Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Kenco employed Madison as a quality engineer from May 13 until August 9, 2013. Kenco provided warehousing services to Mars, a global manufacturer of food products. Madison alleges that her discharge followed adverse employment actions Kenco took in retaliation for food safety concerns she had raised with her superiors. Following her discharge, Madison filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), seeking whistleblower protection. OSHA dismissed her complaint. In a de novo proceeding conducted at Madison’s request, an ALJ entered a summary decision against her. The Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board dismissed her appeal as untimely. The Seventh Circuit denied her petition for review. Regardless of whether the agency’s mistake in directing the initial mailing of the ALJ’s decision to counsel’s former address amounts to an extraordinary circumstance which stood in the path of Madison’s pursuit of her rights, Madison cannot show that the Board abused its discretion in refusing to equitably toll the statutory appeals period long enough to deem her appeal timely. Subsequent events removed any obstacle that may have prevented her from filing a timely appeal. After a second mailing and email correspondence, Madison’s counsel could be expected in the exercise of due diligence to take action more quickly than he did. View "Madison v. United States Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Sparre began working as a Norfolk locomotive engineer in 1999. In 2010, he reported a safety violation to the Federal Railroad Administration, which resulted in the assessment of an $8,000 civil penalty against Norfolk. In 2014, Norfolk terminated Sparre for excessively exceeding the speed limit while operating a locomotive. Sparre complained to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, alleging Norfolk fired him in retaliation for reporting the safety concern in 2010, which would violate the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 20109. OSHA dismissed Sparre’s complaint as without merit. Sparre requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. The parties engaged in years‐long, extensive discovery. In November 2017, the ALJ found there were no genuine issues of fact and granted Norfolk a summary decision. The decision, with instructions to petition for review, including the 14‐day timeline, was mailed to Sparre and his attorneys that same day. Thirty days later, Sparre appealed to the Board and filed a petition for judicial review. The Seventh Circuit remanded to the Board, which found that Sparre’s petition was untimely and he was not entitled to equitable tolling. Sparre filed a second appeal. The Seventh Circuit rejected the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Sparre failed to timely exhaust his administrative remedies before appealing. View "Sparre v. United States Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Levitin, a Jewish surgeon of Russian descent, owns and operates a private medical practice. From 2000-2013, most of her revenue came from her work at Northwest Community Hospital, where she maintained practice privileges. In 2008 Levitin complained to Northwest that Dr. Conway, another surgeon, was harassing her, repeatedly criticizing her medical decisions, undermining her in front of her patients, and interrupting her in surgery. Northwest reprimanded Conway. Direct harassment stopped. Several doctors subsequently filed complaints concerning Levitin’s professional judgment. One refused to work with her. The chair of Northwest’s surgery department informed Levitin that he would begin proactively reviewing the surgeries she scheduled for potential issues and reviewed Levitin’s prior surgeries. He referred 31 cases to the Medical Executive Committee, which found that Levitin deviated from the appropriate standard of care in four cases and initially concluded that Levitin should receive quarterly reviews. The Committee reconvened following an incident in which Levitin operated on a patient without proper sedation and voted to terminate her practice privileges. Northwest’s Board of Directors terminated Levitin’s practice privileges. She filed suit, alleging antitrust claims, state-law claims, and a claim for employment discrimination based on sex, religion, and ethnicity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of her claims, finding that Levitin was not an employee. View "Levitin v. Northwest Community Hospital" on Justia Law

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The labor agreement between Brock, a provider of industrial services, including scaffolding, painting, and shoring, and the Laborers Union requires arbitration of grievances and establishes a bipartite arbitration procedure for resolving most disputes. Work-jurisdiction disputes—disputes over whether the Laborers or another union is entitled to perform work—are instead subject to a tripartite arbitration procedure involving the company and the contending unions. Before signing the agreement, Brock hired the Laborers to perform scaffolding work at a chemical plant. After the agreement became effective, Brock informed the Laborers that it was reassigning the work to the Carpenters Union. Invoking the bipartite arbitration procedure, the Laborers filed a grievance with the Grievance Review Subcommittee of the National Maintenance Agreement Policy Committee. Brock responded that the Subcommittee lacked authority to arbitrate the matter. The Subcommittee disagreed and sustained the grievance and filed suit under section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185. The district judge determined that the Subcommittee had authority and issued an order enforcing the decision. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The grievance concerns which of two unions was entitled to perform the scaffolding work at the chemical plant, a jurisdictional dispute, so the Subcommittee had no authority over the matter and its decision must be vacated. View "Brock Industrial Services, LLC v. Laborers' International Union of North America Construction & General Laborers Local 100" on Justia Law

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Hernandez filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in December 2016, reporting one sizable asset: a pending workers’ compensation claim valued at $31,000. To place that claim beyond the reach of creditors, she listed it as exempt under section 21 of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, 820 ILCS 305/21, applicable via 11 U.S.C. 522(b). Two days after filing for bankruptcy, Hernandez settled the claim. Hernandez owed significant sums to three healthcare providers who treated her work-related injuries. The providers objected to her claimed exemption, arguing that 2005 amendments to the Illinois Act enable unpaid healthcare providers to reach workers’ compensation awards and settlements. The bankruptcy court denied the exemption and the district judge affirmed. The Seventh Circuit certified to the Illinois Supreme Court the question: Whether the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, as amended, allows care-provider creditors to reach the proceeds of workers’ compensation claims. The court noted that Section 21 has been interpreted by bankruptcy courts to create an exemption for these assets; 2005 amendments imposed a new fee schedule and billing procedure for care providers seeking remuneration. The Illinois Supreme Court has not addressed the interplay between these competing components of state workers’ compensation law. View "Hernandez v. Marque Medicos Fullerton, LLC" on Justia Law

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Sansone, a Postal Service employee since 1981, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1991. By 1999, he used a wheelchair. He parked in a reserved space near the loading docks, where there was room to deploy his wheelchair ramp. In 2011, the manager, Branch, asked Sansone to stop parking there, citing safety concerns and offering Sansone a handicapped spot in front of the building or a reserved space in the back. Neither provided space to deploy his ramp; spots in the back would require him to travel along a busy truck route in the dark. With permission from his supervisor, Sansone continued to park in his usual place, while seeking help from Grieser, chair of the Reasonable Accommodation Committee. Branch threatened to have his van towed. Sansone panicked, experienced chest pain, and left work. His doctor recommended that he stay home until the situation was rectified and prescribed medication. Grieser asked Sansone to provide medical information about his “condition and the specific limitations.” The letter exacerbated Sansone’s frustration because the Service knew that he was confined to a wheelchair. Sansone did not provide the information but claimed that the stress had rendered him unable to return to work. He was granted disability retirement, then sued under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 791 for constructive discharge and failure to accommodate. The court granted the Service summary judgment on constructive discharge. Sansone won $300,000 in compensatory damages for failure to accommodate. On Sansone’s equitable claim for back and front pay, the court awarded $828,774. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part, upholding a jury instruction about an employee’s obligation to cooperate with his employer in identifying a reasonable accommodation but finding an instruction about how the jury should evaluate the Service’s expert witness (on the issue of compensatory damages) “wrong and prejudicial.” View "Sansone v. Brennan" on Justia Law

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Silva, a Brazilian citizen who self-identifies as Latino, worked as a correctional sergeant for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC). His use of force on an inmate triggered an internal review process and led to his discharge. The individual defendants, the warden, the human resources director, and a Corrections Unit Supervisor played roles in that review process. Silva filed discrimination claims against the DOC under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e–2(a)(1), against the individual defendants and the DOC under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and against all defendants under 42 U.S.C. 198. The Seventh Circuit reversed the award of summary judgment to the DOC on the Title VII claim and to the warden on plaintiff’s equal protection claim but otherwise affirmed. A reasonable jury could conclude that Silva and another correctional officer engaged in comparably serious conduct but Silva was discharged while the other officer was suspended for one day .A reasonable jury could conclude that the warden’s evolving explanations for the discrepancy support an inference of pretext. Qualified immunity does not shield the warden from liability. The Eleventh Amendment bars the equal protection claim against the DOC View "Silva v. State of Wisconsin, Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Canadian Pacific hired Holloway as a conductor in July 2014. He had disciplinary actions relating to attendance, not providing his engineer with important safety information, and violating safety and work rules. On October 18, 2015, Holloway and J.S. were moving railcars as part of building a train, using an all-purpose vehicle. J.S. drove while Holloway rode in the passenger seat. Neither fastened a seatbelt. Holloway never inspected the vehicle for safety defects, later saying he assumed J.S. had done so. A subsequent inspection revealed that the vehicle needed repairs. J.S. crashed the vehicle. Both employees sustained injuries that required medical care at a hospital. Holloway’s treatment triggered an obligation for Canadian Pacific to report his injury to the Federal Railroad Administration. J.S.’s injury was minor. Canadian Pacific notified the employees that an investigation and hearing would follow. J.S. was furloughed and did not attend. Holloway attended the hearing with a union representative. The hearing officer determined that Holloway had violated Canadian Pacific’s seatbelt requirement and a rule requiring him to inspect for and report safety defects. The report canvassed Holloway’s lengthy discipline history and recommended termination. Canadian Pacific fired Holloway. J.S. was not disciplined for her role in the accident. Holloway unsuccessfully appealed his dismissal and received EEOC permission to sue. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Canadian Pacific on his claim for unlawful retaliation for filing an injury claim, in violation of the Federal Railway Safety Act. View "Holloway v. Soo Line Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Gates testified that his supervisor, Rivera, addressed him with the N‐word twice, and once threatened to write up his “black ass.” The district court granted the employer summary judgment on Gates’s claim for a racially hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e‐2, stating that Gates faced a high bar, “as ‘[t]he workplace that is actionable is one that is ‘hellish.’” The court found that Rivera’s comments were not severe or pervasive enough to rise to the level of a hostile work environment. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. The district court erred in applying the “hellish” standard and failed to focus on the difference in Seventh Circuit hostile environment cases between having the plaintiff’s co‐workers show racial hostility and having the plaintiff’s supervisor show racial hostility, especially in using poisonous racial epithets. View "Gates v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Ruark was working for Union Pacific, using a hydraulic rail drill. Ruark was involved connecting the drill to the hydraulic lines and used the machine to drill several holes without noticing any leaking fluid or other malfunction. As he drilled the last hole, Ruark reached down to turn the drill off. Hot fluid sprayed over him, including in his eyes. Ruark declined medical attention. The supervisor sent him home to clean up. Ruark returned the following day, but did not do much work, because, he claims, “it hurt too bad.” Ruark saw his regular nurse practitioner the next day, for “sinus and stomach problems.” Ruark did not return to work because he was convicted of a felony unrelated to the accident. Ruark sued under the Federal Employers Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. 51-60. Ruark’s prison sentence interrupted his trial preparation. The judge denied a motion for a continuance because the case had been pending for almost three years, Ruark had been well represented by his initial counsel, and Ruark's incarceration did not justify reopening exhausted deadlines and allowing Ruark to begin discovery anew. The judge allowed Ruark’s trial testimony by video deposition and deposition of Ruark’s treating physician. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of Ruark’s theory of negligence based on res ipsa loquitur. That doctrine requires that the defendant was in control of the instrumentality that caused the injury and that the plaintiff was not also negligent; those conditions were not met. A jury could not assume that “the matter spoke for itself.” The court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to grant a continuance. View "Ruark v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law