Articles Posted in Labor & Employment 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

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The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) funds a retirement plan, administered by “the Board, and provides defined benefits to participants that includes a cost-of-living adjustment. In 2009, the Plan found that its liabilities exceeded its assets and it needed to make some changes to ensure its long-term stability. The Board temporarily lowered cost-of-living adjustments and increased the age at which certain participants would become eligible for cost-of-living adjustments. Plaintiffs, a class of participants, maintain that the Board failed to give proper notice to the TVA and Plan members before making the cuts and violated the Plan’s rules by paying their cost-of-living adjustments for certain years out of the wrong account. The district court rejected both claims on summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part, agreeing that the Board gave the required 30 days’ notice to the TVA and Plan members, after which the TVA may “veto any such proposed amendment” within the 30-day period, “in which event it shall not become effective.” The court vacated and remanded the accounting claim with instructions to dismiss it for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Plaintiffs have suffered no injury-in-fact, and have no standing. View "Duncan v. Muzyn" on Justia Law

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School superintendent Groening had surgery that required six weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2612(a), leave. She returned to work part-time. Her mother then fell ill. Groening took intermittent leave to care for her throughout the rest of that year. A school board member told Groening that the district spent "too much time” working around Groening’s schedule. The board president told a colleague that Groening’s time away would be reflected in her annual evaluation. The board asked Groening for a breakdown of her leave. Groening created a spreadsheet. Between her leave, vacation, and business trips, Groening had been away for 12 weeks. The board indicated that it was hesitant to approve an upcoming conference. Groening submitted her notice of retirement, effective at the end of the following school year. The board then audited the business office, directing the auditors to review the method for tracking administrators’ time off. Groening was to be paid for unpaid leave when she retired, so any discrepancies had to be addressed before her retirement. Groening resigned the day before the auditors submitted their report. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of her FMLA claims. Groening's claims fell far short of showing constructive discharge. Groening failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether her working conditions were objectively intolerable. The audit was not an adverse employment action. View "Groening v. Glen Lake Community Schools" on Justia Law

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School superintendent Groening had surgery that required six weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2612(a), leave. She returned to work part-time. Her mother then fell ill. Groening took intermittent leave to care for her throughout the rest of that year. A school board member told Groening that the district spent "too much time” working around Groening’s schedule. The board president told a colleague that Groening’s time away would be reflected in her annual evaluation. The board asked Groening for a breakdown of her leave. Groening created a spreadsheet. Between her leave, vacation, and business trips, Groening had been away for 12 weeks. The board indicated that it was hesitant to approve an upcoming conference. Groening submitted her notice of retirement, effective at the end of the following school year. The board then audited the business office, directing the auditors to review the method for tracking administrators’ time off. Groening was to be paid for unpaid leave when she retired, so any discrepancies had to be addressed before her retirement. Groening resigned the day before the auditors submitted their report. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of her FMLA claims. Groening's claims fell far short of showing constructive discharge. Groening failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether her working conditions were objectively intolerable. The audit was not an adverse employment action. View "Groening v. Glen Lake Community Schools" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs, former employees at Honeywell’s Boyne City, Michigan auto parts plant, were represented by the UAW while working. The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between that union and Honeywell that became effective in 2011 and expired in 2016 stated: Retirees under age 65 who are covered under the BC/BS Preferred Medical Plan will continue to be covered under the Plan, until age 65, by payment of 16% of the retiree monthly premium costs ... as adjusted year to year,” Article 19.7.4. The plaintiffs took early retirement under the 2011 CBA and received Honeywell-sponsored healthcare, consistent with Article 19.7.4. Other Boyne City employees had retired before the 2011 CBA took effect, but were still eligible for benefits under Article 19.7.4. In 2015, Honeywell notified the UAW and the Boyne City retirees that it planned to terminate retiree medical benefits upon the 2011 CBA’s expiration. The plaintiffs, citing the Labor Management Relations Act, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act, and Michigan common law estoppel, obtained a preliminary injunction. The Sixth Circuit reversed, reasoning that the CBA did not clearly provide an alternative end date to the CBA’s general durational clause, so the plaintiffs have not shown a likelihood of success on the merits. View "Cooper v. Honeywell International, Inc." on Justia Law

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Stephens, born biologically male, worked as a funeral director for a corporation that operates Michigan funeral homes. Stephens was terminated shortly after informing the owner, Rost, that she intended to transition and would represent herself as a woman while at work. The EEOC investigated Stephens’s allegations of sex discrimination and learned that the Funeral Home provided its male public-facing employees with clothing that complied with its dress code while female public-facing employees received no such allowance. The EEOC sued, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by terminating Stephens’s employment on the basis of her transgender or transitioning status and refusal to conform to sex-based stereotypes and administering a discriminatory clothing policy. The Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the EEOC. The Funeral Home engaged in unlawful discrimination against Stephens on the basis of her sex and did not establish that applying Title VII’s proscriptions against sex discrimination would substantially burden Rost’s religious exercise in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Even if Rost’s religious exercise were substantially burdened, the EEOC has established that enforcing Title VII is the least restrictive means of furthering the government’s compelling interest in eradicating workplace discrimination against Stephens. The EEOC may bring the clothing claim in this case because an investigation into the clothing-allowance policy was reasonably expected to grow out of the original discrimination charge. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. &. G.R. Harris Funeral Homes" on Justia Law