Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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Ali, a non-practicing Muslim of Egyptian descent, was a non-tenured high school teacher. His supervisor received complaints about Ali’s instruction on the Holocaust. One English teacher reported that her students were questioning historical accounts of the Holocaust, opining that Hitler didn’t hate the Jews and that the death counts were exaggerated. Students’ written assignments confirmed those accounts. Ali also presented a lesson on the September 11 terrorist attacks, requiring students to read online articles translated by the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Ali posted links to the articles on a school-sponsored website: “U.S. Planned, Carried Out 9/11 Attacks—But Blames Others” and “U.S. Planning 9/11 Style Attack Using ISIS in Early 2015.” The MEMRI articles also contained links to other articles, such as “The Jews are Like a Cancer, Woe to the World if they Become Strong.” A reporter questioned Principal Lottman and Superintendent Zega. Lottman directed Ali to remove the MEMRI links from the school’s website. The following morning, Ali met with Zega and Lottman; his employment was terminated. Ali sued under New Jersey law and 42 U.S.C. 1981, claiming that Lottman referred to him as “Mufasa,” asked Ali if “they had computers in Egypt,” and remarked on his ethnicity during the meetings that resulted in Ali’s termination. He alleged discrimination, hostile work environment, free speech and academic freedom violations, and defamation. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Ali cannot show that his termination for teaching anti-Semitic views was a pretext for discrimination. View "Ali v. Woodbridge Township School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, drivers who use Uber’s mobile phone application to provide limousine services (UberBLACK) in Philadelphia, claimed violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, and Pennsylvania laws. Plaintiffs each own and operate independent transportation companies (ITCs) as required to drive for UberBLACK. Each ITC’s agreement with Uber includes a Software License and outlines the relationships between ITCs, Uber riders, Uber, and Uber drivers. It describes driver requirements, vehicle requirements, financial terms, and contains an arbitration clause. A mandatory agreement between the ITC and the for-hire driver allows a driver to receive services through Uber’s app and outlines driver requirements, insurance requirements, dispute resolution. Some UberBLACK providers operate under Uber’s Philadelphia certificate of convenience; others hold their own certificates; approximately 75% of UberBLACK drivers use Uber’s automobile insurance. Plaintiffs claim that they are employees and allege that time spent online on the Uber App qualifies as FLSA compensable time. Uber argued that Plaintiffs are not restricted from working for other companies, pay their own expenses, can engage workers for their own ITCs, can use UberBLACK as little or as much as they want, and have no restrictions on personal activities while online. The Third Circuit vacated summary judgment. A reasonable fact-finder could rule in favor of Plaintiffs. Disputed facts include whether Plaintiffs are operating within Uber’s system and under Uber’s rules; whether Plaintiffs or their corporations contracted directly with Uber; and whether Uber exercises control over drivers. View "Razak v. Uber Technologies Inc" on Justia Law

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Philadelphia enacted an ordinance to address the disparity in the pay of women and minorities: the “Inquiry Provision” prohibits an employer from asking about a prospective employee’s wage history and the “Reliance Provision” prohibits an employer from relying on wage history in setting or negotiating a prospective employee’s wage. The Chamber of Commerce filed suit, alleging that both provisions infringed on the freedom of speech of the Chamber and its members. The Chamber concedes that the pay gap exists and that the city has a substantial governmental interest in addressing it but argues that the city passed the Ordinance “with only the barest of legislative records” and did not present sufficient evidence to establish that the Ordinance would satisfy the city’s objective.. The district court agreed that the Inquiry Provision violated the First Amendment speech rights of employers and invalidated it but concluded that the Reliance Provision did not impact speech. The Third Circuit reversed in part. The district court’s analysis applied a much higher standard than required. The Supreme Court has not demanded legislative certainty or empirical proof that legislation would achieve the stated interest even when applying strict scrutiny. Courts need only determine whether the legislature “has drawn reasonable inferences based on substantial evidence.” The Supreme Court has even “permitted litigants to justify [analogous] speech restrictions by reference to studies and anecdotes pertaining to different locales altogether, or even, in a case applying strict scrutiny, to justify restrictions based solely on history, consensus, and ‘simple common sense.’” View "Greater Philadelphia Chamber Commerce v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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The Hospital has approximately 1,100 employees. About 500 are represented by the Union. Supervisors are not included in the bargaining unit. The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) provides that [v]acation will, so far as possible, be granted at times most desired by employees; but the final right to allow vacation periods, and the right to change vacation periods[,] is exclusively reserved to the Hospital. Any changes in vacation schedules may be realized by mutual consent. In the event the Hospital unilaterally changes a schedule causing the employee to suffer financial loss, the Hospital agrees to reimburse the employee for provable loss. Konsugar requested vacation during the week of December 25, 2017. The Hospital denied her request because her supervisor had requested that same week off and both could not be away at the same time. Konsugar filed a grievance. The arbitrator stated he could not “conclude that the subsequent reservation of exclusivity in allocating vacations entirely to the Hospital completely negates . . . ‘so far as possible’” and sustained the grievance. In a suit under the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185, the Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Hospital. The arbitrator’s decision disregarded the plain language of the CBA, ignored the intentions of the parties, and failed to construe such provision to give effect to all parts of the provision. View "Monongahela Valley Hospital, Inc. v. United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial & Service Workers International Union" on Justia Law

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The Center purchased a nursing home in which the Union represented a unit of licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and a unit of service employees that included certified nursing assistants (CNAs). The Center hired most of the LPNs who had worked for the former employer, increased their wages, and changed their paid leave and health benefits, without bargaining with the Union. The Union filed unfair labor practices charges, 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(5) & (1). An ALJ found that the Center was a “Burns successor” that had hired a majority of its predecessor’s employees and had an obligation to bargain with the union and found that the LPNs were not supervisors as defined by NLRA Section 2(11) but were statutory employees represented by the Union. The Board affirmed, concluding that the Center failed to establish that the LPNs have supervisory authority to discipline or effectively recommended discipline or possess the supervisory authority to adjust grievances. The Third Circuit granted a petition for enforcement. LPNs do not have the authority to assign or the responsibility to direct CNAs with use of independent judgment and do not have the authority to discipline CNAs and others; the evaluations of CNAs are not determinative of LPN supervisory status. View "Coral Harbor Rehabilitation and Nursing Center v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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American’s timekeeping system calculates employee pay only for the duration of their shifts, excluding an automatic 30-minute meal break deduction. If an employee clocks in before the shift begins or clocks out after the shift ends, the system assumes that the employee only worked during the shift, rather than working during those “grace periods.” If employees actually work during grace periods or meal breaks, American requires them to seek approval of an “exception.” A purported class of non-exempt, hourly employees at American’s Newark station asserted violation of the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (NJWHL). American argued that employees arrived early and left late for various reasons and engaged in personal activities before and after their shifts, so the court would have to engage in individualized inquiries to determine when a particular employee was not compensated for periods during which he was actually working while clocked in. The district court certified the class, identifying common questions: whether hourly-paid American employees are not being compensated for all hours worked due to the system and whether American is violating the NJWHL by imposing a schedule-based compensation system that permits a supervisor to authorize compensation for work performed outside of a scheduled shift, but discourages employees from seeking such authorization. The Third Circuit reversed. Several of the requirements of Rule 23, including commonality and predominance, were not met. Determining when each employee was actually working will necessarily require individualized inquiries. View "Ferreras v. American Airlines Inc" on Justia Law

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Stern was crushed between multi-ton pieces of mining equipment. The mine section supervisor, McDonald, got to the scene minutes later and called for an ambulance. Smith, a “fire boss mine examiner” and EMT, placed Stern in a neck brace. Stern never lost consciousness or the ability to respond to questions, nor did he have any problem with his pulse or breathing but he had signs of internal bleeding. McDonald and Smith requested a helicopter medevac service. The mine safety supervisor, Tennant, was called at home and went to the scene. He called the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) about two hours later. Mine operators must notify MSHA within 15 minutes after the occurrence of an injury having “a reasonable potential to cause death,” 30 U.S.C. 813(j). The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission and the Third Circuit upheld a citation based on the delay. Reasonable doubts must be resolved in favor of notifying MSHA; liability assessed based on whether a reasonable person in the circumstances would view the injuries as having a reasonable potential to cause death. The totality of the circumstances must be considered with the focus on the information available around the time of the injury; posthoc medical evidence is less probative. Given the knowledge and training possessed by Tennant, McDonald, and Smith, a reasonable person possessing the available information would have concluded there was a reasonable potential for death. View "Consol Pennsylvania Coal Co., LLC v. Mine Safety & Health Review Commission" on Justia Law

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Javitz accepted an “at-will” position as Luzerne County's Director of Human Resources. Javitz participated in meetings with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which resulted in ASFSCME filing an unfair labor practices suit. Javitz claimed that a document filed in that lawsuit was a transcript of the meetings. She suspected that a county employee had recorded the meeting without Javitz’s consent—a crime under Pennsylvania law. Javitz's supervisor agreed that the meeting may have been recorded; they met with the District Attorney, who indicated that she would refer the matter to the Office of the Attorney General due to a conflict of interest. Javitz claims that the County Manager intervened and instructed the District Attorney to drop the matter. Javitz followed up about the investigation. Javitz alleges that county employees retaliated against her. Within weeks Javitz was fired. The County maintains that Javitz was fired because of her conduct toward unions, her failure to follow directions, and her handling of employment applications. The district court rejected her claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Third Circuit affirmed that Javitz did not have a property interest in her employment; her termination did not violate her due process rights. The court reversed as to a First Amendment claim: Who Javitz spoke to, what she spoke about, and why she spoke fall outside the scope of her primary job duties. Javitz was a citizen speaking to a matter of public concern. View "Javitz v. County of Luzerne" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, part-time Worthington police officers, were paid hourly wages. The Borough terminated their employment without affording any process. Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C., claiming that the state’s Borough Code or Tenure Act conferred a constitutionally-protected property interest in their continued employment and that the lack of any process violated their due process rights. The Third Circuit certified questions of state law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. That court responded that the “civil service protections embodied in the Borough Code and the Tenure Act are ... intended to govern all borough police forces” and the Borough Code's “normal working hours” criterion should be employed to determine how many members a borough police force has for purposes of deciding whether the Tenure Act’s two-officer maximum or the Borough Code’s three-officer minimum is implicated. The Borough Code's exclusion for “extra police” does not apply to part-time officers who are not extra police. In this case, the plaintiffs were part-time officers, but not necessarily “extra police” so the exclusion was irrelevant. An hourly wage compensation that satisfies the Borough Code criteria of being officers “paid a salary or compensation." Part-time work “is not dispositive.” The Third Circuit concluded that the plaintiffs may have a property interest sufficient to support their procedural due process claims and remanded. View "Evan Townsend v. Borough of Worthington" on Justia Law

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The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 1–16, places certain arbitration agreements on equal footing with all other contracts, requiring courts to enforce such agreements according to their terms. Section 2 provides that the FAA covers “a written provision in any maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce,” but section 1 states that “nothing” in the FAA “shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” Singh brought this putative class action on behalf of New Jersey Uber drivers, alleging that Uber misclassified them as independent contractors rather than employees, which resulted in their being deprived of overtime compensation and incurring business expenses for Uber's benefit. Singh opposed a motion to compel arbitration, arguing that, to the extent that he had an agreement with Uber, it fell within the “any other class of workers” portion of section 1. The court dismissed, concluding that clause only extends to transportation workers who transport goods. The Third Circuit disagreed, citing its “longstanding precedent,” to hold that the residual clause of section 1 may extend to a class of transportation workers who transport passengers if they are engaged in interstate commerce or in work so closely related thereto as to be in practical effect part of it. The court remanded for resolution of the engaged-in-interstate-commerce inquiry. View "Singh v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law