Articles Posted in Labor & Employment 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

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Walker had worked at Ingersoll since 2008 and had a history of conflict with coworkers. On October 21, 2014, Walker was listening to music while working. Rafferty told Walker to mute the radio. Walker alleges that he was “bumped” and threatened with additional violence. Ingersoll questions whether physical contact or threats occurred. The men engaged in a shouting match. The unit supervisor, Thompson, calmed them down. Walker returned to work; Rafferty went home. They worked without incident on October 22. On October 23, Walker met with Thompson and another supervisor. Walker told Thompson that he no longer trusted or respected him because he had not disciplined Rafferty and suggested that the conflict with Rafferty was affecting his physical wellbeing. The supervisors suspended Walker with pay while determining how to proceed. On October 26, Thompson and his supervisor decided to terminate Walker’s employment. The human resources manager began the termination process. On October 29, Walker’s attorney informed Ingersoll that he intended to sue for discrimination and retaliation unless Ingersoll brought him back to work. Walker reported the alleged physical assault to local police. The prosecutor declined to bring charges. Ingersoll formally terminated Walker’s employment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Ingersoll. Walker had abandoned his Title VII racial discrimination claims and did not identify a causal connection between his termination and conduct protected by Illinois law. View "Walker v. Ingersoll Cutting Tool Co." on Justia Law

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Winsted was 42 years old when he applied for disability benefits, asserting an onset date of October 2010. Although he initially alleged he became disabled in 2005, two prior applications alleging this onset date were denied and deemed administratively final. Winsted suffers from multiple physical impairments, including degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, and anxiety, mostly associated with his previous work in hard labor as an industrial truck driver, a highway maintenance worker, and an operating engineer. An ALJ denied benefits, finding that Winsted could work with certain limitations. The district court affirmed. The Seventh Circuit remanded. The ALJ did not adequately explain how the limitations he placed on Winsted’s residual functional capacity accounted for the claimant’s mental difficulties; the ALJ did not consider Winsted’s difficulties with concentration, persistence, and pace. View "Winsted v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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JCB, an Indiana state-chartered bank, had an agreement with INVEST, a registered broker-dealer, to offer securities to JCB customers. In 2017, JCB assigned DuSablon to assist in identifying and establishing an investment business with a new third-party broker-dealer. DuSablon failed to do so and abruptly resigned. JCB learned that DuSablon had transferred customers’ accounts from INVEST into his own name and had started a competing business. JCB sought a preliminary injunction, asserting violations of the Indiana Uniform Trade Secrets Act, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, tortious interference, unfair competition, civil conversion, and computer trespass. DuSablon moved to dismiss, arguing that JCB lacked standing and that Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) rules barred the suit; he removed the case, asserting exclusive federal jurisdiction under 15 U.S.C. 78aa and the Securities and Exchange Act. Although JCB did not plead a federal claim, DuSablon contended that JCB’s response to his motion to dismiss “raises a federal question as all of [JCB’s] claims ... rest upon the legality of direct participation in the securities industry which is ... regulated by the [Securities] Act.” The district court remanded,, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction and that removal was untimely, ordering DuSablon to pay JCB costs and fees of $9,035.61 under 28 U.S.C. 1447(c). The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal. DuSablon lacked an objectively reasonable basis to remove the case to federal court. View "Jackson County Bank v. DuSablon" on Justia Law

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Kopplin, a former train conductor, brought claims of negligence and negligence per se against the Wisconsin Central railroad under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. 51, alleging that Kopplin injured his elbow in trying to operate a broken railroad switch on January 24, 2014. The district court granted the railroad summary judgment because Kopplin could not prove that the broken switch caused his injury. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. A video of the incident shows no immediate signs of injury and Kopplin never mentioned any pain to his coworkers until two hours later. He had continued to perform other physical tasks. Kopplin’s sole causation expert conceded, in a deposition, that he knew so little about Kopplin’s job that it would be mere speculation to say throwing a switch even could cause the elbow injury and that he did not investigate whether Kopplin’s other physical activities could have caused his renewed elbow problems. That expert later provided an affidavit in which he definitively stated that the January 24 incident caused the elbow injury, explaining that the nature of the injury was so clear that there was no need to even consider other potential causes. The judge refused to consider the affidavit because it contradicted sworn deposition testimony. View "Kopplin v. Wisconsin Central Limited" on Justia Law