Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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When AMP opened its Smithland, Kentucky power plant, the union petitioned to represent the plant’s operators. The NLRB certified a bargaining unit consisting of the full-time and regular part-time operators employed at the new facility. Because AMP worries that this definition includes operators at other locations that it temporarily assigns to Smithland, it asked the Board to modify the language to exclude temporary assignees. The Board declined. The Sixth Circuit enforced the Board’s order to negotiate. The parties agree that temporary operators do not share a community of interest with full-time and regular part-time Smithland operators. The definition of the bargaining unit by its terms does not include temporary assignees but only those “full-time and regular part-time [operators] employed . . . at” Smithland. A future temporary assignee who covers for a staff shortage is not employed at Smithland. The definition is even clearer in the light of the Board’s prior practice. The court noted that AMP has no plans to assign other operators to Smithland on a temporary basis but only assigned a handful of non-Smithland employees to jumpstart the Smithland facility. View "American Municipal Power, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Economy Linen and Towel Service faced a shortfall of qualified truck drivers and subcontracted with another firm to provide the necessary drivers. The union filed a grievance on the ground that the new drivers earned a higher hourly rate than the union-represented employees. An arbitrator ruled for the union. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that in reviewing arbitration awards, courts do not ask whether the arbitrator interpreted the contract correctly; “the parties bargained for an arbitrator’s interpretation of the contract, not a federal judge’s interpretation of it.” The court noted that this situation did not involve any allegations of fraud and that the arbitrator did not decide any issue outside of his authority but only determined which contractual provision controlled. View "Economy Linen & Towel Service, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters" on Justia Law

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Rottinghouse, an Airgas truck driver, was issued a written warning for failing to properly secure his cargo. An ALJ found that the company used that written discipline to retaliate against Rottinghouse for previously filing charges against it in violation of 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(4). The NLRB affirmed and the Sixth Circuit granted an application for enforcement of the NLRB’s order. The NLRB’s conclusions were supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence supports the Board’s conclusions that the operation manager’s (Froslear’s) description of the events was not credible and that he was not truly concerned with fixing a safety problem; this supported a finding that Froslear was motivated by anti-union animus. The temporal proximity between the protected activity and the discipline was evidence of animus and was within the NLRB’s authority to consider the difference in treatment between Rottinghouse and another in attempting to discern anti-union animus. View "Airgas USA, LLC v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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ODPS offers private security and traffic control services. Most ODPS workers are sworn officers for some law-enforcement entity. Non-sworn workers may have no background in law enforcement. ODPS offers assignments to workers who meet the qualifications specified by the customer. Workers can choose to reject a job but might not receive future assignments if they decline. ODPS sometimes provides workers with equipment. Workers pay for other equipment. All workers must own police-style vehicles. The cost of the non-sworn workers’ investments is roughly $3,000-$5,000. On the job, workers follow the customer’s instructions, comply with ODPS’s standard policies, and occasionally submit to the supervision of other ODPS workers. Sworn police officers wear their official police uniforms; non-sworn workers wear uniforms with ODPS-branded patches. Workers send ODPS an invoice to be paid an hourly wage. All workers sign “independent contractor agreements,” including non-compete clauses. ODPS has never paid overtime wages. The Department of Labor sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 207(a)(1). The district court held that ODPS’s non-sworn workers were employees entitled to overtime wages but that sworn officers were independent contractors because they “simply were not economically dependent on ODPS” and some of ODPS’s records “faulty.” The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. All of the workers were employees. The court noted the length and consistency of the relationship between ODPS and its workers, that ODPS’s workers earned set wages to perform low-skilled jobs for fixed periods, and that the officers were an integral part of ODPS’s business. View "Acosta v. Off Duty Police Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Tramble worked for various Kentucky coal companies from at least May 1963 until June 1985. Tramble’s 1987 claim for benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), 30 U.S.C. 901–944, indicated that he had stopped working due to a job-related back injury. That claim was denied although the parties stipulated to 17 years of qualifying coal mine employment. The ALJ found that medical evidence established that Tramble suffered from coal workers’ pneumoconiosis but was not totally disabled. After his 2008 death, Tramble’s widow sought survivor’s benefits. Reversing an award by an ALJ, the Department of Labor Benefits Review Board found that the ALJ failed to explain adequately how he calculated the 15.25-years of underground coal mine employment that justified application of the 15-year statutory presumption of entitlement to benefits. On remand, the ALJ again awarded benefits. The Board again reversed. The Sixth Circuit remanded. Further fact-finding is required to ensure that all relevant evidence has been considered. The court rejected Incoal’s argument that, in order to be credited with one year of coal mine employment, a miner must be on the payroll of a mining company for 365 consecutive days and have worked 125 of those days in or around a coal mine . View "Shepherd v. Incoal, Inc." on Justia Law

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The named plaintiffs in a suit under 29 U.S.C. 1132(a) represent several thousand current and former insurance agents for American Family Insurance and claim that American Family misclassified them as independent contractors, while treating them as employees, in order to avoid paying them benefits in compliance with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Reversing the district court, the Sixth Circuit held American Family properly classified its agents as independent contractors. The court applied factors relating to the skill required of an agent and the hiring and paying of assistants; the district court correctly recognized that the agreement favored independent-contractor status but did not weigh this important component when reaching its conclusion. View "Jammal v. American Family Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Wilkerson mined coal for over 25 years. In 1994, he retired from the Island Creek’s Crescent mine, where he had worked most recently as an electrician. In 2012, Wilkers sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, which provides compensation to miners disabled by pneumoconiosis, 30 U.S.C. 902(b), 922(a)(1). The Sixth Circuit denied a petition for review, upholding the Benefits Review Board’s award of benefits. The defendant forfeited an argument that the ALJ lacked authority to hear the case under the Appointments Clause by failing to raise it in its opening brief. Appointments Clause challenges arise under the U.S. Constitution, but are “not jurisdictional and thus are subject to ordinary principles of waiver and forfeiture.” Substantial evidence supports the award. An ALJ may presume an applicant suffers from the disease if he worked for 15 years at a qualifying coaling mine and suffers “a totally disabling respiratory or pulmonary impairment.” Wilkerson worked for more than 15 years at a qualifying mine, and substantial evidence showed that he suffered total disability due to a respiratory or pulmonary impairment. Faced with the conflicting medical evidence, the ALJ turned to the four doctors who testified, credited testimony from one doctor, discounted the three others for legitimate reasons, and concluded that Wilkerson suffered from a disability. The doctor’s conclusion about Wilkerson’s disability tracked the newest available data. View "Island Creek Coal Co. v. Wilkerson" on Justia Law

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Haddad sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging his employment was terminated by the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services (MDIFS), for exercising his First Amendment rights. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer. Haddad argued that he was acting as a “virtual private citizen” because his duties as an MDIFS examiner required him to speak in the public interest and work to end the inclusion of intra-family exclusion clauses (IFEs) in insurance policies. By making this argument, however, Haddad acknowledged that he was acting pursuant to his official duties when he sought to end the use of IFEs through his examinations, the very activity that he claims was the basis for his termination. “[W]hen public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.” Haddad’s purpose was to further his official work to end what he believed to be an unfair insurer practice; his conduct was part of the performance of his job, and the district court did not err by concluding that Haddad was not speaking as a private citizen. View "Haddad v. Gregg" on Justia Law

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Brumley injured her back while unloading packages from a UPS truck. After receiving workers’ compensation and taking a leave of absence, Brumley returned to work. Her supervisor sent her home because her return-to-work letter included injury-related restrictions related to driving and lifting. UPS subsequently informed her that it was initiating an internal ADA “interactive process” and asked Brumley to submit two medical forms to allow the company to evaluate her restrictions and identify possible accommodations. Brumley opted to discontinue the process and had the doctor remove her restrictions. Several months later, she sued UPS for failure to accommodate, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101 (ADA), based on the time she was off work during the process. The district court granted UPS summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The ADA does not obligate employers to make on-the-spot accommodations of the employee’s choosing. Under the ADA, an employer must engage in an “informal, interactive process” with the employee to “identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability and potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations.” If Brumley voluntarily abandoned the process, UPS is not liable for failing to provide reasonable accommodation. View "Brumley v. United Parcel Service, Inc." on Justia 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