Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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Plaintiff was hired as an Assistant Principal at Grosse Pointe South High School in 2012. In 2014, Hamka became principal of GPSHS. Plaintiff had difficulties with changes instituted by Hamka and complained about Hamka’s comments and conduct toward her. After a series of incidents, Plaintiff received a “minimally effective” rating for the 2014–2015 school year in her personnel file, but an “effective” rating was sent to the State of Michigan as a “placeholder” pending Plaintiff’s job search. Plaintiff received only a one-year contract instead of a two-year rolling contract. She became ineligible for any merit pay or step increases and was placed on an Individualized Development Plan (IDP). In 2015, the district’s superintendent transferred Plaintiff to Parcells Middle School because of her complaint against Hamka and the other incidents. Plaintiff took Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave from November 2015 to March 2016 due to stress but nonetheless received an “effective” rating and was given a two-year contract and taken off the IDP. Plaintiff filed an EEOC charge in December 2015 alleging gender discrimination and retaliation for her earlier complaint of gender discrimination and harassment, then filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. 2601, and state law. The district court granted the school district summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed with respect to the gender discrimination and retaliation claims but affirmed with regard to the FMLA retaliation claim. View "Redlin v. Grosse Pointe Public School System" on Justia Law

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Jones, a Michigan citizen, began working in Equatorial Guinea around 2007. In 2011, he started IPX to provide telecommunication services in Equatorial Guinea. IPX is incorporated and has its principal place of business in Equatorial Guinea. Jones was a shareholder, director, and employee, working as a Director-General under a contract, signed annually in Equatorial Guinea. He lived and worked there during the contract’s term. IPX decided in 2015 to open a U.S. subsidiary and sent Jones to Michigan. His work there was supposed to take six months. Jones would then return to Equatorial Guinea. After Jones arrived in Michigan, IPX learned that he may have stolen money and neglected important business relationships and suspended Jones. Jones claims that the suspension was a pretext to divest him of his stock. He sued for breach of contract in the Eastern District of Michigan. The court dismissed the complaint under forum non conveniens. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Equatorial Guinea is an available and adequate forum; IXP is subject to process there. Most of the witnesses and key documents are in Equatorial Guinea; witnesses can be compelled to testify there. Equatorial Guinean law governs under the underlying employment contract’s choice-of-law provision. There is strong evidence that Jones is not at home in the United States, negating the assumption that a U.S. court is most convenient for him. View "Jones v. IPX International Equatorial Guinea S.A." on Justia Law

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Timberline, a timber-harvesting company that operates solely in Michigan, uses logging and harvesting equipment and trucks that were purchased in Michigan but were manufactured outside of Michigan. The Secretary of Labor sued Timberline and its director, Payne, alleging violations of the overtime and recordkeeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The district court awarded $439,437.42 in unpaid overtime and an equal amount in liquidated damages, reasoning that Timberline was a covered enterprise under the FLSA because it “has employees handling, selling, or otherwise working on goods or materials that have been moved in or produced for commerce by any person,” 29 U.S.C. 203(s)(1)(A)(i), i.e., the logging and harvesting equipment manufactured outside of Michigan. Part of the damages award included time employees spent commuting from home to work or for meal periods, which the district court included in the overtime calculation after finding that Timberline had an established custom or practice of compensating its employees for such time. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the liability determination but vacated the award. The district court erred in finding that ordinary commute time and bona fide meal periods qualify as compensable hours subject to the FLSA’s overtime requirements. View "Secretary of Labor v. Timberline South, LLC" on Justia Law

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Trucking, owned by Bourdow, his wife, and their sons, sold and transported dirt, stone, and sand throughout lower Michigan and engaged in construction site preparation and excavation. Trucking employed other members of the Bourdow family. Trucking executed collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), under which it made fringe benefit payments to the Union’s pension fund (Fund). Experiencing financial difficulties, Trucking terminated its CBA. In 2012, the Fund informed Trucking that it had incurred withdrawal liability ($1,163,279) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C 1381(a). Trucking missed its first withdrawal liability payment. The Fund filed suit, which was stayed when Trucking filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The Fund filed a proof of claim. Trucking did not object; the claim was allowed, 11 U.S.C. 502(a). The Fund received $52,034. Contracting was incorporated the day after Trucking missed its first withdrawal payment; it bid on its first project two days before Trucking's bankruptcy filing. Contracting engages in construction site preparation and excavation in lower Michigan. Contracting is owned by the Bourdow sons; it employs other family members and retains the services of other professionals formerly retained by Trucking. The Fund sought to recover the outstanding withdrawal liability, alleging that Contracting was created to avoid withdrawal liability, and is responsible for that liability under 29 U.S.C 1392(c), and that Contracting is the alter ego of Trucking. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Fund, applying the National Labor Relations Act’s alter-ego test and citing the factors of business purpose, operations, customers, supervision, ownership, and intent to evade labor obligations. View "Trustees of Operating Engineers Local 324 v. Bourdow Contracting, Inc." on Justia Law

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Employees at Seoul Garden, an Ann Arbor, Michigan restaurant, customarily work lunch and dinner shifts six days a week. Before August 2016, when the restaurant got a time clock, employees did not record their hours. The owners marked employees as present or absent for each shift without recording whether employees left early or stayed late. Employees work an average of 52 hours a week. The owners negotiate a “guaranteed wage” day rate with each employee, then derive an hourly rate (for 40 hours) and overtime rate. Although the rate is generous compared to minimum wage, some employees’ rates are too low to reach the guaranteed wage even working a full week, so the owners add a “bonus” to reach the agreed-upon weekly wage. In rare instances, employees exceed their guaranteed wage; the owners apply a “negative bonus” to reduce the pay to the guaranteed wage. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division investigated and alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 207(a). The district court held that the owners owe back pay of $112,212 to 28 employees and enjoined them from continuing violations, but excused them from paying liquidated damages. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting the owners’ insufficient record-keeping but stating that they acted in good faith and had reasonable grounds for believing they were in compliance with the Act. View "Acosta v. Min & Kim, Inc." on Justia Law

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When AMP opened its Smithland, Kentucky power plant, the union petitioned to represent the plant’s operators. The NLRB certified a bargaining unit consisting of the full-time and regular part-time operators employed at the new facility. Because AMP worries that this definition includes operators at other locations that it temporarily assigns to Smithland, it asked the Board to modify the language to exclude temporary assignees. The Board declined. The Sixth Circuit enforced the Board’s order to negotiate. The parties agree that temporary operators do not share a community of interest with full-time and regular part-time Smithland operators. The definition of the bargaining unit by its terms does not include temporary assignees but only those “full-time and regular part-time [operators] employed . . . at” Smithland. A future temporary assignee who covers for a staff shortage is not employed at Smithland. The definition is even clearer in the light of the Board’s prior practice. The court noted that AMP has no plans to assign other operators to Smithland on a temporary basis but only assigned a handful of non-Smithland employees to jumpstart the Smithland facility. View "American Municipal Power, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Economy Linen and Towel Service faced a shortfall of qualified truck drivers and subcontracted with another firm to provide the necessary drivers. The union filed a grievance on the ground that the new drivers earned a higher hourly rate than the union-represented employees. An arbitrator ruled for the union. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that in reviewing arbitration awards, courts do not ask whether the arbitrator interpreted the contract correctly; “the parties bargained for an arbitrator’s interpretation of the contract, not a federal judge’s interpretation of it.” The court noted that this situation did not involve any allegations of fraud and that the arbitrator did not decide any issue outside of his authority but only determined which contractual provision controlled. View "Economy Linen & Towel Service, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters" on Justia Law

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Rottinghouse, an Airgas truck driver, was issued a written warning for failing to properly secure his cargo. An ALJ found that the company used that written discipline to retaliate against Rottinghouse for previously filing charges against it in violation of 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(4). The NLRB affirmed and the Sixth Circuit granted an application for enforcement of the NLRB’s order. The NLRB’s conclusions were supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence supports the Board’s conclusions that the operation manager’s (Froslear’s) description of the events was not credible and that he was not truly concerned with fixing a safety problem; this supported a finding that Froslear was motivated by anti-union animus. The temporal proximity between the protected activity and the discipline was evidence of animus and was within the NLRB’s authority to consider the difference in treatment between Rottinghouse and another in attempting to discern anti-union animus. View "Airgas USA, LLC v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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ODPS offers private security and traffic control services. Most ODPS workers are sworn officers for some law-enforcement entity. Non-sworn workers may have no background in law enforcement. ODPS offers assignments to workers who meet the qualifications specified by the customer. Workers can choose to reject a job but might not receive future assignments if they decline. ODPS sometimes provides workers with equipment. Workers pay for other equipment. All workers must own police-style vehicles. The cost of the non-sworn workers’ investments is roughly $3,000-$5,000. On the job, workers follow the customer’s instructions, comply with ODPS’s standard policies, and occasionally submit to the supervision of other ODPS workers. Sworn police officers wear their official police uniforms; non-sworn workers wear uniforms with ODPS-branded patches. Workers send ODPS an invoice to be paid an hourly wage. All workers sign “independent contractor agreements,” including non-compete clauses. ODPS has never paid overtime wages. The Department of Labor sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 207(a)(1). The district court held that ODPS’s non-sworn workers were employees entitled to overtime wages but that sworn officers were independent contractors because they “simply were not economically dependent on ODPS” and some of ODPS’s records “faulty.” The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. All of the workers were employees. The court noted the length and consistency of the relationship between ODPS and its workers, that ODPS’s workers earned set wages to perform low-skilled jobs for fixed periods, and that the officers were an integral part of ODPS’s business. View "Acosta v. Off Duty Police Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Tramble worked for various Kentucky coal companies from at least May 1963 until June 1985. Tramble’s 1987 claim for benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), 30 U.S.C. 901–944, indicated that he had stopped working due to a job-related back injury. That claim was denied although the parties stipulated to 17 years of qualifying coal mine employment. The ALJ found that medical evidence established that Tramble suffered from coal workers’ pneumoconiosis but was not totally disabled. After his 2008 death, Tramble’s widow sought survivor’s benefits. Reversing an award by an ALJ, the Department of Labor Benefits Review Board found that the ALJ failed to explain adequately how he calculated the 15.25-years of underground coal mine employment that justified application of the 15-year statutory presumption of entitlement to benefits. On remand, the ALJ again awarded benefits. The Board again reversed. The Sixth Circuit remanded. Further fact-finding is required to ensure that all relevant evidence has been considered. The court rejected Incoal’s argument that, in order to be credited with one year of coal mine employment, a miner must be on the payroll of a mining company for 365 consecutive days and have worked 125 of those days in or around a coal mine . View "Shepherd v. Incoal, Inc." on Justia Law