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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Plaintiff was employed by Employer, an operator of a casino resort, from January 7, 2015, until she gave two weeks’ notice on June 28, 2019. Upon the termination of her employment, Plaintiff claimed she was subject to pregnancy and sex discrimination, harassment, and constructive discharge in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act based on the adequacy of her lactation breaks and harassment she experienced from co-workers.The district court granted summary judgment to Employer, holding that Plaintiff did not present sufficient evidence to support a prima facie case of disparate treatment, harassment, or constructive discharge. The court further noted that, even if Plaintiff could support a prima facie case of disparate treatment related to the provided lactation breaks, her claim would still fail because Employer articulated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for not giving her breaks at the exact times requested.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding, 1.) Plaintiff's allegations did not support a finding that her co-workers' conduct was objectively severe, 2.) Plaintiff's subjective disparagement of Employer's policies was insufficient to support her constructive discharge claim, and, 3.) Plaintiff's FLSA claims were untimely because they were first raised in response to Employer's motion for summary judgment. View "Bye v. MGM Resorts" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was a local delivery driver for Cintas Corporation. That means he picked up items from a Houston warehouse (items shipped from out of state) and delivered them to local customers. Lopez does not want to arbitrate his claims against Cintas. He says that he is exempt from doing so because he belongs to a “class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce” under Section 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act.   The Fifth Circuit partially affirmed the district court’s ruling finding that Plaintiff is not a “transportation worker” under Section 1 of the FAA. However, because Plaintiff's unconscionability challenge to his employment agreement must be decided in arbitration, the court vacated and remanded for that claim to be dismissed without prejudice to be considered in arbitration in the first instance.   The court explained that unlike either seamen or railroad employees, the local delivery drivers here have a more customer-facing role, which further underscores that this class does not fall within Section 1’s ambit. As a result, the transportation-worker exemption does not apply to this class of local delivery drivers. Further, because unconscionability under Texas law is a challenge to the validity, not the existence, of a contract, that challenge must be resolved by an arbitrator. Thus, the court held that the district court erred in resolving the merits of Plaintiff’s unconscionability claim. View "Lopez v. Cintas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was fired from his position as the Chief of Investigation of the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman (Parchman) about three months after he testified at a probable cause hearing on behalf of one of his investigators. Rogers sued the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), then-MDOC Commissioner, and MDOC’s Corrections Investigations Division Director, under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, alleging a First Amendment retaliation claim. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants based on sovereign and qualified immunity. The Fifth Circuit affirmed.   The court explained that to defeat qualified immunity, Plaintiff must show that the defendants violated a right that was not just arguable, but “beyond debate.” And he fails to “point to controlling authority—or a robust consensus of persuasive authority that either answers the question Lane left open regarding sworn testimony given by a public employee within his ordinary job duties, or clearly establishes that Plaintiff’s testimony was outside his ordinary job duties as a law enforcement officer (or was otherwise protected speech). Nor does Plainitff point to record evidence demonstrating that his testimony was undisputedly outside the scope of his ordinary job responsibilities, as was his burden to do. View "Rogers v. Hall" on Justia Law

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This ERISA case presented the Fifth Circuit with three questions:1.) Whether the Department of Labor’s self-labeled “advisory opinion” is reviewable “final agency action” under the Administrative Procedure Act;2.) Whether the Department’s action is arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise contrary to law; and3.) Whether the district court issued the appropriate relief.Answering the first two questions in the affirmative, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s vacatur of the agency action but vacated and remanded the district court’s injunction for further consideration in light of this opinion. View "Data Marketing Partnership v. LABR" on Justia Law

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Cable technicians working for HD and Associates (HDA) alleged that they did not receive overtime pay, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Granting summary judgment to HDA, the district court ruled that the technicians and HDA were not covered by the FLSA and that even if they were covered, the technicians qualified for the bona fide commission exemption and thus were exempt from the overtime provisions. The technicians appealed.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The court held that HDA technicians are paid a bona fide commission and are exempt from FLSA overtime compensation requirements. The court explained that at issue is only whether HDA pays technicians a commission. Whether a payment is a commission for the purposes of this exception is a question of law that relies on how a payment works in practice, rather than what it is called.   Here, the commission paid is a percentage of the ultimate price passed onto Cox customers and the amount earned is tied to customer demand. Given the nature of cable repairs, the work does not lend itself to a standard workday and this payment system does not offend the purposes of the FLSA. The determining factor is thus whether the amount of income earned is decoupled from the time worked. Here, because compensation goes up or down by the number of work orders completed, not the number of hours worked, HDA technicians are paid a bona fide commission and are exempt from FLSA overtime requirements. View "Taylor v. HD and Associates" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff claimed her employment was terminated in retaliation for complaining she was going to be paid late. She filed a complaint against a department head within the Texas A&M Engineering Station in his individual capacity (“DH”), alleging he violated the anti-retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”)  DH moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s retaliation claim because the suit was barred by sovereign immunity, and in the alternative, that he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court determined that neither immunity applied.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the rejection of sovereign immunity as a defense, affirmed the denial of the defense of sovereign immunity and vacated the judgment denying the defense of qualified immunity. The court held that holding public officials individually liable for retaliation under the FLSA also is consistent with the court’s prior holdings regarding individual liability in other FLSA contexts. However, the court wrote it discovered no Fifth Circuit opinion that holds qualified immunity is a defense under the FLSA. The court concluded that Plaintiff’s claim would be barred by qualified immunity because she does not allege that DH violated a clearly established law. However, the antecedent question is whether qualified immunity applies to the FLSA to begin with. The court, therefore, remanded for the district court to decide this question in the first instance. View "Stramaski v. Lawley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are nine female detention service officers working at the Dallas County Jail who are employed by Defendant-Appellee Dallas County Sheriff’s Department. Dallas County (“the County”). A gender-based scheduling policy went into effect and only male officers were given full weekends off whereas female officers were allowed two weekdays off or one weekday and one weekend day off. Plaintiffs alleged that they were told that it would be safer for the male officers to be off during the weekends as opposed to during the week.   Plaintiffs filed suit against the County for violations of Title VII and the Texas Employment Discrimination Act (the “TEDA”). On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that the district court erred by considering whether the County’s scheduling policy constituted an adverse employment action rather than applying the statutory text of Title VII and the TEDA. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s motion to dismiss The court held that Plaintiffs’ did not plead an adverse employment action, as required under the Fifth Circuit’s Title VII precedent. The court explained that the conduct complained of here fits squarely within the ambit of Title VII’s proscribed conduct: discrimination with respect to the terms, conditions, or privileges of one’s employment because of one’s sex. Given the generally accepted meaning of those terms, the County would appear to have violated Title VII. However, the court explained it is bound by the circuit’s precedent, which requires a Title VII plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that she “suffered some adverse employment action by the employer.” View "Hamilton v. Dallas County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was an engineer for the City of Pharr, Texas. When his supervisors asked him to sign a document he did not believe was true, Plaintiff refused. Ultimately, he was terminated and filed this case against the city and two of Plaintiff's supervisors.Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court held a hearing and denied Defendant's motion. Two days later, the court entered a minute order; however, no written order was attached. Exactly 412 days later, Defendant appealed the denial of his motion for summary judgment, claiming that the court's oral ruling was not appealable and that he is technically appealing the court's refusal to rile on his motion.The Fifth Circuit rejected Defendant's reasoning. A bench ruling can be effective without a written order and triggers appeal deadlines if it is final. Here, the court's order was final. While the district court's ruling did not comply with Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 58, an alternate interpretation would give Defendant infinite time to appeal. View "Ueckert v. Guerra" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former FBI special agent, asked a federal district court to order the FBI to issue him a top-secret clearance and reinstate his employment. He also sought damages against FBI officials for revoking his clearance and suspending him, for preventing him from taking other employment while suspended, and for delaying the release of letters that Plaintiff says contain his protected speech. The district court dismissed those claims. It concluded that Plaintiff has no cause of action against the officers in their individual capacities. And it reasoned that its subject matter jurisdiction does not include the power to order the FBI to reinstate his security clearance.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff’s claims must be dismissed. His claims seeking to reverse his suspension and termination fall outside the district court’s subject-matter jurisdiction. And he has no cause of action to bring the remaining individual capacity claims. The court explained that the Supreme Court has twice rejected federal employees’ attempts to sidestep the Civil Service Reform Act (“CSRA’s”) remedial scheme. The court found that just as the CSRA precludes extra-statutory review of “adverse actions” defined by Section 7712, it precludes extra-statutory review of ancillary constitutional claims brought as a “vehicle by which [plaintiffs] seek to reverse” those adverse actions. View "Zummer v. Sallet" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a class action complaint against their former employer, US Well Services, Inc. (“US Well”) for allegedly violating the WARN Act by terminating them without advance notice. The WARN Act requires covered employers to give affected employees sixty days’ notice before a plant closing or mass layoff. 29 U.S.C. Section 2102(a). The Act provides three exceptions to the notice requirement—including the natural-disaster exception, under which no notice is required.   The parties cross-moved for summary judgment. US Well argued that COVID-19 was a natural disaster under the WARN Act, and consequently, that it was exempt from the WARN Act’s notice requirement pursuant to the natural-disaster exception. Plaintiffs countered that COVID-19 was not a natural disaster and was not a direct cause of their layoffs.   Plaintiffs filed an interlocutory appeal seeking reversal of the district court’s order denying their motions for summary judgment and reconsideration. In its order denying Plaintiffs’ motions, the district court certified two questions for interlocutory appeal: (1) Does COVID-19 qualify as a natural disaster under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act’s (“WARN Act” or “the Act”) natural-disaster exception, 29 U.S.C. Section 2102(b)(2)(B)?; (2) Does the WARN Act’s natural-disaster exception, 29 U.S.C. Section 2102(b)(2)(B), incorporate but-for or proximate causation?   The Fifth Circuit held that the COVID-19 pandemic is not a natural disaster under the WARN Act and that the natural-disaster exception incorporates proximate causation. The court explained that based on the DOL regulation’s “direct result” requirement and binding precedent equating direct cause with proximate cause, the court held that the WARN Act’s natural-disaster exception incorporates proximate causation. View "Easom v. US Well Services" on Justia Law