Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
Texas Education Agency v. United States Department of Education
Plaintiff filed suit against the DOE, alleging that the TEA had discharged her in retaliation for whistleblowing. Congress enacted a broad-based whistleblower protection program as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (NDAA). The NDAA prohibits any recipient of federal dollars from retaliating against whistleblowers who report an abuse of that money.The Fifth Circuit granted the TEA's petition for review, vacated the offending order, and remanded for prompt entry of dismissal. The court agreed with the TEA that the DOE's investigation of plaintiff's complaint and award of damages violated Texas's sovereign immunity. The court explained that whistleblower-retaliation investigations into a state, like any other administrative proceedings brought by private parties, are barred by sovereign immunity. The court joined two other federal courts that have directly addressed the issue and held that the NDAA is not adequately clear for any waiver from sovereign immunity to be effective. Furthermore, the clarity required for a waiver of sovereign immunity to be "knowing" cannot be met by regulations clarifying an ambiguous statute. Rather, the needed clarity must come directly from the statute. View "Texas Education Agency v. United States Department of Education" on Justia Law
Atkins v. CB&I, LLC
Plaintiffs, five former employees of CB&I who worked as laborers on a construction project in Louisiana, quit before the project ended and thus made them ineligible to receive the Project Completion Incentive under the term of that plan. Plaintiffs filed suit in state court seeking the bonus for the period they did work, arguing that making such employees ineligible for bonuses amounts to an illegal wage forfeiture agreement under the Louisiana Wage Payment Act. LA. STAT.ANN. 23:631, 23:632, 23:634. After removal to federal court, the district court concluded that the incentive program was an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plan because it required ongoing discretion and administration in determining whether a qualifying termination took place.The Fifth Circuit concluded that the employee benefit at issue—a bonus for completing the project—is not an employee benefit plan under ERISA. The court explained that the plan involves a single and simple payment; determining eligibility might require the exercise of some discretion, but not much; and the plan lacks the complexity and longevity that result in the type of "ongoing administrative scheme" ERISA covers. Therefore, there is no federal jurisdiction over this action. The court vacated and remanded for the case to be returned to state court. View "Atkins v. CB&I, LLC" on Justia Law
Newbury v. City of Windcrest
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants in an action brought by plaintiff, a former police officer, alleging claims of sex discrimination, retaliation, and constructive discharge under Title VII and Texas law, as well as a 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim and a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. In this case, plaintiff worked as an officer for the Windcrest Police Department but resigned during her first, probationary year.In this same-sex sexual harassment case, the court conducted a two-step inquiry pursuant to E.E.O.C. v. Boh Brothers Constr. Co., 731 F.3d 444, 453 (5th Cir. 2013) (en banc). The court concluded that plaintiff's claim failed at the first prong of the inquiry where the alleged conduct was not sex discrimination. The court explained that plaintiff did not allege that another officer's conduct was motivated by sexual desire nor does plaintiff otherwise contend that the conduct was sexual in nature or a display of explicit sexual animus. As for plaintiff's contention that the other officer treated women worse than men, these allegations are highly speculative. Therefore, the district court properly granted summary judgment on the sex discrimination claim. The court also concluded that plaintiff's constructive discharge, retaliation, and sex discrimination claims also failed. In regard to the section 1983 claim, the court rejected plaintiff's contention that the city violated her privacy by surreptitiously activating her police body camera when she was off duty and filming her inside her apartment. The court explained that plaintiff failed to present any evidence showing that the city has a policy or practice of furtively recording employees off duty, even if she was recorded remotely. View "Newbury v. City of Windcrest" on Justia Law
Perry v. VHS San Antonio Partners, LLC
Plaintiff treated children in the pediatric intensive care unit of a hospital owned by VHS under his professional services agreement with PICCS, which itself operated under a separate coverage agreement with VHS. After PICCS terminated plaintiff, he filed suit alleging claims of race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. 1981. The district court granted summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's claims against VHS.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's partial final judgment, concluding that plaintiff's Title VII claim fails for lack of an employment relationship with VHS under either integrated-enterprise or joint-employment theories. The court also concluded that plaintiff's section 1981 claim fails because he cannot identify an impaired contractual right enforceable against VHS. In this case, plaintiff failed to show any contractual right enforceable against VHS under his physician agreement. View "Perry v. VHS San Antonio Partners, LLC" on Justia Law
Aldridge v. Mississippi Department of Corrections
The Fifth Circuit joined the Fourth Circuit in holding that the Fair Labor Standards Act preempts redundant state law tort claims for unpaid minimum wages and overtime compensation when the state's law does not provide for minimum wages and overtime compensation. In this case, Mississippi does not have state labor laws governing minimum wage or overtime, so it would be impossible for Employees to state a claim for wage and hour violations under state law independent of the FLSA. Furthermore, it would be impossible for Employees to state a claim under the FLSA because sovereign immunity bars suit against the DOC. The court explained that the state law claims based on violations of the FLSA similarly fail because of preemption. Therefore, the court concluded that dismissal with prejudice was appropriate. The court affirmed all dispositions of the district court. View "Aldridge v. Mississippi Department of Corrections" on Justia Law
Wright v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer, Union Pacific, alleging that Union Pacific violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by suspending her, and later terminating her, in retaliation for her 2016 lawsuit against the company and her 2018 internal complaint. Plaintiff also alleged that Union Pacific violated the Railway Labor Act (RLA) and the Texas Labor Code (TLC) by retaliating against her because of her requests for union representation. The district court granted Union Pacific's motion to dismiss.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) dismissal of plaintiff's Title VII claim, concluding that she plausibly alleged a causal link between her 2018 internal EEO complaint and her subsequent suspension and termination. However, the court concluded that the district court properly dismissed the RLA claim for lack of jurisdiction, and that plaintiff's RLA claim is preempted by plaintiff's TLC claim. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's remaining claims. View "Wright v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Binh Hoa Le v. Exeter Finance Corp.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of Exeter and Exeter's parent company, Enzo, in an action brought by plaintiff, a former employee, for breach of contract, fraud, and quantum meruit. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a continuance and plaintiff abandoned his remaining arguments challenging the exclusion of his evidence.The court also concluded that the district court correctly concluded that plaintiff's contract claim, based on the Profits Interest Units Agreement, failed as a matter of law; the district court correctly concluded that, absent evidence of a valid severance agreement, plaintiff's breach of contract claim fails as a matter of law; the district court properly adjudicated plaintiff's fraud claims as a matter of law; and the district court correctly determined that plaintiff's conduct in connection with the transactions before the district court was inequitable, precluding any equitable remedy.The court noted that three-quarters of the record in this case was sealed from the public and that the public's right of access to judicial proceedings is fundamental. The court urged litigants and the court's judicial colleagues to zealously guard the public's right of access to judicial records. View "Binh Hoa Le v. Exeter Finance Corp." on Justia Law
Weber v. BNSF Railway Co.
After BNSF terminated plaintiff based on violation of company attendance guidelines, plaintiff filed suit alleging that BNSF failed to provide reasonable accommodations for his disability. Plaintiff, who is an epileptic, worked as a train dispatcher for BNSF.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for BNSF, holding plaintiff failed to show that he was a "qualified individual" for either of his failure-to-accommodate claims. In this case, plaintiff failed to show that he could perform the essential functions of his job in spite of his disability or that a reasonable accommodation of his disability would have enabled him to perform the essential functions of the job. View "Weber v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law
Tercero v. Texas Southmost College District
After plaintiff prevailed on her procedural due process and breach of contract claims against TSC, the trial court vacated the jury's verdict on the breach of contract claims and reduced the damages award on her procedural due process claim to $1.The Fifth Circuit held that TSC is entitled to neither sovereign immunity under the United States Constitution nor governmental immunity under state law. In this case, the Texas Legislature abrogated TSC's governmental immunity such that plaintiff could bring state law breach of contract claims against TSC. Therefore, the argument that the Texas Legislature attempted to limit federal jurisdiction over these claims is unavailing. The court also held that it was not required to address TSC's alternative arguments and declined to do so. The court reversed the dismissal of plaintiff's breach of contract claims, reinstated the jury's verdict on those claims, and remanded for the district court to consider TSC's alternative arguments regarding whether sufficient evidence supports plaintiff's breach of contract claims. The court affirmed the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law on the due process violation damages and reduction of the jury's award of $12,500,000 to the nominal amount of $1. The court reversed the district court's vacatur of the portion of the attorneys' fees award based on the breach of contract claims and remanded for the district court to address TSC's alternative arguments regarding those claims and to determine whether plaintiff is entitled to attorneys' fees and in what amount. View "Tercero v. Texas Southmost College District" on Justia Law
Adams v. All Coast, LLC
Plaintiff filed a collective action on behalf of himself and others employed on All Coast's fleet of liftboats, alleging that, although they were hired for various maritime jobs, they spent most of their time doing something completely terrestrial: using cranes attached to the boats to move their customers' equipment on and off the boats, the docks, and the offshore oil rigs. All Coast classified plaintiffs as seamen and did not pay them overtime pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of All Coast. The court held that the district court's conclusion that the employees' work served the liftboats' operation "as a means of transportation" runs contrary to the regulatory language and the court's precedent interpreting it. Rather, the plain meaning of 29 C.F.R. 783.31, and the illustrative examples in sections 783.32 and 783.34, suggest the employees were not engaged in seamen's work when operating the cranes. Furthermore, the court's previous decision in Coffin v. Blessey Marine Servs., Inc., 771 F.3d 276, 279 (5th Cir. 2014), only reinforce that conclusion. In this case, plaintiffs were not doing seamen's work when they were operating the cranes. Finally, it follows that All Coast was not entitled to summary judgment as to the cooks either. View "Adams v. All Coast, LLC" on Justia Law