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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Sanchez oil was sued by a subcontractor of a contractor for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). After unsuccessfully requesting indemnification from Crescent, which hired the subcontractor, Sanchez filed a third-party complaint alleging breach of contract for Crescent's failure to indemnify Sanchez and failure to comply with the FLSA.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of Sanchez's motion for summary judgment and grant of Crescent's motion, finding material fact issues as to whether the subcontractor was an "independent contractor" or otherwise was exempt from the FLSA. The court also found material fact issues regarding whether Crescent unreasonably withheld consent to the settlement. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Sanchez Oil & Gas Corp. v. Crescent Drilling & Productions, Inc." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff, who was employed by Hulcher Services, lost several fingers at work in an accident at the railyard, he filed suit against Norfolk, the railyard owner, under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA).The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Norfolk, concluding that plaintiff failed to show that he was an employee of Norfolk and thus he could not recover under FELA. The court explained that plaintiff failed to show that Norfolk controlled the performance of his work or retained the right to do so. View "Wheeler v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in an overtime-wage dispute brought by field engineers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA). The court concluded that, because administrative duties are EVO's only basis for claiming the highly-compensated employee (HCE) exemption, the failure to show either type of administrative responsibility means EVO has also failed to show that plaintiffs are covered by the HCE exemption. For similar reasons, the court concluded that EVO cannot prevail on its more ambitious theory that each plaintiff is exempt as an administrative employee under 29 C.F.R. 541.200.Furthermore, because precedent allows the district court to rely on a record-based estimate, and because EVO did not raise other possible ways plaintiffs might have used to make their estimates more accurate, the court saw no basis for reversing the damages award. Finally, the district court was correct that plaintiffs' argument that their bonuses were hours-based was not supported by the evidence, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney's fees. View "Hobbs v. EVO, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Microsoft on plaintiff's claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for failure to accommodate, discrimination, and creation of a hostile work environment. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from his efforts to obtain accommodations for his Autism Spectrum Disorder while employed as an account technology strategist and an Enterprise Architect (EA) at Microsoft.In regard to plaintiff's claim for failure to accommodate, the court concluded that plaintiff's requests for individuals to assist him with translating verbal information into written materials, recording meeting notes, and performing administrative tasks were unreasonable because they would exempt him from performing essential functions. Consequently, plaintiff is not a qualified person under the ADA. Furthermore, there is no genuine dispute of material fact that plaintiff's performance as an EA at this point was deficient and thus there was no genuine dispute of material fact that he could have performed EA essential functions without all of his requested accommodations. The court also concluded that, even if plaintiff were a qualified person under the ADA, he also fails to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Microsoft failed to negotiate in a good-faith manner. The court explained that, because Microsoft had the "ultimate discretion to choose between effective accommodations," it was justified in placing plaintiff on job reassignment over his objections. In this case, the record demonstrates that plaintiff, not Microsoft, was responsible for the breakdown of the interactive process seeking reasonable accommodation in refusing to indicate interest in any vacant position.In regard to plaintiff's discrimination claim, the court concluded that plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie discrimination claim for the same reason his failure-to-accommodate claim fails—he is not a qualified individual under the ADA. Even if he were qualified, plaintiff was not subject to an adverse employment decision. Finally, in regard to plaintiff's hostile-work-environment claim, the court concluded that none of the evidence plaintiff relies on indicates that he was subject to harassment pervasive or severe enough to alter the conditions of his employment. Furthermore, plaintiff's placement on job reassignment is not evidence of a hostile work environment. View "Thompson v. Microsoft Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, employees of a security company that contracted with the federal government to monitor detainees during air travel, filed suit challenging the company's meal-period policy. The company's policy automatically deducted an hour of pay on return flights that exceeded 90 minutes and had no deportees.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the company in this Fair Labor Standards Act case. The court did not find in the regulations or caselaw analyzing general rules on travel time any bar to providing for a noncompensable meal period on airplane flights. Applying the predominant-benefit test, the court concluded that plaintiffs were the ones who predominantly benefited from the one-hour meal periods. The court explained that the effect of any limitations on plaintiffs' activities imposed during an ostensible meal period must be analyzed in the context of the relevant workplace. These restrictions on plaintiff's activities do not undercut the validity of the meal break. In this case, plaintiffs fail to identify any work-related duties they claim interfered with the bona fide meal periods, and thus each employee can use the time effectively for his or her own purposes. View "Dean v. Akal Security, Inc." on Justia Law

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After Houston Methodist fired plaintiff following a job candidate's allegation that he had sexually harassed him, plaintiff filed suit against Houston Methodist for sex discrimination, retaliation, and race discrimination under Title VII.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the sex discrimination and retaliation claims because plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. In this case, plaintiff failed to establish that he satisfied the EEOC verification requirements for a charge. The court also affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the race discrimination claim where plaintiff failed to show that he was replaced or that a comparator received more favorable treatment. View "Ernst v. Methodist Hospital" on Justia Law

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James Boudreaux was injured during his employment by Owensby & Kritikos, Inc. as an equipment-testing technician on platforms located on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Plaintiff's injury resulted from an automobile accident on his way to his work for Owensby on the OCS. Primarily at issue in this case is whether, in light of Pacific Operators Offshore, LLP v. Valladolid, 565 U.S. 207 (2012) (establishing substantial-nexus test), an onshore injury en route to a rig platform on the OCS is recoverable under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), as extended by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). The ALJ determined that Boudreaux's injury arose out of, and occurred in the course of, his employment by Owensby; and, Boudreaux's injury had a substantial nexus to extractive operations on the OCS. The BRB affirmed.The Fifth Circuit applied the substantial-nexus test in Valladolid, holding that Boudreaux's injury is covered under OCSLA. Among the facts relevant to the court's inquiry, the court found persuasive Boudreaux's: being compensated by Owensby for both time and onshore mileage while traveling to and from the OCS; being on-the-job when he was injured; necessarily traveling to an intermediary pickup location to be transported from onshore to the OCS; and transporting his testing equipment in his vehicle. Furthermore, Owensby had another employee pick up Boudreaux's testing equipment to take it to the OCS after his accident. Therefore, each of these factors support Boudreaux's injury occurring as the result of operations conducted on the OCS. The court denied Owensby's petition for review, dismissed Boudreaux's cross-application based on lack of jurisdiction, and granted Boudreaux's request for reasonable attorney's fees incurred in defending against the petition, pending the court's decision on the amount to be awarded. View "Owensby & Kritikos, Inc. v. Boudreaux" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion.Plaintiff filed suit against T-Mobile and Broadspire, alleging transgender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from his treatment while working as a retail employee at a T-Mobile store. The court concluded that, at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage, its analysis of the Title VII claim is governed by Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002)—and not the evidentiary standard set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under Swierkiewicz, there are two ultimate elements a plaintiff must plead to support a disparate treatment claim under Title VII: (1) an adverse employment action, (2) taken against a plaintiff because of her protected status. The court explained that when a complaint purports to allege a case of circumstantial evidence of discrimination, it may be helpful to refer to McDonnell Douglas to understand whether a plaintiff has sufficiently pleaded an adverse employment action taken "because of" his protected status as required under Swierkiewicz.Applying these principles here, the court concluded that there is no dispute that plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action. However, the court concluded that plaintiff has failed to plead any facts indicating less favorable treatment than others "similarly situated" outside of the asserted protected class. In this case, the Second Amended Complaint does not contain any facts about any comparators at all, and there is no allegation that any non-transgender employee with a similar job and supervisor and who engaged in the same conduct as plaintiff received more favorable treatment. Therefore, the complaint does not plead any facts that would permit a reasonable inference that T-Mobile terminated plaintiff because of gender identity. Furthermore, plaintiff's Americans with Disabilities Act discrimination claim fails for similar reasons, and plaintiff's retaliation claim under Title VII is untimely.The court rejected plaintiff's contention that Bostock v. Clayton County, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020), changed the law and created a lower standard for those alleging discrimination based on gender identity. Rather, the court concluded that Bostock did not constitute an intervening change of law that warrants reconsideration under Rule 59(e). The court explained that Bostock defined sex discrimination to encompass sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, but did not alter the meaning of discrimination itself. Therefore, where an employer discharged a sales employee who happens to be transgender—but who took six months of leave, and then sought further leave for the indefinite future, that is an ordinary business practice rather than discrimination. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying further leave to amend. View "Olivarez v. T-Mobile USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against T-Mobile and Broadspire, alleging transgender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiff's claims stemmed from his treatment while working as a retail employee at a T-Mobile store.The Fifth Circuit held that, under Bostock v. Clayton County, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020), a plaintiff who alleges transgender discrimination is entitled to the same benefits—but also subject to the same burdens—as any other plaintiff who claims sex discrimination under Title VII. In this case, the court concluded that plaintiff does not allege facts sufficient to support an inference of transgender discrimination—that is, that T-Mobile would have behaved differently toward an employee with a different gender identity. The court explained that, where an employer discharged a sales employee who happens to be transgender—but who took six months of leave, and then sought further leave for the indefinite future, that is an ordinary business practice rather than discrimination. Finally, the court concluded that plaintiff's remaining issues on appeal are likewise meritless. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Olivarez v. T-Mobile USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her former boss, the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff, for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and for retaliatory discharge under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The district court granted summary judgment against plaintiff.The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment, concluding that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the sheriff's proffered reason for firing plaintiff -- sleeping on the job -- is pretext for Title VII race discrimination and FMLA retaliation. In regard to plaintiff's Title VII claim, the court explained that plaintiff has produced substantial evidence of pretext based on disparate treatment. In this case, the sheriff treated plaintiff worse than a similarly situated white male who also was caught sleeping on the job. In regard to the FMLA claim, the court explained that the record reflects that "sleeping on the job" is not an infraction that results in termination, the sheriff tolerated "sleeping on the job" by at least one other dispatch supervisor, and the sheriff could not recall any dispatcher that he had ever fired for this reason. Furthermore, when combined with the discredited reason of "sleeping on the job," the near-immediate temporal proximity of the discharge to the protected activity leaves no room to doubt that plaintiff has carried her summary-judgment burden of producing substantial evidence that the sheriff would not have fired her but for her FMLA-protected activity. View "Watkins v. Tregre" on Justia Law