the Act and that, because of the chilling impact of the terminations on Union support, some of the requested interim relief, including temporary reinstatement of the Memphis Seven, was just and proper. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that Starbucks did not challenge the holding that there is reasonable cause to believe that Starbucks violated the Act in terminating the Memphis Seven. The district court did not err in concluding that the termination of 80% of the organization committee during a unionization campaign could lead to injury to the union movement that subsequent Board intervention would not be able to remedy. View "McKinney v. Starbucks Corp." on Justia Law
Bazemore v. Papa John’s U.S.A., Inc.
Bazemore, a Papa John’s delivery driver, sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act, alleging that the company had under-reimbursed his vehicle expenses. Papa John’s moved to compel arbitration, attaching a declaration from its “Director of People Services” that Papa John’s requires all new employees to sign an arbitration agreement as a condition of employment. She asserted that Bazemore signed the agreement electronically on October 10, 2019, by signing in using a user ID and password, then scrolling through the entire agreement and checking a box in order to sign. Bazemore swore under penalty of perjury that he “had never seen” the agreement and that he had seen his manager login for Bazemore and other delivery drivers “to complete training materials” for them. The court denied Bazemore’s request for targeted discovery as to whether he had actually signed the agreement and granted the motion to compel arbitration.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 4, the party seeking arbitration must prove that such an agreement exists. Kentucky law governs whether Bazemore entered into an agreement and provides that an electronic signature is legally valid only when “made by the action of the person the signature purports to represent”—which is a question of fact. Bazemore’s testimony that he never saw the agreement was enough to create a genuine issue as to whether he signed it. View "Bazemore v. Papa John's U.S.A., Inc." on Justia Law
Bryant v. McDonough
Bryant, who is African American and has dyslexia, was employed at the Cleveland VA hospital as a sterile processing technician. Bryant alleged disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act; retaliation for participating in Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) activity; hostile work environment and harassment based on disability; “institutionalized racism”; violation of privacy; non-selection for a position as a painter based on sex and disability; and retaliatory non-selection for the painter position. Bryant moved the district court to appoint counsel, citing her learning disability. The district court denied the motion because the issues were not complex and Bryant had demonstrated sufficient ability to represent herself. The district court dismissed claims 1-5 and 7, finding that Bryant failed to administratively exhaust certain incidents of alleged harassment by a co-worker by omitting them from her EEO charge and that a cited incident was insufficient to create an abusive working environment. The VA’s evidence indicated that the male candidate who was selected for the painter position was disabled himself; his interview score was higher, he displayed greater knowledge of the position's technical requirements, and he had more commercial painting experience. The district court granted the VA summary judgment on the remaining claim.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Bryant’s allegations, accepted as true, do not plausibly show that her work environment was pervasively discriminatory. The district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to appoint counsel. View "Bryant v. McDonough" on Justia Law
Patti Cahoo v. SAS Institute, Inc.
Out-of-work residents of Michigan may claim unemployment benefits if they meet certain eligibility criteria. The State’s Unemployment Insurance Agency oversees the benefits system. In 2011, with the help of private contractors, the Agency began to develop software to administer the unemployment system. The Agency sought to equip the software to auto-adjudicate as many parts of the claims process as possible. The Agency programmed software that used logic trees to help process cases and identify fraud. A claimant’s failure to return the fact-finding questionnaire, for example, led to a fraud finding, as did the claimant’s selection of certain multiple-choice responses. In August 2015, problems arose with some features of the system, prompting the Agency to turn off the auto-adjudication feature for fraud claims.Plaintiffs are four individuals who obtained unemployment benefits, which were terminated after the Agency flagged their claims for fraud. Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against three government contractors and nineteen Agency staffers, raising claims under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, 26 U.S.C. Sec. 6402(f), and Michigan tort law. In a previous proceeding, the court held that plaintiffs’ due process rights clearly existed because they had alleged a deprivation of their property interests without adequate notice and without an opportunity for a pre-deprivation hearing.At this stage, because the remaining plaintiffs have failed to show that these procedures violate any clearly established law, the supervisors of the unemployment insurance agency are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The court also found that an intervening plaintiff was properly prevented from joining the case, based on her untimely filing. View "Patti Cahoo v. SAS Institute, Inc." on Justia Law
Weatherford U.S., L.P. v. United States Department of Labor
At Weatherford’s fracking operations, Hammons directed Ayres to drive a truck outside of his driving certification; Ayres refused, telling his district manager, Crabb, that employees were being asked to drive in violation of Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations. At a subsequent employee meeting, Crabb said that anyone who complained to HR would be fired. Ayres spoke by phone with a regional HR manager. Subsequently, Ayers was taken off the schedule and eventually fired, due to a “Reduction in Force.” When Ayres applied for unemployment benefits, Weatherford claimed he had been discharged because he “failed to follow instructions.” The district court dismissed Ayres’s suit under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Ayres did not appeal.Ayres had also filed a Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) complaint. Ayres died; his estate’s administrator was substituted as the complainant. An ALJ found that: Ayres had engaged in STAA-protected activity; Weatherford knew about the protected activity; the protected activity contributed to Ayres’s discharge; and Weatherford failed to present clear and convincing evidence that it would have taken the same actions absent Ayres’s protected activities. The ALJ awarded Ayres $82,119 in back pay, $10,000 for emotional harm, $25,000 in punitive damages, plus attorneys’ fees and costs. The Board and the Sixth Circuit upheld the decision in part, vacating the award of punitive damages. Penal claims, including the STAA right to punitive damages, abate upon the death of the injured party. View "Weatherford U.S., L.P. v. United States Department of Labor" on Justia Law
Clark v. A&L Homecare & Training Center, LLC
The named plaintiffs, former home-health aides, sued A&L under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), claiming that A&L had paid them less than the correct overtime rate and under-reimbursed their expenses. Plaintiffs may bring such claims on behalf of other “similarly situated” employees. 29 U.S.C. 216(b). The plaintiffs sought to facilitate notice of their action to three groups of other employees who had worked for A&L. The court adopted a two-step procedure under which it would facilitate such notice following “conditional certification,” which required a “modest factual showing” that the other employees are “similarly situated” to the original plaintiffs. When merits discovery is complete, the court must grant “final certification” for the case to proceed as a collective action. The court applied that “fairly lenient” standard, and “conditionally certified” two groups for receiving notice. The court declined to facilitate notice to employees who had left A&L more than two years before or who had signed a “valid arbitration agreement” with A&L.On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit rejected the lenient standard, vacated the notice determination, and remanded for redetermination of that issue under the strong-likelihood standard. The court noted that the decision to send notice of an FLSA suit to other employees is often dispositive, in the sense of forcing a settlement. As a practical matter, it is not possible to conclusively make “similarly situated” determinations as to employees who are not present in the case. View "Clark v. A&L Homecare & Training Center, LLC" on Justia Law