Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Port Authority, a municipal bus and light-rail operator, required its uniformed employees to wear face masks. Initially, Port Authority was unable to procure masks for all its employees, so they were required to provide their own. Some employees wore masks bearing political or social-protest messages. Port Authority has long prohibited its uniformed employees from wearing buttons “of a political or social protest nature.” Concerned that such masks would disrupt its workplace, Port Authority prohibited them in July 2020. When several employees wore masks expressing support for Black Lives Matter, Port Authority disciplined them. In September 2020, Port Authority imposed additional restrictions, confining employees to a narrow range of masks. The employees sued, alleging that Port Authority had violated their First Amendment rights.The district court entered a preliminary injunction rescinding discipline imposed under the July policy and preventing Port Authority from enforcing its policy against “Black Lives Matter” masks. The Third Circuit affirmed. The government may limit the speech of its employees more than it may limit the speech of the public, but those limits must still comport with the protections of the First Amendment. Port Authority bears the burden of showing that its policy is constitutional. It has not made that showing. View "Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 v. Port Authority of Allegheny County" on Justia Law

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At the end of 2018, the longest government shutdown in history began because Congress had not passed a budget. For more than a month, FBI employees, like other federal workers, were not paid. Nor did they get payments into their Thrift Savings Plan retirement accounts. Once the government reopened, the FBI sent them their missed paychecks and contributed to their Thrift accounts. But, while the government was shut down, the market had risen. If the government had made its Thrift contributions on time, that money would have bought more shares than the late payments did.The employees filed a class-action suit under the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act (FERSA), 5 U.S.C. 8401–80, which allows “any participant or beneficiary” of a Thrift plan to sue “to recover benefits.” The government agreed that section 8477(e)(3)(C)(i) waives sovereign immunity but moved to dismiss, arguing that this suit falls outside the waiver and was an effort to recover consequential damages from the government’s late payment, which are not a “benefit” within the waiver. On interlocutory appeal, the Third Circuit reversed the denial of that motion. Congress does not waive federal sovereign immunity unless it speaks clearly. FERSA does not clearly waive the federal government’s immunity for the employees’ claims. View "John Doe 1 v. United States" on Justia Law

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Groff, whose religious beliefs prohibit working on Sunday, began working for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in 2012. In 2013, USPS contracted with Amazon to deliver packages, including on Sundays. The Quarryville Postmaster initially exempted Groff from Sunday work. After a union agreement went into effect, Groff was required to work Sundays during the peak season. Groff transferred to Holtwood, a smaller station. Holtwood then began Amazon Sunday deliveries. The Holtwood Postmaster offered to adjust Groff’s schedule to permit him to attend religious services on Sunday morning and report to work afterward and later sought others to cover Groff’s Sunday shifts. Because Groff did not work when scheduled on Sundays, he faced progressive discipline. Groff requested a transfer to a position that did not require Sunday work. No such position was available. The Holtwood Postmaster continued attempting to find coverage and was, himself, forced to make Sunday deliveries. Groff’s refusal to report on Sundays created a “tense atmosphere” and resentment; another employee filed a grievance. Groff received additional discipline and submitted EEO complaints, then resigned,Groff sued, alleging religious discrimination under Title VII, disparate treatment, and failure to accommodate. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for USPS. Because the shift swaps USPS offered to Groff did not eliminate the conflict between his religious practice and his work obligations, USPS did not provide Groff with a reasonable accommodation but the accommodation Groff sought would cause an undue hardship on USPS. View "Groff v. DeJoy" on Justia Law

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The Federalist, a right-leaning internet magazine, publishes commentary, including on labor issues. In June 2019, media outlets reported that unionized employees of Vox, a left-leaning digital media company, walked off the job during union contract negotiations. Domenech, The Federalist's publisher, posted a tweet from his personal Twitter account: “FYI @fdrlst first one of you tries to unionize I swear I’ll send you back to the salt mine.” The “@fdrlst” tag refers to The Federalist’s official Twitter account. The Federalist had just seven employees. At least one employee viewed the tweet, but apparently, no employee expressed concern. Fleming, having no connection to The Federalist, filed an unfair labor practice charge, citing Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB’s Regional Office issued an unfair labor practice complaint, alleging that Domenech’s tweet “threatened employees with reprisals and implicitly threatened employees with loss of their jobs if they formed or supported a union.” The Federalist objected to personal jurisdiction. The ALJ declined to revisit that issue. Citing concerns that calling witnesses would waive its jurisdictional objection, The Federalist submitted affidavits from Domenech and two employees explaining that the tweet was satire.The Board affirmed the ALJ’s decision, entered a cease-and-desist order, and ordered that Domenech delete his tweet. The Third Circuit set aside the order. The Board spent its resources investigating a company with seven employees "because of a facetious and sarcastic tweet." View "FDRLST Media LLC v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Supor, a construction contractor, got a job on New Jersey’s American Dream Project, a large retail development, and agreed to use truck drivers exclusively from one union and to contribute to the union drivers’ multiemployer pension fund. The project stalled. Supor stopped working with the union drivers and pulled out of the fund. The fund demanded $766,878, more than twice what Supor had earned on the project, as a withdrawal penalty for ending its pension payments without covering its share, citing the 1980 Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (MPPAA), amending ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1381. Under the MPPAA, employers who pull out early must pay a “withdrawal liability” based on unfunded vested benefits. Supor claimed the union had promised that it would not have to pay any penalty. The Fund argued that the statute requires “employer[s]” to arbitrate such disputes. Supor argued that it was not an employer under the Act.The district court sent the parties to arbitration, finding that an “employer” includes any entity obligated to contribute to a pension plan either as a direct employer or in the interest of an employer of the plan’s participants. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding the definition plausible, protective of the statutory scheme, and supported by three decades of consensus. View "J Supor & Son Trucking & Rigging Co., Inc. v. Trucking Employees of North Jersey Welfare Fund" on Justia Law

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The Unions represent PG employees. Each union's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with PG required PG to provide health insurance to union employees. A separate provision governed dispute resolution with a grievance procedure that culminated in binding arbitration. The CBAs had durational clauses and expired in March 2017; the arbitration provisions had no separate durational clauses. Two months before their expiration, PG sent letters to the unions, stating that upon expiration, "all contractual obligations of the current agreement shall expire. [PG] will continue to observe all established wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment as required by law, except those recognized by law as strictly contractual, after the Agreement expires. With respect to arbitration, the Company will decide its obligation to arbitrate grievances on a case-by-case basis." While negotiating new CBAs, the parties operated under certain terms of the expired agreements. The unions claim that in 2019, PG violated the expired CBAs by failing to provide certain health-insurance benefits. The unions filed grievances under the dispute-resolution provisions. PG refused to arbitrate, stating that the grievance involved occurrences that arose after the contract expired. The Unions argued implied-in-fact contracts had been formed.The district court granted PG summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed, overruling its own precedent. As a matter of contract law, the arbitration provisions here, because they do not have their own durational clauses, expired with the CBAs. View "Pittsburgh Mailers Union Local Union 22 v. PG Publishing Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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EBEWC, a beauty salon, was charged with violating 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(1) and (3), by implying that employees would be discharged if they engaged in union or protected concerted activity, soliciting employee assistance in ascertaining union support, issuing a handbook rule subjecting employees to discipline for gossiping or complaining about EBEWC’s rules or procedures, and discharging an employee for engaging in concerted employee activities. EBEWC signed a settlement agreement. The National Labor Relations Board concluded EBEWC violated that agreement by failing to “fully comply” with a provision requiring EBEWC to text the requisite notice to its employees. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, the Board then found the complaint's allegations true, made factual findings and conclusions of law consistent with those allegations, and granted a “full remedy” for the violations.The Third Circuit granted EBEWC’s petition for review and denied the Board’s application for enforcement. The Board took drastic action although EBEWC purportedly “defaulted” merely by sending the requisite notice to its employees by e-mail instead of by text message. The settlement agreement explicitly provided for notice by text but there is no indication that texting, as opposed to some other method of electronic communication, had any real significance to EBEWC, its employees, or the Board. EBEWC otherwise fully complied with the agreement. The Board overreached and acted punitively. View "East Brunswick European Wax Center, LLC v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The Unions represented employees at Care One facilities. Care One sued the Unions for damages arising from actions that allegedly amounted to a pattern of racketeering under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, 18 U.S.C. 1961, based upon its characterization of these actions as “extortionate.”The district court dismissed the complaint, reasoning that no reasonable juror could conclude that the vandalism underlying Care One’s claims could be attributed to union members and that other actions the Unions undertook to exert pressure on Care One—including advertisements, picketing, and attempts to invoke regulatory and legislative processes—were not “extortionate.” The court further concluded that Defendants lacked the specific intent to deceive and were entitled to summary judgment on mail and wire fraud claims. The Third Circuit affirmed. Labor tactics, such as the Unions engaged in here, are not extortionate. As long as unions pursue legitimate labor objectives, their coercive tactics are not subject to liability. The court noted that an investigation by the Connecticut State’s Attorney closed without identifying any suspects, let alone any union-member suspects; union membership alone would not tie the actions of any such members to the Unions. There is no admissible evidence that the Unions authorized the acts of sabotage and vandalism. View "Care One Management LLC v. United Healthcare Workers East" on Justia Law

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PG sought to vacate a labor arbitration award. In many labor disputes, both the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. 185(a), and the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 10, provide means for seeking vacatur or confirmation of arbitration awards. The statutes employ distinct procedural vehicles, require litigants to meet different legal standards, and prescribe separate limitations periods. PG argued that even if it filed its complaint outside of the applicable limitations period for an LMRA action, it filed within the FAA’s 90-day limitations period for motions to vacate an arbitration award.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of PG’s action as untimely. Although a party may bring both an LMRA action and an FAA motion challenging or confirming certain labor arbitration awards, PG did not proceed by motion as required by the FAA, and so did not properly invoke that statute. PG’s LMRA Section 301 action was untimely. The court clarified the procedures for seeking to vacate or confirm an arbitration award under the LMRA and under the FAA. View "PG Publishing Co v. Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law

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AT&T employed Fowler, 1986-2016. She was diagnosed in 2006 with epilepsy that caused cognitive impairments. In 2015, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and informed AT&T of her diagnosis. In December 2015, AT&T planned to reduce Fowler’s unit by consolidating roles. Fowler began a new position in March 2016. After two months, Fowler sought reassignment, acknowledging she did not have the skills for the job. AT&T, through an outsourced service center, negotiated with Fowler’s doctors on her accommodation requests but the representatives found that Fowler “could not describe a specific accommodation that would help her on the job.” Fowler, age 60, was laid off and could not find any replacement positions within AT&T. She was terminated and sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621.The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of AT&T. Based on the original downsizing, Fowler established an adverse employment action that could support a discrimination claim, although she eventually found another job within AT&T. However, AT&T provided powerful evidence that Fowler’s selection for downsizing was simply a neutral reduction in force; she has not provided sufficient evidence to suggest that the explanation was a pretext. As for Fowler’s termination, she may not maintain discrimination or failure-to-accommodate claims connected to a job for which she was not qualified by her own admission. View "Fowler v. AT&T Inc." on Justia Law