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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in an action alleging that his former employer, BASF, discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The court held that plaintiff's ADA claim was properly dismissed, because plaintiff failed to offer any evidence of a causal connection between his discharge and his alcoholism. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to show that BASF's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for discharging him, the apparent positive results of his alcohol test and violation of company policy, was pretextual. Even if the court were to consider plaintiff's failure-to-accommodate argument, it would fail because the ADA does not provide a right to an employee's preferred accommodation but only to a reasonable accommodation. The court also held that plaintiff produced no evidence to support his ADEA claim and there was no abuse of discretion in the district court's decision not to mandate the requested production of his discovery request. The court rejected plaintiff's remaining procedural and evidentiary challenges. View "Kitchen v. BASF" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the school district and its superintendent, alleging free speech and retaliation claims in violation of their First Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983; Article 1, Section 8 of the Texas Constitution; and the Texas Whistleblower Act. Plaintiffs, the former principal and assistant principal of an elementary school, served on a 504 committee which convened for the purpose of implementing regulations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Plaintiffs were terminated after an investigation determined that they intentionally authorized inappropriate student testing accommodations based on a misapplication of Section 504 eligibility requirements. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that the superintendent was entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clearly established at the time whether First Amendment liability can attach to a public official who did not make the final employment decision. The court also held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on plaintiff's First Amendment claims, because plaintiffs' calls to TEA regarding Section 504 construction and application at the elementary school were clearly activities undertaken in the course of performing their jobs and these actions were therefore not protected by the First Amendment. Finally, the court held that plaintiffs were not entitled to recover lost wages because they failed to exercise reasonable diligence to mitigate their damages; the district court did not err in denying plaintiffs' motion for rescission or modification; the district court did not err in instructing the jury that the IHE's findings were preclusive; and the district court did not err in relying on the jury's verdict that plaintiffs did not report a violation of law in good faith. View "Powers v. Northside Independent School District" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion. This case arose when plaintiff, a former practicing attorney, filed suit under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), seeking to recover unpaid overtime wages. The district court held that genuine issues of material fact remained regarding plaintiff's independent contractor status. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiff's former employer on a different basis. The court held that the FLSA did not apply to plaintiff, because the undisputed facts weigh in favor of plaintiff being an independent contractor. However, because the district court did not state its reasons for declining to award costs to the prevailing party, the court vacated the award of costs and remanded the issue to the district court. View "Faludi v. U.S. Shale Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of Champion's motion for summary judgment on workplace-discrimination claims brought by plaintiff, an employee, who alleged that he was fired because of a diabetes-related condition. Champion claimed that plaintiff was sleeping at his desk during work hours, an immediately terminable offense. The court held that the district court did not err in finding no direct evidence of discrimination on the basis of disability. The court also agreed with the district court that the evidence suggested that plaintiff could not perform the essential functions of the job with or without an accommodation. The court also held that plaintiff's disability-based claim failed because any harassment plaintiff alleged was not severe or pervasive and did not create an abusive working environment. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to show that the harassment was based on his disability. The court held that the district court did not err in finding no failure to accommodate plaintiff's disability and no failure to engage in an interactive process. Even if plaintiff was a qualified individual, his failure-to-accommodate claim failed because he failed to carry his burden to show that he requested reasonable accommodations. The court further held that plaintiff failed to show a prima facie case of retaliation. Finally, the district court did not err by denying plaintiff's claims for damages. View "Clark v. Champion National Security, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against their former employer, Petroplex, alleging claims for overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Plaintiffs were former pipe welders for Petroplex and they claimed that they worked more than forty hours per week for the company without overtime pay. At issue on appeal was whether plaintiffs were considered employees or independent contractors. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of plaintiffs, holding that plaintiffs were employees instead of independent contractors. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by determining that the control, investment, opportunity for profit and loss, and permanency Silk factors all weighed in favor of employee status. View "Hobbs v. Petroplex Pipe and Construction, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, six Travis County Sheriff's Office detectives, filed suit alleging that they were entitled to overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The county argued that plaintiffs were exempt as both executive and highly-compensated employees. The district court granted judgment for plaintiffs. Then the district court later ruled as a matter of law that plaintiffs were paid a salary, vacated the jury's finding on the first requirement of the exemptions, and granted plaintiffs' request for a new trial. Plaintiffs sought reconsideration, contending that they had conditionally asked for a new trial on the management issue, an element of the executive exemption and first-responder exception, not on the office-work issue, which is part of the highly-compensated-employee exemption. Plaintiffs then moved for reentry of judgment in their favor. Because plaintiffs did not want a new trial, the district court entered a final judgment. Rejecting the parties' jurisdictional challenges, the Fifth Circuit affirmed and held that it had appellate jurisdiction. The court also held that plaintiffs' failure to challenge the timeliness of the Rule 50(b) motion in the district court means that they have forfeited that objection, and the district court had jurisdiction to decide the motion for judgment as a matter of law. The court explained that a new trial was needed to answer the additional questions about whether plaintiffs were exempt and, by prevailing on a Rule 50(b) motion, the county did not somehow lose its right to assert its defenses. On the merits, the court held that the district court properly held as a matter of law that the county paid plaintiffs on a salary basis. Although the ruling did not fully resolve whether plaintiffs were entitled to overtime pay, the court stated that years of litigation never answered that ultimate question. View "Escribano v. Travis County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the fire chief and the city after he was terminated from his position as a driver/pump operator at the fire department because he objected to having TDAP vaccinations based on religious grounds. Plaintiff was given a choice between two accommodations: transfer to a code enforcement job that did not require a vaccination, or wear a respirator mask during his shifts, keep a log of his temperature, and submit to additional medical testing. When plaintiff did not accept either accommodation, he was fired by the fire chief for insubordination. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants on all of plaintiff's claims. In regard to plaintiff's claim of retaliation in violation of Title VII and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA), the court held that the city provided a reasonable accommodation by offering to transfer plaintiff to the code enforcement position in the department. In regard to plaintiff's Title VII and TCHRA retaliation claims, the court held that the city had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for plaintiff's termination: plaintiff's defiance of a direct order by failing to select an accommodation to the TDAP vaccine policy. In regard to plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims that defendants violated his First Amendment Free Exercise rights, the court held that plaintiff's right to freely exercise his religious beliefs was not burdened by the respirator requirement. View "Horvath v. City of Leander" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial court's judgment in an action brought by former Shipcom employees, alleging overtime claims under the Federal Labor Standards Act. After plaintiffs were awarded both actual and liquidated damages for unpaid overtime, Shipcom appealed. The court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Shipcom's motion to open and close. In this case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by deciding that the jury should hear the beginning of the story first, even though the legal effect of the beginning was not in dispute. The court affirmed the district court's admission of evidence related to the internal audit and reclassification. Furthermore, even if the district court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of the internal audit and reclassification, Shipcom has failed to demonstrate that the admission of this evidence affected its substantial rights. View "Novick v. Shipcom Wireless, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review of the Board's decision affirming the ALJ's conclusion that plaintiff did not suffer more severe shoulder and back injuries for the purpose of receiving benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). The court held that the ALJ did not err in concluding that defendants' medical expert was more credible than plaintiff's treating physician, thus rebutting the presumption of a causal nexus. The court also held that the Board did not err in refusing to consider plaintiff's new argument, presented for the first time in his motion for reconsideration, that the 2017 shoulder surgery was intended to address an AC joint sprain. Finally, the court held that the ALJ's finding that plaintiff did not suffer from lumbar facet arthrosis was supported by substantial evidence. View "Bourgeois v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from plaintiff's action alleging that NASA discriminated against her. The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiff pleaded her way out of federal court by attempting to litigate her claims in several mutually exclusive forums. In this case, plaintiff pleaded her way out of the Federal Circuit by attempting to bifurcate her discrimination and non-discrimination claims. Plaintiff first chose to pursue her mixed case before the MSPB rather than filed an EEO complaint with NASA ODEO. After the MSPB rejected her mixed case, she could have sought review in federal district court, but could not go back and choose to file an EEO complaint. The court explained that plaintiff could have then dropped her mixed case and pursued only the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) claim before the Federal Circuit; pursued the mixed case in federal district court; or pursued the mixed case in the EEOC. Although federal law allowed plaintiff to choose one of these options, she tried to choose all three. Consequently, the court held that plaintiff deprived any court of subject-matter jurisdiction over her appeal from the MSPB; she pleaded her way out of the Federal Circuit; and she missed the deadline to file in district court View "Punch v. Bridenstine" on Justia Law