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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The plaintiffs, captains in Cleveland’s Emergency Medical Service division, belong to the same union; all are black. Each fall, captains bid on their schedules for the upcoming year. The city uses a seniority-based bidding system to assign shifts. The collective bargaining agreement also allows Carlton, the EMS Commissioner, to transfer up to four captains to a different shift that conflicts with a captain’s first choice. The 2017 bidding generated a schedule in which three plaintiffs were slated to work a day shift together; only black captains would staff the shift. Carlton removed Anderson from that day shift and replaced him with a white captain to “diversify the shift[].” Informal discussions failed. Discrimination charges were filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and the federal EEOC. A rebidding generated a schedule that again resulted in reassignment to “create diversity.” A local news station ran a story about the shift situation.The captains sued, bringing discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII and Ohio law, and a section 1983 claims based on the federal constitution. The district court ultimately rejected all of the claims, reasoning the captains could not show that the shift change subjected them to a “materially adverse employment action.” The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. Shifts count as “terms” of employment under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1) and the shift change is not “de minimus.” View "Threat v. City of Cleveland" on Justia Law

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Adamo filed several tort claims, alleging that it requested the Union to provide 47 operators for a demolition job, indicating that the project was time-sensitive and that the Union willfully refused to provide Adamo contact information for proposed workers, refused to give reasonable assurances that operators were experienced, trained and qualified, and refused to fulfill Adamo’s request to verify their qualifications. Adamo alleged that the Union sent unqualified workers, who created unsafe working conditions and caused damage for which Adamo was liable. Adamo partially staffed the project with its own workers; the Union allegedly ordered these workers to stop work and used “intimidation” to displace the experienced workers with unqualified workers. As a result of the Union’s interference, Adamo claims it breached its contractual obligations. Adamo also contends that the Union and its president have been “intentionally and maliciously" made "unprivileged, injurious, false and defamatory statements concerning Adamo,” which are affecting Adamo’s good reputation in the community.The district court concluded that section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185, preempted all Adamo’s claims and dismissed them. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Whether the defendants’ conduct was justified or improper is inextricably intertwined with and dependent upon the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. The only allegedly defamatory statements were published in the context of a labor dispute, and required a showing of actual malice; the falsity of those statements defends on the terms of the agreement. View "Adamo Demolition Co. v. International Union of Operating Engineers" on Justia Law

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Boykin, a 73-year-old African-American veteran, worked in managerial roles for Family Dollar Stores. On July 8, 2018, Boykin had a dispute with a customer. Family Dollar fired Boykin weeks later. Boykin sued, alleging age and race discrimination. Family Dollar moved to compel arbitration, introducing a declaration that Family Dollar employees must take online training sessions, including a session about arbitration. When taking online courses, employees use their own unique ID and password. During the arbitration session, they must review and accept Family Dollar’s arbitration agreement. According to Family Dollar, Boykin completed the session on July 15, 2013. Boykin replied under oath that he did not consent to or acknowledge an arbitration agreement at any time, that he had no recollection of taking the arbitration session, and that no one ever told him that arbitration was a condition of his employment. Boykin requested his personnel file, which did not include an arbitration agreement. The district court granted Family Dollar’s motion.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Although the Federal Arbitration Act requires a court to summarily compel arbitration upon a party’s request, the court may do so only if the opposing side has not put the making of the arbitration contract “in issue.” 9 U.S.C. 4. Boykin’s evidence created a genuine issue of fact over whether he electronically accepted the contract or otherwise learned of Family Dollar’s arbitration policy. View "Boykin v. Family Dollar Stores of Michigan, LLC" on Justia Law

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Doe is transgender and began presenting publicly as a woman while working for the city, which was supportive of her plans to transition and need for time off. During her transition, an unknown city employee left Doe vulgar items and harassing messages that commented on her transgender identity and stated that people such as Doe should be put to death. Doe reported these incidents. The city asked employees to provide handwriting samples, which were examined for comparison; told employees that the city had a zero-tolerance harassment policy that could result in termination; and interviewed employees in an attempt to identify the harasser. The city eventually notified the police and installed a lock on Doe’s office and cameras. Dissatisfied with that response, Doe contacted a reporter. Doe claims that after her complaints, her supervisor “nit-picked” her work, and she was denied a promotion.Doe sued the city under Title VII and Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, alleging that the city subjected her to a hostile work environment and then retaliated against her. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the city. Detroit responded reasonably to Doe’s complaints and the record does not support any causal connection between Doe’s complaints and her failure to receive a promotion. View "Doe v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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Local 2, representing carpenters and workers in related industries, is a local affiliate of IKORCC, which is an affiliated regional union of UBC. Barger has been a Local 2 member of Local 2. In 2007-2015, he worked intermittently as a carpenter for SPI, whose client owned and operated the Zimmer Power Station. Barger worked at Zimmer in 2014-2015. After being laid off, Barger called Zimmer’s Maintenance Manager, Lind, asking for a job. When Lind rejected Barger’s request, Barger responded that “[SPI is] stealing money from you” by falsifying hours. Barger told Meier, an IKORCC business agent, that he had told Lind about SPI’s overbilling. Barger said that it was worth the harm to other union members “to get even with” SPI. Meier filed a charge with IKORCC against Barger for violating the UBC Constitution by “Causing Dissension,” and failing to use “every honorable means to procure employment for Brother and Sister Members.” IKORCC fined Barger $5,000; UBC vacated the fine.Meanwhile, ESS hired Barger as an independent contractor. ESS assigned Barger to work at Zimmer. When he arrived, he was denied entry. ESS subsequently stopped offering him assignments. Barger sued, alleging violations of his free speech rights under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA), 29 U.S.C. 411(a)(2). The district court granted the defendants summary judgment.The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. Barger’s speech is protected by LMRDA section 101(a)(2) under the form-content-context test; the content of Barger’s speech was of union concern. The defendants had not raised the right of a union to adapt and enforce reasonable rules. View "Barger v. United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs retired from the Louisville Metropolitan police department and received free health insurance, administered by Kentucky Retirement Systems. Kentucky initially paid all of their healthcare costs. After the officers turned 65, Medicare became the primary payer, leaving Kentucky to cover secondary expenses. Each officer came out of retirement, joining county agencies different from the ones they served before retiring. They became eligible for healthcare benefits in their new positions. Kentucky notified them that federal law “mandate[d]” that it “cannot offer coverage secondary to Medicare” for retirees “eligible to be on [their] employer’s group health plan” as “active employees.” Some of the officers then paid for insurance through their new employers; others kept their retirement insurance by quitting or going part-time. The officers sued.The district court granted summary judgment to the officers, ordered Kentucky to reinstate their retirement health insurance, and awarded the officers some of the monetary damages requested. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The officers have a cognizable breach-of-contract claim. Under Kentucky law, the Kentucky Retirement Systems formed an “inviolable contract” with the officers to provide free retirement health insurance and to refrain from reducing their benefits, then breached that contract. The Medicare Secondary Payer Act of 1980 did not bar Kentucky from providing Medicare-eligible police officers with state retirement insurance after they reentered the workforce and became eligible again for employer-based insurance coverage, 42 U.S.C. 1395y. View "River City Fraternal Order of Police v. Kentucky Retirement Systems" on Justia Law

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The Labor Management Relations Act forbids employers from directly giving money to unions, 29 U.S.C. 186(a); an exception allows an employer and a union to operate a trust fund for the benefit of employees. Section 186(c)(5)(B) requires the trust agreement to provide that an arbitrator will resolve any “deadlock on the administration of such fund.” Several construction companies and one union established a trust fund to subsidize employee vacations. Six trustees oversaw the fund, which is a tax-exempt entity under ERISA 26 U.S.C. 501(c)(9). A disagreement arose over whether the trust needed to amend a tax return. Three trustees, those selected by the companies, filed suit, seeking authority to amend the tax return. The three union-appointed trustees intervened, arguing that the dispute belongs in arbitration.The court agreed and dismissed the complaint. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While ERISA plan participants or beneficiaries may sue for a breach of statutory fiduciary duty in federal court without exhausting internal remedial procedures, this complaint did not allege a breach of fiduciary duties but rather alleges that the employer trustees’ own fiduciary duties compelled them to file the action to maintain the trust’s compliance with tax laws. These claims were “not directly adversarial to the [union trustees] or to the Fund.” View "Baker v. Iron Workers Local 25" on Justia Law

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Wyatt began working as a Nissan project manager in 2013. For two years she received positive annual performance reviews. During those years, Wyatt twice had medical leave. Nissan restored Wyatt to her position and granted nearly all the work accommodations recommended by Wyatt’s doctor. In 2015, Wyatt began working on a project headed by Mullen who sexually harassed and assaulted her. Wyatt’s complaints led to Mullen leaving the company. At the same time, Wyatt took medical leave for back surgery. Upon her return, she and her doctors requested workplace accommodations, similar to those she had previously requested. Nissan denied her request for a 40-hour workweek. Wyatt claims that managers harassed her about her requests and gave Wyatt her first “below expectations” annual evaluation, Wyatt filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Her managers later issued Wyatt a Performance Improvement Plan. Wyatt refused to sign the PIP, believing that it was retaliatory. In February 2017, Wyatt took medical leave and continues to be on leave.Wyatt filed suit, alleging hostile work environment, Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e; failure-to-accommodate, Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101l and retaliation claims under Title VII, the ADA, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. 2601. The district court granted Nissan summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed with respect to Wyatt’s ADA discrimination claim and claims that were based on retaliatory harassment but reversed with respect to Wyatt’s hostile work environment and retaliation claims based on adverse employment actions. View "Wyatt v. Nissan North America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Jackson, an African American woman, was GCRC's Human Resources Director. Daly, GCRC’s chief administrative officer, was Jackson’s supervisor. There were pending internal discrimination complaints when Jackson started, including a complaint by African American employees about Bennett. Jackson ultimately negotiated a severance agreement with Bennett. A second issue involved McClane’s complaints about Williams, GCRC’s finance director, who subsequently resigned. Jackson was also responsible for approving Equal Employment Opportunity Plans submitted by vendors and contractors. Jackson realized that several vendors’ EEOPs had expired and became concerned that some GCRC directors were conducting business with vendors before their EEOPs were approved. Jackson implemented several changes in GCRC’s EEOP approval process. Several employees, vendors, board members, and union representatives complained to Daly about Jackson’s “abrasiveness” and communication style. Other employees reported having good experiences with Jackson. Daly fired Jackson without giving a reason other than she was an at-will employee. Jackson filed a retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The district court granted GCRC summary judgment.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Jackson engaged in protected activity and there remains a genuine factual dispute as to causation. Jackson’s actions could reasonably be viewed as steps to ensure there was no discrimination in hiring both within GCRC and among its vendors, and were protected activity under Title VII. A reasonable juror could find that Jackson has established a prima facie case of causation through circumstantial evidence including the temporal proximity between Jackson’s protected activity and termination. View "Jackson v. Genesee County Road Commission" on Justia Law

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Torres started working for Precision in 2011. He was not then legally authorized to work in the U.S. but obtained work authorization about five months later. Torres listed a fake Social Security number on a tax form when he started the job. In May 2012, Torres injured his back at work. Precision did not pay all of the doctor's bills. Torres pursued a workers’ compensation claim. After receiving a September 2011 call from Torres’s lawyer, supervisors confronted Torres. Torres recorded their threatening and profanity-laced statements. Torres was immediately terminated.Torres sued, claiming Precision violated Tennessee law by firing him in retaliation for making a workers’ compensation claim. The district court rejected the claim, citing the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. On remand, the district court found Precision liable for retaliatory discharge and held that federal law did not preempt a damage award. The court awarded Torres backpay, compensatory damages for emotional distress, and punitive damages. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Federal law makes it illegal to employ undocumented aliens, but Tennessee’s workers’ compensation law protects them. Because of federal law, the company cannot be required to pay lost wages that the alien was not allowed to earn; the employer is liable for wages the employee could have lawfully received, and for damages unrelated to the employee’s immigration status. View "Torres v. Precision Industries, Inc." on Justia Law