Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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Simko began working for U.S. Steel in 2005. In 2012, Simko successfully bid on a new position. During training, Simko requested a new two-way radio to accommodate his hearing impairment. U.S. Steel did not provide the new radio or any other accommodation. Although Simko completed the training, he alleges that his trainer refused to “sign off” that he was able to perform the position’s duties because of his disability. Simko resumed working at his former position.In May 2013, Simko signed an EEOC charge under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101, asserting discrimination and denial of reasonable accommodation In December 2013, U.S. Steel discharged Simko after an incident. In May 2014, Simko was reinstated but was discharged again in August 2014, based on a safety violation. About three months later, the EEOC received Simko's handwritten claim that he was discharged in retaliation for his EEOC filing. In December 2015, the EEOC communicated to Simko’s counsel that it had notified U.S. Steel that an amended charge was pending. In January 2016, Simko’s counsel filed an amended EEOC charge. In February 2019, the EEOC issued a determination of reasonable cause. A right-to-sue letter issued in April 2019.In June 2019, Simko filed suit, asserting only retaliation, without alleging disability discrimination or failure to accommodate. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Simko failed to file a timely EEOC charge asserting retaliation. His amended charge claiming retaliation was filed 521 days after his termination. Simko was not entitled to equitable tolling; he was not misled by the EEOC or prevented from filing the amended charge and offered no reason why he could not file a timely claim. View "Simko v. United States Steel Corp." on Justia Law

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Martinez, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, has four decades of experience including general and orthopedic-surgery residencies and a spine fellowship. In 2016, a hospital hired Martinez on a three-year contract as its only orthopedic surgeon. In 2017, UPMC bought the hospital. UPMC’s representatives told Martinez that they would continue his contract and discussed acquiring new equipment. A month later, UPMC’s chief operating officer and its executive director of the musculoskeletal division fired Martinez, explaining only that the hospital was “moving in a different direction and [Martinez’s] services were no longer needed.” They stated that his firing “had nothing to do with [his] performance.” Martinez was then 70 years old. After firing him, the hospital hired two doctors, including Hunter, who took over at least some of Martinez’s job functions. The hospital posted an opening for an orthopedic surgeon. Martinez applied three times but got no response. The hospital hired Jarvis.Martinez sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, alleging that Hunter and Jarvis were “significantly younger,” “less qualified,” and “less experienced” than Martinez. The district court dismissed. The Third Circuit reversed. The hospital knows the younger doctors’ exact ages and specialties, and discovery will let Martinez uncover those and other details in time for summary judgment and trial. View "Martinez v. UPMC Susquehanna" on Justia Law

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When LaSpina began working for the Scranton Public Library, all Library employees were exclusively represented in collective bargaining by Local 668. No employee had to join the Union; an employee could join and pay full membership dues or decline to join and pay a lesser nonmember “fair-share fee.” LaSpina joined the Union. In 2018, the Supreme Court held, in "Janus," that compelling nonmembers to pay fair-share fees violates their First Amendment associational rights. LaSpina resigned from the Union and sued, seeking monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief, including a refund of the portion of the dues she paid the Union equal to the nonmembers’ fair-share fees, and a refund of membership dues deducted from her paycheck after she resigned.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. LaSpina had no standing to seek a refund of any portion of the dues she made prior to Janus because she cannot tie the payment of those dues to the Union’s unconstitutional deduction of fair-share fees from nonmembers. If LaSpina is due a refund of monies that were deducted from her wages after she resigned, the claim is not a federal one. LaSpina’s claim that the Union may not collect any dues from an employee until that employee knowingly and freely waives their constitutional right to resign from membership and withhold payments is moot as LaSpina no longer is a Union member. View "LaSpina v. SEIU Pennsylvania State Council" on Justia Law

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Wilson was a marine construction worker on the New Jersey Route 3 bridge replacement project, which spans the Lower Passaic River from Clifton to Rutherford, at a location where the navigation channel was authorized to be 150 feet wide and 10 feet deep. Wilson drove steel piles for a cofferdam, a watertight structure that allows construction below the waterline, and was routinely exposed to extremely loud working conditions. He was diagnosed with a permanent hearing impairment resulting from those conditions. Wilson sought compensation benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. 901–50. An ALJ and the Benefits Review Board dismissed Wilson’s claim, finding that he was not covered under the LHWCA because he was not injured on navigable waters of the United States.The Third Circuit reversed. The waters where Wilson was injured were navigable, looking to whether a waterway “by itself or by uniting with other waterways, forms a continuous [commercial] highway,” and whether commercial vessels could navigate within the noted physical constraints. There were no impediments blocking the navigation channel between its confluence with the Newark Bay and the Route 3 bridge. At all points in between, the channel exceeded four feet in depth and 72 feet in width. View "Wilson v. Creamer-Sanzari Joint Venture" on Justia Law

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A union representing healthcare network employees learned that the network was being sold to another entity and that the sale agreement contained information bearing on the terms and conditions of its members’ employment. The union asked for a full copy of the agreement for “effects bargaining.” The employer, asserting that the agreement was confidential and not relevant to collective bargaining, refused to provide any of it. The union filed unfair labor charges with the National Labor Relations Board, which found that at least part of the agreement was relevant and that the employer violated the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 151. The Board ordered the employer to provide a complete, unredacted copy.The Third Circuit affirmed in part. Substantial evidence supported the Board’s conclusion that the employer violated the NLRA. The duty to bargain in good faith includes the general obligation of an employer to provide information that is needed by the bargaining representative for the proper performance of its duties. The Board abused its broad remedial discretion in ordering the employer to disclose the entire agreement; the Union never established the relevance of the entire agreement. When a union requests relevant, yet confidential information, the Board is required to balance a union’s need for the information against any legitimate and substantial confidentiality interests established by the employer. View "Crozer-Chester Medical Center v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs, who performed mattress deliveries for Sleepy's, signed Independent Driver Agreements, providing that the relationship was “non-exclusive.” Some drivers signed on their own behalf; others signed on behalf of their corporate entity (carrier). Individual drivers were required to form business entities, even if the business consisted of one driver and one truck. Sleepy’s did not pay wages to a carrier’s owners or workers. It paid each carrier for all the deliveries the carrier performed. An employee misclassification suit, seeking class certification, alleged that Sleepy’s misclassified the individual drivers as independent contractors and violated New Jersey law by making certain deductions and failing to pay overtime.The Third Circuit reversed the denial of certification of a proposed class of drivers who performed Sleepy's deliveries on a full-time basis using one truck. In addition to the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 class action requirements, the Third Circuit requires that a Rule 23(b)(3) class be “currently and readily ascertainable.” Plaintiffs must show that the class is defined with reference to objective criteria and there is a reliable and administratively feasible mechanism for determining whether putative class members fall within the definition. The district court essentially demanded that the plaintiffs identify the class members at the certification stage and focused on gaps in Sleepy's records. Where an employer’s lack of records makes it more difficult to ascertain members of an otherwise objectively verifiable class, the employees who make up that class should not bear the cost of the employer’s faulty record-keeping. View "Hargrove v. Sleepys LLC" on Justia Law

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In reliance on a Pennsylvania statute and the Supreme Court’s 1977 “Abood” decision, the unions collected “fair-share fees” from the plaintiffs over the plaintiffs’ objections. The plaintiffs did not join the unions but were represented by the unions, which served as the exclusive bargaining agents for their bargaining units. In 2018, the Supreme Court overruled Abood in Janus v. AFSCME, holding that state legislation condoning public-sector fair-share fees was unconstitutional.The plaintiffs filed 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuits seeking reimbursement of the sums they were required to pay. The district courts, joining a consensus of federal courts across the country, dismissed the claims for monetary relief, ruling that because the unions collected the fair-share fees in good faith reliance on a governing state statute and Supreme Court precedent, they are entitled to, and have successfully made out, a good faith defense to monetary liability under section 1983. The Third Circuit affirmed. The good faith defense to section 1983 liability is “narrow” and “only rarely will a party successfully claim to have relied substantially and in good faith on both a state statute and unambiguous Supreme Court precedent validating that statute.” View "Diamond v. Pennsylvania State Education Association" on Justia Law

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In 2004, Starnes, an Allegheny County Probation Officer, met Doerr, the President Judge of the Butler County Court. Doerr repeatedly called Starnes to ask her to meet him at his chambers. Starnes eventually visited his chambers after hours. Doerr insisted on having sex, telling Starnes that it would be a ‘business relationship.’” Doerr exercised authority over hiring probation officers. Starnes wished to return to Butler, her hometown; Doerr made sure she was hired. After Starnes started working in Butler County, Doerr began summoning her to his chambers for sexual relations. After their sexual relationship ended in 2009, Doerr continued asking her to film herself performing sexual acts, flirting with her from the bench, and threatening to "help her return to her previous job.” In 2010, Starnes began dating the man she later married, another Probation Officer. He was harassed and pushed into retirement. Starnes was denied her own office, overtime, training, and other opportunities she alleges her male counterparts had. Within days of telling her supervisors of her intention to file EEOC charges, Starnes was placed on a “performance improvement plan.” Weeks earlier, Starnes had received a positive evaluation with no noted performance issues.The Third Circuit held that accepting her allegations as true, Starnes stated plausible claims for sex discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, a hostile work environment under 42 U.S.C. 1983, and that Doerr violated her First Amendment freedom of expression and right to petition the government. Because the law is clearly established that this conduct is actionable discrimination, the district court did not err in denying Doerr qualified immunity. The court reversed the denial of qualified immunity on Starnes’s intimate association claim. View "Starnes v. Butler County Court of Common Pleas" on Justia Law

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Some public-sector employees join their local unions; others do not. If a collective-bargaining agreement contains an “agency-fee” provision, both union members and nonmembers must pay a portion of union dues. A Pennsylvania statute authorizes such a “fair share fee” arrangement, 71 Pa. Stat. 575(b). Nonmembers pay only the amount spent on the union’s collective-bargaining activities and do not subsidize political activity. In 2018, the Supreme Court decided Janus v. AFSCME, holding that forcing nonmembers to pay agency fees violates the First Amendment, striking down an Illinois statute. Janus said nothing about Pennsylvania law but its holding was clear.Public-school teachers who had to pay agency fees under Pennsylvania law sued, seeking a declaration that the agency-fee provisions in their collective-bargaining agreements, and the Pennsylvania statutes authorizing them, were unconstitutional. When the Supreme Court issued its Janus decision, the Pennsylvania State Education Association instructed public schools to stop deducting agency fees from teachers’ paychecks and set up refund procedures. Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and its Attorney General notified public-sector employers that they could no longer collect agency fees. The district court dismissed, noting the change in the law and the unions’ compliance with it. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding the case moot. The teachers no longer face any harm. Just because a statute may be unconstitutional does not mean that a federal court may declare it so; without any real dispute over the statute’s scope or enforceability. View "Hartnett v. Pennsylvania State Education Association" on Justia Law

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Ehnert was placed at WPP by Staffmark as a temporary general laborer. It was understood that Ehnert would be considered for hire as a WPP employee. Ehnert suffered from various medical conditions but never requested accommodations. On May 23, 2012—the last day of his work placement—Ehnert was informed that he would not be hired by WPP. Ehnert completed applied for social security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, representing that he had been unable to work due to a “disabling condition” since May 21, 2012. An ALJ granted Ehnert benefits. Ehnert then sued WPP and Staffmark, alleging discrimination on the basis of disability and age, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Ehnert was unable to establish a prima facie case of discrimination because a necessary element was lacking for his ADA and PHRA claims--that he was otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job as of the date WPP informed him that he would not be hired. Ehnert’s statements regarding his disability for SSDI purposes preclude his subsequent claim that, for the purposes of the ADA and the PHRA, he was “qualified” for the position; Ehnert failed to advance a reasonable explanation that reconciles those positions. View "Ehnert v. Washington Penn Plastic Co Inc." on Justia Law