Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Roberick Washington was employed as a lieutenant at the Wyandotte County Juvenile Detention Center in Kansas City, Kansas. After a random drug test, he was fired for testing positive for cocaine. Washington filed a civil rights action against the County and several of his co-workers, alleging that the drug test was an illegal search that violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as breached his employment contract. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding that County’s random drug test did not violate the Fourth Amendment, since the test furthered the County’s need to ensure the safety and welfare of the juvenile residents. Nor did the termination violate any other constitutional or statutory right. View "Washington v. Unified Gov't of Wyandotte Co." on Justia Law

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Janna DeWitt appealed a district court’s order granting summary judgment to her former employer, Southwestern Bell Telephone Company (SWBTC) on her claims of disability discrimination and failure to accommodate her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). In 2009 and early 2010, DeWitt used FMLA leave intermittently for health issues related to her diabetes. DeWitt only took FMLA leave when vacation days were not available because DeWitt believed that SWBTC “frowned upon” employees taking FMLA leave. DwWitt's employment was terminated in 2010 when she allegedly hung up on two customers during a low blood sugar episode. DeWitt explained that she did not remember taking the calls due to a severe drop in her blood sugar. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that SWBTC was entitled to summary judgment because: (1) it advanced a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for taking adverse employment action against DeWitt (i.e., DeWitt’s hanging up on customers while on a Last Chance Agreement); and (2) DeWitt failed to demonstrate that SWBTC’s stated reason for its disciplinary action was pretextual. Finding that DeWitt failed to otherwise meet her burden to overcome summary judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "DeWitt v. Southwestern Bell Telephone" on Justia Law

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Firma Helget worked for the City of Hays, Kansas, as the administrative secretary for the Hays Police Department. In 2012, the City terminated Helget, and she initiated this 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against the City, City Manager Toby Dougherty, and Police Chief Donald Scheibler, alleging they violated her First Amendment rights. Helget claims they terminated her in retaliation for her voluntarily providing an affidavit in support of a former police officer's wrongful-termination litigation against the City. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on Helget's First Amendment retaliation claims, concluding the City's interest as a public employer outweighed Helget's interest in her speech regarding a former employee's litigation. The court also granted qualified immunity to Dougherty and Scheibler. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Helget v. City of Hays" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Matthew Vogt was employed as a police officer with the City of Hays. In late 2013, Vogt applied for a position with the City of Haysville's police department. During Haysville's hiring process, Vogt disclosed that he had kept a knife obtained in the course of his work as a Hays police officer. Notwithstanding this disclosure, Haysville conditionally offered Vogt the job only if he reported his acquisition of the knife and returned it to the Hays police department. Vogt satisfied the condition, reporting to the Hays police department that he had kept the knife. The Hays police chief ordered Vogt to submit a written report concerning his possession of the knife. Vogt complied, submitting a vague one sentence report. He then provided Hays with a two-week notice of resignation, intending to accept the new job with Haysville. In the meantime, the Hays police chief began an internal investigation into Vogt's possession of the knife, including requiring a more detailed statement to supplement the report. Vogt complied, and the Hays police used the additional statement to locate additional evidence. Based on Vogt's statements and the additional evidence, the Hays police chief asked the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to start a criminal investigation, supplying Vogt's statements and the additional evidence. The criminal investigation led the Haysville police department to withdraw its job offer. Vogt was ultimately charged in Kansas state court with two felony counts related to his possession of the knife. Following a probable cause hearing, the state district court determined that probable cause was lacking and dismissed the charges. This suit followed, with Vogt alleging his constitutional rights were violated because his statements were used: (1) to start an investigation leading to the discovery of additional evidence concerning the knife; (2) to initiate a criminal investigation; (3) to bring criminal charges; and (4) to support the prosecution during the probable cause hearing. Vogt argued that these uses of compelled statements violated his right against self-incrimination. Based on the alleged Fifth Amendment violation, Vogt also invoked 42 U.S.C. 1983, suing: (1) the City of Hays; (2) the City of Haysville; and (3) four police officers. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, reasoning that: the right against self-incrimination was only a trial right, and Vogt's statements were used in pretrial proceedings, not in a trial. The Tenth Circuit, after review, concluded: (1) the Fifth Amendment is violated when criminal defendants are compelled to incriminate themselves and the incriminating statement is used in a probable cause hearing; (2) the individual officers were entitled to qualified immunity; (3) the City of Haysville did not compel Vogt to incriminate himself; (4) Vogt stated a plausible claim for relief against the City of Hays. The Court therefore affirmed dismissal of claims against the four officers and Haysville, and reversed dismissal against the City of Hays. View "Vogt v. City of Hays" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff David Hansen filed suit against his former employer, Defendant SkyWest Airlines, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. sections 2000e–2000e–17, for sex-based hostile work environment, disparate treatment, quid pro quo harassment, coworker harassment, retaliation, and for intentional infliction of emotional distress under state law. The district court granted summary judgment for SkyWest with respect to all of his claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed in part, affirmed in part and remanded. The Court found that viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Tenth Circuit found that reasonable persons could differ with respect to Plaintiff's claims for sexual harassment, retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. View "Hansen v. Skywest Airlines" on Justia Law

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Danijela and Aleksandar Mojsilovic appealed the dismissal of their damages claim under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). The Mojsilovics are Serbian scientists recruited and hired by the University of Oklahoma to serve as research assistants at the University’s Health Sciences Center. In that capacity, Aleksandar was hired to conduct DNA sequencing and tissue typing for research and clinical studies; Danijela was hired to make transfectants and tissue cultures. The Mojsilovics were retained by the University through the H-1B visa program, and they were supervised by Dr. William Hildebrand, the director of the medical research laboratory at the Health Sciences Center. Dr. Hildebrand also owned a biotechnology company called Pure Protein, which, through a contractual arrangement, shares the University’s facilities to perform similar work. According to the Mojsilovics, shortly after they were hired, Dr. Hildebrand demanded that they also work for Pure Protein. He allegedly required them to work longer hours than permitted by their visa applications, without pay, and threatened to have their visas revoked if they objected. Dr. Hildebrand became verbally abusive at times, and because he was authorized to make hiring and firing decisions, the Mojsilovics claimed they feared he would take action against their immigration status if they did not comply with his demands. The Mojsilovics eventually filed suit, naming the University, Dr. Hildebrand, and Pure Protein as defendants. With respect to claims against the University, the district court dismissed the Mojsilovic’s claims as barred by sovereign immunity. Finding no error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Mojsilovic v. Board of Regents University of Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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Petitioner John Acha worked as a Purchasing Agent for the Forest Service at the White River National Forest in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. In January 2012, a few months into his job, Petitioner submitted a report to his direct supervisor that documented an apartment rental he had helped secure on behalf of the Forest Service. In this report, Petitioner believed another employee violated the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) when he made an unauthorized deposit. Petitioner’s supervisor, however, did not act on Petitioner’s concerns; in fact, his supervisor instructed him to delete the report’s reference to the deposit. Petitioner followed the instructions and deleted the reference. Several months later in April, Petitioner sent an email to the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General in which he again mentioned that the Forest Service employee had violated regulations. Petitioner also indicated in his email that he had previously told his supervisor about this violation; that, in response, his supervisor had instructed him to cover up the violation; and that he was punished afterward and treated poorly for following this instruction. Petitioner was eventually terminated during his probationary period from his position with the Forest Service. He filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), alleging that he was terminated because he was a whistleblower. The OSC eventually closed its inquiry into Petitioner’s complaint and refused to seek any corrective action on his behalf from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The OSC determined that no official involved in Petitioner’s termination knew of his email to the Inspector General and, as such, his email could not have contributed to his termination. Petitioner appealed the OSC’s determination and sought corrective action from the MSPB himself. This time, he also argued that he was fired for disclosing the FAR violation to his direct supervisor earlier in the year. The Department objected to Petitioner’s new allegation that he was terminated for making a whistleblowing disclosure: arguing that because Petitioner had not raised this argument before the OSC, he had not exhausted all of his administrative remedies, and therefore the MSPB lacked jurisdiction to consider whether Petitioner was terminated for the alleged whistleblowing. Before the Tenth Circuit, Petitioner did not challenge the MSPB’s ruling regarding his disclosure to the Inspector General; he appealed only the MSPB’s ruling regarding his disclosure to his supervisor. Petitioner argued that the MSPB erred by making him prove a retaliatory motive as a prerequisite before it would consider his disclosure to his supervisor to be protected. The Tenth Circuit concluded the MSPB lacked jurisdiction to consider whether Petitioner was terminated for disclosing the FAR violation to his supervisor. The Court vacated the MSPB’s decision insofar as it concluded that Petitioner’s disclosure was not a protected disclosure and remanded this case back to the MSPB to dismiss that issue for lack of jurisdiction. The MSPB’s decision regarding disclosure to the Inspector General was affirmed. View "Acha v. Dept. of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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CGG Land (U.S.) Inc.’s employees (Employees) brought this collective action alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employees were former hourly employees of CGG. CGG provided seismic-mapping services at remote locations throughout the United States. To reach the remote locations, CGG required employees to travel away from home and stay in hotels near remote job sites for four-to-eight-week intervals. Employees then returned home for about two-to-four week intervals before traveling again. Employees often worked more than forty hours per week while on location, and CGG paid them overtime based on Employees’ regular rates of pay. When CGG’s employees worked away from home, CGG provided them a $35 per diem for meals, including on days spent traveling to and from the remote locations. In determining Employees’ regular rates of pay, CGG didn’t include the daily $35 payments. Contesting this calculation method, Employees filed a collective action against CGG asserting that CGG violated the FLSA by calculating their overtime pay on undervalued regular rates of pay. After stipulating to material facts in the district court, the Parties each sought summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment for CGG, agreeing with CGG that the $35 payments were exempt from the regular rates of pay under 29 U.S.C. 207(e)(2). On appeal, Employees argued that the district court erred in treating the $35 payments as exempt travel expenses under section 207(e)(2). Finding no reversible error in that determination, the Tenth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of CGG. View "Sharp v. CGG Land (U.S.), Inc." on Justia Law

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Phillips 66 Company appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and order compelling arbitration in its dispute with the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union and its Local 13-857. The Union filed two grievances on behalf of employees of the Company and sought arbitration pursuant to the grievance procedure in the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). The Company refused to arbitrate. The Union sued and the district court issued an order compelling arbitration. The Company argued on appeal that the grievances were not arbitrable under the CBA. Finding no reversible error in the district court's order, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United Steel, Paper & Forestry, Rubber Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial & Svc. Workers Int'l Union v. Phillips 66 Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioner American Federation of Government Employees Local 1592 (Union) appealed a Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) decision made in favor of the Department of the Air Force, Ogden Air Logistics Center, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The FLRA rejected the Union’s claim that Hill committed an unfair labor practice when it denied the request of its then-employee Joseph Ptacek Jr. to have a union representative present during questioning by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) about his misuse of a work computer. The claim rested on a provision of 5 U.S.C. sec. 7101 et seq., that provided federal employees who belonged to a union with the right to the presence of a union representative when questioned about matters that could lead to discipline. The FLRA relied on President Carter’s Executive Order 12,171, which exempted AFOSI from coverage under the Labor-Management Statute. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded section 7103(b)(1) and Executive Order 12,171 extinguished any right to have a union representative present during a proper AFOSI interrogation, and as such, denied the Union’s petition. View "American Fed. of Gov. Employee v. FLRA" on Justia Law