Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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Rebecca, employed by SNS, enrolled herself and her husband in SNS’s health-benefits coverage. In 2013, Rebecca fell at work and injured her knee. Her injury was too severe to permit her to continue working. She signed a form requesting to open a workers’ compensation claim and to receive a leave of absence. The form did not mention the “Family and Medical Leave Act.” SNS sent a letter instructing her to complete paperwork for processing her absence under the FMLA. She did so. SNS approved her leave of absence as FMLA leave (rather than paid leave) for the first 12 weeks, but did not give her any other written notice of that designation. SNS deducted her insurance contributions from her workers’ compensation checks. SNS notified Rebecca when her FMLA leave expired, stating that, if her employment was terminated, she could continue health benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA). Having received no premium payment weeks later, SNS notified Rebecca that the benefits had been discontinued. SNS terminated her employment. Rebecca sued, alleging that SNS failed to notify her of the right to temporarily continue health-benefit coverage under COBRA and breached its fiduciary duty under ERISA by failing to so notify her. The district court determined that a qualifying event occurred with the reduction in Rebecca’s work hours on the day after her injury, requiring notice. The Sixth Circuit reversed because the terms of Rebecca’s insurance coverage did not change upon her taking a leave of absence. No “qualifying event” occurred to trigger a COBRA notification obligation. View "Morehouse v. Steak N Shake" on Justia Law

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The UAW negotiates collective-bargaining agreements (CBAs) with automotive manufacturers including Fiat Chrysler (FCA). Plaintiffs claim that FCA officials bribed UAW officials to get a more company-friendly CBA. The scandal resulted in federal convictions and indictments. Plaintiffs filed a purported class action, alleging violations of Labor-Management Relations Act (LMRA) section 301, 29 U.S.C. 185. The Second Amended Complaint named individuals formerly employed by both FCA and UAW, alleges that “FCA executives and FCA employees agree[d] ... and willfully paid and delivered, money and things of value to officers and employees of the UAW,” and that plaintiffs have been unable to discover the complete extent of defendants’ collusive conduct because of the secrecy of the ongoing federal criminal investigations. The complaint refers to a “hybrid 301 claim” and raises two counts: violation of the LMRA and breach of the LMRA duty of fair representation, both of which must be properly alleged in a hybrid claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. A section 301 “hybrid claim” requires evidence of the violation of a contract or CBA and the complaint explicitly does not allege that defendants violated any CBA provision. Plaintiffs failed to allege that they exhausted internal union remedies and CBA grievance procedures and did not establish proximate cause between defendants’ alleged malfeasance and plaintiffs’ injuries. View "Swanigan v. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S., LLC" on Justia Law

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Sensabaugh, the former head football coach at David Crockett High School in Washington County, Tennessee, made two Facebook posts expressing his concerns about the conditions and practices of schools within the District. The posts included pictures of students. Sensabaugh refused to comply with requests to remove the posts and became aggressive with his supervisors who noted other alleged misconduct, including his use of profane language with students and his requiring a student to practice while injured. He was fired after a guidance meeting where his conduct caused his supervisor to report her concern “that Sensabaugh posed a threat to the safety of the students and staff.” He sued, raising First Amendment retaliation and municipal liability claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding no causal connection between Sensabaugh’s Facebook posts and his termination. A thorough independent investigation preceded Sensabaugh’s termination; that investigation concluded that the misconduct allegations were substantiated in full or in part and that the misconduct supported termination. View "Sensabaugh v. Halliburton" on Justia Law

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Boxill worked at Franklin County Municipal Court. Boxill alleges that the defendants, judges and an administrator, formulated a concealed policy that female employees asserting complaints about abusive and discriminatory treatment by judges would be discouraged and intimidated. She claimed that in 2011 O’Grady began making sexist and racist comments and that Brandt was “hostile and intimidating." Boxill reported this to administrators and judges in 2011-2013; “[n]o administrator or Judge acted ... each discouraged [her] from action.” They began removing her responsibilities. A week after others reported O’Grady’s behavior Boxill was demoted. She claims that O’Grady then recruited other judges to monitor her and her staff. The Defendants began bypassing her and going directly to the Caucasian male subordinate. She resigned and later filed suit, alleging that each Defendant retaliated against her in violation of the First Amendment, 42 U.S.C. 1983, 1981 and contributed to a hostile work environment. The district court dismissed her claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Boxill offered no plausible, non-conclusory facts to show that O’Grady was aware of her complaints and cannot demonstrate that O’Grady’s adverse actions were motivated by her protected speech. Reversing as to the hostile work environment claim, the court stated Boxill’s complaint plausibly alleged that O’Grady made sexist and racist comments to her and others for years, she reported that behavior, and the harassment was sufficiently severe and/or pervasive that others found it necessary to memorialize their concerns in writing. View "Boxill v. O'Grady" on Justia Law

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Dyer, a Ventra employee, has migraine headaches that often prevent him from working. Ventra’s collective bargaining agreement's attendance policy does not require the employee to justify an absence; points are assessed for absences, depending on whether the employee calls in to report the absence and whether the employee is absent for his entire shift or only part of it. Once an employee accumulates 11 or more points, he is terminated. Certain absences, including leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2615(a)(1), are expressly excluded from the point-accumulation system. Employees who have perfect attendance for 30 days will have their total points reduced by one point. Taking leave for vacations, bereavement, jury duty, military duty, union leave and holidays keeps the 30-day clock running. The point reduction schedule did not count FMLA and other unpaid leave (such as disability) as days “worked” toward 30-day perfect attendance. Beginning in 2013, Dyer used intermittent FMLA leave. Dyer did not have any points for using his FMLA leave. Ventra terminated Dyer in 2016, for accumulating 12 points. The district court granted Ventra summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Resetting Dyer’s perfect-attendance clock every time he took FMLA leave effectively denied him the flexibility of the no-fault attendance policy that employees not taking FMLA leave enjoyed. Dyer's ability to remain employed hinged on his not taking FMLA leave. FMLA leave is treated less favorably than other equivalent leave statuses. View "Dyer v. Ventra Sandusky, LLC" on Justia Law

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Hubbell worked as a FedEx parcel sorter. She alleges that her manager told her she should accept a demotion because “females are better suited to administrative roles and males are better suited to leadership roles,” repeatedly disciplined her, then eventually demoted her from her position as lead parcel sorter based on her sex. She also alleges that FedEx retaliated against her for filing complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and for filing a lawsuit by unfairly disciplining her, not allowing her to earn extra pay by clocking in early or clocking out late, and closely surveilling her. Eventually, she was fired. The Sixth Circuit affirmed a jury verdict finding in favor of Hubbell on her Title VII retaliation claim and the reduction of her attorney’s fees from the requested amount. A reasonable factfinder could find that several of the actions Hubbell testified about would be sufficient, on their own or in combination, to dissuade a reasonable worker from filing or pursuing an EEOC complaint. A reasonable factfinder could also find that some or all these acts were taken in retaliation for Hubbell’s EEOC complaints. A reasonable factfinder could determine that, despite its formal anti-discrimination policy, FedEx did not engage in good-faith efforts to comply with Title VII. View "Hubbell v. FedEx SmartPost, Inc." on Justia Law

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Hendrickson petitioned for review of the Board's finding that Hendrickson's statements constituted unfair labor practices because they coerced employees in the exercise of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and order requiring Hendrickson to post remedial notices around its plant. The Sixth Circuit granted the petition, holding that the Board's opinion was not supported by substantial evidence. The court held that there was no record of unfair labor practices at Hendrickson's plant that would cast Hendrickson's plant-wide letter -- cautioning employees that contract negotiations would begin "from scratch" -- in a threatening light. Furthermore, Hendrickson's statements about changing company culture were projections of consequences beyond its control, rather than threats to retaliate against employees for authorizing union representation. Accordingly, the court denied the Board's cross-appeal for enforcement. View "Hendrickson USA, LLC v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Erickson is the only unionized crane rental company in western Michigan. In 2015, the Local insisted that only members of the Local, not the company’s other unions, perform crane-operator work. The Local threatened to stop referring union members for regular temporary-labor needs and operators began seeking the Local’s help with payroll mix-ups rather than resolving them with Erickson. When the company told employees to “quit talking to Brandon because he’s going to get you in trouble,” the Local filed its first-ever grievance and unfair labor practice charge against Erickson, which eventually agreed to allow workers to seek the Local’s help. In 2016 Erickson discovered that the Local was approaching customers and encouraging them to hire through the Union’s referral process rather than contracting with the company. Erickson fired six members of the Local, 30% of the company’s operators. Erickson told the fired workers about the lack of work for small cranes; the layoffs “could be reversed,” if the workers would “get the Union to back off.” Erickson put six small cranes on the market. The Local filed unfair labor practice charges under 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(1); 158(a)(3). The Sixth Circuit affirmed an NLRB decision in favor of the Local. Even if Erickson exited the small-crane market for unrelated reasons, the need to terminate the operators did not necessarily follow. Erickson had a dramatic increase in temporary hires immediately after the discharges, often for tasks the fired workers performed. The company’s justification was pretextual. View "Erickson Trucking Service, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The union accused the employer, which operates coal-fired power generation facilities in Ohio and Pennsylvania, of implementing terms and conditions of employment that were inconsistent with the employer’s final impasse offer during collective bargaining negotiations and of unilaterally subcontracting out periodic maintenance work historically performed by union employees. The National Labor Relations Board affirmed an administrative law judge’s findings in favor of the union on both charges. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that the employer violated Section 8(a)(5) and (1) of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 158 (a)(5), (a)(1), when, after impasse, it selectively implemented certain pre-impasse bargaining proposals that were inextricably linked to other proposals not imposed. The court reversed with respect to subcontracting the turbine/generator outage work without first bargaining with the union. The decision to subcontract a planned project involving the shutdown and maintenance of one of its turbine-generator units is properly characterized as a business management decision, driven by the employer's responsibility to keep its generating units in working order, while continuously offering full service, or face penalties. The court reversed the Board’s order requiring the employer to supply requested information regarding subcontracting. View "FirstEnergy Generation, LLC v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Hickle began working for AMC in 2004, while in high school. In 2006, he was promoted to Operations Coordinator. In 2008, he joined the Ohio Army National Guard. Before leaving for training, Hickle interviewed for a management position with Kalman, stating that he was going to have to leave for military training for approximately six months; Kalman ended the interview immediately. The person who got the promotion later told Hickle: “Thanks for joining the military. I just got promoted.” AMC promoted Hickle to management when he returned from training; in 2013 Hickle was again promoted. In the interim, Hickle continued his military service, including serving for over a year in Afghanistan. AMC never prevented Hickle from fulfilling his military obligations or denied him time off, but Senior Manager Adler repeatedly expressed disapproval. During meeting with Kalman and Adler, Hickle provided Kalman with a pamphlet on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Adler continued to insinuate that Hickle could or should be fired for taking time off for military duty. After an incident involving allegations of stealing food from the AMC kitchen, there was an investigation, performed by a Compliance Manager. Hickle was suspended and was ultimately fired for “unprofessional behavior.” The district court rejected Hickle’s USERRA suit. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Hickle gathered evidence during discovery that would allow a reasonable jury to find that military service was a motivating factor in AMC’s termination decision. View "Hickle v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc." on Justia Law