Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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After BNSF terminated plaintiff based on violation of company attendance guidelines, plaintiff filed suit alleging that BNSF failed to provide reasonable accommodations for his disability. Plaintiff, who is an epileptic, worked as a train dispatcher for BNSF.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for BNSF, holding plaintiff failed to show that he was a "qualified individual" for either of his failure-to-accommodate claims. In this case, plaintiff failed to show that he could perform the essential functions of his job in spite of his disability or that a reasonable accommodation of his disability would have enabled him to perform the essential functions of the job. View "Weber v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff prevailed on her procedural due process and breach of contract claims against TSC, the trial court vacated the jury's verdict on the breach of contract claims and reduced the damages award on her procedural due process claim to $1.The Fifth Circuit held that TSC is entitled to neither sovereign immunity under the United States Constitution nor governmental immunity under state law. In this case, the Texas Legislature abrogated TSC's governmental immunity such that plaintiff could bring state law breach of contract claims against TSC. Therefore, the argument that the Texas Legislature attempted to limit federal jurisdiction over these claims is unavailing. The court also held that it was not required to address TSC's alternative arguments and declined to do so. The court reversed the dismissal of plaintiff's breach of contract claims, reinstated the jury's verdict on those claims, and remanded for the district court to consider TSC's alternative arguments regarding whether sufficient evidence supports plaintiff's breach of contract claims. The court affirmed the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law on the due process violation damages and reduction of the jury's award of $12,500,000 to the nominal amount of $1. The court reversed the district court's vacatur of the portion of the attorneys' fees award based on the breach of contract claims and remanded for the district court to address TSC's alternative arguments regarding those claims and to determine whether plaintiff is entitled to attorneys' fees and in what amount. View "Tercero v. Texas Southmost College District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a collective action on behalf of himself and others employed on All Coast's fleet of liftboats, alleging that, although they were hired for various maritime jobs, they spent most of their time doing something completely terrestrial: using cranes attached to the boats to move their customers' equipment on and off the boats, the docks, and the offshore oil rigs. All Coast classified plaintiffs as seamen and did not pay them overtime pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of All Coast. The court held that the district court's conclusion that the employees' work served the liftboats' operation "as a means of transportation" runs contrary to the regulatory language and the court's precedent interpreting it. Rather, the plain meaning of 29 C.F.R. 783.31, and the illustrative examples in sections 783.32 and 783.34, suggest the employees were not engaged in seamen's work when operating the cranes. Furthermore, the court's previous decision in Coffin v. Blessey Marine Servs., Inc., 771 F.3d 276, 279 (5th Cir. 2014), only reinforce that conclusion. In this case, plaintiffs were not doing seamen's work when they were operating the cranes. Finally, it follows that All Coast was not entitled to summary judgment as to the cooks either. View "Adams v. All Coast, LLC" on Justia Law

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In Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Company, if the employer's records are inaccurate or inadequate, a plaintiff need only show by just and reasonable inference that she was an employee, worked the hours, and was not paid. In this unpaid-overtime case, the district court applied Mt. Clemens because Five Star's timesheets left numerous evidentiary gaps which the Department of Labor filled with consistent testimony that Five Star urged employees not to record their pre- and post-shift work hours. The Department then used this testimony to estimate unpaid hours and calculate back wages.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that Five Star's only rebuttal evidence of a summary chart based on the company president's memory failed to negate any raised inferences of unpaid work. Therefore, Five Star fails to show that the district court committed any error concerning its finding of liability or calculation of damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act. View "United States Department of Labor v. Five Star Automatic Fire Protection, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims against the University as barred by sovereign immunity. Plaintiff's action involved employment discrimination and retaliation claims, and he sought compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees. The court held that Texas A&M is an agency of the State of Texas, so a suit against the former is a suit against the latter. Furthermore, neither of the two exceptions to sovereign immunity apply in these circumstances. In this case, Congress did not abrogate the State's sovereign immunity, and the State did not knowingly and plainly waive its sovereign immunity and consent to suit. View "Sullivan v. Texas A&M University System" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) against KLLM over a minimum wage labor dispute. The district court granted plaintiffs' certification request, applying the widely used Lusardi test, a two-step method for certifying a collective.The Fifth Circuit declined to delineate the district court's notice-sending discretion under the Lusardi test, rejecting Lusardi's two-step certification rubric. The court explained that Lusardi has no anchor in the FLSA's text or in Supreme Court precedent interpreting it. The court noted that the word "certification," much less "conditional certification," appears nowhere in the FLSA. Instead, the court embraced interpretive first principles: (1) the FLSA's text, specifically section 216(b), which declares (but does not define) that only those "similarly situated" may proceed as a collective; and (2) the Supreme Court's admonition that while a district court may "facilitat[e] notice to potential plaintiffs" for case-management purposes, it cannot signal approval of the merits or otherwise stir up litigation. The court concluded that these are the only binding commands on district courts. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's grant of conditional certification and remanded for further proceedings. View "Swales v. KLLM Transport Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied a petition for review of the BIA's order finding that the employer violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by firing an employee for engaging in activities protected under the Act.The court held that the Board is entitled to summary enforcement of its order remedying the employer's Section 8(a)(1) violation with respect to the no-solicitation rule. The court also held that the employer waived issues related to the employee's engagement in protected activities and the Board's finding that management had knowledge of the employee's protected conduct. The court concluded that substantial evidence supports the Board's finding of animus, and substantial evidence supports the Board's finding that the employer's purported reasons for firing the employee were pretextual. Therefore, the employer has failed to establish that it would have fired the employee absent his engagement in protected conduct. Finally, the court upheld the Board's order directing the employer to offer the employee full reinstatement and backpay. View "Cordua Restaurants, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Omni, alleging (1) pay discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Texas Labor Code, and the Equal Pay Act; (2) promotional discrimination under Title VII and the Texas Labor Code; and (3) retaliation for filing a charge with the EEOC and for taking leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Title VII, the Texas Labor Code, and the Equal Pay Act. The district court granted summary judgment to Omni.In regard to the pay discrimination claims as it pertains to the three men who previously held the same position as plaintiff yet were paid more, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in concluding that plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case. Rather, plaintiff showed that she held the same position as two other employees did, at the same hotel, just a few years after they did, and that she was paid less than they were. The court also concluded that Omni failed to set forth a non-discriminatory reason for that pay disparity. Therefore, the court reversed in part and remanded. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for plaintiff's Equal Pay Act claim insofar as it relies on other unnamed male food and beverage directors from different Omni hotels, but remanded for a determination of whether plaintiff can establish a prima facie case with respect to those comparators under Title VII and the Texas Labor Code.In regard to the promotional discrimination claims, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Omni because plaintiff withdrew her name from consideration and understood that she would have been given the offer if she reconsidered. In this case, plaintiff was not rejected by Omni. Rather, she rejected the opportunity from Omni. In regard to the retaliation claims, plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation because she could not demonstrate an adverse employment action. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to establish adverse employment action in response to her requesting and taking FMLA leave; plaintiff puts forth no evidence that the deletion of the computer files was in any way motivated by retaliation; and plaintiff's constructive discharge claim failed. View "Lindsley v. TRT Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit to invalidate IAM's opt-out procedures as violative of his First Amendment rights, the Railway Labor Act (RLA), and IAM's Duty of Fair Representation. The district court dismissed the action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).The Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding no constitutional infirmity in the IAM's opt-out procedures under the settled decisions of the Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit. In this case, the court distinguished the three cases plaintiff presented regarding public-sector unions, Knox v. SEIU, Local 1000, 567 U.S. 298 (2012), Harris v. Quinn, 573 U.S. 616 (2014), and Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018), and explained that it is undisputed that applying them to this private-sector dispute would require the court to extend into a new realm. Furthermore, by extension, plaintiff's constitutional avoidance, statutory, and Duty of Fair Representation claims also fail. View "Baisley v. International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and substituted this opinion in its place. The petition for rehearing en banc remains pending.Plaintiff worked as a tool pusher for Helix and was paid a daily rate. Although Helix concedes that it required plaintiff to work over forty hours per week, Helix nevertheless attempts to avoid the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime penalty by characterizing plaintiff as either an executive or highly compensated employee—both of which are exempt from the FLSA overtime requirements. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Helix.The court reversed, holding that an employer can pay a daily rate under 29 C.F.R. 541.604(b) and still satisfy the salary basis test of section 541.602—but only if the employer complies with both the minimum weekly guarantee requirement and the reasonable relationship test. In this case, Helix does not comply with either prong because it pays plaintiff a daily rate without offering a minimum weekly required amount that is paid regardless of the number of hours, days or shifts worked, and Helix does not comply with the reasonable relationship test. The court noted that its reading of the regulations finds support not only from the Sixth and Eighth Circuits, but also in repeated statements by the Labor Department. The court rejected contentions to the contrary and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hewitt v. Helix Energy Solutions Group, Inc." on Justia Law