Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service, Inc. v. Kraft
Royal employed Kraft and Matthews (Defendants) in its sales team. Royal’s employee handbook prohibited using company equipment for personal activities; unauthorized use, retention, or disclosure of any of Royal’s resources or property; and sending or posting trade secrets or proprietary information outside the organization. Royal’s “GPS Tracking Policy” stated, “[e]mployees may not disable or interfere with the GPS (or any other) functions on a company-issued cell phone,” nor may employees “remove any software, functions or apps.” The Defendants resigned to become employed with one of Royal’s competitors. Royal discovered that, shortly before his resignation, Kraft forwarded from his Royal email account to his personal one quotes for Royal customers and Royal paystubs; contacted a Royal customer through Royal’s email server to ask the customer to send “all the new vendor info” to Kraft’s personal email account; then deleted and reinstalled the operating system on his company-issued laptop, rendering its data unrecoverable. Matthews did much the same and announced her resignation on social media, sharing a link to the song, “You Can Take This Job and Shove It.”Royal sued, citing the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. 1030, which refers to one who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains . . . information from any protected computer.” The district court concluded that the Defendants did not “exceed” their “authorized access,” under CFAA. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While their conduct might violate company policy, state law, perhaps another federal law, the employees were authorized to access the information in question. View "Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service, Inc. v. Kraft" on Justia Law
Kirilenko-Ison v. Board of Education of Danville Independent Schools
Two nurses, employed by the Board of Education, claim that the School Board retaliated against them for advocating for the rights of students who are disabled within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 701; and the Kentucky Civil Rights Act; and that the Board violated the Kentucky Whistleblower Act by retaliating against them for reporting a parent’s suspected child neglect to a state agency. One plaintiff also claimed that the School Board failed to accommodate her disability and constructively discharged her, in violation of the ADA and the KCRA. The district court granted the Board summary judgment.The Sixth Circuit reversed as to the retaliation claims under the ADA, Section 504, and the KCRA. A jury could “reasonably doubt” the Board’s explanation for its actions and find that it acted, at least in part, because of the protected advocacy. The court affirmed as to the whistleblower claims; the plaintiffs only allege that they reported a mother of possible neglect and do not allege that they reported any violation of law by their employer to a state agency. The court affirmed as to the individual claim for failure to accommodate disabilities. The nurse failed to provide any documentation about her disability diagnosis during the interactive process. View "Kirilenko-Ison v. Board of Education of Danville Independent Schools" on Justia Law
Hurt v. Commerce Energy, Inc.
Plaintiffs were employed by Just Energy, a group of affiliated energy supply companies, as door-to-door solicitors. Just Energy paid them exclusively on a commission basis. Plaintiffs signed independent contractor agreements with confidentiality, non-disparagement, non-exclusive, and non-compete clauses; used a verbatim script with customers; were typically required to attend daily meetings; and were driven to the field in teams led by supervisors. Any work breaks were controlled by supervisors. Some Plaintiffs testified they were required to work on specific days and hours. They had to adhere to a dress code, wearing a shirt that prominently displays the company’s name. Just Energy could reject any customer’s application and commissions would not be paid. Of the 3,840 Plaintiffs with compensation data available, 214 made no money; 69% of the individuals made under $1,000 in total compensation.Plaintiffs sued, alleging that Just Energy misclassified them as outside salespeople in order to qualify for an exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Ohio Minimum Fair Wage Standards Act (OMFWSA). The court granted conditional class certification and instructed the jury “to consider the extent to which the employee has the authority to bind the company” and whether “the employer retains and/or exercises discretion to accept or reject any transactions for reasons that are unrelated to regulatory requirements.”The jury found Just Energy liable for minimum wage and overtime pay under the FLSA and the OMFWSA. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that Just Energy retained discretion to reject the sale. Plaintiffs did not benefit from minimal supervision; their jobs did not comport with the purpose of the outside sales exemption. The court upheld the admission of compensation evidence and the jury instruction. View "Hurt v. Commerce Energy, Inc." on Justia Law
Khalaf v. Ford Motor Co.
Faisal Khalaf, Ph.D., who is of Lebanese descent, sued Ford, his former employer, and his former supervisors under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, and 42 U.S.C. 1981. He claimed that he was subjected to a hostile work environment because of his race or national origin and that the defendants illegally retaliated against him, after he engaged in protected activities, by demoting him, placing him on a “Performance Enhancement Plan” (PEP), and terminating his employment. For the collective actions of all the defendants, the jury awarded Khalaf $1.7 million in pension and retirement losses and $100,000 in emotional-distress damages. For the actions of Ford only, the jury awarded $15 million punitive damages, which the court reduced to $300,000.The Sixth Circuit reversed, directing the district court to enter judgment in favor of the defendants. There was insufficient evidence of a hostile work environment. Clear communication skills are a fundamental skillset required of managerial positions across the U.S., and such ability was a part of Khalaf’s specific role; there is no basis to infer that comments about his English language skills were motivated by discriminatory animus. There is no evidence from which a reasonable jury could find a connection between Khalaf’s complaint against his supervisors and the imposition of the PEP. Khalaf was not actually terminated He was given the choice of taking another position and decided not to do so. View "Khalaf v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law
Lowe v. Walbro LLC
Lowe, born in 1958, worked for Walbro for 41 years and was promoted several times, becoming the Cass City facility Area Manager in 2014. Cass City evolved from producing carburetors to focus on blow molding and robotics. In 2016, Walbro hired 35-year-old Davidson as General Manager. Davidson testified that Lowe’s understanding of robotics and blow molding was limited, so Lowe relied heavily on two subordinates for equipment maintenance. Davidson removed those subordinates from reporting to Lowe. Lowe was left managing only one portion of the building and conducting general facility maintenance. Lowe alleges that Davidson made several disparaging statements about Lowe’s age. In 2018, Walbro hired Rard as Senior Human Resources Manager. Rard testified that she noticed that Lowe was serving as the Area Manager but had only a few janitors reporting to him. She recommended that Lowe’s position be eliminated. Rard also testified that she received complaints about Lowe engaging in bullying, vulgarity, and sexual innuendoes. Walbro terminated Lowe.The district court rejected, on summary judgment, Lowe’s age discrimination claims under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Davidson’s age-related remarks could lead a reasonable jury to find that Walbro acted on a predisposition to discriminate on the basis of age. Lowe raised a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the animus was a but-for cause of his termination. Walbro has not demonstrated as a matter of law that it would have terminated Lowe regardless of any age-related animus. View "Lowe v. Walbro LLC" on Justia Law
Thompson v. Marietta Education Association
The Marietta Education Association serves as the exclusive bargaining representative for the school district’s employees. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME (2018), Thompson sued the Association and the Marietta Board of Education, arguing that Ohio’s scheme of exclusive public-sector union representation violates the First Amendment. Under Ohio law, a union may become the exclusive bargaining representative for all public employees in a bargaining unit upon proof that a majority of the bargaining unit’s members wish to be represented by the union, Ohio Rev. Code 4117.05(A)(1). Public employers are then prohibited from bargaining with individual employees and other labor organizations. Ohio law sets a broad scope for collective-bargaining negotiations. Thompson is not a member of the Association. She objects to its policies but because the union has been designated as her bargaining unit’s “exclusive representative,” the union has a statutory right to represent her. Thompson argued that Ohio’s system of exclusive public-sector bargaining violates her First Amendment rights.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Ohio’s take-it-or-leave-it system is in direct conflict with the principles enunciated by the Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME (2018). In deciding Janus, however, the Court did not overrule Minnesota State Board for Community Colleges v. Knight (1984). Which directly controls the outcome of this case. View "Thompson v. Marietta Education Association" on Justia Law
Marquardt v. Carlton
Marquardt, a Cleveland EMS captain, posted on his personal Facebook page, concerning the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The posts did not identify Marquardt as a city employee, nor were they made during work hours. The posts stated: Let me be the first on record to have the balls to say Tamir Rice should have been shot and I am glad he is dead. I wish I was in the park that day as he terrorized innocent patrons by pointing a gun at them walking around acting bad. I am upset I did not get the chance to kill the criminal fucker” and referred to Rice as a “ghetto rat..” Marquardt removed the posts within hours and later claimed an acquaintance with access to his phone made the posts while he slept. A termination letter advised Marquardt that his speech violated city policies.Marquardt's suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 was rejected on summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Marquardt’s posts addressed a matter of public concern. The court did not decide whether the posts amount to protected speech, which will require a determination of whether Marquardt’s free speech interests outweigh the interest of the Cleveland EMS in the efficient administration of its duties. Government, when acting as an employer, may regulate employee speech to a greater extent than it can that of private citizens, including to discipline employees for speech the employer reasonably predicts will be disruptive. View "Marquardt v. Carlton" on Justia Law
Karst Robbins Coal Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs
In 1983, Rice sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), 30 U.S.C. 901–45. The Department of Labor (DOL) looks to employers that employed the miner for at least one year and are capable of paying benefits. The miner’s most recent employer that meets these requirements is the “responsible operator.” Employers must either qualify as a self-insurer or purchase BLBA insurance. KRCC operated a coal mine where Rice worked in 1982-1983 but he was employed by a separate corporate entity, KRMS, which charged KRCC for the cost of Rice’s labor. The entities' ownership and management overlapped; KRMS had no assets and operated out of KRCC's offices. KRCC obtained BLBA coverage from Bituminous Casualty but only listed 10 employees. The other 150 were employed by KRMS. An ALJ identified KRMS as the responsible operator, then denied Rice’s claim on the merits. Rice appealed; KRCC and Bituminous successfully moved to be dismissed from the case, because the ALJ identified KRMS as the responsible operator.In 2002, Rice filed another BLBA claim. DOL again notified KRCC and Bituminous that KRCC might be the responsible operator. Bituminous claims it “denied coverage based on the fraudulent arrangements” between KRCC and KRMS. DOL refused to dismiss Bituminous.The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that DOL was collaterally estopped from finding that KRCC was the responsible operator; that Bituminous was entitled to rescind its insurance agreement based on fraud by KRCC; and that delays in DOL administrative proceedings violated its right to due process. View "Karst Robbins Coal Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs" on Justia Law
Allman v. Walmart, Inc.
Federal regulations require commercial truck drivers to undergo annual physicals to be “medically certified as physically qualified." A driver is not physically qualified if he has a clinical diagnosis of a respiratory dysfunction likely to interfere with his ability to drive a commercial motor vehicle safely. Respiratory dysfunction includes sleep apnea.Allman was diagnosed with apnea after a sleep study and was instructed to wear a CPAP machine when sleeping in his truck. Allman complained about the device, which was remotely monitored. Allman was suspended twice for noncompliance. Allman independently completed a second sleep study, which showed that Allman did not have sleep apnea. Allman stopped wearing the CPAP and obtained a new DOT certification card without another examination. Walmart instructed Allman to participate in another sleep study because the doctor who performed Allman’s independent study was not board certified. A third study resulted in a second diagnosis of sleep apnea. Allman refused to wear the CPAP machine. Rather than taking the conflicting sleep studies to a DOT medical examiner, Allman resigned and filed suit, asserting discrimination based on perceived disability and retaliation under Ohio law.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of both claims. Walmart offered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its CPAP requirement; Allman failed to rebut that reason as pretextual. Walmart’s CPAP requirement was not an unsafe working condition but was a disability accommodation meant to promote public safety and to ensure compliance with federal law. View "Allman v. Walmart, Inc." on Justia Law
George v. Youngstown State University
In 2008, after being denied tenure, George filed a discrimination lawsuit against Youngstown State University and was reinstated as part of a settlement agreement. As soon as the university’s obligations under the agreement expired, it declined to renew George’s contract and terminated his employment as a professor. George applied to several other positions within the university but was rejected. He then filed employment discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.Following discovery, the district court granted YSU summary judgment, finding that George either failed to show causation, failed to show he was qualified for the job, or failed to show that YSU’s claimed reasons for firing (or not hiring) him were pretextual. The court also dismissed one of George’s failure-to-hire claims— which arose after this lawsuit was filed—based on an administrative exhaustion requirement. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to George reveals a genuine dispute of material fact as to each of the claims and the district court further erred in enforcing the administrative exhaustion requirement because the defendants expressly waived it below. View "George v. Youngstown State University" on Justia Law