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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Plaintiff is a black woman who worked for Lincare, Incorporated. She sued her former employer under Title VII, claiming that she suffered from a racially hostile work environment and that Lincare both failed to address the situation and retaliated against her when she complained. She also sued for breach of contract. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Lincare. On appeal, Plaintiff contended that summary judgment was improper on her Title VII claims for a hostile work environment and unlawful retaliation.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that even assuming that Plaintiff suffered from severe or pervasive harassment, Lincare cannot be liable under Title VII because it took prompt remedial action. Aside from one remark, Plaintiff could not remember any use of the N-word in the office after she made her reports to HR. Nor does she identify a single racially insensitive comment that occurred after the offending parties received final warnings. In short, Lincare “acted swiftly in taking remedial measures, and the harassment ceased.” Because of its prompt and effective response, Lincare cannot be liable under Title VII for creating a hostile work environment.   Further, the court explained, there is no evidence that Plaintiff’s working conditions were impacted, only that the plan opened up the possibility of further action (which never occurred). An employment decision is not an adverse action if it does not objectively worsen the employee’s working conditions. View "Hudson v. Lincare, Inc." on Justia Law

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At its production plant in Baton Rouge, the Exxon Mobil Corporation requires prospective operators to pass an extensive, multi-pronged training program. If they don’t, they’re fired. Plaintiff didn’t pass his tests, so Exxon let him go. Plaintiff then sued Exxon, insisting he wasn’t fairly trained by staff because he’s black. The district court disagreed and dismissed his suit. On appeal, Plaintiff contends that, first, the district court ignored genuine factual disputes and, second, erroneously ruled that he waived his inadequate training theory.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling for different reasons. The court explained that Plaintiff cannot rely on an inadequate training theory. Exxon provided Plaintiff with a handbook detailing the polypropylene unit’s processes and equipment, and scheduled time each workweek for him to study. Exxon also assigned him a trainer, an operator with twenty years of experience, who went over the handbook in detail with him. Thus, because his training—and more importantly, his opportunities—paralleled his classmates, his program necessarily couldn’t be inadequate. Without proper training, no terminated trainee is qualified for the position he was training for. Plaintiff satisfied his burden to show he was qualified for the position of operator trainee, the position he was fired from. However, Plaintiff cannot genuinely allege Exxon failed to train him, so he cannot satisfy the McDonnell Douglas framework. View "Rahman v. Exxon Mobil" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff worked for a construction company, Performance Contractors (Performance). She sued under Title VII alleging sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. The district court granted summary judgment to the construction company. On appeal Plaintiff argued that when Performance prevented her from working at elevation because she was a woman, it effectively demoted her, which amounts to an adverse employment action. Second, Plaintiff argued that her hostile-work environment claim survives summary judgment because Performance knew (or should have known) about the severe or pervasive harassment, and because Performance is not entitled to the Ellerth/Faragher affirmative defense. Third, she argues that a reasonable jury could find that Performance retaliated against her for opposing conduct that she reasonably believed would violate Title VI.   The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded concluding that Plaintiff raised genuine material fact issues on each claim. The court held that a reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff was suspended and later fired because of her rejection of other employees’ harassment. Further, the court held that Performance was not entitled to summary judgment because reasonable jurors could find that Plaintiff was kept on the ground because she was a woman, and that she otherwise would have been allowed to work at elevation. Moreover, there is a material fact issue about whether Performance effectively implemented its anti-harassment policy. View "Wallace v. Performance Contractors" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was dismissed from her role as a Cadre On-Call Response Employee (CORE) for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2017. Plaintiff claimed that her dismissal resulted from race-based discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Following administrative proceedings in which an administrative law judge rejected her complaint, Plaintiff filed suit in federal district court. Plaintiff appealed the district court’s order granting FEMA summary judgment and denying her motion for additional time to conduct discovery, arguing that the court abused its discretion by declining to grant a continuance under Rule 56(d) as required by Chandler v. Roudebush.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that because Plaintiff failed to diligently pursue her limited discovery needs during the two-month continuance, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying her Rule 56(d) motion. Further, Chandler cannot be construed as demanding further discovery where, as here, the government acquiesces, but the employee fails to diligently pursue it. Plaintiff received a de novo trial and treatment equal to that afforded to a private-sector employee. The district court did not contravene Chandler by denying further discovery and granting the summary judgment motion. View "Dominick v. DHS" on Justia Law

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BP Corporation North America Inc. (“BP America”) a Defendant-Appellee in this action, acquired Standard Oil of Ohio (“Sohio). BP America converted the Sohio Plan into a new plan called the BP America Retirement Plan (the “ARP”). The ARP was also a defined benefit plan that retained the formula used by the Sohio Plan to calculate its members’ pension distributions. BP America converted the ARP into the BP Retirement Accumulation Plan (the “RAP,” the conversion from the ARP to the RAP as the “Conversion,” and the date of the Conversion as the “Conversion Date”), the other Defendant-Appellee in this action. Plaintiffs-Appellees, two Sohio Legacy Employees, (the “Guenther Plaintiffs”) filed a class action complaint against the RAP and BP America.   Four years after the Guenther Plaintiffs filed their original complaint, Movant-Appellant, along with 276 other individuals (the “Press Plaintiffs”) moved to intervene in the Guenther Action “for the purpose of objecting” to the magistrate judge’s recommendation. Press Plaintiffs contend that the certified class in the Guenther Action inadequately represents their interests, and therefore, they have a right to intervene in this case.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling denying the intervention. The court held that the Press Plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that their interests diverge from those of the Guenther Plaintiffs in any meaningful way. Further, the Press Plaintiffs did not identify a unique interest of their own, they are unable to specify how a determination in the Guenther Action could have a future detrimental preclusive effect. The court wrote it is satisfied that the Press Plaintiffs will be adequately represented. View "Guenther v. BP Retr Accumulation" on Justia 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