Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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PPL hired McNelis as a Nuclear Security Officer in 2009. McNelis had unrestricted access to PPL’s plant, carried a firearm, and was authorized to use deadly force. In 2012, McNelis experienced personal and mental health problems. McNelis was paranoid and had problems with alcohol and bath salts—a synthetic drug that affects the central nervous system. McNelis’s wife moved herself and the children out of the family home. Police received an anonymous 911 call that resulted in a lockdown at his children’s school. McNelis had a three-day stay in an inpatient treatment unit. Pursuant to NRC regulations, McNelis’s unrestricted access was “placed on hold” pending medical clearance. A third-party psychologist interviewed McNelis and performed testing required by PPL policy and NRC regulations and reported that McNelis was not fit for duty. PPL revoked McNelis’s unescorted access authorization and terminated his employment. After his appeal was denied, McNelis sued, claiming his termination violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court held that McNelis was fired because he lacked a legally mandated job requirement: the unrestricted security access authorization that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires for armed guards. The Third Circuit affirmed. PPL followed NRC regulation procedures; “[w]hen Congress enacted the ADA, it recognized that federal safety rules would limit application of the ADA as a matter of law.” View "McNelis v. Pennsylvania Power & Light Co" on Justia Law

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When Eclipse, a jet aircraft manufacturer, declared bankruptcy in November 2008, it reached an agreement to sell the company to its largest shareholder, ETIRC, which would have allowed Eclipse to continue its operations. The sale required significant funding from VEB, a state-owned Russian Bank. The funding never materialized. For a month, Eclipse waited for the deal to go through with almost daily assurances that the funding was imminent. Delays were attributed to Prime Minister Putin needing “to think about it.” Eventually, Eclipse was forced to cease operations and notify its workers that a prior furlough had been converted into a layoff. Eclipse’s employees filed a class action complaint as an adversary proceeding in the Bankruptcy Court alleging that Eclipse’s failure to give them 60 days’ notice before the layoff violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, 29 U.S.C. 2101-2109, and asserting that Eclipse could invoke neither the Act’s “faltering company” exception nor its “unforeseeable business circumstances” exception. The Bankruptcy Court rejected the employees’ claims on summary judgment, holding that the “unforeseeable business circumstances” exception barred WARN Act liability. The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. Eclipse demonstrated that its closing was not probable until the day that it occurred. View "In re: AE Liquidation, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2004, Trzaska became the head of L’Oréal ’s regional patent team. Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) bar attorneys from filing frivolous or bad-faith patent applications. L’Oréal established quotas for patent applications. Management stated that, if the team failed to meet that quota, “there would be consequences which would negatively impact their careers and/or continued employment.” L’Oréal also adopted an initiative that resulted in fewer invention disclosures submitted to the team for vetting. With competing policies—one requiring a minimum of applications and one effectively reducing the invention disclosures being evaluated— Trzaska’s team did not believe it could meet the quota without filing applications for products that it did not in good faith believe were patentable. Trzaska told management that his team would not do so. L’Oréal offered Trzaska severance packages, with the alternative of “get back to work.” After he rejected both severance packages, L’Oréal fired Trzaska. Trzaska sued for wrongful retaliatory discharge under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J. Stat. 34:19-1, which protects an employee from retaliatory termination following his refusal to participate in illegal activity at the employer's request, including practices that the employee believes contravene public policy. The district court dismissed. The Third Circuit reversed, stating that the allegations were not “skin deep.” The basis of the claim is not L’Oréal’s violation of the RPCs; it is the instruction that would result in the employees' disregard of their RPC duties and violate a public policy mandate. View "Trzaska v. LOreal USA Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two African-American men, were hired by STI, a staffing agency, as general laborers, for Chesapeake oil and natural gas company. Shortly thereafter, the only other African-American male on the crew was fired. Plaintiffs allege that: when they arrived at work on several occasions, someone had anonymously written “don’t be black on the right of way” on the sign-in sheets; although they have more experience working on pipelines than their non-African-American coworkers, they were only permitted to clean around the pipelines rather than work on them; and, when working on a fence-removal project, a supervisor stated that if they had “niggerrigged” the fence, they would be fired. Plaintiffs reported the offensive language and were fired two weeks later without explanation. They were rehired shortly thereafter, but terminated again for “lack of work.” Plaintiffs sued, alleging harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, 42 U.S.C. 1981. The court dismissed, finding that the alleged harassment was not “pervasive and regular,” that there were not sufficient facts demonstrating intent to fire Plaintiffs because of their race, and that Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that an objectively reasonable person would have believed that the supervisor's comment was unlawful. The Third Circuit reversed, finding Plaintiffs’ harassment and retaliation claims plausible and that the district court incorrectly “jettisoned” the burden-shifting formula. The correct standard for evaluating harassment is “severe or pervasive.” A single incident can amount to unlawful activity. View "Castleberry v. STI Group" on Justia Law

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De Ritis became an Assistant Public Defender for Delaware County in 2005. After being promoted to the “trial team,” De Ritis was told, in 2012, that he would be transferred back to the juvenile court unit. De Ritis contends that others told him that he was transferred because De Ritis’s clients were not pleading guilty fast enough. De Ritis assumed the information was accurate. He informed judges, private attorneys, and his colleagues that he was “being punished” for “taking too many cases to trial.” De Ritis did not discuss the issue with his supervisor, Roger. Denied a transfer back to the trial team, De Ritis contacted the County Solicitor, who contacted Roger and was told that De Ritis “was not performing well.” Roger learned of De Ritis’s allegations and fired him. De Ritis brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that the termination violated De Ritis’s First Amendment rights. The district court denied the Public Defender’s motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The Third Circuit reversed. The First Amendment does not protect the speech at issue: statements made while performing official job responsibilities, speculative comments about the reason for a perceived demotion, and recklessly false rumors circulated to government officials. View "De Ritis v. McGarrigle" on Justia Law

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Fair Labor Standards Act claims, not dependent on interpretation of collective bargaining agreement, need not be arbitrated, where arbitration clause does not include a clear waiver. Certified nursing assistants, sued their employer, Silver Care, for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and related New Jersey laws, claiming that Silver underpaid them for overtime by failing to include certain hourly wage differentials in the calculation of plaintiffs’ regular rate of pay, and by deducting plaintiffs’ half-hour meal breaks from their total hours worked, although they often worked through those breaks. Silver unsuccessfully moved to dismiss or to stay the proceedings, citing the arbitration clause in the governing collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The Third Circuit affirmed. A court may compel arbitration of a plaintiff’s federal statutory claim when the arbitration provision clearly and unmistakably waives the employee’s ability to vindicate that right in court and the federal statute does not exclude arbitration as an appropriate forum. If no clear or unmistakable waiver exists, arbitration may be compelled if the plaintiff’s FLSA claim “depends on the disputed interpretation of a CBA provision,” which must “first go to arbitration.” Silver did not dispute that the arbitration provision lacks a clear and unmistakable waiver. Neither of the FLSA claims depend on disputed interpretations of CBA provisions. View "Jones v. SCO Silver Care Operations LLC" on Justia Law

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Delaware State University hired Dr. Grevious as an associate professor and as a department chairperson in August 2010, with a contract to end in June 2011. Grevious complained that her supervising administrators were impeding her work on reaccreditation based on her gender. In 2011, the University gave Grevious a renewable contract as an associate professor for the 2011- 2012 academic year. Grevious was unable to meet the reaccreditation deadline. The University terminated her term as chairperson. Grevious filed an EEOC charge of discrimination; the investigation was closed for lack of corroborating evidence. The University revoked Grevious’s renewable contract and issued her a terminal contract ending her employment effective May 2012. Grevious claims that the Provost admitted that this was based on the EEOC charge, unrelated to her teaching or professional performance. She filed a second EEOC charge. The Provost denied making such admissions, stating that the decision was based on Grevious’s documented interpersonal conflicts at the University. Grevious sued, alleging retaliation under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-3, and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. 1981. The district court rejected her claims on summary judgment. The Third Circuit reversed with respect to her contract revision claim, but otherwise affirmed, holding that at the prima facie stage, a plaintiff need only proffer evidence sufficient to raise the inference that her engagement in a protected activity was the likely reason for the adverse employment action, not the but-for reason. View "Carvalho-Grevious v. Delaware State University" on Justia Law

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Egan worked for the Port Authority, 2008-2012, primarily managing fleet vehicles. During his first two years, only a small percentage of his work involved “economic development.” He did not perform any economic development work after 2010. Egan suffers from migraine headaches and claimed that their frequency increased with his transfer to the Engineering Department. He applied for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave in April 2012. The Port Authority approved intermittent FMLA leave. An issue arose in July because Egan had been reporting only the “approximate” number of hours he worked. In October, Egan was informed that all “economic development functions” were being eliminated, his “temporary reassignment” to the Engineering Department was “deemed completed,” and he was terminated. Egan alleged violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101, and retaliation for exercising his FMLA rights, 29 U.S.C. 2601. A jury rejected his claims. The Third Circuit vacated as to the FMLA claim; the district court erred in refusing to give a mixed-motive jury instruction. A Department of Labor regulation permits a plaintiff to rely on a mixed-motive theory if the evidence, direct or circumstantial, permits a reasonable juror to conclude that use of FMLA leave was a negative factor in the employer’s adverse employment decision. View "Egan v. Delaware River Port Authority" on Justia Law

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Capps was hired in 1989, to operate a mixing machine.Capps suffers with Avascular Necrosis: A “loss of blood flow, severely limiting oxygen and nutrient delivery to the bone and tissues, essentially suffocating and causing death of those cells.” Capps developed arthritis in both hips which necessitated bilateral hip replacement in 2003. He experiences severe pain, sometimes lasting for days or weeks at a time. Capps was continuously recertified for intermittent Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2601, leave until his employment was terminated in 2014, for violation of a policy concerning dishonesty. Capps purportedly tried to use FMLA leave for DUI court dates. The Third CIrcuit affirmed summary judgment, rejecting Capps’ claims of interference with and retaliation for exercise of his FMLA rights and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101. An employer’s honest belief that its employee was misusing FMLA leave can defeat an FMLA retaliation claim. While, under certain circumstances, a request for intermittent FMLA leave may also constitute a request for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, in this case, even if such a request was made, there is no evidence that the employer failed to provide any requested accommodation. View "Capps v. Mondelez Global LLC" on Justia Law

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Beginning in 2008, PGW, which manufactures auto glass, engaged in reductions in force (RIFs). Individual directors had broad discretion in selecting whom to terminate. PGW did not: train directors, employ written guidelines, conduct disparate-impact analysis, nor document why any particular employee was terminated. Plaintiffs, terminated in a March 2009 RIF, were each over 50 years old. After filing charges with the EEOC, plaintiffs brought an Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) collective action, asserting disparate treatment, disparate impact, and retaliation. The district court ruled that ADEA subgroups are cognizable, and conditionally certified a collective action of terminated employees who were at least 50 years old. After the case was transferred, another district judge concluded that the action should be decertified because the opt-in plaintiffs’ claims were factually dissimilar from those of the named plaintiffs. The court also excluded: statistical evidence in favor of plaintiffs’ disparate-impact claim; an expert opinion on “reasonable” human-resources RIF practices; and testimony concerning age-related implicit-bias studies. The court granted held that the 50-and-older disparate-impact claim was not cognizable under the ADEA and granted summary judgment as to plaintiffs’ disparate-treatment claims. The Third Circuit vacated in part. The ADEA prohibits disparate impacts based on age, not 40-and-older identity. A rule that disallowed subgroups would ignore genuine statistical disparities that could otherwise be actionable under the plain text of the statute. The court vacated the exclusion of testimony by plaintiffs’ statistics expert and remanded for Daubert proceedings. View "Karlo v. Pittsburgh Glass Works LLC" on Justia Law