Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Plaintiff Mead Vest contended defendant Resolute FP US Inc. breached its fiduciary-duty obligations set forth in the Employee Retiree Income Security Act when it failed to notify her late husband of his right to convert a group life insurance policy to an individual life insurance policy after he ceased employment and began drawing long-term disability benefits. The district court ruled plaintiff did not adequately plead a breach-of-fiduciary-duty cause of action. After review, the Sixth Circuit agreed and affirmed. View "Vest v. Resolute FP US Inc." on Justia Law

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Bullington worked as a Bedford County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher for over eight years. During her employment, Bullington had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer, which she treated with chemotherapy. The chemotherapy caused neuropathy and scar tissue in Bullington’s lungs, so Bullington needed additional treatment. Because of her diagnosis and treatment, Bullington asserts that the Department treated her differently than the other employees. Bullington brought suit, alleging violations of constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to be free from discrimination and retaliation, that the county violated her constitutional rights by not providing adequate supervision and training, violations of the Tennessee Human Rights Act, and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The district court rejected her claims on the pleadings. The Sixth Circuit vacated. The district court correctly dismissed Bullington’s ADA claim, which required exhaustion of administrative remedies. Bullington did not file a claim with the EEOC. The court improperly dismissed her claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. In enacting the ADA, Congress did not intend to abandon the rights and remedies set forth in Fourteenth Amendment equal protection jurisprudence. View "Bullington v. Bedford County" on Justia Law

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Local Union 3-G represents employees at Kellogg’s Battle Creek plant and is affiliated with the International Union, which represents employees at additional Kellogg’s plants. “Regular” employees and “non-regular” employees, including casual employees, make up the 3-G bargaining unit. There is a Master Agreement between Kellogg, the International Union, and local unions at four plants, which have Supplemental Agreements. A Memorandum of Agreement, appended to the Battle Creek Supplemental Agreement, states that the Supplemental and Master Agreements will not apply to casual employees and the Company may terminate casual employees without being subject to the grievance procedure. A 2015 Master Agreement “established wage rates, a signing ratification bonus for all employees, the establishment of a transitional employee classification to replace casual employees, and other changes" for all Battle Creek bargaining unit employees. After the ratification vote, Kellogg refused to pay a ratification bonus to casual employees, seasonal employees, and some regular employees. The parties went through the grievance procedure, but Kellogg refused to arbitrate, arguing that the arbitration provisions do not apply to casual employees. The Sixth Circuit previously held that arbitration provisions in the “Memphis Supplemental Agreement” did not cover casual employees. The district court determined that judicial estoppel did not apply to the Battle Creek action and granted the motion to compel arbitration. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, The Agreement has a broad arbitration clause, so the presumption of arbitrability is particularly applicable. View "Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union AFL-CIO v. Kellogg Co." on Justia Law

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Integrity provides thousands of hourly workers, like Plaintiffs, to fill orders, track merchandise, and process returns at Amazon facilities. Other Plaintiffs were directly employed by Amazon. Plaintiffs claim “Amazon.com exercises direct control over the hours and other working conditions,” and sued, concerning a policy that is enforced at all Amazon locations. Plaintiffs and other hourly employees must undergo a security clearance check at the end of each shift and before taking lunch breaks, to deter theft and reduce inventory shrinkage. Plaintiffs allege that the policy "was solely for the benefit of the employers and their customers” and that this process took approximately 25 minutes each day. Because employees were required to “clock out” before the screening, they were not compensated for time spent waiting in line and undergoing the screenings. Plaintiffs alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201 (FLSA) and state labor laws. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. While time spent undergoing mandatory security checks is not compensable under federal law, neither Nevada nor Arizona incorporates the federal Portal-to-Portal Act; the time is compensable under the states' laws, but the Arizona Plaintiffs failed to satisfy Arizona’s “workweek requirement,” by identifying a particular workweek in which, taking the average rate, they received less than the minimum wage per hour. View "Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law

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Seven Counties, a nonprofit provider of mental health services, attempted to file for Bankruptcy Code Chapter 11 reorganization. For decades, Seven Counties has participated in Kentucky’s public pension plan (KERS). Because the rate set for employer contributions has drastically increased in recent years, Seven Counties sought to reject its relationship with KERS in bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court and the district court both held that Seven Counties is eligible to file under Chapter 11 and that the relationship between Seven Counties and KERS is based on an executory contract that can be rejected. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Seven Counties is only eligible to be a Chapter 11 debtor if it is a “person” under 11 U.S.C. 109(a); a “governmental unit” is generally excluded from the category of “person.” Because the Commonwealth does not exercise the necessary forms of control over Seven Counties for it to be considered an instrumentality of the Commonwealth, Seven Counties is eligible to file. Seven Counties characterized its relationship with KERS as contractual, such that, to the extent it is executory, it may be rejected in bankruptcy, 11 U.S.C. 365. KERS argued the relationship is purely statutory, similar to an assessment, such that it cannot be rejected. The Sixth Circuit certified the question of the nature of the relationship to the Kentucky Supreme Court. View "Kentucky Employees. Retirement System v. Seven Counties.Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2008, Midwest hired Plaintiff. In 2015, Plaintiff informed Midwest that she was pregnant. Plaintiff claims her supervisor made negative comments and was annoyed by Plaintiff’s absences for pre-natal appointments. About three months later, Plaintiff was terminated “[d]espite … no record of discipline.” Plaintiff testified that Midwest’s president presented Plaintiff with an agreement and said that she “needed to sign then if [she] wanted any severance,” that she felt bullied and signed the agreement, which provided that Plaintiff would waive “any and all past, current and future claims” against Midwest. Plaintiff later stated that she assumed that "claims" referred to unpaid wages or benefits. Midwest paid and Plaintiff accepted $4,000. Plaintiff filed a charge with the EEOC, then filed suit, alleging that Midwest terminated her because of her pregnancy, that Midwest has a sex-segregated workforce, and discrimination in compensation, citing Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e; the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e(k); 42 U.S.C. 1981a; Michigan's Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act; and the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. 206(d). After filing, Plaintiff returned the $4,00, saying that she was “rescinding the severance agreement.” The Sixth Circuit reversed summary judgment entered in favor of the Defendant. Under the tender-back doctrine, contracts tainted by mistake, duress, or even fraud are voidable at the option of the innocent party if the innocent party first tenders back any benefits received; if she fails to do so within a reasonable time after learning of her rights, she ratifies the contract. The doctrine does not apply to claims under Title VII and the Equal Pay Act. View "McClellan v. Midwest Machining, Inc." on Justia Law

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Gaffers is a former employee of Kelly, which provides outsourcing and consulting services to firms around the world, including “virtual” call center support, where employees like Gaffers work from home. Gaffers alleged that Kelly underpaid virtual employees, based on time spent logging in to Kelly’s network, logging out, and fixing technical problems. Gaffers sued on behalf of himself and his co-workers (over 1,600 have joined) seeking back pay and liquidated damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 216(b). About half of the employees that Gaffers sought to represent signed an arbitration agreement with Kelly (Gaffers did not sign one) stating that individual arbitration is the “only forum” for employment claims, including unpaid-wage claims. Kelly moved to compel individual arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 4. Gaffers contended that the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act rendered the arbitration agreements unenforceable. The district court agreed with Gaffers. The Sixth Circuit reversed. In 2018, the Supreme Court held, in Epic Systems, that the National Labor Relations Act does not invalidate individual arbitration agreements. The court rejected arguments that FLSA displaced the Arbitration Act by providing a right to “concerted activities” or “collective action” or rendered the employees’ arbitration agreements illegal and unenforceable. View "Gaffers v. Kelly Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Atkins, a type II diabetic, occasionally suffers from low blood sugar. She must respond to these episodes by quickly consuming glucose to avoid seizing or passing out. She asked her Dollar General manager if she could keep orange juice at her cash register in case of an emergency. The manager refused. She suffered two episodes while working alone. Each time she responded by drinking orange juice from the checkout cooler, paying for it immediately, and reporting the incident to her supervisor. Dollar General fired Atkins. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A jury found that Dollar General had “discriminate[d] . . . on the basis of disability.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The claim was timely under 42 U.S.C. 2000e-5(e)(1), having been timely filed with a state agency that had authority to entertain it. Even if the company’s policy permitted alternative glucose sources, there was evidence suggesting that those options, though medically equivalent in the abstract, were not practically equivalent; the jury had a legally sufficient basis to conclude that Dollar General failed to provide Atkins reasonable alternatives. A company may not illegitimately deny an employee a reasonable accommodation to a general policy and use that same policy (the anti-grazing policy) as a neutral basis for firing him. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Dolgencorp, LLC" on Justia Law

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Rogers, an African-American woman, has been employed by HFHS for more than 30 years. After she was denied reclassification as a Senior Consultant, Rogers made an internal complaint of racial and age discrimination. An internal investigation found no evidence of discrimination. Rogers filed an EEOC charge. A few months later, co-workers began reporting that Rogers’s emotional state was erratic and that they feared she might pose a physical threat. Rogers was placed on paid leave and sent for a fitness-for-duty exam. After a doctor cleared Rogers for work, she claims that she was offered the choice of either transferring to an HFHS subsidiary or taking severance. Rogers chose the transfer, then filed another EEOC charge, alleging retaliation. The EEOC found probable cause. Rogers filed suit alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. 1981; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e; and the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for HFHS with respect to Rogers’s claims of racial and age discrimination but reversed summary judgment with respect to retaliation. Rogers did not produce evidence that she performed job duties more advanced than those covered by her job description and, therefore, was qualified for reclassification and that she was treated differently than a similarly situated person outside the protected class. A reasonable factfinder could, however, conclude that Rogers suffered materially adverse actions very close in time after an employer learns of a protected activity. View "Rogers v. Henry Ford Health System" on Justia Law

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The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission found that ConAg violated the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, 30 U.S.C. 815(c), by terminating Groves’s employment in retaliation for his reporting safety concerns to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which enforces health and safety standards. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A miner establishes prima facie case of discrimination by showing that he was engaging in protected activity and subject to an adverse employment action that was at least partially motivated by his protected activity. Groves engaged in a protected activity; while the ALJ did not find any direct evidence of animus or disparate treatment, she found the timing and knowledge to be persuasive. Groves made his first complaint approximately two-and-a-half months before his discharge. Groves’s meeting with the MSHA investigator occurred just five days before he was fired. The ALJ found the company’s affirmative defense implausible and the asserted reason for termination pretextual and did not impose her own business judgment on ConAg’s actions. View "Con-Ag, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law