Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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In 1983, Rice sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), 30 U.S.C. 901–45. The Department of Labor (DOL) looks to employers that employed the miner for at least one year and are capable of paying benefits. The miner’s most recent employer that meets these requirements is the “responsible operator.” Employers must either qualify as a self-insurer or purchase BLBA insurance. KRCC operated a coal mine where Rice worked in 1982-1983 but he was employed by a separate corporate entity, KRMS, which charged KRCC for the cost of Rice’s labor. The entities' ownership and management overlapped; KRMS had no assets and operated out of KRCC's offices. KRCC obtained BLBA coverage from Bituminous Casualty but only listed 10 employees. The other 150 were employed by KRMS. An ALJ identified KRMS as the responsible operator, then denied Rice’s claim on the merits. Rice appealed; KRCC and Bituminous successfully moved to be dismissed from the case, because the ALJ identified KRMS as the responsible operator.In 2002, Rice filed another BLBA claim. DOL again notified KRCC and Bituminous that KRCC might be the responsible operator. Bituminous claims it “denied coverage based on the fraudulent arrangements” between KRCC and KRMS. DOL refused to dismiss Bituminous.The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that DOL was collaterally estopped from finding that KRCC was the responsible operator; that Bituminous was entitled to rescind its insurance agreement based on fraud by KRCC; and that delays in DOL administrative proceedings violated its right to due process. View "Karst Robbins Coal Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs" on Justia Law

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Federal regulations require commercial truck drivers to undergo annual physicals to be “medically certified as physically qualified." A driver is not physically qualified if he has a clinical diagnosis of a respiratory dysfunction likely to interfere with his ability to drive a commercial motor vehicle safely. Respiratory dysfunction includes sleep apnea.Allman was diagnosed with apnea after a sleep study and was instructed to wear a CPAP machine when sleeping in his truck. Allman complained about the device, which was remotely monitored. Allman was suspended twice for noncompliance. Allman independently completed a second sleep study, which showed that Allman did not have sleep apnea. Allman stopped wearing the CPAP and obtained a new DOT certification card without another examination. Walmart instructed Allman to participate in another sleep study because the doctor who performed Allman’s independent study was not board certified. A third study resulted in a second diagnosis of sleep apnea. Allman refused to wear the CPAP machine. Rather than taking the conflicting sleep studies to a DOT medical examiner, Allman resigned and filed suit, asserting discrimination based on perceived disability and retaliation under Ohio law.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of both claims. Walmart offered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its CPAP requirement; Allman failed to rebut that reason as pretextual. Walmart’s CPAP requirement was not an unsafe working condition but was a disability accommodation meant to promote public safety and to ensure compliance with federal law. View "Allman v. Walmart, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2008, after being denied tenure, George filed a discrimination lawsuit against Youngstown State University and was reinstated as part of a settlement agreement. As soon as the university’s obligations under the agreement expired, it declined to renew George’s contract and terminated his employment as a professor. George applied to several other positions within the university but was rejected. He then filed employment discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.Following discovery, the district court granted YSU summary judgment, finding that George either failed to show causation, failed to show he was qualified for the job, or failed to show that YSU’s claimed reasons for firing (or not hiring) him were pretextual. The court also dismissed one of George’s failure-to-hire claims— which arose after this lawsuit was filed—based on an administrative exhaustion requirement. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to George reveals a genuine dispute of material fact as to each of the claims and the district court further erred in enforcing the administrative exhaustion requirement because the defendants expressly waived it below. View "George v. Youngstown State University" on Justia Law

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Kenney, an Aspen plant manager, resigned but returned seven years later as a production manager. Employee turnover sharply increased. Dozens of employees said they quit because of Kenney; two formal complaints were lodged against her. Beethem, the principal shareholder, fired Kenney three months after her return.Kenney filed suit, alleging retaliation for her complaints about Aspen's alleged discriminatory practices. Kenney asked the HR manager, Jewell, why Aspen was not seeking employees from Detroit and Flint. Jewell allegedly responded that Beethem “did not like that demographic.” Kenney says she made the same complaint to vice president Quinn, who confirmed that Beethem has a problem with black people. Jewell and Quinn deny that she complained about discrimination. Aspen’s job recruitment was done on the internet, not limited by geography. Kenney also claimed that as business slowed, certain Aspen employees worked reduced hours, simultaneously receiving unemployment benefits. When work picked up, some employees continued to collect unemployment. Kenney says Beethem “zeroed in on” three black employees, recommending them for prosecution. According to Kenney, white employees engaged in similar conduct without prosecution. The prosecuted employees continued collecting benefits when told to stop; employees who were not prosecuted stopped collecting benefits when warned. Kenney claims to have spoken with Quinn about these events.The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Aspen. Kenney did not offer sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII or Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. View "Kenney v. Aspen Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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Darby notified her Childvine supervisor that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was scheduled for a double mastectomy. Mayhugh expressed doubt about whether Childvine would allow Darby to remain employed when her surgery date fell within her 90-day probationary period. Darby moved the procedure to the day after her probationary period expired. Darby’s request to use her vacation and sick time to recover from the procedure was approved. When Darby returned to work, with a medical release, she learned that Childvine had sent a letter of termination effective on the last day of her probationary period because of an “unpleasant” attitude, dress code violations, and “being unable to work.” Darby filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), noting that she was never disciplined for behavior issues. In reviewing Darby’s medical records, Childvine learned that Darby was never diagnosed with cancer; she had a family history of cancer and the BRCA1 “pre-cancerous genetic mutation.” The district court stated that the definition of physical impairment does not include a condition that might lead to cancer, and dismissed the case.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Darby plausibly alleged that her impairment substantially limits her normal cell growth as compared to the general population due to both the BRCA1 gene and a medical diagnosis of abnormal epithelial cell growth serious enough to warrant a double mastectomy. View "Darby v. Childvine, Inc." on Justia Law

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Babcock joined the Michigan National Guard in 1970 and became a dual-status technician “a Federal civilian employee” who “is assigned to a civilian position as a technician” while maintaining membership in the National Guard, 10 U.S.C. 10216(a)(1); 32 U.S.C. 709(e). Babcock served as a National Guard pilot, held the appropriate military grade, wore a uniform that displayed his rank while working, and attended weekend drills. In 2004-2005, Babcock was deployed to Iraq on active duty. Babcock received military pay for his active-duty service and his inactive-duty training, including weekend drills. Otherwise, he received civil pay and participated in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), 5 U.S.C. 5301. Babcock paid Social Security taxes on the wages for his active-duty service and his inactive-duty training from 1988 onwards, 42 U.S.C. 410(l)(1). He did not pay Social Security taxes on his wages for inactive-duty training before 1988 or on his civil-service wages.In 2009, Babcock retired and began receiving monthly CSRS payments and separate military retirement pay. For several years after his retirement, Babcock flew medical-evacuation helicopters for hospitals. This private-sector income was subject to Social Security taxes. Babcock fully retired in 2014. The government reduced his Social Security benefits under the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) because of his CSRS pension. Babcock cited a WEP exception for payments “based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service.” While Babcock's case was pending, the Eleventh Circuit rejected the Eighth Circuit’s contrary analysis and held that the uniformed-services exception does not apply to dual-status technicians. The Sixth Circuit subsequently agreed that a federal civil-service pension based on work as a National Guard dual-status technician does not qualify as “a payment based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service.” View "Babcock v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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Lake manufactures steel-framed buildings. In June 2016, in Akron, two Lake employees were working atop the steel frame of a partially completed building, 28 feet above the ground. The employees were wearing safety harnesses that, if anchored to the building, would prevent them from falling; they had chosen to remain unanchored while they worked with a crane to place bundles of steel decking. An OSHA compliance officer cited their failure to anchor their harnesses as a violation of OSHA’s fall-protection regulations. The on-site foreman disagreed, asserting that those workers were “connectors.” An ALJ upheld the citation, reasoning that the workers were only “placing” the decking bundles, rather than “placing and connecting” them, 29 C.F.R. 1926.751. OSHA’s regulations generally require ironworkers to use fall protection whenever working above a height of 15 feet, but there is an exception to that rule for “connectors,” who are specially trained to work with incoming loads from hoisting equipment and need to remain unencumbered to escape collapses and incoming steel. A “connector,” is defined as “an employee who, working with hoisting equipment, is placing and connecting structural members and/or components.” The Sixth Circuit granted Lake’s petition for review. The court agreed with the Commission’s interpretation of the regulation but concluded on this record that Lake lacked fair notice of that interpretation. View "Lake Building Products, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law

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Lemon asked a coworker for an Advil, explaining that he hurt his neck by “turn[ing] his head.” Later, he asked another coworker to cover his shift, stating that he hurt his neck at home. From the hospital, Lemon texted another coworker that he “tweaked” his neck at home. He first told the doctor that he hurt himself at home, then stated that he hurt himself at work. Later, he reported to his supervisor, claiming he slipped walking up the stairs at work and that he did not discuss the injury with any coworkers. In his formal injury report the next day, Lemon said that he stumbled on the stairs at work. Norfolk has a policy of firing workers who make false statements at work. Norfolk held a hearing and fired Lemon. Lemon claimed Norfolk violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 20101, by retaliating against him for reporting a workplace injury. OSHA dismissed his complaint.The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Norfolk. To prevail, Lemon was required to show that his injury report was a “contributing factor” in the railroad’s decision to fire him; he could not prevail if the railroad would have fired him anyway. Lemon’s injury report was not a contributing factor in Norfolk’s decision to fire him. Even if Lemon provided admissible evidence of a policy of pretextual retaliation, Lemon did not establish retaliation against him. Lemon admits no one at Norfolk ever discouraged him from reporting his injury or threatened him with retaliation. View "Lemon v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Queen, a Bowling Green firefighter, 2011-2016, was subject to harassment because he is an atheist. According to Queen, he was forced to participate in Bible studies; his co-workers and supervisors badgered him regarding his sexuality and regularly disparaged minorities. In 2012, Queen complained to his supervisor, Rockrohr, who “responded in hostility.” Rockrohr later told Queen that he had discussed the matter with the fire chief and they both believed that Queen “needed to get employment somewhere else.” Queen apologized. Queen’s employment conditions did not improve. Queen was intentionally tripped while retrieving his gear and was regularly subject to disparaging remarks. Stress and anxiety caused Queen to take a leave of absence. While on leave, Queen received many phone calls from his supervisors asking why he was absent.Queen resigned and filed suit under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, alleging hostile work environment based on religion and gender, constructive discharge, retaliation, and violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment on hostile work environment based on religion and gender and the FMLA claims. On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of qualified immunity to the city on the claims for hostile work environment based on religion and for retaliation and denial of qualified immunity to Rockrohr for the retaliation claim. View "Queen v. City of Bowling Green" on Justia Law

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Under its collective bargaining agreement (CBA), Ford withholds union membership dues if an employee joins the union and signs a dues checkoff authorization. Resignation of membership does not extinguish the dues authorization; the CBA requires the employee to revoke a checkoff authorization within a specified window. To resign union membership, an employee must send a letter to the Union’s financial secretary, DePaoli, who then notifies Ford’s human resources manager to stop deducting dues from the employee’s paycheck. In February 2018, Stoner left DePaoli several voicemail messages. On March 5, DePaoli emailed the authorization form to Stoner. On March 9 Stoner sent a letter by certified mail stating that he was resigning from the Union and revoking his dues checkoff authorization. The Union received Stoner’s letter on March 12. DePaoli drafted a letter instructing Ford to stop deducting dues but is unsure whether he actually it. On March 19 Ford notified Stoner that it would continue deducting dues because it had not received a timely revocation. Ford deducted Stoner’s dues until mid-June. The Union reimbursed Stoner in part.The NLRB held that the Union’s failure to promptly process Stoner’s resignation violated the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 151–169. The Sixth Circuit granted enforcement, holding that the Union breached its duty of fair representation. The Union’s communications with Stoner evidenced “ill will” because of his decision to withdraw and support a finding that the Union’s conduct was in bad faith. View "United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law