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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Young, diagnosed with emphysema in 2002, had worked in coal mines for 19 years, retiring from Island Creek Coal in 1999. During and after work, Young would often cough up coal dust. For 35 years, Young smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day. Young sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 902(b). Because Young had worked for at least 15 years as a coal miner and was totally disabled by his lung impairment, he enjoyed a statutory presumption that his disability was due to pneumoconiosis. If Young was entitled to benefits, Island Creek, Young’s last coal-mine employer, would be liable. After reviewing medical reports, the ALJ awarded benefits. The Benefits Review Board affirmed, noting that if there was any error in the ALJ’s recitation of the standard, that error was harmless. The Sixth Circuit denied a petition for review, first rejecting an Appointments Clause challenge as waived. The ALJ did not err by applying an “in part” standard in determining whether Island Creek rebutted the presumption that Young has legal pneumoconiosis. To rebut the “in part” standard, an employer must show that coal-mine exposure had no more than a de minimis impact on a miner’s lung impairment. The ALJ reasonably weighed the medical opinions and provided thorough explanations for his credibility determinations. View "Island Creek Coal Co. v. Young" on Justia Law

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In 1982, Miles began working with SCHRA, a Tennessee public nonprofit organization that provides services to low-income individuals. After promotions and reassignments, Miles became Community Services Director in 2012, reporting directly to the Executive Director and responsible for overseeing six programs. Each of these programs, except for DUI school, has its own Director. In 2011, the Tennessee Comptroller, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General investigated SCHRA and discovered several deficiencies, including some within programs directly supervised by Miles. The Executive Director resigned. Two employees admitted to wrongdoing and were terminated. The new Executive Director, Rosson, subsequently terminated Miles, “at-will,” “without notice and without reason.” Miles sent emails to Rosson and other SCHRA employees saying that she believed SCHRA fired her because of the nefarious efforts of her subordinates and that she intended vindictively to sue SCHRA to impose legal defense costs on the agency and the individuals. Miles filed a charge of age discrimination with the EEOC. SCHRA then provided Miles with reasons for her termination: her implication in misconduct by the Comptroller’s report and her toxic relationship with her subordinates. Miles sued. During discovery, SCHRA reaffirmed those reasons. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act only prevents employers from terminating an employee because of such individual’s age, 29 U.S.C. 623(a)(1). Miles failed to establish a genuine dispute as to pretext. View "Miles v. South Central Human Resource Agency, Inc." on Justia Law

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Hershey started as a truck driver for Lou’s under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in July 2012. In January 2013, Hershey used a company radio to “discuss[] the poor working conditions.” Hershey began displaying hand-written signs in his truck regarding the working conditions and other matters.” At a safety meeting in March, Hershey “stated that the drivers were upset because of the dangerous road conditions.” Two days later, Lou’s managers searched Hershey’s truck, found 16 signs, and fired him. The Sixth Circuit upheld the Board’s finding that Hershey was terminated at least in part because of the January radio conversation, which was “concerted protected activity.” Ben’s did not contest that argument in administrative proceedings. More than three years later, Lou’s continued to dispute the amount of back pay that Hershey is owed. An ALJ entered a backpay order; the Board upheld the order. Lou’s appealed, raising numerous challenges to the NLRB’s calculations and order. The Sixth Circuit granted a petition for enforcement. The Board has broad discretion to resolve factual disputes and to select formulas to calculate uncertain figures and did not abuse that discretion. The Board correctly analyzed the sufficiency of the reinstatement offer; its factual findings were supported by substantial evidence. View "Lou's Transport, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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A collective bargaining agreement between Local 1982 and Midwest consisted of a Master Agreement (MA), formed between the parties’ affiliated regional employer group and the union, and a Local Agreement. The union filed a grievance for Midwest's failure to establish and contribute to benefit trust plans under MA Section 5.5A. Midwest responded that it considered the grievance procedurally invalid. The Union escalated the grievance to Step Two under the MA, referral to a Joint Grievance Committee comprised of an employer representative and a union representative. Midwest refused to participate; the hearing went forward without Midwest. The Committee determined that Midwest had failed to comply with Section 5.5A. Midwest did not appeal the unfavorable award, which became final. The union filed suit to enforce it. The Sixth Circuit directed the district court to enforce the award. The parties returned to court over ambiguities in the award's content. The Sixth Circuit affirmed a remand to the Committee, rejecting Midwest’s argument that it complied with the award by negotiating about terms of the trust agreement. After the remand but before clarification of the award, the composition of the two-person Committee changed. The new Committee deadlocked. Local 1982 sought to escalate the grievance to Step 3 with an expanded grievance committee. The Sixth Circuit agreed. The award did not lose its effect simply because the original Committee cannot agree on clarification of its contents. Grievance procedure Step Three specifies that if a grievance “is not satisfactorily settled or adjusted in Step 2, it shall be referred to an Expanded Joint Grievance Committee.” View "Local 1982, International Longshoremen v. Midwest Terminals of Toledo" on Justia Law

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Morrissey, a licensed practical nurse, worked for Coldwater, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation center, from 2001 until she quit in 2016. Morrisey alleges that she was under a 12-hour work restriction due to a disability from 2012 onward, and Coldwater forced her to work beyond that restriction, compelling her to quit. She sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12112(b)(5)(A), for discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation. Morrissey provided evidence that: she was disabled; Coldwater had a blanket policy of denying all requests for accommodation if the injury was not work-related; Coldwater forced Morrissey to work beyond her medical restrictions; and Coldwater targeted Morrissey after she complained. The Sixth Circuit reversed summary judgment in favor of Coldwater, holding that Morrissey established that she has a disability and had requested an accommodation. Numerous material factual issues remain in dispute: whether Morrissey’s restriction remained in effect, whether it was Coldwater’s policy to honor only those work restrictions that were based on work-related injuries, and whether an accommodation would have caused Coldwater undue hardship. View "Morrissey v. Laurel Health Care Co." on Justia Law

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In 2002, Hudson became a firefighter. He was outspoken about his Christian faith. According to Hudson, other firefighters watched pornography in communal spaces and engaged in extra-marital affairs at the fire station. For five years, he criticized their behavior; they responded with disrespectful comments about his religious practices and sexual orientation. In 2015, Hudson’s supervisors learned that he had claimed extra hours on his timesheet and suspended him without pay. A local union officer attended Hudson’s suspension meeting. The statewide union filed an unsuccessful grievance. During an ensuing meeting, the city added a claim that Hudson had engaged in “double-dipping.” On his union representatives’ advice, Hudson invoked his right not to incriminate himself and was fired him on the spot. The union continued to attempt a resolution. The local firefighters and the statewide union had a falling out. Hudson’s “Step 2” meeting was canceled. Hudson emailed the local union, asking for arbitration. The local officials nonetheless scheduled another “Step 2” meeting. No one notified Hudson about the meeting until the day before. Hudson could not attend; he insisted on arbitration. At the meeting, the local union did not pursue Hudson’s grievance. The district court rejected all his claims. The Sixth Circuit reversed as to a First Amendment retaliation claim. Hudson complained about poor administration, protected speech, and the department fired him, an adverse employment action. The court affirmed the rejection of his due process and Title VII claims. View "Peter Hudson v. City of Highland Park" on Justia Law

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The Ohio Department of Public Safety fired Trooper Johnson after he sexually harassed women while on duty. When the Department learned of the first incident, it let him sign a “Last Chance Agreement,” which said the Department would not fire him if he followed the rules for two years. When the Department learned of another incident, it fired Morris Johnson for violating the Last Chance Agreement. The district court and Sixth Circuit found that the Department did not racially discriminate against Johnson in doing so. Johnson did not show that he was “similarly situated” in all of the relevant respects to an employee of a different race who was treated better. While Johnson and a white trooper both acted inappropriately, their situations were different. The white trooper’s first incident was unverified while the Department verified all of Johnson’s incidents. Johnson propositioned a woman to go out with him; the white trooper did not. Johnson pulled a woman over without probable cause to ask her out; the white trooper did not. Johnson went to a woman’s home; the white trooper did not. The two troopers had different direct supervisors and were subject to different standards because Johnson signed a Last Chance Agreement. View "Johnson v. Ohio Department of Public Safety" on Justia 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