Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Atkins, a type II diabetic, occasionally suffers from low blood sugar. She must respond to these episodes by quickly consuming glucose to avoid seizing or passing out. She asked her Dollar General manager if she could keep orange juice at her cash register in case of an emergency. The manager refused. She suffered two episodes while working alone. Each time she responded by drinking orange juice from the checkout cooler, paying for it immediately, and reporting the incident to her supervisor. Dollar General fired Atkins. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A jury found that Dollar General had “discriminate[d] . . . on the basis of disability.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The claim was timely under 42 U.S.C. 2000e-5(e)(1), having been timely filed with a state agency that had authority to entertain it. Even if the company’s policy permitted alternative glucose sources, there was evidence suggesting that those options, though medically equivalent in the abstract, were not practically equivalent; the jury had a legally sufficient basis to conclude that Dollar General failed to provide Atkins reasonable alternatives. A company may not illegitimately deny an employee a reasonable accommodation to a general policy and use that same policy (the anti-grazing policy) as a neutral basis for firing him. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Dolgencorp, LLC" on Justia Law

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Rogers, an African-American woman, has been employed by HFHS for more than 30 years. After she was denied reclassification as a Senior Consultant, Rogers made an internal complaint of racial and age discrimination. An internal investigation found no evidence of discrimination. Rogers filed an EEOC charge. A few months later, co-workers began reporting that Rogers’s emotional state was erratic and that they feared she might pose a physical threat. Rogers was placed on paid leave and sent for a fitness-for-duty exam. After a doctor cleared Rogers for work, she claims that she was offered the choice of either transferring to an HFHS subsidiary or taking severance. Rogers chose the transfer, then filed another EEOC charge, alleging retaliation. The EEOC found probable cause. Rogers filed suit alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. 1981; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e; and the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for HFHS with respect to Rogers’s claims of racial and age discrimination but reversed summary judgment with respect to retaliation. Rogers did not produce evidence that she performed job duties more advanced than those covered by her job description and, therefore, was qualified for reclassification and that she was treated differently than a similarly situated person outside the protected class. A reasonable factfinder could, however, conclude that Rogers suffered materially adverse actions very close in time after an employer learns of a protected activity. View "Rogers v. Henry Ford Health System" on Justia Law

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The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission found that ConAg violated the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, 30 U.S.C. 815(c), by terminating Groves’s employment in retaliation for his reporting safety concerns to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which enforces health and safety standards. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A miner establishes prima facie case of discrimination by showing that he was engaging in protected activity and subject to an adverse employment action that was at least partially motivated by his protected activity. Groves engaged in a protected activity; while the ALJ did not find any direct evidence of animus or disparate treatment, she found the timing and knowledge to be persuasive. Groves made his first complaint approximately two-and-a-half months before his discharge. Groves’s meeting with the MSHA investigator occurred just five days before he was fired. The ALJ found the company’s affirmative defense implausible and the asserted reason for termination pretextual and did not impose her own business judgment on ConAg’s actions. View "Con-Ag, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law

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Wooster hired Hostettler in 2013; she was pregnant. Wooster allowed new employees 12 weeks unpaid maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2601–2654, even if they did not otherwise qualify. Hostettler took 12 weeks of leave but as her return to work approached, she experienced severe postpartum depression. Hostettler’s OB/GYN, Dr. Seals, prescribed an antidepressant and indicated that a reduced schedule “was medically necessary” for the “foreseeable future.” Hostettler met with her supervisor, Beasley, and did not return to work as scheduled. Wooster indicated that it would accommodate a part-time schedule until June 30. Hostettler returned to work but her symptoms continue. Hostettler contends that she was able to do everything required of her position, doing some work from home, a common practice in the department. There were no complaints about her work. Beasley stated that Hostettler never failed to perform any responsibility or timely finish any assignment. June 30 passed. The parties disagree about whether Wooster insisted that she return full-time. In mid-July, Seals submitted an updated medical certification, stating that Hostettler might return full-time in September. Beasley fired Hostettler. Hostettler sued, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101, the FMLA, and Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The court granted Wooster summary judgment, concluding that full-time work was an essential function of the position of HR Generalist. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Genuine disputes of material fact remain; Wooster may have preferred that Hostettler be in the office 40 hours a week but an employer cannot deny a modified work schedule without showing why the employee is needed on a full-time schedule. View "Hostettler v. College of Wooster" on Justia Law

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Barry, a judicial administrative assistant, alleged that Franklin County Municipal Judge O’Grady created a hostile work environment with vulgar comments about women, either coming from O’Grady directly, encouraged by him, or tolerated by him. After overhearing the judge and bailiffs discussing the sex life of a female lawyer, Barry posted about the conversation on Facebook and told the female lawyer about it. When O’Grady learned that Barry had reported the conversation to the female lawyer, O’Grady retaliated. Barry brought O’Grady’s behavior to the attention of the court administration. She was moved out of O’Grady’s chambers, and accepted a transfer to a less-desirable position as her only real option. Her work life continued to devolve; she suffered from mental-health issues. Barry sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming retaliation in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and gender discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. O’Grady argued qualified immunity. The district court disagreed, finding disputed issues of material fact and concluding that a reasonable jury could find in Barry’s favor. The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal because O’Grady’s argument relied on disagreements with the district court’s weighing of facts and factual inferences, not questions of law. View "Barry v. O'Grady" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, retirees who worked at Honeywell’s Greenville, Ohio plant, were members of a bargaining unit. The final collective bargaining agreement (CBA) did not expire until May 2014. Honeywell sold the plant in 2011 but continued to provide healthcare benefits for retirees after the CBA expired. The 2011 CBA stated that “[u]pon the death of a retiree, the Company will continue coverage for the spouse and dependent children for their lifetime.” In December 2015, Honeywell sent a letter stating that it intended to terminate the retiree medical and prescription drug coverage on December 31, 2016. Plaintiffs filed suit on behalf of themselves and similarly situated retirees and eligible dependents under the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. 185, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1132, claiming that Honeywell was obligated to provide retirees with lifetime healthcare benefits. Honeywell argued that the CBA’s general durational clause, which stated that the agreement remained in effect until May 22, 2014, governed its duty to provide those benefits. The Sixth Circuit held that the CBAs were unambiguous and do not vest retiree healthcare benefits for life. A CBA’s general durational clause applies to healthcare benefits unless it contains clear, affirmative language indicating the contrary. Retirees are not entitled to lifetime benefits; only the dependents of retirees who died while the CBA was in effect are entitled to lifetime benefits. View "Fletcher v. Honeywell International, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, 11 minority firefighters who were laid off by Detroit in 2012 as part of a reduction in force (RIF) that followed the city’s bankruptcy, sued the city and their union, (DFFA), alleging a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The district court rejected their claims on summary judgment, finding that only one Plaintiff had exhausted his administrative remedies to pursue a claim against the city, but that even on the merits, Plaintiffs failed to present direct evidence or to establish a prima facie case under the circumstantial evidence approach, which includes a heightened burden in a RIF. The court concluded that Plaintiffs could not establish that the DFFA breached its duty of fair representation. The Sixth Circuit agreed that 10 Plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies, that there was no direct evidence of discriminatory motive, and that Plaintiffs’ statistical evidence was not probative and did not establish a circumstantial case. The court reversed as to DFFA, holding that a prima facie disability discrimination claim against a union does not require that a plaintiff demonstrate that the union breached its duty of fair representation. View "Peeples v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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The Honorable Michael J. Theile is a Michigan state-court judge. In 2020, the year of the next election for the seat he now holds, Theile will be 71 years of age. Because the Michigan Constitution and a statute prohibit a person who has attained the age of 70 from being elected or appointed to judicial office, Theile will not be eligible to run for re-election, Mich. Const. art. VI, section 19(3); Mich. Comp. Laws 168.411. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his complaint, in which he asserted a violation of the Equal Protection Clause and asked the court to dispense with rational-basis review of age-based classifications and adopt intermediate scrutiny. The court declined to reverse the settled precedent of the Supreme Court and of the Sixth Circuit mandating rational-basis review for age-based classifications and precedent identifying multiple rational bases for judicial age limitations. View "Theile v. State of Michigan" on Justia Law

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Cathedral Buffet is an Ohio for-profit corporation but does not generate a profit. The restaurant’s sole shareholder is Grace Cathedral, a 501(c)(3) non-profit religious organization, which subsidizes the restaurant. The Department of Labor (DOL) began investigating Buffet in 2014, reviewing the restaurant’s employment practices back two years. The restaurant separated its workers into “employees” and “volunteers.” Volunteers performed many of the same tasks as employees. Employees received an hourly wage; volunteers did not. Reverend Angley recruited volunteers from the church pulpit on Sundays. He suggested that members who repeatedly refused to volunteer at the restaurant were at risk of “blaspheming against the Holy Ghost,” an unforgivable sin in the church’s doctrine. Managers were instructed to tell prospective volunteers that Angley would find out if they refused to work. The DOL filed suit; the district court held that Buffet’s religious affiliation did not exempt it from Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 206(a), coverage because the restaurant was a for-profit corporation engaged in commercial activity and that the volunteers were employees under the FLSA. The Sixth Circuit reversed. To be considered an employee within the meaning of the FLSA, a worker must first expect to receive compensation; the Buffet volunteers had no such expectation. View "Acosta v. Buffet" on Justia Law

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A jury found that the Michigan Department of State Police had retaliated against Mys, a former desk sergeant with the Department, by transferring her from her longtime post in Newaygo, Michigan, to a post in Detroit. Department officials initiated the process that culminated in Sgt. Mys’s transfer shortly after she had filed the second of two complaints alleging sexual assault and sexual harassment by her coworker, Sergeant Miller. Mys was awarded $350,000 in compensatory damages. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting the Department’s claim that the trial record contains no evidence from which a reasonable jury could have found in Mys’s favor or upon which the jury’s award could be justified. The court noted several misstatements of facts by the Department’s attorney. The Department conceded that the long distance of the Detroit post from Mys’s home made her transfer there an adverse employment action; her supervisor initiated the transfer process with explicit reference to Mys’s complaints, explaining to both his superior and the Human Resources Department that Mys’s transfer was necessary for one reason and one reason only: her sexual-harassment complaints. An “unbroken chain” connects Mys’s supervisor to her transfer. View "Mys v. Michigan Department of State Police" on Justia Law