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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer for retaliation under the False Claims Act. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the employer. Under the totality of the circumstances and in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the court found that she failed to create a genuine dispute as to whether she would have been fired but for the employer's retaliation. The court held that plaintiff failed to establish that the stated reason for her termination -- her position was eliminated as unnecessary -- was pretext for retaliation. View "Musser v. Paul Quinn College" on Justia Law

by
After an employee of Excel was killed when a scaffold he was constructing collapsed into Galveston Bay, OSHA conducted an investigation into the incident and issued Excel a number of safety citations. Excel contested the issuance of the citation charging the company with a serious violation of a regulation which required Excel to ensure the presence of a "lifesaving skiff" at all jobsites where employees were required to work over water. The ALJ upheld the Commission's decision declining to conduct further review, and Excel petitioned for review. The Fifth Circuit denied Excel's petition for review, holding that Excel repeatedly failed to preserve the affirmative defense of infeasibility, and the ALJ did not abuse its discretion by determining that it would have been prejudicial to the Secretary to allow Excel to pursue its infeasibility defense. Even if Excel had not abandoned its infeasibility defense, Excel had not met its burden of proving that it was entitled to the defense on the merits. Finally, the court held that the ALJ's conclusion that the absence of a skiff exposed Excel's employees to a substantial probability of death or serious injury was amply supported by the record. View "Excel Modular Scaffold & Leasing Co. v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission" on Justia Law

by
After a shift foreman was injured and disabled while working on an oil and gas storage facility, he filed a claim with the Department under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. The ALJ found that the foreman fulfilled the Act's requirements, the Board affirmed the ALJ's findings, and IMTT petitioned for review. The Fifth Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that the foreman fulfilled the Act's situs requirement; he was engaged in maritime employment; he had not reached maximum medical improvement; and he adequately sought alternative employment. View "International-Matex Tank Terminals v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs" on Justia Law