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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Under 29 C.F.R. 541.601, a highly compensated employee must be paid on a "salary basis" in order to avoid overtime. Under section 541.604(b), an employee whose pay is "computed on a daily basis" must meet certain conditions in order to satisfy the salary-basis test. A daily-rate worker can be exempt from overtime—but only "if" two conditions are met: the minimum weekly guarantee condition and the reasonable relationship condition.In this case, Helix claims that plaintiff is exempt from overtime as a highly compensated executive employee under section 541.601. The parties agree that Hewitt meets both the duties requirements and income thresholds of both exemptions. However, Hewitt admits that plaintiff's pay is computed on a daily basis, rather than on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis.The court concluded that Helix does not comply with either prong of section 541.604(b) where it pays plaintiff a daily rate without offering a minimum weekly required amount paid and Helix does not comply with the reasonable-relationship test. The court also concluded that there is no principled basis for applying or ignoring section 541.604(b) based on how much the employee is paid; the salary-basis test does not conflict with precedent; and the court rejected Helix's contention that extending overtime to highly-paid employees like plaintiff defies the purpose of the Fair Labor Standards Act. View "Hewitt v. Helix Energy Solutions Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer, WTW, alleging civil conspiracy under Texas law, a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), disability discrimination under the ADA, racial discrimination, and wrongful termination.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of WTW's motion for summary judgment. The court concluded that, while plaintiff did exhaust her disability discrimination and failure-to-accommodate claims, she failed to exhaust her claims of race discrimination and a hostile work environment. The court also concluded that plaintiff has not raised a genuine issue of material fact as to her failure-to-accommodate and disability discrimination claims, and WTW is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The court further concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's motion to alter or amend the judgment and plaintiff has not shown that the district court abused its discretion in taxing costs against her. View "Jennings v. Towers Watson" on Justia Law

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Hester, employed by Bell-Textron since 1997, suffers from epilepsy and glaucoma. Hester also assists his wife, who has stage-four cancer. In 2017, Hester began reporting to Cribb, who was aware of Hester’s medical history. In 2018, Cribb issued Hester's first poor performance review. Months later, Cribb issued Hester a final warning related to a part that broke during testing. Hester protested and was escorted off-premises. Cribb told him to apply for an employee assistance program. Hester was granted short-term disability coverage and leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) based on his epilepsy and glaucoma. A human resources employee fired Hester by telephone weeks later, citing Hester’s “poor mid-year performance review.” Hester was informed that he still had several weeks of FMLA leave remaining. Hester then filed suit, alleging discriminatory termination during the pendency of his FMLA leave and interference with his right of reinstatement at the end of his FMLA leave.The Fifth Circuit reversed the dismissal of his complaint. The alleged timeline of events indicates that BellTextron’s termination decision was not “completely unrelated” to the exercise of his FMLA rights. The allegation that Bell-Textron directed Hester to an employee assistance program and guided him through the FMLA application process—rather than simply firing him outright on the basis of poor workplace performance—indicates that Hester’s right to restored employment was still intact when he secured FMLA leave. View "Hester v. Bell-Textron, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this insurance coverage dispute, at issue is who counts as an "employee" under the Texas Anti-Indemnity Act (TAIA). The Fifth Circuit certified the following question to Supreme Court of Texas: Whether the employee exception to the TAIA, Texas Insurance Code 151.103, allows additional insured coverage when an injured worker brings a personal injury claim against the additional insured (indemnitee), and the worker and the indemnitee are deemed "co-employees" of the indemnitor for purposes of the TWCA. View "Maxim Crane Works, LP v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer on his state-law disability-discrimination and retaliation claims, as well as his claims for retaliation and interference under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Plaintiff's claim stemmed from his termination after taking time off of work for open-heart surgery.The court concluded that the district court properly granted summary judgment on plaintiff's disability discrimination claim under Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code where there simply is no medical evidence in the record except for plaintiff's own statements that he was qualified to return to work at any point, let alone before his FMLA leave expired; plaintiff failed to establish that he was qualified for either of two positions at work; and there was no other request for accommodations outside of the ability to attend dialysis treatments nor any reasonable explanation to account for the contradictory statements about plaintiff's physical capabilities made in the application for social security benefits. The court also concluded that plaintiff failed to support that he engaged in any protected activity under state law that led to retaliation by his employer.In regard to plaintiff's FMLA claims, the court concluded that the district court correctly determined that plaintiff did not show the prejudice necessary to prevail on an FMLA interference claim. However, in regard to plaintiff's FMLA retaliation claim, the adverse employment action occurred approximately one month after plaintiff's FMLA leave expired. The court concluded that a month is close enough in time to create a causal connection. Therefore, the burden shifts to the employer to offer legitimate, nonretaliatory reasons for the adverse reaction. Although the employer offered three reasons, the court concluded that they have been adequately rebutted for purposes of summary judgment. Accordingly, the court affirmed on all claims except for the FMLA retaliation claim, which it reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Campos v. Steves & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law

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During Castilleja's 15 years as Bexar County Community Supervision and Corrections Department (CSCD) community service officer, he had multiple reprimands and termination warnings. After Castilleja was transferred in 2014, his new manager suspected Castilleja was violating overtime rules. An investigation by Assistant Chief Kelly confirmed Castilleja was routinely taking unapproved overtime and using his work computer to send union-related emails. Castilleja only received counseling and was put on a “performance improvement plan.” Castilleja’s 2015 evaluation rated him “satisfactory” overall but gave him the lowest rating in multiple categories. In 2016, Castilleja was sworn in as president of the Bexar County Probation Officers Association (BCPOA), having served in the union since 2007. Castilleja switched units and other issues came to light, resulting in an audit of Castilleja’s former cases. Brady recommended termination, citing Castilleja’s disregard of “the basic ten[e]ts of case management,” multiple policy violations, plus two instances of conducting union business while at work, and one use of work email to send union-related emails. Meanwhile, the BCPOA issued a no-confidence petition calling for Anderson’s removal. Days later, Anderson heard Castilleja’s appeal. Anderson fired Castilleja.Castilleja and the Union sued Anderson and Brady in their individual and official capacities, claiming that Castilleja was fired in retaliation for union-related speech and association in violation of the First Amendment, 42 U.S.C. 1983, 1985. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of all claims. The evidence established valid reasons for firing Castilleja. View "United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial & Service Workers International Union v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Lindsey, a registered nurse, alleged that, after 17 years of service, her employer, BMA, terminated her because she was compelled to take Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2615(a)(1) leave in response to a series of personal tragedies that included a fire in her home and the hospitalization of her son. BMA claimed she was fired for poor attendance and missed deadlines.The district court granted BMA summary judgment on her FMLA discriminatory retaliation claim. The Fifth Circuit reversed. Lindsey’s employment records suggest BMA offered attendance issues as a post hoc rationalization to justify her firing. BMA was not able to list specific dates or times of her purported absences; summary judgment evidence suggested that the deadlines were hortatory rather than mandatory and that she was never informed that failure to meet these deadlines could result in discipline of any kind, let alone termination. BMA did not follow its own progressive discipline policy, which instructs that “corrective action be escalating.” View "Lindsey v. Bio-Medical Applications of Louisiana, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiff's former employer, a restaurant chain, and to his former manager. The court concluded that, although plaintiff presented a prima facie case that the restaurant discriminated and retaliated against him, he failed to offer persuasive evidence that the restaurant's proffered, permissible reasons for his termination were a pretext for unlawful action. In this case, plaintiff failed to demonstrate that his employer's reasons for firing him—lying and preparing a dish incorrectly—constitute pretextual reasons to cover over racial discrimination and retaliation. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to provide sufficient evidence of bad faith or malice to support his tortious interference claim. View "Jones v. Gulf Coast Restaurant Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2015, PRIDE, a non-profit that employs individuals with disabilities, hired Johnson, an African-American. Johnson endured repeated race-based harassment by his fellow PRIDE employee Palomares. Johnson’s colleague corroborated that Palomares used racially offensive language and generally treated non-Hispanic employees worse than their Hispanic counterparts. Beyond his mistreatment by Palomares, several other workplace incidents occurred that Johnson viewed as harassing. Johnson made multiple complaints regarding Palomares’s harassing behavior and was told, “you’ve just got to be tough and keep going.” Ultimately, Johnson angrily confronted Palomares at PRIDE’s worksite. Johnson was written up and told to “follow instructions and remain respectful.” Johnson interviewed for a supervisory carpentry position. PRIDE selected a Hispanic individual for the position, who, unlike Johnson, had supervisory experience. Johnson filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. PRIDE’s Human Resources Director, acknowledged that Johnson reported that Palomares had been harassing him but PRIDE ultimately “did not find that any harassment.” Later that month, PRIDE called Johnson to discuss problems with his attendance. Johnson said coming into work was “too stressful,” declared that he was resigning, and walked out.The district court dismissed Johnson’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1981 alleging discrimination based on race and retaliation when he complained about the discrimination. The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part. Summary judgment for the employer was proper as to most of Johnson’s claims, but the court erred in its ruling on Johnson’s hostile work environment claim. View "Johnson v. PRIDE Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment against plaintiff in her employment discrimination action. Plaintiff filed suit against DHS, alleging claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and 42 U.S.C. 1983. DHS filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). After plaintiff did not file a response, the district court granted DHS's motion.The court concluded that plaintiff's arguments unrelated to the grounds on which her claims were dismissed are waived. The court also concluded that plaintiff cannot proceed with a Rehabilitation Act claim as it is precluded by the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA); the district court properly determined that plaintiff's section 1983 claim is preempted by Title VII; and, because plaintiff failed to name the Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security as a defendant, the district court had no alternative but to dismiss the case for lack of a proper party defendant. View "Kaswatuka v. Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law