Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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In a complaint described as “disjointed and murky at best,” Catinella alleged that he worked for Cook County, 1994-2013, and in 2009, was promoted to a supervisory position. In 2013, Catinella was questioned regarding a bidding process and refused to sign documents relating to the probe. During this interview, investigators asked Catinella if he was carrying a weapon. Catinella admitted that he had a knife, which he gave to his lawyer. Months later, Catinella’s coworkers filed a grievance complaining that Catinella was getting extra work privileges. Catinella was placed on emergency leave with pay pending an investigation. Days later he was placed on emergency suspension for unspecified “major causes.” An investigator produced witnesses to an alleged threat by Catinella to “shoot up the workplace.” The witnesses gave inconsistent accounts. Catinella was charged with disorderly conduct and released on bond. A report concluded that Catinella possessed a weapon while at work. At a pre-disciplinary meeting, Catinella was not allowed to confront witnesses. Cook County fired Catinella for possessing a weapon and making a threat of violence. The disorderly conduct charge was dropped. Catinella sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging violations of procedural and substantive due process and alleging race-based retaliation under 42 U.S.C 1981 and 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal. The complaint does not show how this “whirlwind of alleged unfairness” violates any federal constitutional or statutory provision. View "Catinella v. Cook County" on Justia Law

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Delgado, an ATF agent, alleges that his supervisors retaliated against him after he reported his suspicions that another agent improperly shot at a fleeing suspect, provided an inaccurate report, and testified falsely about the incident. Delgado filed a whistleblower complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which is charged with investigating allegations under the Whistleblower Protection Act, 5 U.S.C. 1214(a)(1)(A), 2302(b)(8). The OSC declined to investigate, telling Delgado that he had not made a disclosure protected by the Act and had failed to provide sufficient evidence to support his allegations of retaliation. The Merit Systems Protection Board dismissed his appeal, finding that Delgado had not satisfied the requirement that he “seek corrective action before the Special Counsel before seeking corrective action from the Board.” The Seventh Circuit remanded, finding that the OSC and the Board applied unduly stringent and arbitrary requirements. Delgado’s disclosure of suspected wrongdoing either explicitly accused another federal employee of perjury or provided sufficient evidence to justify such a suspicion worthy of consideration by superiors. Either version would be a protected disclosure. The Act requires only that a complainant fairly present his claim with enough specificity to enable the agency to investigate and does not require a whistleblower to prove his allegations before the OSC. View "Delgado v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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Delgado, an ATF agent, alleges that his supervisors retaliated against him after he reported his suspicions that another agent improperly shot at a fleeing suspect, provided an inaccurate report, and testified falsely about the incident. Delgado filed a whistleblower complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which is charged with investigating allegations under the Whistleblower Protection Act, 5 U.S.C. 1214(a)(1)(A), 2302(b)(8). The OSC declined to investigate, telling Delgado that he had not made a disclosure protected by the Act and had failed to provide sufficient evidence to support his allegations of retaliation. The Merit Systems Protection Board dismissed his appeal, finding that Delgado had not satisfied the requirement that he “seek corrective action before the Special Counsel before seeking corrective action from the Board.” The Seventh Circuit remanded, finding that the OSC and the Board applied unduly stringent and arbitrary requirements. Delgado’s disclosure of suspected wrongdoing either explicitly accused another federal employee of perjury or provided sufficient evidence to justify such a suspicion worthy of consideration by superiors. Either version would be a protected disclosure. The Act requires only that a complainant fairly present his claim with enough specificity to enable the agency to investigate and does not require a whistleblower to prove his allegations before the OSC. View "Delgado v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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After complaints about his professionalism, Indiana University Hospital required Dr. Hamdan, a U.S. citizen of Palestinian descent, to participate in a peer-review process, which resulted in disciplinary letters. Hamdan successfully appealed. The hospital ultimately voided the letters. Nonetheless, Hamdan resigned and relinquished his hospital privileges. Hamdan sued the hospital for discriminating against him based on race. Hamdan was not a hospital employee and could not sue under Title VII, so he sued under 42 U.S.C. 1981, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, intended to protect the ability of newly-freed slaves to enter and enforce contracts. Hamdan alleged discrimination in his contractual relationship with the hospital. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a verdict for the hospital, rejecting an argument that the district court erred in allowing the hospital to ask Hamdan impeachment questions relating to his prior work at other hospitals. The court noted Hamdan’s testimony that his reputation was “untarnished” before he received the disciplinary letters. The Seventh Circuit also rejected an argument that the court erred in permitting the hospital to try to impeach him with questions about matters that were confidential under the peer-review statutes of Indiana, Louisiana, and Michigan. Even if the state laws applied, the judge did not abuse his discretion in allowing impeachment questions about incident reports. View "Hamdan v. Indiana University Health North Hospital, Inc." on Justia Law

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After complaints about his professionalism, Indiana University Hospital required Dr. Hamdan, a U.S. citizen of Palestinian descent, to participate in a peer-review process, which resulted in disciplinary letters. Hamdan successfully appealed. The hospital ultimately voided the letters. Nonetheless, Hamdan resigned and relinquished his hospital privileges. Hamdan sued the hospital for discriminating against him based on race. Hamdan was not a hospital employee and could not sue under Title VII, so he sued under 42 U.S.C. 1981, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, intended to protect the ability of newly-freed slaves to enter and enforce contracts. Hamdan alleged discrimination in his contractual relationship with the hospital. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a verdict for the hospital, rejecting an argument that the district court erred in allowing the hospital to ask Hamdan impeachment questions relating to his prior work at other hospitals. The court noted Hamdan’s testimony that his reputation was “untarnished” before he received the disciplinary letters. The Seventh Circuit also rejected an argument that the court erred in permitting the hospital to try to impeach him with questions about matters that were confidential under the peer-review statutes of Indiana, Louisiana, and Michigan. Even if the state laws applied, the judge did not abuse his discretion in allowing impeachment questions about incident reports. View "Hamdan v. Indiana University Health North Hospital, Inc." on Justia Law

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Armstrong, a BNSF train conductor, was not wearing the proper uniform for the third time in two weeks. Armstrong’s supervisor, Motley, noticed and called him into the “Glasshouse” office. Nelson left the Glasshouse as Armstrong arrived. Armstrong claims that Motley began yelling and that he tried to leave because he felt threatened; Motley pushed the door shut, striking Armstrong’s knee and foot. This is not seen on a video recording. Nelson testified that, outside the Glasshouse, he could hear Armstrong curse at Motley. The video showed Motley standing away from the door as Armstrong exited. Motley, who claims he did not close the door on Armstrong, called his supervisor, Johanson. After speaking to Armstrong, Johanson took Armstrong to an on-site clinic, where he was provided a soft walking shoe. Human Resources took statements and secured the video. BNSF issued a notice of investigation for insubordination, dishonesty, and misrepresentation. A hearing officer concluded that Armstrong had lied. BNSF terminated Armstrong’s employment. Armstrong sued, alleging that BNSF dismissed him for reporting a work‐related injury, (Federal Rail Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 20109(a)(4)). The Seventh Circuit affirmed a jury verdict for BNSF, upholding a jury instruction that “Defendant cannot be held liable under the FRSA if you conclude that Defendant terminated Plainiff’s employment based on its honestly held belief that Plaintiff did not engage in protected activity under the FRSA in good faith.” While a FRSA plaintiff need not show that retaliation was the sole motivating factor in the adverse decision, the statute requires a showing that retaliation was a motivating factor. View "Armstrong v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Verfuerth, the founder and former CEO of Orion, had disputes with Orion’s board of directors, involving outside counsel's billing practices, potential patent infringement, potential conflicts of interests involving a board member, violations of internal company policy, such as consumption of alcohol at an informal meeting, the board’s handling of a defamation suit by a former employee, and the fact that the chairman of Orion’s audit committee allowed his CPA license to expire. The board ignored his advice to disclose those matters to stockholders. Orion removed Verfuerth as CEO, citing high rates of management turnover. The board conditionally offered Verfuerth emeritus status. Verfeurth declined. The parties were unable to negotiate his severance package. The board fired him for cause, citing misappropriation of company funds in connection with his divorce, disparagement of the new CEO, and attempts to form a dissident shareholder group. Verfuerth filed suit, claiming that his complaints to the board were “whistleblowing” and that, by firing him, Orion violated the Sarbanes‐Oxley Act, 18 U.S.C. 1514A(a), and the Dodd‐Frank Act, 15 U.S.C. 78u‐6.e. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Orion. An executive who advises board members to disclose a fact that the board already knows about has not “provide[d] information” about fraud.. Nothing in any federal statute prevents a company from firing its executives over differences of opinion. View "Verfuerth v. Orion Energy Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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Carle’s medical residency program, which has an employment component, was governed by annual contracts. Residents were required to complete rotations before advancing and to pass the Step 3 U.S. Medical Licensing Examination before entering the third year. A third Step 3 failure results in termination. Carle residents cannot graduate unless they complete licensing requirements. Illinois medical students with five failures in the Step tests are not eligible for licensure without significant remediation. Rodrigo failed his first attempts at Step 1 and Step 2. He was required to repeat four rotations. His supervisors thought a neuropsychological examination might identify issues affecting his performance. Rodrigo never underwent recommended testing. Carle extended Rodrigo’s first and second years to allow him to repeat rotations and the Step 3 test, which he failed a second time. Rodrigo then informed Carle that he had a sleep disorder. Although Rodrigo did not request an accommodation, the director suggested that he take time off. Rodrigo did so, but failed a third time. Rodrigo asked to be promoted so that he could attempt to pass Step 3 in California. After termination of his residency, Rodrigo sued under the Americans With Disabilities Act. 42 U.S.C. 1210. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Carle, finding that Rodrigo was not a “qualified individual.” Passing Step 3 is an “essential function.” Rodrigo presented no evidence of a causal connection between his protected activity (seeking an accommodation) and his termination. View "Rodrigo v. Carle Foundation Hospital" on Justia Law

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Ennin, a naturalized American citizen born in Ghana, began working for CNH in 2012 as a supervisor of hourly workers--the only black supervisor at the Lebanon, Indiana facility. Ennin received a written warning for misconduct in 2014, based on a verbal altercation with another supervisor about a radio, which was witnessed by hourly employees. Months later, Ennin’s car broke down on his way to work. Ennin notified his supervisor that he would be late, then called his hourly employee, Chavez, who had clocked in. Chavez left work to help Ennin. Ennin permitted Chavez to follow him through the supervisor’s entrance, in violation of company policy and neglected to adjust Chavez’s time sheet to reflect that Chavez had been absent for 46 minutes. After meeting with supervisors about the incident, Ennin went home for medical reasons. Ennin did not return to work but scheduled a planned hemorrhoidectomy and received leave from CNH’s third‐party administrator, Prudential, which approved his short‐term disability benefits. CNH sent a letter, informing Ennin that his employment had been terminated before he took medical leave Ennin sued, arguing that he was fired because of his race, national origin, disability, and decision to take FMLA leave. The court granted CNH summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Ennin waived the admissibility of evidence that CNH terminated him knowing that Ennin was disabled and on FMLA leave. No evidence indicated that CNH’s stated reasons for termination were pretextual. View "Ennin v. CNH Industrial America LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought a collective lawsuit against Jimmy John’s on behalf of all assistant store managers nationwide for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Jimmy John’s owns just 2% of their stores; the rest are operated by franchisees. Jimmy John’s claimed that it did not maintain employment records for franchisee-employees and did not have contact information for the vast majority of putative collective members. The parties ultimately agreed that Jimmy John’s would send a letter to the non‐party franchisees asking for contact information for their assistant managers. Eventually, about 600 franchisee and 60 corporate employees joined the suit. The court bifurcated discovery, with the first phase to focus on the joint-employer issue. Two years into the litigation, plaintiffs filed separate lawsuits against their franchisee employers in district courts nationwide, asserting the same claims, arguing that the FLSA statute of limitations was running continuously on those claims. The district court subsequently enjoined plaintiffs from pursuing their lawsuits against the franchisee employers until their claims against Jimmy John’s were resolved. The Seventh Circuit reversed, rejecting arguments that the injunction was authorized under the court’s inherent equitable powers or the All Writs Act because it was necessary to prevent duplicative litigation, avoid inconsistent rulings, and protect the court’s pretrial orders regarding discovery and notice procedures. View "Lucas v. Jimmy John's Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law