Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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The Arbitration Board, in its Merits Award, held that Verizon violated a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with its Union by contracting with common carriers to deliver FiOS TV set-top boxes to “existing customers” for self-installation, work that used to be performed exclusively by Union Service Technicians. Months later, the Board, in creating a “remedy,” expanded the scope of the violation to include deliveries to both existing and new customers and also the accompanying self-installations.The Third Circuit affirmed the district court in vacating the Remedy Award to the extent that it awards damages for work that falls beyond the outer bounds of the Merits Award--the delivery of boxes to existing customers. The deference given to arbitration awards is almost unparalleled, but not absolute. An arbitrator’s powers are limited by the parties’ agreement, which is made against a background of default legal rules. Under these default rules, an arbitrator who has decided an issue is prohibited from revising that decision without the consent of the parties. He can decide other issues submitted by the parties, correct clerical errors, and clarify his initial decision— but nothing more. The Board improperly awarded punitive damages, which are not permitted under the CBA. View "Verizon Pennsylvania LLC v. Communications Workers of America" on Justia Law

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Three former Deputy Coroners claim their employer, the County of Schuylkill, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, by failing to pay them overtime and then firing them in retaliation for seeking overtime pay. The district court granted the county summary judgment, concluding that the plaintiffs were personal staff of the County’s elected Coroner and cannot bring an FLSA claim.The Third Circuit vacated. While the county did not forfeit the personal-staff-exception argument, granting summary judgment was premature, as there are still material factual disputes concerning the exception’s applicability to the plaintiffs. The relevant factors are whether the elected official has plenary powers of appointment and removal, whether the person in the position at issue is personally accountable to only that elected official, whether the person in the position at issue represents the elected official in the eyes of the public, whether the elected official exercises a considerable amount of control over the position, the level of the position within the organization’s chain of command, and the actual intimacy of the working relationship between the elected official and the person filling the position. It is impossible to conclude that the Deputy Coroners fall under the personal staff exception based on undisputed facts. View "Clews v. County of Schuylkill" on Justia Law

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The Union represents about 165 employees at the Clinton research facility, staffed by EMRE. In 2015, a bargaining unit member retired. After advertising internally failed to fill the open position, EMRE used independent contractors to staff the position. The Union filed a grievance regarding the propriety of EMRE contracting out bargaining unit positions and attempting to permanently fill bargaining unit positions with contractors. The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) allows the Company to “let independent contracts” as long as: during any period of time when an independent contractor is performing work of a type customarily performed by employees and employees qualified to perform such work together with all of the equipment necessary in the performance of such work are available in the Company facilities, the Company may not because of lack of work demote or lay off any employee(s) qualified to perform the contracted work."Arbitrator Klein found that the CBA “expressly limits contracting to a ‘period of time” and that EMRE pursued a plan to replace employees with contractors as they left EMRE. She concluded that EMRE’s actions undermined the composition and breadth of the bargaining unit. The Third Circuit affirmed the arbitration award preventing EMRE from permanently contracting out bargaining unit positions at the Clinton facility. Rejecting an argument that the arbitrator improperly considered extrinsic evidence contrary to the CBA, the court noted that the standard of review for upholding arbitration awards is highly deferential. The award “withstands the minimal level of scrutiny.” View "Independent Laboratory Employees' Union, Inc. v. ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Co." on Justia Law

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Kengerski, a Captain at the Allegheny County Jail, made a written complaint to the jail Warden alleging that a colleague had called his biracial grand-niece a “monkey” and then sent him a series of text messages with racially offensive comments about his coworkers. Seven months later, Kengerski was fired. He contends the firing was retaliation for reporting his colleague’s behavior and sued t under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-3(a). The district court granted the defendant summary judgment, holding that Kengerski, who is white, could not maintain a claim for Title VII retaliation.The Third Circuit vacated. Title VII protects all employees from retaliation when they reasonably believe that behavior at their work violates the statute and they make a good-faith complaint. Harassment against an employee because he associates with a person of another race, such as a family member, may violate Title VII by creating a hostile work environment. A reasonable person could believe that the Allegheny County Jail was a hostile work environment for Kengerski. Kengerski may not ultimately succeed on his retaliation claim or even survive summary judgment on remand. The county claims that it fired him for an unrelated reason that is unquestionably serious: mishandling a sexual harassment claim. View "Kengerski v. Harper" on Justia Law

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Dondero served as the Lower Milford Township Chief of Police from 2006-2016. Dondero’s relationship with the Township Supervisors was rocky. While on duty in 2015, Dondero, then the only active member of the police department, suffered temporary “serious and debilitating injuries” from entering a burning building. While incapacitated, Dondero received disability benefits under Pennsylvania’s Heart and Lung Act (HLA). He went more than two months without contacting his boss, Koplin. In 2016, Koplin requested updated medical documents to verify his continued qualification for HLA benefits. Weeks later, citing financial concerns, the Supervisors passed a resolution to disband the Township police department. From the date of Dondero’s injury through the elimination of the police department (more than nine months) the Pennsylvania State Police provided Township residents full-time police coverage at no extra cost to the Township taxpayers.Dondero filed suit, alleging First Amendment retaliation, violations of substantive and procedural due process, unlawful conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1985, municipal liability based on discriminatory Township policies, and a violation of the Pennsylvania state constitution. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the Township on all counts. No pre-termination hearing was required when the Township eliminated its police department and Dondero’s other claims lack merit. View "Dondero v. Lower Milford Township" on Justia Law

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In 2002, Farfield contracted with SEPTA for improvements on Philadelphia-area railroad tracks. The federal government partially funded the project. Work concluded in 2007. As required by federal regulation, Department of Labor (DOL) prevailing wage determinations were incorporated into the contract. Farfield was required to submit to SEPTA for transmission to the Federal Transit Administration a copy of Farfield’s certified payroll, setting out all the information required under the Davis-Bacon Act, 40 U.S.C. 3142(a), with a “Statement of Compliance” averring that the information in the payroll was correct and complete and that each worker was paid not less than the applicable wage rates and benefits for the classification of work performed, as specified in the applicable wage determination. Falsification of a payroll certification could subject Farfield to criminal penalties or civil liability under the False Claims Act (FCA).A union business manager suspected that Farfield had won government contracts with low bids by intending to pay less-skilled workers to perform certain work that would otherwise have been the bailiwick of higher-skilled, higher-paid workers. Ultimately, the union filed a qui tam FCA complaint. The United States declined to intervene. The court entered a $1,055,320.62 judgment against Farfield: $738,724.43 to the government and $316,596.19 to the union, plus $1,229,927.55 in attorney fees and $203,226.45 in costs. The Third Circuit affirmed. In view of the totality of the circumstances, Farfield’s Davis-Bacon violations were not minor or insubstantial. View "International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers v. Farfield Co" on Justia Law

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The Company operates an electrical system from a central “control room” where 16 system operators and 15 dispatchers manage electrical transmission and facilitate fieldwork. Outside the control room, the Company deploys about 300 field employees. System operators oversee and remotely control the transmission system and prioritize work needs and resources. Field supervisors select crews to undertake the work and prepare and communicate switching instructions for field employees.The Union petitioned for an election to determine whether system operators would join an existing bargaining unit. The Company argued that they were supervisors, not “employee[s]” and not “entitled to the Act’s protections [or] includable in a bargaining unit.” The Board’s Regional Director found that system operators were not supervisors and directed the Company to conduct a self-determination election. In a second election, the system operators voted to join the bargaining unit. The Board upheld the Regional Director’s decision concerning whether system operators have the authority, using independent judgment, to assign employees to places or responsibly to direct employees.The Board found that the Company’s subsequent refusal to bargain violated the Act. The Third Circuit affirmed. Substantial evidence established that system operators lack the authority to assign employees to a place under 29 U.S.C. 152; system operators cannot assign field employees to times. The Board permissibly concluded that system operators’ purported direction of field employees does not require independent judgment. View "Atlantic City Electric Co v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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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