Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Babb worked as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist at Maryville, a small practice group. Approximately a month into her employment, one of Maryville’s physician-owners observed Babb “placing her face very close to a computer screen.” Babb stated that she suffered from a “degenerative retinal condition” that made it hard for her to read certain screens and medical records but that this disorder did not affect her ability to do her job. Other Maryville physician-owners later raised similar concerns regarding Babb’s vision. At a meeting, Babb explained her diagnosis and insisted that the disorder did not affect her ability to do her job, One doctor asked Babb if she had “disability insurance.” Others requested a report by an ophthalmologist. One opined that they might have to “talk to [their] attorney.” Babb’s annual evaluations mentioned Babb’s vision problems. Babb subsequently committed clinical errors unrelated to her vision. In communicating its decision to terminate Babb, Maryville focused exclusively on her clinical errors. Babb claims nobody had criticized her anesthesiology techniques before her termination. An internal email focused on Babb’s worsening vision problems. Babb sued Maryville under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibition on discrimination against employees “regarded as” disabled, 42 U.S.C. 12102(1)(C). The district court granted Maryville summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The district court overlooked too many genuine factual disputes and improperly excluded expert testimony favorable to Babb. View "Babb v. Maryville Anesthesiologists, P.C." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were hourly workers at an Amazon fulfillment center. After clocking out, they were required to undergo an anti-theft security screening. They were not compensated for the time spent in the screening process. The district court rejected a purported class action under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (PMWA), citing the Supreme Court’s 2014 “Busk” decision. Busk interpreted the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, and the Portal-to-Portal Act, 29 U.S.C. 250 to find post-shift security screening non-compensable. The Sixth Circuit certified two questions to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Is the time spent on an employer’s premises waiting to undergo and undergoing mandatory security screening compensable as “hours worked” under the PMWA; Does the doctrine of de minimus non curat lex bar claims brought under the PMWA? The U.S. Supreme Court has applied the doctrine to the FLSA, to hold that employers are not required to compensate employees for small amounts of time that are administratively difficult to track. View "Heimbach v. Amazon.com" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a management employee of the Summit County Board of Developmental Disabilities, worked under renewable one-year agreements that contained broad arbitration provisions. When Plaintiff joined the Ohio Army National Guard in 2008, his contract provided for “military leave in accordance with Board Policy.” Thereafter, there were several disputes about his entitlement military leave at full pay. Plaintiff refused to sign a proposed 2011–12 contract. Plaintiff filed his first complaint in 2011. In April 2012, shortly after returning from military leave, the Board delivered to Plaintiff a pre-disciplinary hearing notice. The Board subsequently notified Plaintiff of his termination. Plaintiff filed another complaint, alleging wrongful termination of employment, breaches of the employment contract, and discrimination and retaliation based on his military status. The district court granted Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration, excluding two breach of contract claims. An arbitrator determined that all of the claims identified as possibly subject to arbitration were arbitrable, and granted the Defendants summary judgment. The court granted Defendants summary judgment regarding Plaintiff’s breach of contract claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The contract provided that the arbitrators could decide questions of arbitrability and, under Ohio law, the arbitrators did not exceed their powers by entering a decision on Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff failed to show a breach of his contract with respect to military leave. View "McGee v. Armstrong" on Justia Law

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Logan worked as a cook for MGM. As part of her job application, she agreed to a six-month limitation period to bring any lawsuit against her employer. After leaving the job, she sued MGM under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, alleging employment discrimination. Her former employer asserted a statute of limitations defense. Although Logan arguably brought her claim within the Title VII statutory period, she waited longer than the limitation period provided in her employment application. The district court granted MGM summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The contractual limitation period cannot supersede the statutory limitation period for bringing suit under Title VII. The Title VII limitation period is part of an elaborate pre-suit process that must be followed before any litigation may commence. Contractual alteration of this process abrogates substantive rights and contravenes Congress’s uniform nationwide legal regime for Title VII lawsuits. View "Logan v. MGM Grand Detroit Casino" on Justia Law

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French created pro-union flyers and asked a union organizer to distribute them at his workplace, Charter Communications. Three months later, Charter fired French and two of his colleagues. In the intervening period, all three employees were temporarily reassigned to more isolated regions, and Charter supervisors watched French closely, warned him that the company was aware of his undisclosed pro-union activities, and threatened him with discharge. The National Labor Relations Board concluded that Charter repeatedly violated the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 157, during that three-month period; that French was discriminatorily discharged because of his union activity; and that his colleagues were discriminatorily discharged because of their perceived union activity. The Sixth Circuit granted a petition for enforcement, first rejecting a claim that most of the claims were barred because they were not raised in French’s initial charge filed with the NLRB, which listed only French’s termination and a particular conversation. The events added to the charge establish Charter’s anti-union animus in the period leading up to French’s discharge and would have been at issue under French’s initial charge. A reasonable employee might be dissuaded by Charter’s conduct from engaging in protected activity. French established a prima facie case of discriminatory discharge; the Board’s finding of pretext is reasonable. View "Charter Communications, Inc v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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OHL, a third-party logistics company that provides transportation, warehousing, and supply-chain management services for other companies, operates warehouses throughout the country, including five in Memphis. OHL and the National Labor Relations Board have “a long and acrimonious history,” during which OHL has engaged in multiple unfair labor practices and anti-union activity. In this dispute, the Board found that OHL violated the National Labor Relations Act when it unilaterally changed its employee attendance policy two separate times without giving the union that represents its employees notice and the opportunity to bargain, and then discharged an employee pursuant to the new policy. OHL challenged the finding with respect to the second violation on due process grounds, arguing that it was neither specifically alleged in the administrative complaint nor tried at the hearing before an administrative law judge. OHL argued that the change to the attendance policy did not cause the employee’s discharge. The Sixth Circuit granted enforcement of the Board’s order. The Board did not deprive OHL of due process. While the second violation was not specifically alleged in the charge or the complaint, the record is replete with evidence that the Board provided ample notice to OHL; the parties thoroughly litigated the issue. View "Ozburn-Hessey Logistics, LLC v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Buddenberg, formerly the County Health District fiscal coordinator, learned that the District had obtained a state grant for tire removal, and, without competitive bids, District workers took on the work. Buddenberg also reported an apparently sex-based pay disparity between District employees. In reporting these issues to the Board of Health, she also voiced other concerns about unethical conduct by a supervisor, such as accepting gifts from contractors to whom the District issued permits, failing to enforce attendance and break policies, failing to honor the reference-check policy for new hires, and disregarding the health and safety recommendations. Buddenberg wrote multiple emails to Board members and to the Board’s attorney, describing Weisdack’s subsequent retaliation. The Board failed to intervene. After receiving notice of Buddenberg’s EEOC filing, her supervisor issued a “Notice of Proposed Disciplinary Action.” Attorney Budzik offered to settle the disciplinary charges if Buddenberg would accept a demotion and a salary reduction of nearly $1,000 per month, and drop all her claims. Demoted, Buddenberg found the work environment intolerable and resigned. She sued, alleging Title VII, Fair Labor Standards Act, and First Amendment retaliation, 42 U.S.C. 2000, 29 U.S.C. 215(a)(3)), 42 U.S.C. 1983. On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity. Accepting Buddenberg’s factual allegations, she has plausibly alleged violations of her clearly established First Amendment rights. Buddenberg’s speech was not within her ordinary job responsibilities and was constitutionally protected. View "Buddenberg v. Weisdack" on Justia Law

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Rebecca, employed by SNS, enrolled herself and her husband in SNS’s health-benefits coverage. In 2013, Rebecca fell at work and injured her knee. Her injury was too severe to permit her to continue working. She signed a form requesting to open a workers’ compensation claim and to receive a leave of absence. The form did not mention the “Family and Medical Leave Act.” SNS sent a letter instructing her to complete paperwork for processing her absence under the FMLA. She did so. SNS approved her leave of absence as FMLA leave (rather than paid leave) for the first 12 weeks, but did not give her any other written notice of that designation. SNS deducted her insurance contributions from her workers’ compensation checks. SNS notified Rebecca when her FMLA leave expired, stating that, if her employment was terminated, she could continue health benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA). Having received no premium payment weeks later, SNS notified Rebecca that the benefits had been discontinued. SNS terminated her employment. Rebecca sued, alleging that SNS failed to notify her of the right to temporarily continue health-benefit coverage under COBRA and breached its fiduciary duty under ERISA by failing to so notify her. The district court determined that a qualifying event occurred with the reduction in Rebecca’s work hours on the day after her injury, requiring notice. The Sixth Circuit reversed because the terms of Rebecca’s insurance coverage did not change upon her taking a leave of absence. No “qualifying event” occurred to trigger a COBRA notification obligation. View "Morehouse v. Steak N Shake" on Justia Law

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The UAW negotiates collective-bargaining agreements (CBAs) with automotive manufacturers including Fiat Chrysler (FCA). Plaintiffs claim that FCA officials bribed UAW officials to get a more company-friendly CBA. The scandal resulted in federal convictions and indictments. Plaintiffs filed a purported class action, alleging violations of Labor-Management Relations Act (LMRA) section 301, 29 U.S.C. 185. The Second Amended Complaint named individuals formerly employed by both FCA and UAW, alleges that “FCA executives and FCA employees agree[d] ... and willfully paid and delivered, money and things of value to officers and employees of the UAW,” and that plaintiffs have been unable to discover the complete extent of defendants’ collusive conduct because of the secrecy of the ongoing federal criminal investigations. The complaint refers to a “hybrid 301 claim” and raises two counts: violation of the LMRA and breach of the LMRA duty of fair representation, both of which must be properly alleged in a hybrid claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. A section 301 “hybrid claim” requires evidence of the violation of a contract or CBA and the complaint explicitly does not allege that defendants violated any CBA provision. Plaintiffs failed to allege that they exhausted internal union remedies and CBA grievance procedures and did not establish proximate cause between defendants’ alleged malfeasance and plaintiffs’ injuries. View "Swanigan v. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S., LLC" on Justia Law

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Sensabaugh, the former head football coach at David Crockett High School in Washington County, Tennessee, made two Facebook posts expressing his concerns about the conditions and practices of schools within the District. The posts included pictures of students. Sensabaugh refused to comply with requests to remove the posts and became aggressive with his supervisors who noted other alleged misconduct, including his use of profane language with students and his requiring a student to practice while injured. He was fired after a guidance meeting where his conduct caused his supervisor to report her concern “that Sensabaugh posed a threat to the safety of the students and staff.” He sued, raising First Amendment retaliation and municipal liability claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding no causal connection between Sensabaugh’s Facebook posts and his termination. A thorough independent investigation preceded Sensabaugh’s termination; that investigation concluded that the misconduct allegations were substantiated in full or in part and that the misconduct supported termination. View "Sensabaugh v. Halliburton" on Justia Law