Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Schwamberger v. Marion County Board of Elections
Schwamberger, a former deputy director of the Marion County Board of Elections sued the Board and its former director, Meyer, asserting, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, that the defendants’ actions constituted First Amendment retaliation, violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, and violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Each Ohio County Board of Elections must have four members divided equally between the two major parties. The deputy director (Schwamberger) and the director (Meyer) are always members of opposite political parties, R.C. 3501.091, and deputy directors serve at the pleasure of their county boards. Schwamberger was terminated for impermissibly commenting on the election process, and therefore on policy and political issues related to her deputy-director position, after attempting to complain about errors in the 2018 election to the Board.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Schwamberger’s suit. Schwamberger’s speech proximately caused her termination but that speech implicated policy concerns; she was a policymaking employee, so her speech was unprotected. Schwamberger has not demonstrated a property interest in her position. Under Ohio law, she was an at-will employee who served at the pleasure of the Board. Even if the Board did act “arbitrarily” regarding her discharge, its actions do not create a constitutional claim. View "Schwamberger v. Marion County Board of Elections" on Justia Law
Joseph Forrester Trucking v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs
The Sixth Circuit denied the consolidated petition for review brought by three coal mine operators challenging the Benefits Review Board's adverse black lung benefits determination. Honoring the Board's customary requirement that issues be raised first with the ALJ, the court held that the operators failed to preserve their Appointments Clause challenge.In this case, the court's review of the Department of Labor's regulations reveals a regulatory exhaustion requirement applicable to ALJ proceedings. The court explained that black lung benefits adjudication regulations require that litigants raise issues before the ALJ as a prerequisite to review by the Benefits Review Board. Moreover, the Board's longstanding practice of treating issues not raised below as forfeited confirms this conclusion. The court also concluded that by failing to comply with the Board's timeliness requirements, the operators failed to preserve their Appointments Clause challenges. Furthermore, the operators failed to identify an applicable exception that would excuse failure. Finally, the panel noted that, while it did not see evidence that the operators acted with a nefarious motive, the court is nonetheless mindful not to invite "sandbagging" or "judge-shopping" in future black lung proceedings. View "Joseph Forrester Trucking v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law
Rembert v. A Plus Home Health Care Agency, LLC
Rembert, a nurse, routinely worked more than 40 hours per week for A Plus but did not receive overtime. Rembert filed a purported class action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Department of Labor investigated. The court certified a class and ordered A-Plus to provide a list of persons potentially fitting within the class. The deadline passed. A magistrate scheduled a phone conference; defense counsel failed to appear. A Plus provided responsive information about five weeks after the deadline. The parties began discovery, which was notable for defense counsel’s repeated failure to comply. Rembert’s counsel finally filed a motion to compel. The magistrate granted the motion and ordered A Plus to pay “reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.” Defense counsel failed to respond. Rembert filed another motion. As a result of the DOL investigation, some class members received full payment of the amounts owed to them. The parties ultimately agreed to the entry of judgment in favor of Rembert and the remaining class members, $18,961.Rembert moved for an award of fees and costs under the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. 216(b). Her lawyers requested hourly rates of $350 and $300, respectively, and submitted detailed records for 21.2 hours of work for the motion to compel and 98.7 hours on the remainder of the case. The court approved the rates but reduced counsel’s total compensable hours to 46.2 and cut the fee award an additional $1,660. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The plaintiffs obtained 100% of the recovery due to them. The court did not explain which hours it rejected and apparently did not consider the impact of delays caused by defense counsel. The court remanded with instructions to grant the petition for fees and costs in the amount of $38,765.00. View "Rembert v. A Plus Home Health Care Agency, LLC" on Justia Law
Thompson v. Fresh Products, LLC
Thompson, an African-American, has arthritis in her knees, back, and neck. Her doctor gave her lifting restrictions at a previous job. She was approved for Social Security Disability payments in 2014 based on a primary disability of morbid obesity and a secondary disability of arthritis. She is no longer morbidly obese. Fresh hired Thompson, age 52, as a production worker in 2016. Thompson did not mention her arthritis diagnosis and did not have restrictions on her ability to work; she performed her job duties without accommodations. Thompson later decided she would like to work part-time “to get some work done on [her] back.” Her supervisors do not recall any conversations about her pain or desire to work part-time. She did not provide medical documentation. Fresh began experiencing a reduction in sales and changed its shift schedule. Thompson indicated that she was unable to work the new schedule but did not provide an explanation. Thompson later asked about part-time hours. As one of five employees who indicated that she could not work proposed shift changes, Thompson was laid off.Thompson sued, alleging disability discrimination, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101–12117, age discrimination, under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621–634, and race discrimination, under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2–2000e-5. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Fresh. Thompson has not established a prima facie case of discrimination. View "Thompson v. Fresh Products, LLC" on Justia Law
Pelcha v. MW Bancorp, Inc.
Pelcha began working as a bank teller in 2005. A new supervisor, Sonderman, began overseeing Pelcha in 2016 and required her direct reports to submit written requests for any time out of the office by the middle of the month before the month of the requested time off. In July 2016, Pelcha planned to take time off from work but did not use the written request form. She told Sonderman that she was “not filling [the request out] because [she didn’t] have to.” Pelcha nonetheless completed the form, placing it in Sonderman’s office on the day before her time off. The next day, Sonderman spoke with CEO Niesen, at a regularly scheduled management meeting, about Pelcha’s failure to submit the form, Pelcha's negative attitude, and failure to timely complete tasks. Niesen stated that he had no tolerance for insubordination and told everyone he intended to fire Pelcha. He asked Sonderman to memorialize the chain of events in a memo. Days later, Niesen terminated Pelcha’s employment and informed her that it was because of her insubordination.Pelcha, then 47 years old, sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 623(a)(1). The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her claims. Nielsen’s comments about another employee were irrelevant to Pelcha’s termination. Pelcha’s insubordination was a legitimate reason for the termination and was not pretextual. Pelcha failed to establish disparate treatment. View "Pelcha v. MW Bancorp, Inc." on Justia Law
Kubala v. Smith
Kubala worked for Trumbull County as a “fiduciary” employee; he was not under civil-service rules and could participate in partisan political activities. Kubala reported to Smith, who holds an elected position. Kubala claims that Smith sexually harassed him and created a hostile work environment related to Kubala’s supposed homosexuality. Kubala told Laukart, the office manager, about Smith’s comments. Laukart replied that Smith could not be controlled. Kubala claims that Kubala running for political office against Smith’s wife and his attendance at certain political functions triggered an adverse employment action. Smith allegedly told Kubala not to attend certain political functions. Kubala testified that Smith’s attorney asked Kubala if he wanted to change his job status to “classified” because he would be “protected.” Kubala interpreted it as a threat of retaliation because the change would end his involvement in local politics. Kubala’s resignation letter stated he was resigning because the work environment was harming his physical and mental health. Kubala was under the care of a physician and a therapist to cope with the harassment and high blood pressure, which Kubala attributed to his harassment.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Kubala’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims. Kubala failed to show that Smith violated his First Amendment rights because the alleged threat is too ambiguous. The district court lacked supplemental jurisdiction over Kubala’s state sexual-harassment claim, which shares no common nucleus of operative fact with his constitutional claim. View "Kubala v. Smith" on Justia Law
Eberline v. Douglas J. Holdings, Inc.
The plaintiffs attended licensed Michigan cosmetology schools, each of which includes a clinic salon where students work toward the state’s 965-hour practical experience requirement. The salons are open to the public. Customers pay for beauty services provided by students and can purchase products available in the salon. The schools profit from the salons. Students are not compensated for their time. When not working on clients, students wash and fold towels, clean the studio, and perform other janitorial jobs. Students receive academic credit for the time spent on such tasks.The plaintiffs sued, seeking compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The district court granted the plaintiffs partial summary judgment, holding that they were owed compensation for certain cleaning work. The Sixth Circuit held that the district court properly focused on the specific work for which plaintiffs seek compensation, rather than on the entirety of the training program, but failed to correctly apply circuit precedent governing FLSA claims in an educational setting. On remand, the court must apply the primary-beneficiary test. Where students in a training environment seek compensation for some of the work they perform during the educational relationship, the court should consider that the students received academic credit and should evaluate the relationship between the challenged activities and the curriculum. Among the specific factors to be considered: the lack of expectation of payment; the educational value of the tasks under scrutiny; the displacement of paid employees, and the school’s competitive benefit. View "Eberline v. Douglas J. Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law
Alemarah v. General Motors, LLC
Alemarah sued her former employer, GM, in both state and federal court, claiming employment discrimination based upon identical factual allegations. The state suit asserted state claims, the federal suit, federal claims. The state court dismissed that case after a case evaluation ($400,000); the federal district court granted GM summary judgment. Alemarah challenged the court’s grant of summary judgment, its denial of her motion to recuse the judge, and an award ($4,715) of costs.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The court properly granted summary judgment. Under Michigan law, the state court’s order dismissing her claims after acceptance of the case evaluation was a judgment on the merits, Alemarah and GM were parties in both case, and the matter in the second case could have been resolved in the first, so res judicata bars every claim arising from the same transaction that the parties, exercising reasonable diligence, could have raised. The court acknowledged that a reasonable observer could conclude that the district judge’s statement in a letter to Alemarah’s counsel expressed anger and another of the judge’s actions could be seen as punitive but those actions were not “so extreme as to display clear inability to render fair judgment.” GM submitted as costs the amount it paid for deposition transcripts that it attached to its summary judgment motion; the costs were allowable. View "Alemarah v. General Motors, LLC" on Justia Law
Flowers v. WestRock Services, Inc.
Flowers worked as a pipefitter and welder for 30 years at Graphic before retiring. A few years later, WestRock was looking for pipefitters. WestRock’s online application included sections titled “Required Skills and Experience” and “Additional Requirements,” requiring that the applicant be able to read blueprints. Flowers applied. The application did not ask for a date of birth (Flowers was 71). WestRock HR forwarded the application to Klon, a team lead, and Bumgart, a supervisor. From his prior experience working with Flowers at Graphic, Klon felt that Flowers demonstrated a poor work ethic. Klon recalled specific incidents. Bumgart contacted a friend who had worked with Flowers at Graphic; that friend told Bumgart to “stay away” from hiring Flowers. Fecteau declined Flowers’ application. Flowers learned that a younger, less experienced worker was hired and sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. During discovery, Flowers admitted that he does not know how to read building blueprints nor does he have experiences listed in Required Skills. He had refused to get certified for certain welding activities because he “didn’t want to be a welder anyway.”The Sixth Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of WestRock. Flowers failed to establish a prima facie case of age discrimination because he was not “otherwise qualified” for the position given his inability to read blueprints or select pipes and his unwillingness to weld. He failed to show that WestRock’s reasons for not hiring him were false. View "Flowers v. WestRock Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Stockdale v. Helper
Williamson County District Attorney Helper told other officials that she distrusted Fairview Police officers Stockdale and Dunning and that she would not “take their cases.” Helper wrote to the city manager (Collins): “per our discussion, this Office has concerns about reports initiated/investigated solely by” Dunning or Stockdale and that defense counsel would be entitled to a copy of an earlier investigation report concerning the officers. Helper stated, “[w]ithout independent corroboration from another law enforcement officer and/or independent witness, the[ir] testimony . . . may be impeached.” Collins disputed Helper’s assessment but Helper refused to back down. Collins fired the officers, explaining the email provided the “sole reason.”Stockdale and Dunning sued. They settled their claims against the city, leaving a First Amendment claim and state law claims against Helper. The district court denied Helper’s claim of absolute immunity and her claim for qualified immunity from the federal First Amendment retaliation claim. It also denied her summary judgment with respect to state law claims for official oppression and tortious interference with a business relationship. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Because Helper’s actions were not closely tied to the judicial process, absolute immunity does not apply; because her conduct did not violate any clearly established law, qualified immunity protects her. View "Stockdale v. Helper" on Justia Law