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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment 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

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In 1972, P&A signed a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with Local 15024. In the early 1980s, according to P&A, Local 825 pressured P&A to employ them instead. P&A created Utility Systems to hire Local 825 workers. Utility signed a CBA with Local 825. In 2016-2018, Utility subcontracted a number of construction projects to P&A, which used its workers from Local 15024 on those jobs. Local 825 brought grievances against Utility. P&A feared that if Local 825’s arbitrator ruled that Utility’s subcontractors must use Local 825 workers, that might force P&A to violate its CBA with Local 15024. P&A and Utility filed suit, requesting an order compelling joint arbitration with both employers and both unions. The district court held that it could enforce joint arbitration under the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185(a), but that it would be inappropriate here because there was an insufficient risk that P&A and Utility would face conflicting arbitration awards simultaneously granting the same jobs to both unions. It also determined that P&A and Utility could not be deemed a single or joint employer.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Joint arbitration is available under the Act as a general matter, either before or after the bipartite arbitration award at issue has become final, but the employers here which are two at least nominally separate companies, cannot invoke that general rule. View "P&A Construction Inc v. International Union of Operating Engineers" on Justia Law

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In 2019, Mallet learned that Bundy was its newest competitor in the sale of baking release agents, the lubricants that allow baked goods to readily separate from the containers in which they are made. Bundy was well-known for other commercial baking products when it launched a new subsidiary, Synova, to sell baking release agents. Synova hired two Mallet employees, both of whom had substantial access to Mallet’s proprietary information. That information from Mallet helped Synova rapidly develop, market, and sell release agents to Mallet’s customers.Mallet sued, asserting the misappropriation of its trade secrets. The district court issued a preliminary injunction. restraining Bundy, Synova, and those employees from competing with Mallet. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded for further consideration of what, if any, equitable relief is warranted and what sum Mallet should be required to post in a bond as “security … proper to pay the costs and damages sustained by any party found to have been wrongfully enjoined or restrained.” A preliminary injunction predicated on trade secret misappropriation must adequately identify the allegedly misappropriated trade secrets. If the district court decides that preliminary injunctive relief is warranted, the injunction must be sufficiently specific in its terms and narrowly tailored in its scope. View "Mallet & Co., Inc. v. Lacayo" on Justia Law

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Current and former mortgage loan officers claim that Citizens Bank forced them—and more than a thousand of their colleagues—to work over 40 hours a week without paying them the overtime they were due under state and federal law. They filed a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 207, and parallel state-law claims that they wished to pursue as a class action under FRCP 23. The district court scheduled a trial on the primary factual issue in the FLSA opt-in collective action but left unresolved whether it would certify a class for the state-law opt-out Rule 23 action.The Third Circuit stayed the trial. Citizens had a sufficient likelihood of success on its mandamus petition, and mandamus is the only relief available. By compelling the FLSA opt-in collective action trial before deciding Rule 23 class certification, the district court “created a predicament for others to unravel” and “clearly and indisputably erred.” Allowing the planned FLSA collective action trial would publicly preview the evidence common to the FLSA and state-law claims, giving potential Rule 23 class members an enormous informational advantage in any subsequent “do-over.” Citizens would suffer irreparable injury absent a stay; a stay will not substantially injure the plaintiffs. View "In re: Citizens Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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The Arbitration Board, in its Merits Award, held that Verizon violated a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with its Union by contracting with common carriers to deliver FiOS TV set-top boxes to “existing customers” for self-installation, work that used to be performed exclusively by Union Service Technicians. Months later, the Board, in creating a “remedy,” expanded the scope of the violation to include deliveries to both existing and new customers and also the accompanying self-installations.The Third Circuit affirmed the district court in vacating the Remedy Award to the extent that it awards damages for work that falls beyond the outer bounds of the Merits Award--the delivery of boxes to existing customers. The deference given to arbitration awards is almost unparalleled, but not absolute. An arbitrator’s powers are limited by the parties’ agreement, which is made against a background of default legal rules. Under these default rules, an arbitrator who has decided an issue is prohibited from revising that decision without the consent of the parties. He can decide other issues submitted by the parties, correct clerical errors, and clarify his initial decision— but nothing more. The Board improperly awarded punitive damages, which are not permitted under the CBA. View "Verizon Pennsylvania LLC v. Communications Workers of America" on Justia Law