Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

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The Oregon legislature made various changes to the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) by enacting amendments set out in SB 1049, Or Laws 2019, ch 355. Petitioners were PERS members challenging two of those amendments: (1) the redirection of a member's PERS contributions from the member’s individual account program to a newly created employee pension stability account, used to help fund the defined-benefit component of the member’s retirement plan; and (2) a cap on the salary used to calculate a member's benefits. Petitioners primarily argued the amendments impaired their contractual rights and therefore violated the state Contract Clause, Article I, section 21, of the Oregon Constitution. Respondents were the state, the Public Employees Retirement Board (the board), and various state and local public employers. The Oregon Supreme Court disagreed with petitioners' contentions, finding challenged amendments did not operate retrospectively to decrease the retirement benefits attributable to work that the member performed before the effective date of the amendments. And, although the amendments operated prospectively to change the offer for future retirement benefits, the preamendment statutes did not include a promise that the retirement benefits would not be changed prospectively. The Supreme Court resolved petitioners’ other claims on similar grounds and denied their requests for relief. View "James v. Oregon" on Justia Law

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In 2009 Allen-Noll, who is African-American, was hired by Madison Area Technical College as a nursing instructor. Beginning in 2010, Allen-Noll was criticized for her teaching methods. Students complained that she was “rude, condescending, and defensive” in class. In 2011 complaints about Allen-Noll resurfaced from students and the tutor assigned to her class, who criticized Allen-Noll for not timely posting grades and making study guides available and for failing too many students. Allen-Noll’s clinical class also complained that she failed to follow the rules on cell phone use and did not complete paperwork. Allen-Noll was assigned a faculty mentor. Allen-Noll filed a complaint with the College, alleging discrimination and harassment based on her skin color, Complaints about Allen-Noll’s teaching continued. Other faculty said she would not participate in team meetings or volunteer for the extra service expected of full-time faculty. When her teaching contract was not renewed, Allen-Noll sued, alleging racial discrimination and harassment. After discovery, the college moved for summary judgment, but Allen-Noll failed to follow the court’s procedures. The record was largely established by the defendants’ submissions, and the college prevailed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding the appeal frivolous and granting the college’s request to sanction Allen-Noll and her lawyer. View "Allen-Noll v. Madison Area Technical College" on Justia Law

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Grubhub, an online and mobile food-ordering and delivery marketplace, considers its delivery drivers to be independent contractors rather than employees. The plaintiffs alleged, in separate suits, that Grubhub violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay them overtime but each plaintiff had signed a “Delivery Service Provider Agreement” that required them to submit to arbitration for “any and all claims” arising out of their relationship with Grubhub. Grubhub moved to compel arbitration. The plaintiffs responded that their Grubhub contracts were exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Section 1 of the FAA provides that “nothing herein contained shall apply to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” 9 U.S.C. 1. Both district courts compelled arbitration.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The FAA carves out a narrow exception to the obligation of federal courts to enforce arbitration agreements. To show that they fall within this exception, the plaintiffs had to demonstrate that the interstate movement of goods was a central part of the job description of the class of workers to which they belong. They did not even try to do that. View "Wallace v. Grubhub Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Aaron Jensen sued defendant-appellees West Jordan City and Robert Shober for Title VII retaliation, First Amendment retaliation, malicious prosecution, and breach of contract. At trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Jensen on all his claims and awarded $2.77 million in damages. The trial court discovered the jury did not properly fill out the verdict form, so the court instructed the jury to correct its error. When the jury returned the corrected verdict, it had apportioned most of the damages to Jensen’s Title VII claim. Because the district court concluded that Title VII’s statutory damages cap applied, the court reduced the total amount of the award to $344,000. Both parties appealed. They raised nine issues on appeal, but the Tenth Circuit concluded none of them warranted reversal and affirmed. View "Jensen v. West Jordan City" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against Envoy in state court, alleging both disparate treatment and disparate impact based on age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). On appeal, plaintiffs contend that the district court for the northern district erred: by sua sponte transferring this action to the western district instead of remanding it to state court; and, if remand was not required, by dismissing their Texas Labor Code claim with prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) instead of without prejudice pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) (lack of jurisdiction).The Fifth Circuit rejected both claims and held that removal to the incorrect judicial district is procedural error and does not divest the district court of jurisdiction over a removed action. Accordingly, plaintiffs' challenge to the district court for the northern district's transfer pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1631 is moot, given the district court for the western district's transfer back to the northern district. The court also held that Texas Labor Code 21.202's 180-day filing requirement is mandatory but not jurisdictional. In light of this analysis, the court held that the district court, after concluding that plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege exhaustion of their mandatory administrative remedies, did not err by dismissing pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Furthermore, the district court did not err by dismissing with prejudice. View "Hinkley v. Envoy Air, Inc." on Justia Law

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Pacific is the multi-employer bargaining representative in collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) for its employer members. One member, Long Beach, employs watchmen, represented by Local 26, and marine clerks, represented by another union, under separate agreements. Pleas, a watchman, had a work-related argument with a marine clerk, who filed a grievance against Pleas under the clerks' CBA. Local 26 wrote Pacific that it was not bound by that agreement and requested that Pacific not take action against Local 26 members based on the proceedings. Neither Pleas nor a Local 26 representative attended the arbitration hearing. The Arbitrator found that Pleas had violated the clerks' CBA and should be suspended from working at all Pacific employer member terminals for 28 days. Pacific notified its employer members of Pleas’ suspension. Local 26 filed unfair labor practice charges, alleging that those actions impermissibly modified the Watchmen’s Agreement and unilaterally imposed a new term and condition of employment without bargaining.The NLRB and D.C. Circuit found a violation of the NLRA, 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(1), (5), 158(d). Under the Watchmen’s Agreement, there was no “sound arguable basis” for Pacific and Long Beach to apply the clerks' CBA procedures and enforce the Arbitrator’s order against Pleas, who was covered under the Watchmen’s Agreement. Doing so unlawfully unilaterally changed the terms and conditions of Pleas’ employment. View "Pacific Maritime Association v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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OSHA found that Echo violated 29 C.F.R. 1926.964(b)(1), the tension-stringing regulation, when two employees were electrocuted while rehanging a line. After the ALJ upheld the citation, Echo petitioned for review.The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that the tension-stringing provision is sufficiently precise to repel Echo's vagueness challenge. In this case, the express language of the provision afforded Echo "sufficiently definite warning" of the conduct required. The court also held that the evidence of industry custom was unnecessary to establish Echo's violation where the provision is not unconstitutionally vague and instructs the employer about specific methods to use in order to comply. Therefore, the provision is not a performance standard and the ALJ did not err by declining to consider evidence that Echo's method complied with industry custom. View "Echo Powerline, LLC v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission" on Justia Law

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Adams, superintendent of the school district in 2013-2016, requested a forensic audit of the district’s expenditures and subsequently had disputes with board members that involved Adams filing a police complaint. The Board of Education revoked an offer to extend her three-year contract. Adams suspended the district’s business manager for financial irregularities. The Board blocked her email and told state education officials that Adams was no longer superintendent. Adams filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. A jury awarded $400,000 in damages.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that the police report was not a personal grievance, but a matter of public concern within the scope of the First Amendment. The potential for physical altercations between public officials implies that an important public institution was not working properly, particularly given that a proposed forensic audit “seems to have unsettled at least one" Board member. The police report and the controversy more generally could have affected the outcome of elections and the daily management of the school system. The record permitted a reasonable jury to find that an ordinary employee in Adams’s position would be deterred from speaking by the prospect of losing her job and was permitted to consider the possibility that Adams would have remained on the job longer had she kept silent. Damages for a First Amendment violation are not limited by the duration of contracts. View "Adams v. Board of Education Harvey School District 152" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying plaintiff's motion for class certification in an action challenging the written rest-break policy of O'Reilly Auto. Plaintiff raised procedural and substantive arguments on appeal.The panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in setting and enforcing a deadline for moving to certify the class; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's motion for class certification while at the same time granting her an additional month to develop evidence and submit a supplemental brief; and plaintiff was unable to establish that there were questions of law or fact common to the class where she failed to offer any evidence that the written policy was applied to employees. Finally, plaintiff waived her right to appeal the dismissal of her wage-statement claim. View "Davidson v. O'Reilly Auto Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Labor Commission awarding Appellant permanent partial disability under the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA), Utah Code 34A-2-101 to -1005, holding that the Commission's process for determining permanent partial disability benefits is constitutional and that the administrative law judge (ALJ) was not permitted to increase the amount of the award based on Appellant's subjective pain.Based on Commission guidelines, the ALJ based the amount of Appellant's award on a report provided by an assigned medical panel. Appellant argued on appeal that the process for determining permanent partial disability benefits was unconstitutional and that the ALJ erred in failing to augment the medical panel's impairment rating by three percent, resulting in an increased compensation award. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the adjudicative authority of ALJs has not been unconstitutionally delegated to medical panels; and (2) the Commission expressly precludes ALJs from augmenting an impairment rating based on a claimant's subjective pain. View "Ramos v. Cobblestone Centre" on Justia Law