Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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In November 2016, two plaintiffs sued Metra and several of its employees, alleging racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 1983. An amended complaint named 11 plaintiffs and 10 defendants, with additional claims of racial discrimination and a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act; it described instances in which African-American employees were treated differently than white employees. Defendants asserted it was impossible to discern the alleged acts attributable to the individual defendants, and that the amended complaint contained incorrect numbering and failed to assert wrongdoing against five defendants. The plaintiffs did not respond. Plaintiffs then submitted the wrong version of a second amended complaint. After a hearing, the plaintiffs filed an amended second amended complaint, with claims by 12 plaintiffs against Metra and 11 employees, alleging racial discrimination; hostile work environment; disparate treatment; negligent and intentional infliction of emotional harm; discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment; discrimination under Title VII, the Illinois Civil Rights Act, and the ADA; retaliation; and breach of contract. Defendants claimed the breach of contract claim was preempted by the Railway Labor Act, the Illinois Act has no application in employment law, and that Title VII and the ADA only authorize suits against employers, not individuals. The court denied the plaintiffs’ motion to file a third amended complaint. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The plaintiffs had ample opportunity to address the deficiencies and waived their arguments in opposition to the motion to dismiss. View "Lee v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp." on Justia Law

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Fare Foods hired Swyear as an outside sales representative in 2015. Swyear claims Porter (an owner) indicated that she would be the first female outside sales representative and expressed concern regarding her ability to perform effectively in a male-dominated field. Porter later testified that he liked hiring a woman because they could get men to do things like unload delivery trucks or make sales and that Fare employed several female outside sales representatives before Swyear. Swyear noticed the work environment was sometimes unprofessional; male employees used offensive nicknames, discussed the sexual activities of other employees, and talked about how one female employee dressed inappropriately. Porter testified that he was aware of and may have used the offensive nicknames. Swyear did not tell anyone she was offended nor did she make any formal or informal complaints. At one point, Swyear reported that a fellow representative had made overtures to her during a business trip. The company investigated but decided that discipline was not required. After two reviews, during which Swyear was given instructions about improving her job performance with respect to punctuality and use of company vehicles, Swyear’s employment was terminated. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection, on summary judgment, of her claims of sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, and breach of contract. View "Swyear v. Fare Foods Corp." on Justia Law

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Ross worked as a coal miner for approximately 30 years. He smoked cigarettes for almost as long but was able to quit after his first heart attack. Ross continued to work as a coal miner even though he suffered another heart attack and had difficulty breathing at work. Approximately six years after Ross stopped working in the coal mines, his breathing problems became severe. In 2012, Ross sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901. The Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board vacated a denial. On remand, the ALJ granted Ross’s claim. The Board affirmed. The Seventh Circuit enforced the decision. Rejecting a due process argument, the court noted the employer had the opportunity to argue its case twice before the ALJ and twice before the Board, including the chance to submit supplemental medical opinion evidence. A theory that something must be amiss because the ALJ changed his mind on remand is particularly unpersuasive here because the parties submitted five additional medical opinions after the Board’s second decision. Ross proved by a preponderance of the evidence that he was totally disabled. View "Consolidation Coal Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, United States Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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For 25 years, Wrolstad worked at CUNA, eventually becoming a financial reporting manager. In 2009 his position was eliminated in a corporate restructuring. He was 52 years old. At his supervisor’s suggestion, Wrolstad applied for vacant positions at the company, including a job as a pension participant support specialist. CUNA hired a 23-year-old for that position. Wrolstad signed a severance agreement waiving all claims in exchange for 50 weeks of severance pay. Months later Wrolstad filed a complaint with the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission, claiming age discrimination. An investigator dismissed the complaint. CUNA sent Wrolstad a letter explaining that it would sue to enforce the waiver if he did not drop his appeal. Wrolstad refused. CUNA filed a breach-of-contract. Wrolstad filed a second complaint with the Commission, claiming retaliation. Both claims were transferred to the EEOC, which issued a right-to-sue notice. Wrolstad then sued CUNA under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621. A district judge granted CUNA summary judgment, ruling that the age-discrimination claim lacked evidentiary support and the retaliation claim was time-barred. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wrolstad’s effort to revive his age-discrimination claim cited new arguments and evidence that he did not bring to the district judge’s attention. The arguments were forfeited and fail on the merits. The retaliation claim accrued when CUNA sent the letter announcing its unequivocal decision to enforce the severance agreement. View "Wrolstad v. CUNA Mutual Insurance Society" on Justia Law

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For 35 years, Terry worked as a teacher and an administrator for the District. After the 2013–2014 school year, the District closed the school where Terry served as the Principal because of declining enrollment and reassigned her as the Assistant Principal at another school. The District picked a male employee (Cain) over Terry for a separate promotion, although Terry had earned the highest ranking of the applicants from the interviewers. Terry filed suit, alleging sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1), and the Fourteenth Amendment (42 U.S.C. 1983); retaliation under Title VII; and unequal pay, 29 U.S.C. 206(d)(1). The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the District on Terry’s federal claims. Even assuming Terry’s change in position constituted a material adverse action, Terry did not marshal any evidence that the District had a discriminatory purpose. The chronology of events alone is not evidence that the District lied when it said it picked Cain for the promotion because of his experience working at the particular school. Timing, even combined with Terry’s positive employment history, is not enough to create a dispute of material fact as to whether the District retaliated against Terry. The difference in salary between Terry and Cain was based on the salary freeze (and not based on sex). View "Terry v. Gary Community School Corp." on Justia Law

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Current and former flight attendants challenged a SkyWest Airlines compensation policy of paying for their work in the air but not on the ground, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201 (FLSA), and various state and local wage laws. The sought to certify a class of similarly situated SkyWest employees. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the federal claim. The flight attendants plausibly allege they were not paid for certain hours of work but under the FLSA the relevant unit for determining a pay violation is the average hourly wage across a workweek. The flight attendants failed to allege even a single workweek in which one of them received less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The dormant Commerce Clause, however, does not bar the other claims.. States possess authority to regulate the labor of their own citizens and companies; the dormant Commerce Clause does not preclude state regulation of flight attendant wages in this case, particularly when the FLSA itself reserves that authority to states and localities. View "Hirst v. Skywest, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Illinois Department of Human Services pays personal home health care assistants to care for elderly and disabled persons. The assistants are public employees under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, which authorizes collective bargaining. The Union is their exclusive representative, required to represent all public employees, including non-members. Under the collective bargaining agreement, the Union collected limited "fair share" fees from workers who chose not to join, which were automatically deducted from the assistants' pay. Workers who objected to this arrangement sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their claim; the Supreme Court reversed. On remand, the Objectors sought certification of a class, arguing that their proposed class of around 80,000 members was entitled to a refund of approximately $32 million. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a holding that class certification was inappropriate, stating that: the class definition was overly broad in light of evidence that a substantial number of class members did not object to the fee and could not have suffered an injury; named plaintiffs were not adequate representatives; individual questions regarding damages predominated over common ones; the class faced manageability issues; and a class action was not a superior method of resolving the issue. Following a second remand, the Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the Supreme Court’s 2018 “Janus” decision does not require a different result on whether the class-action device is proper for use in seeking refunds of fair-share fees. View "Riffey v. Rauner" on Justia Law

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Lewis, an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs, worked as a cook in the Nutrition and Food Service Department in 2008-2009 and again from December 2013 until April 2015. The four‐year gap in employment occurred because Lewis was terminated and then, after a successful Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint, was reinstated to his former position. Lewis alleges that upon reinstatement he faced retaliation from the VA and two supervisors for his EEO activity. The district court granted the Va summary judgment, holding that none of the alleged retaliatory actions constituted a materially adverse action. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Some of the actions constituted isolated administrative errors that were subsequently corrected; they represent the kind of minor workplace grievances against which Title VII does not protect against. Other incidents may have resulted in annoyance and frustration, but they did not cause the kind of harm that would dissuade a reasonable employee from engaging in protected activity. Unfulfilled threats that do not produce harm do not qualify as adverse actions. Lewis also failed to demonstrate a causal link between his protected activity and nearly all of the alleged retaliatory actions; failed to identify any similarly‐situated employee; and failed to demonstrate the VA’s legitimate, non‐discriminatory explanations were pretextual. View "Lewis v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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Bogart, a Democrat, worked as the Financial Resources Director of Vermilion County, Illinois. Marron, a Republican, assumed control of the County Board and fired her. She brought claims under the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause, alleging that Vermilion County and Marron violated her right of political affiliation and engaged in political retaliation. The district court dismissed the equal protection claim as duplicative of the First Amendment claim, and, after finding that the substantial fiscal and budgetary responsibilities of Bogart’s position fit within the exception to political patronage dismissals, granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court has held (the Elrod-Branti exception) that, while public employers cannot condition employment on an individual’s political affiliation, an employee’s First Amendment right of political association leaves room for employers to dismiss employees in positions where political loyalty is a valid job qualification. Determining whether a particular job fits within the exception requires “focus on the inherent powers of the office as presented in the official job description,” while also looking at “how the description was created and when, and how often, it was updated.” Bogart held a senior position requiring the trust and confidence of the elected Board members, including the County Chairman, and entailing substantial policymaking authority. View "Bogart v. Vermilion County" on Justia Law

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Taylor, a former Lawrenceburg, Indiana police officer, also held positions with the civil-city, parks, and electric departments. Taylor ran for a City Council position and improperly appeared in police uniform at a campaign event and represented on his time sheet that he was on duty during that event. The State Police investigated, resulting in criminal charges for Official Misconduct and Ghost Employment. Taylor won election to the Council. Taylor signed a deferred prosecution agreement admitting to the criminal charges and agreeing to resign from the Council. The next day, he distributed a letter accusing the Board and city officials of corruption and criminal wrongdoing. The Board notified Taylor of its intent to terminate his employment. The Board terminated Taylor’s employment, crediting a prosecutor’s testimony that he would not accept case-related information from a police officer, like Taylor, who had admitted a crime of dishonesty, and rejected Taylor’s contention that Board members were biased and that the termination proceedings were a response to his letter accusing Board members of wrongdoing. Taylor dismissed his state court appeal and filed a First Amendment retaliation claim, 42 U.S.C. 1983, with state law defamation and whistleblower claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in the city’s favor. Federal courts must give state administrative fact-finding the same preclusive effect to which it would be entitled in state courts, if the agency acted in a judicial capacity and resolved issues that the parties had an adequate opportunity to litigate. The Board acted in a judicial capacity and Taylor had a fair opportunity to litigate the issues. View "Taylor v. City of Lawrenceburg" on Justia Law