Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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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

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Eshleman started working as a Patrick truck driver in 2013. In 2015, Eshleman took medical leave to undergo surgery to remove a nodule from his lung. After two months of medical leave, Eshleman returned to work without restrictions. Six weeks later, Eshleman suffered a severe respiratory infection from January 27-31, 2016 (spanning a weekend). His supervisor approved two vacation days. With his physician’s approval, Eshleman returned to work in his full capacity on February 1. At the end of his second day back, Patrick fired him. The Superintendent cited “performance issues.” Eshleman reminded the Superintendent that his performance review from January 2016 had been excellent. Thereafter, the Superintendent claimed that Eshleman was fired because he had not called out sick during his leave for the respiratory infection. Later, Eshleman learned that the reason for termination had been changed again; Patrick was claiming he had been fired for “behavioral issues.”Eshleman sued, alleging that he was fired because he was regarded as disabled, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and that the shifting reasons for his termination were a pretext for illegal disability discrimination. The district court dismissed, holding that the ADA did not cover Eshleman’s “regarded as” claim because his impairment lasted less than six months and was “transitory and minor.” The Third Circuit reversed. The district court did not conduct an independent analysis into whether Eshleman’s impairment was minor, apart from whether it was transitory. View "Eshleman v. Patrick Industries Inc" on Justia Law

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MHS, a private, non-denominational school, hired the Darringtons as full-time houseparents for student housing. The Union represents full-time MHS houseparents. The collective bargaining agreement arbitration provision covers “any dispute arising out of [its] terms and conditions,” including the “discipline or discharge” of Union members. A grievance includes “any dispute alleging discrimination against any [Union members].” The Union, on behalf of itself and any allegedly aggrieved Union members, waived any right to a private lawsuit alleging employment discrimination regarding matters encompassed within the grievance procedure. If aggrieved Union members are unsatisfied with the resolution of their disputes after discussions with MHS officials, “the Union [may seek] further consideration” by submitting the grievance to arbitration on their behalf.The Darringtons filed unsuccessful reports with the local state agency for children and youth services, concerning MHS's mandatory religious programming. They then filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission alleging discrimination based on religion. Two months later, MHS fired the Darringtons, who filed additional charges. After receiving right-to-sue letters, the Darringtons filed a complaint, alleging discrimination and retaliation, Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The district court denied MHS’s motion to compel arbitration. The Third Circuit reversed. The CBA clearly and unmistakably waives a judicial forum for the statutory discrimination claims. View "Darrington v. Milton Hershey School" on Justia Law

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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