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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The Training Academy hired Smith as a firefighter recruit. If Academy recruits do not pass their practical skills exams after three tries, they are dismissed. The vertical ventilation test requires climbing a ladder, then cutting a hole in the roof of a burning building, wearing full firefighting gear, within 10 minutes. Recruits study this skill in the classroom and then practice on a simulator. Smith and his squad took the test on the same house. Everyone passed on the first attempt, except for Smith and one other recruit, who passed on his second try. Smith failed all three attempts. The evaluating instructors noted that Smith hit the ladder with the running chainsaw, “would not follow directions," and “repeatedly cut towards his body.”Because Toledo was trying to attain a more racially diverse fire department, Smith was given two more opportunities to take the test. No other firefighter was ever given more than the initial three attempts. Contrary to Academy policy, Smith was allowed to complete the course with his squad and to participate in graduation. Before each additional attempt, the Academy provided Smith with individual instruction and practice. On his third attempt, Smith again failed three times. Smith was dismissed from the Academy and filed suit, alleging racial discrimination, 42 U.S.C. 1981 and 2000e-2(a)(1) (Title VII) and deprivation of a liberty interest, section 1983; conspiracy to violate civil rights, sections 1985(3) and 1986. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. View "Smith v. City of Toledo" on Justia Law

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Johnson, a 56-year-old African American woman, was hired by Ford in 2018, as a production supervisor. While Johnson was shadowing him to learn the job, Rowan was in a position to evaluate Johnson’s performance. Rowan was known to have engaged in consensual sexual relationships with some of the female hourly employees. Rowan started making unwanted and sexually inappropriate comments to Johnson and to the female hourly employees under his supervision. Rowan constantly made comments and sent text messages and pictures to Johnson that were both sexual and racial in nature. Johnson testified first reported Rowan’s inappropriate and sexual comments and conduct in August 2018. In November, Rowan sexually assaulted Johnson by “put[ting] his hand down [her] blouse and grab[bing] [her] breast.” Human Resources eventually investigated. Johnson took unpaid medical leave and never returned to Ford. Rowan was terminated.Johnson sued, alleging racial harassment/racially hostile work environment under 42 U.S.C. 1981. The district court struck paragraphs in Johnson’s declaration, filed after her deposition was taken and Ford’s motion for summary judgment was filed and determined that Johnson had failed to satisfy the objective prong of the hostile work environment test. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Because the declaration did not directly contradict her deposition testimony and was not an attempt to create a sham issue of fact, the district court abused its discretion. There is sufficient evidence that Rowan’s racial harassment was severe or pervasive enough for a reasonable person to find the work environment hostile. View "Johnson v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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In 2011, Briggs, a Black man, began working as a compensation analyst for the University of Cincinnati (UC) Human Resources department. In 2013, the HR department hired Wittwer, a Caucasian woman, in the same position but at a much higher salary than Briggs. Over the next several years, Briggs’s pay stagnated while Wittwer’s rapidly increased. Briggs contends that after he submitted a claim of discrimination, UC retaliated by revising a job posting for which he had been encouraged to apply so that he was no longer eligible.Briggs sued under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, asserting claims of wage discrimination on the basis of race and sex, and retaliation for filing his complaint. The district court granted UC summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. UC did not dispute that Briggs had stated a prima facie case and has not articulated a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for its adverse employment action. Even if it had, the record contains ample evidence from which a reasonable jury could find it pretextual. View "Briggs v. Univsity of Cincinnati" on Justia Law

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Anthem provides health insurance and hires nurses to review insurance claims. The company pays those nurses a salary but does not pay them overtime. Canaday, an Anthem nurse who lives in Tennessee, filed a proposed collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 206. claiming that the company misclassified her and others as exempt from the Act’s overtime pay provisions. A number of Anthem nurses in other states opted into the collective action.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the out-of-state plaintiffs on personal jurisdiction grounds. In an FLSA collective action, as in the mass action under California law, each opt-in plaintiff becomes a real party in interest, who must meet her burden for obtaining relief and satisfy the other requirements of party status. Anthem is based in Indiana, not Tennessee. General jurisdiction is not an option for out-of-state claims. Specific jurisdiction requires a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue. The out-of-state plaintiffs have not brought claims arising out of or relating to Anthem’s conduct in Tennessee. View "Canaday v. The Anthem Companies, Inc." on Justia Law

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Southard worked for Newcomb, then filed a putative class action, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201, plus state-law claims. Newcomb removed the case to federal court. Southard amended his complaint to delete the FLSA claim. Newcomb moved to dismiss Southard’s complaint or to stay the action pending arbitration. The district court concluded that the parties did not form an agreement to arbitrate under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 3-4 and denied Newcomb’s motion, then remanded Southard’s remaining state-law claims to state court.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. To invoke FAA remedies, the parties must have entered into a “written agreement for arbitration.” Courts evaluate whether an agreement qualifies as FAA arbitration based on the common features of classic arbitration: a final, binding remedy by a third party, an independent adjudicator, substantive standards, and an opportunity for each side to present its case. Southard’s application for employment states: I accept that any complaint or conflict that cannot be resolved internally may be referred to Alternative Dispute Resolution unless prohibited by law, before any other legal action is taken. The employee handbook states the employee agrees "to Alternative Dispute Resolution a forum or means for resolving disputes, as arbitration or mediation, that exists outside the state or federal judicial system, unless prohibited by law," and If there is a conflict that cannot be resolved, "both agree that the matter will be referred to mediation.”. The parties agreed to alternative dispute resolution generally, not arbitration specifically. View "Southard v. Newcomb Oil Co., LLC" on Justia 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