Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Plaintiff, an emergency medical resident, began working for Crozer Chester Medical Center (“CCMC”). Plaintiff signed an at-will employment agreement with CMCC and an agreement to arbitrate with Prospect Health Access Network (“Prospect”), a company that employs professionals working at hospitals. After Plaintiff was involved in a dispute with a supervisor at CMCC, who also was an employee of Prospect, Plaintiff was terminated. Plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against CMCC. CMCC moved to compel arbitration.The district court denied CMCC's motion to compel arbitration and CMCC appealed.On appeal the Third Circuit affirmed, finding that Plaintiff's agreement to arbitrate any disputes between herself and Prospect did not extend to disputes involving CMCC. View "Dina Abdurahman v. Prospect CCMC LLC" on Justia Law

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Manivannan asserts he is one of the leading materials scientists in the United States. He was hired by the federal Department of Energy (DOE) in 2005 and assigned to the National Energy Technology Laboratory. “Conflict best defined Manivannan’s time at the DOE”. He resigned following allegations of disturbing actions taken against an intern, with whom Manivannan allegedly had a sexual relationship. The allegations prompted an internal investigation and a state criminal prosecution for stalking.Manivannan has since filed several lawsuits relating to those events, including this action under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. 552a, and the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b) and 2671–80, based on the agency’s disclosure of records to state prosecutors, its alleged negligence in conducting the internal investigation, and its refusal to return his personal property. A Magistrate dismissed those claims as precluded by the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA), 5 U.S.C. 1101 because they arose in the context of Manivannan’s federal employment. The Third Circuit reversed in part; a narrower inquiry is required. Under this inquiry, much of the conduct challenged by Manivannan, such as the internal investigation, still falls within the CSRA’s broad purview, but some conduct, such as the refusal to return property and cooperation in the state prosecution, does not. View "Manivannan v. United States Department of Energy" on Justia Law

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Fischer, a Pennsylvania resident and former FedEx security specialist, brought a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Fischer alleged FedEx misclassified her and other security specialists as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime rule and underpaid them. Two former FedEx employees, Saunders, from Maryland, and Rakowsky, from New York, submitted notices of consent, seeking to join Fischer’s collective action. Saunders and Rakowsky both worked for FedEx in their home states but, other than FedEx’s allegedly uniform nationwide employment practices, have no connection to Pennsylvania related to their claims. The district court did not allow these opt-in plaintiffs to join the suit, reasoning that, as would be true for a state court, the district court lacked specific personal jurisdiction over FedEx with respect to their’ claims.On interlocutory appeal, the Third Circuit noted a division among the circuits and held that in an FLSA collective action in federal court where the court lacks general personal jurisdiction over the defendant, all opt-in plaintiffs must establish specific personal jurisdiction over the defendant with respect to their individual claims. In this way, the specific personal jurisdiction analysis for an FLSA collective action in federal court operates the same as it would for an FLSA collective action, or any other traditional in personam suit, in state court. The out-of-state opt-in plaintiffs here cannot demonstrate their claims arise out of or relate to FedEx’s contacts with Pennsylvania. View "Fischer v. Federal Express Corp" on Justia Law

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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