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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Darby notified her Childvine supervisor that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was scheduled for a double mastectomy. Mayhugh expressed doubt about whether Childvine would allow Darby to remain employed when her surgery date fell within her 90-day probationary period. Darby moved the procedure to the day after her probationary period expired. Darby’s request to use her vacation and sick time to recover from the procedure was approved. When Darby returned to work, with a medical release, she learned that Childvine had sent a letter of termination effective on the last day of her probationary period because of an “unpleasant” attitude, dress code violations, and “being unable to work.” Darby filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), noting that she was never disciplined for behavior issues. In reviewing Darby’s medical records, Childvine learned that Darby was never diagnosed with cancer; she had a family history of cancer and the BRCA1 “pre-cancerous genetic mutation.” The district court stated that the definition of physical impairment does not include a condition that might lead to cancer, and dismissed the case. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Darby plausibly alleged that her impairment substantially limits her normal cell growth as compared to the general population due to both the BRCA1 gene and a medical diagnosis of abnormal epithelial cell growth serious enough to warrant a double mastectomy. View "Darby v. Childvine, Inc." on Justia Law

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Babcock joined the Michigan National Guard in 1970 and became a dual-status technician “a Federal civilian employee” who “is assigned to a civilian position as a technician” while maintaining membership in the National Guard, 10 U.S.C. 10216(a)(1); 32 U.S.C. 709(e). Babcock served as a National Guard pilot, held the appropriate military grade, wore a uniform that displayed his rank while working, and attended weekend drills. In 2004-2005, Babcock was deployed to Iraq on active duty. Babcock received military pay for his active-duty service and his inactive-duty training, including weekend drills. Otherwise, he received civil pay and participated in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), 5 U.S.C. 5301. Babcock paid Social Security taxes on the wages for his active-duty service and his inactive-duty training from 1988 onwards, 42 U.S.C. 410(l)(1). He did not pay Social Security taxes on his wages for inactive-duty training before 1988 or on his civil-service wages. In 2009, Babcock retired and began receiving monthly CSRS payments and separate military retirement pay. For several years after his retirement, Babcock flew medical-evacuation helicopters for hospitals. This private-sector income was subject to Social Security taxes. Babcock fully retired in 2014. The government reduced his Social Security benefits under the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) because of his CSRS pension. Babcock cited a WEP exception for payments “based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service.” While Babcock's case was pending, the Eleventh Circuit rejected the Eighth Circuit’s contrary analysis and held that the uniformed-services exception does not apply to dual-status technicians. The Sixth Circuit subsequently agreed that a federal civil-service pension based on work as a National Guard dual-status technician does not qualify as “a payment based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service.” View "Babcock v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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Lake manufactures steel-framed buildings. In June 2016, in Akron, two Lake employees were working atop the steel frame of a partially completed building, 28 feet above the ground. The employees were wearing safety harnesses that, if anchored to the building, would prevent them from falling; they had chosen to remain unanchored while they worked with a crane to place bundles of steel decking. An OSHA compliance officer cited their failure to anchor their harnesses as a violation of OSHA’s fall-protection regulations. The on-site foreman disagreed, asserting that those workers were “connectors.” An ALJ upheld the citation, reasoning that the workers were only “placing” the decking bundles, rather than “placing and connecting” them, 29 C.F.R. 1926.751. OSHA’s regulations generally require ironworkers to use fall protection whenever working above a height of 15 feet, but there is an exception to that rule for “connectors,” who are specially trained to work with incoming loads from hoisting equipment and need to remain unencumbered to escape collapses and incoming steel. A “connector,” is defined as “an employee who, working with hoisting equipment, is placing and connecting structural members and/or components.” The Sixth Circuit granted Lake’s petition for review. The court agreed with the Commission’s interpretation of the regulation but concluded on this record that Lake lacked fair notice of that interpretation. View "Lake Building Products, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law

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Lemon asked a coworker for an Advil, explaining that he hurt his neck by “turn[ing] his head.” Later, he asked another coworker to cover his shift, stating that he hurt his neck at home. From the hospital, Lemon texted another coworker that he “tweaked” his neck at home. He first told the doctor that he hurt himself at home, then stated that he hurt himself at work. Later, he reported to his supervisor, claiming he slipped walking up the stairs at work and that he did not discuss the injury with any coworkers. In his formal injury report the next day, Lemon said that he stumbled on the stairs at work. Norfolk has a policy of firing workers who make false statements at work. Norfolk held a hearing and fired Lemon. Lemon claimed Norfolk violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 20101, by retaliating against him for reporting a workplace injury. OSHA dismissed his complaint. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Norfolk. To prevail, Lemon was required to show that his injury report was a “contributing factor” in the railroad’s decision to fire him; he could not prevail if the railroad would have fired him anyway. Lemon’s injury report was not a contributing factor in Norfolk’s decision to fire him. Even if Lemon provided admissible evidence of a policy of pretextual retaliation, Lemon did not establish retaliation against him. Lemon admits no one at Norfolk ever discouraged him from reporting his injury or threatened him with retaliation. View "Lemon v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Queen, a Bowling Green firefighter, 2011-2016, was subject to harassment because he is an atheist. According to Queen, he was forced to participate in Bible studies; his co-workers and supervisors badgered him regarding his sexuality and regularly disparaged minorities. In 2012, Queen complained to his supervisor, Rockrohr, who “responded in hostility.” Rockrohr later told Queen that he had discussed the matter with the fire chief and they both believed that Queen “needed to get employment somewhere else.” Queen apologized. Queen’s employment conditions did not improve. Queen was intentionally tripped while retrieving his gear and was regularly subject to disparaging remarks. Stress and anxiety caused Queen to take a leave of absence. While on leave, Queen received many phone calls from his supervisors asking why he was absent. Queen resigned and filed suit under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, alleging hostile work environment based on religion and gender, constructive discharge, retaliation, and violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment on hostile work environment based on religion and gender and the FMLA claims. On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of qualified immunity to the city on the claims for hostile work environment based on religion and for retaliation and denial of qualified immunity to Rockrohr for the retaliation claim. View "Queen v. City of Bowling Green" on Justia Law

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Under its collective bargaining agreement (CBA), Ford withholds union membership dues if an employee joins the union and signs a dues checkoff authorization. Resignation of membership does not extinguish the dues authorization; the CBA requires the employee to revoke a checkoff authorization within a specified window. To resign union membership, an employee must send a letter to the Union’s financial secretary, DePaoli, who then notifies Ford’s human resources manager to stop deducting dues from the employee’s paycheck. In February 2018, Stoner left DePaoli several voicemail messages. On March 5, DePaoli emailed the authorization form to Stoner. On March 9 Stoner sent a letter by certified mail stating that he was resigning from the Union and revoking his dues checkoff authorization. The Union received Stoner’s letter on March 12. DePaoli drafted a letter instructing Ford to stop deducting dues but is unsure whether he actually it. On March 19 Ford notified Stoner that it would continue deducting dues because it had not received a timely revocation. Ford deducted Stoner’s dues until mid-June. The Union reimbursed Stoner in part. The NLRB held that the Union’s failure to promptly process Stoner’s resignation violated the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 151–169. The Sixth Circuit granted enforcement, holding that the Union breached its duty of fair representation. The Union’s communications with Stoner evidenced “ill will” because of his decision to withdraw and support a finding that the Union’s conduct was in bad faith. View "United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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A “collective action” under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 216(b), alleged that Pilot, a nationwide chain of travel centers, alleged overtime violations. Pilot asserted that the claims are covered by an arbitration agreement. The district court granted conditional certification to 5,145 current and former employees as opt-in Plaintiffs. The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal from the denial of a motion to reconsider. Plaintiffs moved to compel the production of the opt-in Plaintiffs' employment dates. The parties reached a partial settlement, covering 1,209 opt-in Plaintiffs who had not signed an arbitration agreement. Pilot moved to compel the remaining Plaintiffs to arbitrate. Before the court ruled, Plaintiffs urged the court to grant its pending motion to produce employment dates, contending that several Plaintiffs were not employees on the date Pilot claimed they signed agreements. The court ordered Pilot to produce the dates. Pilot filed an unsuccessful motion to reconsider, arguing that whether Pilot must turn over those dates was a matter for arbitration. Pilot appealed. The district court, impeded in ruling on Pilot’s motion to compel arbitration because the employment dates had not been produced but unable to compel Pilot to produce the dates, denied, without prejudice, all outstanding motions. The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The district court has not yet denied a petition under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 16(a)(1)(B) Until the threshold issue of contract formation is decided, there is no need to address the scope of the district court’s authority. View "Taylor v. Pilot Corp." on Justia Law

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Beginning in 1965, Honeywell and the labor union negotiated a series of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). Honeywell agreed to pay “the full [healthcare benefit] premium or subscription charge applicable to the coverages of [its] pensioner[s]” and their surviving spouses. Each CBA contained a general durational clause stating that the agreement would expire on a specified date, after which the parties would negotiate a new CBA. In 2003, the parties negotiated a CBA obligating Honeywell to pay “not . . . less than” a specified amount beginning in 2008. The retirees filed suit, arguing that the pre-2003 CBAs vested lifetime, full-premium benefits for all pre-2003 retirees and that the CBAs of 2003, 2007, and 2011 vested, at a minimum, lifetime, floor-level benefits for the remaining retirees. The Sixth Circuit agreed with the district court that none of the CBAs vested lifetime benefits. Without an unambiguous vesting clause, the general durational clause controls. Reversing in part, the court held that the “not . . . less than” language unambiguously limited Honeywell’s obligation to pay only the floor-level contributions during the life of the 2011 CBA. The court rejected a claim that Honeywell acquired a "windfall" at the retirees' expense. View "International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. Honeywell International, Inc." on Justia Law

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Torres was a long-time employee at Vitale’s Italian Restaurants located throughout Western Michigan. Although Torres and other Vitale’s employees often worked more than 40 hours per week, they allege that they were not paid overtime rates for those hours. Vitale’s required the workers to keep two separate timecards, one reflecting the first 40 hours of work, and the other, reflecting overtime hours. The employees were paid via check for the first card and via cash for the second. The pay was at a straight time rate on the second card. Torres alleged that employees were deprived of overtime pay and that Vitale’s did not pay taxes on the cash payments. Torres sought damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961. The district court dismissed, holding that the remedial scheme of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, precluded the RICO claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. The claims based on lost wages from the alleged “wage theft scheme” cannot proceed. However, the FLSA does not preclude RICO claims when a defendant commits a RICO-predicate offense giving rise to damages distinct from the lost wages available under the FLSA. The court remanded Torres’s claim that Vitale’s is liable under RICO for failure to withhold taxes. View "Torres v. Vitale" on Justia Law

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Jones worked as a FedEx security officer, watching an X-ray monitor to detect weapons in packages being loaded on aircraft. Jones failed to detect a weapon. FedEx terminated his employment 12 days later, allegedly because he failed to detect that weapon. According to Jones, an African American, the consequences for failing to detect a weapon were harsher for him and another African American than they were for white officers. Jones filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC on April 25, 2018, 252 days after his termination. The EEOC issued a right-to-sue notice. Jones filed a Title VII action. FedEx argued that Jones failed to file his race-discrimination charge within 180 days of his termination as required by 42 U.S.C. 2000e5(e). Jones argued that the “filing deadline is extended to 300 calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis” and that the Tennessee Human Rights Commission categorically prohibits racial discrimination. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of his case, citing the Supreme Court’s 1988 decision, EEOC v. Commercial Office Products Company concerning states that have “fair employment practices agencies” in work-sharing agreements with the EEOC. Jones, a pro se litigant, was excused for not raising that argument before the district court; the court noted that Jones allegedly relied on the EEOC's advice that the 300-day filing period would apply. View "Jones v. Federal Express Corp." on Justia Law