Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Milman worked as an attorney at Fieger. On March 13, 2020, all schools and daycare facilities closed due to COVID-19. Fieger began exploring remote work. Milman was scheduled to work from home on Wednesday, March 18. Over the weekend, Milman e-mailed Harrington, a partner at the Firm, requesting to work from home on Monday and Tuesday. She noted that her children’s daycare facility was closed and her concerns about her son’s heightened vulnerability to COVID-19 as a result of his bout with RSV—a dangerous respiratory infection that put him in the hospital for five days. Harrington advised her to take paid time off (PTO) on those two days. On Monday, Governor Whitmer issued an executive order that banned gatherings of more than 50 people. Milman’s son developed symptoms resembling COVID-19. She contacted Human Resources and offered to take unpaid leave. HR responded that she could work from home for the remainder of the week. Later that day, HR e-mailed Milman a letter, signed by Fieger, that terminated her employment for failure to come into work on Thursday.Milman sued, alleging violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2601(b)(1)–(5). The district court dismissed Milman’s FMLA claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Milman’s request for leave was protected—even if she ultimately was not entitled to it. Milman plausibly attempted to engage in the process contemplated under FMLA. View "Milman v. Fieger & Fieger, P.C." on Justia Law

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KDE, a thoroughbred racehorse training and care operation, has four locations in Texas, New York, and Kentucky. KDE employed 120-150 employees, including hotwalkers, responsible for walking and bathing the horses to cool them down, and grooms, who prep the horses for training. The hotwalkers work every day of the week from 5:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Some hotwalkers work additional hours every other day, typically from 3:00-4:30 p.m. On average, the hotwalkers work 44.25 hours per week. Grooms also work every day of the week, usually, from 5:00-11:00 a.m. and from 3:00 p.m. to approximately 4:30 p.m. Grooms typically work between 48.5-52.5 hours per week. Most of the employees did not submit timesheets for the additional hours worked, while others submitted inaccurate time sheets; it is impossible to determine how many hours each employee worked. The Department of Labor (DOL) sought an injunction and damages for KDE’s alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, for failing to pay employees the federal minimum wage, for failing to pay employees overtime wages, and for failing to keep adequate and accurate employment records.The Sixth Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of DOL on the overtime claims. The district court’s grant of summary judgment on the willfulness issue in favor of KDE was inappropriate; genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether KDE willfully failed to pay its employees in compliance with the FLSA. View "Walsh v. KDE Equine, LLC" on Justia Law

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Blount who is Black, worked for Stanley for 21 years, most recently as a forklift operator. Blount was warned multiple times against using his phone on the plant floor, in violation of safety policies. On January 31, 2018, Taylor reported that Blount was driving a forklift toward her with “neither of his hands on the wheel” because he was manipulating his smartwatch. Blount offered no explanation. Stanley credited Taylor’s account and took steps to terminate Blount. Blount’s union interceded and Blount signed a last-chance agreement, which provided that any additional safety violations within two years would result in Blount’s immediate termination. A few months later Taylor reported seeing Blount using his cell phone in his lap while sitting on an idling forklift. Blount denied the conduct. Stanley, after an investigation, fired him. Blount’s union withdrew a grievance when Blount refused to provide his phone records. As a separate matter, Blount had filed an EEOC complaint in 2015 that was dismissed in 2016.Blount sued under Kentucky Civil Rights Act, alleging that he was fired because of his race and in retaliation for his 2015 EEOC complaint. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment. Stanley offered a legitimate non-discriminatory reason—serious safety violations—for firing Blount, which was not a pretext for intentional discrimination. Blount’s proferred comparators, white employees who were not terminated, were not similarly situated. There was no evidence connecting Blount’s protected conduct and his termination. View "Blount v. Stanley Engineering Fastening" on Justia Law

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Kirkland, a Maryville patrol officer, used her Facebook account to criticize the county sheriff. She belittled his public speaking abilities and referred to his supporters as “brainwashed minions.” Kirkland had previously worked as a Sheriff’s Office corrections officer. Kirkland had previous disciplinary issues. Kirkland’s supervisors became concerned that her posts would undermine the Department’s relationship with the Sheriff’s Office and asked her to stop. They also reprimanded her for other behavioral issues. Following Kirkland’s Facebook post claiming the sheriff had excluded her from a training event because she was female and opposed his reelection, Maryville fired Kirkland.Kirkland sued, citing First Amendment retaliation, Title VII, and the Tennessee Human Rights Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in the city’s favor. Although the statements were made in Kirkland’s capacity as a private citizen and Maryville did not show Kirkland made the post with knowledge of, or reckless indifference to, its falsity, the balance of interests favored the city. The court noted the heightened need for order, loyalty, and efficiency in law enforcement. The city has “legitimate and powerful interests” as a law enforcement agency in preserving its working relationship with the Sheriff’s Office that outweigh Kirkland’s speech rights. View "Kirkland v. City of Maryville" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Render started as a line worker at FCA. FCA terminated his employment in 2015, for attendance infractions. Render filed a union grievance and FCA conditionally reinstated him in April 2017, with a one-year probationary period. Under his Conditional Reinstatement Letter, FCA could terminate him if he incurred two unexcused tardies or one unexcused absence during that year. About six months after his reinstatement, Render applied for intermittent leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2601, to manage his major recurrent depression and anxiety disorder. The letters conditionally approving the leave gave Render conflicting instructions about how to call in to use his FMLA leave days. Render believed that he had to call a 1-800 number and report his absence. He “didn’t realize there was a second number.”Render’s subsequent attempts to call in and use his FMLA leave did not satisfy his supervisors. He was terminated for violating his Reinstatement Letter by incurring three tardies and two absences. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of Render’s FMLA interference and retaliation claims. Render’s notice to FCA met FMLA requirements. Render established a prima facie retaliation claim. . Render raised sufficient facts showing that FCA’s nondiscriminatory reason for his termination (noncompliance with FCA’s policies) was pretextual. View "Render v. FCA US, LLC" on Justia Law

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Caudill's subsidiary develops nutritional supplements. Jarrow, a dietary-supplement company, solicited Ashurst, Caudill’s Director of Research, who had extensively researched the development of broccoli-seed derivatives at issue. Ashurst had signed Non-Disclosure, Non-Competition, and Secrecy Agreements, and annually signed Caudill’s employee handbook, which barred him from disclosing Caudill’s trade secrets or other confidential information. In April 2011, Ashurst, still a Caudill employee, emailed Jarrow confidential Caudill documents. Days later, Jarrow requested a file of the pertinent data. Ashurst sent a physical disc. On May 1, Ashurst began to work for Jarrow. Ashurst then submitted his resignation to Caudill. Ashurst’s Agreement with Jarrow indicated that Jarrow hired him to mimic his work for Caudill, Ashurst proposed that Jarrow adopt the process that Caudill used to manufacture the raw materials for its BroccoMax supplement. Jarrow brought an activated broccoli product into commercial production four months after hiring Ashurst. From 2012-2019, Jarrow earned $7.5 million in sales of their BroccoMax-type product.In a suit under the Kentucky Uniform Trade Secrets Act, the Sixth Circuit affirmed a judgment of $2,427,605 in damages awarded by the jury, $1,000,000 in exemplary damages, $3,254,303.50 in attorney fees, and $69,871.82 in costs against Jarrow. The court rejected arguments that Caudill failed to define one of its Trade Secrets adequately, failed to show that Jarrow acquired that Trade Secret; and did not introduce sufficient evidence attributing its damages to that misappropriation, as well as challenges to the awards of damages. View "Caudill Seed & Warehouse Co. Inc. v. Jarrow Formulas, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Cincinnati Citizen Complaint Authority investigates alleged police misconduct and usually interviews the relevant officers, complainants, and other witnesses. Officers are required to participate in such investigations. An officer may bring a union representative to the interview. The Authority video records the interviews. Sergeant Hils, the President of the Union, claims that Authority Investigator Ekeke, in recording an officer’s interview, selectively turned off the recording when the officer made exculpatory statements. Another time, he alleges, Ekeke “threatened” an officer before the interview. Hils tried to record an interview of Officer Knapp, whom he represented. The Authority instituted a policy, prohibiting officers or their representatives from recording the interviews.Hils and affected officers sued, alleging violations of their free-speech rights, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The union filed an unfair labor practices charge, which led to a partial settlement agreement. The city agreed to record all future interviews. The district court held that the settlement agreement mooted the selective-recording claims and that the First Amendment does not include a right to record a government investigation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The policy satisfies rational-basis review. The Authority has legitimate interests in maintaining order and fairness during its interviews by ensuring the ongoing interviews are not selectively broadcasted, by ensuring the integrity of the investigation, by protecting the subjects of the investigation from unfair and precipitous public criticism, and by trying to prevent other subjects of the investigation from hearing prior interviews. View "Hils v. Davis" on Justia Law

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KLPI operates Kroger grocery stores throughout Tennessee. KLPI has a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Union, which represents all retail employees in different retail-store configurations. The Union immediately represents the employees in any new KLPI store. In 2020, Kroger’s “Supply Chain Division” opened the Knoxville Local Fulfillment Center. After the warehouse opened, the Union filed a grievance, claiming that the Union represented employees at that facility—which the Union called the “Knoxville eCommerce Store.” The Union described how warehouse employees fill orders placed by Walgreens pharmacies and that employees who pick and deliver these orders perform “fundamental[ly] bargaining[-]unit work” like unionized employees at KLPI’s grocery stores. KLPI refused to process the grievance for itself or Kroger, claiming that the Center is a warehouse, not a grocery store, and is part of Kroger’s “supply chain network,” independent from KLPI’s retail stores; KLPI has no relationship with Fulfillment Center employees.The Union pursued arbitration under the CBA. KLPI refused to arbitrate. The district court determined the Union’s claim was arbitrable under the CBA but Kroger was not a party to the CBA; KLPI was ordered to arbitrate. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The grievance falls within the scope of the CBA’s arbitration agreement, which does not prevent the possible inference that the fulfillment center and its employees are covered by the CBA. View "United Food & Commercial Workers v. Kroger Co." on Justia Law

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Clemons worked as a coal miner for 10 years and smoked two packs per day for 30 years. Clemons suffered and died from COPD. His claims for federal black-lung benefits (30 U.S.C. 901) were denied. An ALJ awarded Mrs. Clemons survivor’s benefits after considering three medical opinions. Dr. Sikder diagnosed Clemons with legal pneumoconiosis in the form of COPD that resulted from both cigarette smoking and from coal-mine dust exposure. Doctros Habre and Broudy attributed Clemons’s COPD solely to his cigarette smoking. The ALJ credited Sikder’s opinion as well-documented, well-reasoned, and supported by substantial evidence, irrespective of the length of coal mine employment she considered, so that opinion was accorded “probative weight” while the other opinions did not sufficiently explain why Clemons’s coal-mine dust exposure did not contribute “at least in part” to his COPD. The Benefits Review Board affirmed, concluding that the evidence was sufficient to establish the presence of legal pneumoconiosis.The Sixth Circuit denied a petition for review, finding that the ALJ took the coal mine employment discrepancy into account when he weighed Dr. Sikder’s opinion, and acted within his discretion in explaining that the discrepancy was not so great as to detract from the opinion’s probative value. View "Huscoal, Inc. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, United States Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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A physician group fired Post, a nurse-anesthesist, months after she suffered an accident. The group’s subsequent bankruptcy impeded Post’s efforts to hold it liable for employment discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She instead sued the hospital at which she worked. Although the hospital did not employ her, Post argued that two statutes allow her to enforce the ADA’s employment protections against non-employers.The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the hospital. The ADA “interference” provision makes it “unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any individual in the exercise or enjoyment of” an ADA-protected right. 42 U.S.C. 12203(b) does not allow plaintiffs with disabilities to sue entities that are not their employers. A nearby subsection clarifies that the provision incorporates remedies that permit suits only against employers. The civil-conspiracy provision in the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. 1985(3) authorizes a damages suit when two or more parties “conspire” to “depriv[e]” “any person or class of persons” of “the equal protection of the laws” or the “equal privileges and immunities under the laws” but does permit a plaintiff to assert a conspiracy claim against an entity that is not the plaintiff’s employer for the deprivation of an ADAprotected employment right. View "Post v. Trinity Health-Michigan" on Justia Law