Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries
Walsh v. Hodge
Plaintiff, a former medical school professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, filed suit against various professors and school administrators under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that they violated his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights. Defendants voted to recommend firing plaintiff after conducting a hearing to address a student's sexual harassment claim against him.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity and rendered judgment in favor of defendants, holding that plaintiff's deprivations of due process were not clearly established constitutional rights. In this case, the court found no merit in plaintiff's claim that one of the defendants was not impartial because the defendant knew the accuser in a university proceeding, and concluded that this was not enough to establish a due process claim of bias. The court also held that, although the Committee should have heard the accuser's testimony, it was not clearly established at the time that, in university disciplinary hearings where the outcome depends on credibility, the Due Process Clause demands the opportunity to confront witnesses or some reasonable alternative. Therefore, the district court erred in denying defendants' motion for summary judgment. View "Walsh v. Hodge" on Justia Law
Barrett v. PAE Government Services, Inc.
Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Virginia state law against two Arlington County police officers and a mental health examiner, alleging that the Arlington County defendants unlawfully seized and detained her for a mental health evaluation in violation of the Fourth Amendment and falsely imprisoned her in violation of Virginia state law. Plaintiff also filed suit against her employer, PAE, and three of PAE's employees, alleging that the PAE defendants conspired with the Arlington County defendants to unlawfully seize her and falsely imprison her, also in violation of section 1983 and Virginia state law.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to the Arlington County defendants on plaintiff's section 1983 claims where the Arlington County defendants had probable cause to detain plaintiff for an emergency mental health evaluation. Even assuming that they did not have probable cause to detain plaintiff, the Arlington County defendants are entitled to qualified immunity because the unlawfulness of their conduct was not clearly established at the time. Even if plaintiff had properly raised her challenge, the court also affirmed the dismissal of the state law conspiracy claims against the Arlington County defendants where the officers had the requisite legal justification to detain plaintiff for the evaluation, and they followed the legal process provided by Virginia law in doing so.The court further affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's section 1983 claim against the PAE defendants where plaintiff's allegations that the officers conspired with the PAE defendants to illegally seize her and remove her from the workplace for a psychological evaluation is comprised of nothing more than conclusory assertions and rank speculation. Furthermore, plaintiff's state law conspiracy claims rest upon the same conclusory and speculative allegation that the PAE employees and the police officers conspired to violate her civil rights and to falsely imprison her, regardless of how she acted or what she said to the police. The court affirmed the dismissal of this claim as well. View "Barrett v. PAE Government Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Ramirez v. Department of Homeland Security
Ramirez was a Customs Officer, required to remain medically qualified to carry a service firearm. His wife reported to the police that he had cocked his service weapon and pointed it at her head. The police concluded that the allegations were unfounded. Ramirez was not charged. The Agency temporarily revoked Ramirez’s authority to carry a firearm and ordered a fitness-for-duty evaluation, with a psychiatric evaluation. His first evaluation was inconclusive. A second psychiatrist was also unable to assess Ramirez’s dangerousness but recommended that Ramirez be restricted from weapons-carrying positions based on his “lack of full cooperativeness.” A third-party psychologist had determined that Ramirez’s Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory results were invalid due to “extreme defensiveness.” Ramirez answered every MMPI question; the finding was based on his answers. The Agency terminated him.In arbitration, the Agency denied Ramirez access to the MMPI assessments and interpretations. Ramirez offered the testimony of his own expert, who administered another MMPI and interpreted his scores as within a range typical among law enforcement personnel. After a fourth fitness-for-duty evaluation and MMPI assessment, the same psychologist again interpreted the results as invalid “because of high defensiveness.” The arbitrator affirmed Ramirez’s removal and denied Ramirez’s request to order the Agency to produce the records of his MMPI assessments.The Federal Circuit vacated. The arbitrator did not exceed his authority by seeking additional evidence after issuing his interim award but Ramirez was entitled to a meaningful opportunity to review and challenge the assessments underlying his adverse psychiatric evaluations. View "Ramirez v. Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law
Menoken v. Dhillon
Plaintiff filed suit against her employer, the EEOC, alleging that the agency had subjected her to a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and had violated her rights under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.The DC Circuit held that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's retaliatory hostile work environment claim under Title VII, as well as her interference and reasonable accommodation claims under the Rehabilitation Act. The court stated that an employer's deliberate attempts to affect an employee's finances and access to healthcare strike the court as precisely the type of conduct that might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of the retaliatory hostile work environment claim under Title VII for events occurring in 2013 and remanded. The court also held that the district court erred by treating the Confirmation Form and Huffer Letter as definitive proof that the only accommodation plaintiff sought was an uncertain and indefinite amount of paid leave. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's dismissal of the reasonable accommodation claim and remanded. The court also reversed the dismissal of the interference claim and remanded for further consideration of plaintiff's interference allegations. Finally, the court held that the district court properly dismissed plaintiff's confidentiality and medical inquiries claims. View "Menoken v. Dhillon" on Justia Law
Mlsna v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
In 2006, Mlsna was hired by Union Pacific, as a conductor. Union Pacific was aware of Mlsna’s hearing impairment. In 2012 the Federal Railroad Administration implemented regulations to ensure that train conductors possessed hearing acuity, and to confirm that railroads appropriately protected their employees’ hearing, 49 C.F.R. 242.105(c). Union Pacific had Mlsna’s hearing tested several different ways. Mlsna passed the hearing acuity test only when he relied on his hearing aids with no additional hearing protection. Later Mlsna was retested with the same results. Union Pacific decided it could not recertify Mlsna to work as a conductor. When he wore hearing aids and passed the hearing acuity requirement he was in violation of Union Pacific’s hearing conservation policy, which required additional hearing protection; when he complied with that policy by wearing the protection, he could not pass the hearing acuity test. Mlsna proposed he use specific custom‐made hearing protection. Union Pacific rejected his proposal because that device did not have a factory‐issued or laboratory‐tested noise reduction rating, as required by the regulation. Mlsna’s employment was terminated.Mlsna sued, alleging discrimination based on his hearing disability. The district court granted the railroad summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Issues of fact exist as to whether wearing hearing protection is an essential function of Mlsna’s work as a conductor, as well as whether reasonable accommodations for the conductor were properly considered. View "Mlsna v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Badgerow v. REJ Properties, Inc.
Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer, REJ, alleging claims of hostile work environment, gender discrimination, disparate pay, Title VII and Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law retaliation, 42 U.S.C. 1985 conspiracy, and breach of contract.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's disparate pay, hostile work environment, and breach of contract claims. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of attorney's fees. However, the court held that plaintiff has satisfied her burden under the McDonnell Douglas framework to show that whether her termination was pretext for unlawful retaliation remains a disputed issue of fact that must be determined by the appropriate fact finder. Therefore, the court reversed and vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim. View "Badgerow v. REJ Properties, Inc." on Justia Law
Sanchez v. Martinez
Five laborers filed suit against their former employer, Miguel Martinez, alleging violations of various labor laws. The Court of Appeal previously heard plaintiffs' claims; in its initial review, the Court considered plaintiffs’ appeal of a judgment that rejected all their claims against Martinez. Although the judgment was affirmed for the most part, the Court reversed to allow plaintiffs to proceed on two of their claims, one of which concerned Martinez’s failure to pay plaintiffs for rest periods, and another of which was derivative of their rest-period claim. As was explained, Martinez was obligated to pay his employees for the time they spent on authorized rest periods. However, the Court found nothing in the evidence to show he had ever paid his employees for this time. The case was thus remanded to allow the trial court to determine appropriate damages and penalties based on this failure. Following the remand, the parties raised various challenges to the trial court’s calculation of damages and penalties. Plaintiffs contended the trial court undervalued their damages and wrongly rejected several of their claims for penalties. Martinez, in turn, claimed that insufficient evidence supported the trial court’s calculation of damages and penalties. Because the Court of Appeal find none of the parties’ several claims warranted reversal, it affirmed the trial court’s decision. View "Sanchez v. Martinez" on Justia Law
State ex rel. Merritt v. Industrial Commission
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal denying Appellant's petition for a writ of mandamus and granted a limited writ of mandamus ordering the Industrial Commission to vacate its order denying Appellant's request for temporary total disability (TTD) compensation, holding that the order did not comply with State ex rel. Noll v. Industrial Commission, 567 N.E.2d 245 (Ohio 1991).The Commission denied Appellant's TTD compensation request because it found that Appellant had violated his employer's drug-free-workplace policy, thereby voluntarily abandoning his employment. Appellant sought a writ of mandamus ordering the Commission to conduct a new hearing, asserting that the Commission's order failed to set forth the evidence that the Commission relied on to conclude that his failed drug test was the reason for his termination. The Supreme Court granted a limited writ, holding that the order was deficient because it did not specifically state what evidence the hearing officer relied upon to conclude that Appellant was terminated for violating his employer's drug-free workplace policy, thereby voluntarily abandoning his employment. View "State ex rel. Merritt v. Industrial Commission" on Justia Law
Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service, Inc. v. Kraft
Royal employed Kraft and Matthews (Defendants) in its sales team. Royal’s employee handbook prohibited using company equipment for personal activities; unauthorized use, retention, or disclosure of any of Royal’s resources or property; and sending or posting trade secrets or proprietary information outside the organization. Royal’s “GPS Tracking Policy” stated, “[e]mployees may not disable or interfere with the GPS (or any other) functions on a company-issued cell phone,” nor may employees “remove any software, functions or apps.” The Defendants resigned to become employed with one of Royal’s competitors. Royal discovered that, shortly before his resignation, Kraft forwarded from his Royal email account to his personal one quotes for Royal customers and Royal paystubs; contacted a Royal customer through Royal’s email server to ask the customer to send “all the new vendor info” to Kraft’s personal email account; then deleted and reinstalled the operating system on his company-issued laptop, rendering its data unrecoverable. Matthews did much the same and announced her resignation on social media, sharing a link to the song, “You Can Take This Job and Shove It.”Royal sued, citing the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. 1030, which refers to one who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains . . . information from any protected computer.” The district court concluded that the Defendants did not “exceed” their “authorized access,” under CFAA. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While their conduct might violate company policy, state law, perhaps another federal law, the employees were authorized to access the information in question. View "Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service, Inc. v. Kraft" on Justia Law
Hargrove v. Sleepys LLC
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