Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against defendants, alleging that they forced her to provide labor in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), 18 U.S.C. 1589. Specifically, plaintiff alleged six claims of involuntary servitude and illegal trafficking stemming from her work as a live-in housemaid to defendants. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants. Drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff, the court agreed with the district court's determination that plaintiff's evidence was insufficient to satisfy the requirements of the forced labor statute and that defendants were entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. In this case, plaintiff failed to develop sufficient evidence upon which a jury could reasonably conclude that defendants knowingly forced or coerced her to come to the United States, or to remain in their employ against her will, by means of serious psychological harm or abuse of law or legal process, when she otherwise would have left and returned to her home country of Kenya. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Muchira v. Al-Rawaf" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former assistant county attorney, was terminated from her employment after she was elected to the City Counsel. Plaintiff filed suit challenging the County Attorney's decision to terminate her employment, contending that the County Attorney's actions violated her rights under the federal and state constitution, as well as a county ordinance. The district court dismissed the complaint. The court explained that, although plaintiff claims her termination was in violation of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has made clear that public employers may permissibly bar their employees from participating in a wide array of political activities, including running for elective office. In this case, the record reflects multiple potential points of conflict that could face plaintiff as a member of the City Council and an attorney in the Fairfax County Attorney’s Office. Therefore, the court rejected plaintiff's First Amendment arguments. Because plaintiff's termination did not violate the First Amendment, her section 1983 claim was also properly dismissed. Finally, the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's state law claim under Virginia Code 15.2-1512.2 and Fairfax County Ordinance 3-1-19. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Loftus v. Bobzien" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an Applications Developer for the CIA, was a covert employee who suffered from narcolepsy. Plaintiff first filed suit against the Agency, alleging discrimination and ultimately termination based on his disability, failure to accommodate, and retaliation. While the motion for summary judgment was pending on the first suit, plaintiff filed suit against the same defendants, alleging disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. 791 et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq. In this case, even if plaintiff establishes a prima facie case for his claims, the court found that its precedent nonetheless requires dismissal because any defense to these claims that the government could offer would undoubtedly rely on privileged information. Therefore, the district court correctly concluded that the information at issue is properly privileged and that litigation of the case would present an unjustifiable risk of disclosure of that information. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Abilt v. CIA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against defendants, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201 et seq.; the Maryland Wage and Hour Law, Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. 3-401 et seq.; and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law, Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. 3-501 et seq. The district court granted summary judgment to Commercial because Commercial did not jointly employ plaintiffs where J.I. and Commercial entered into a traditionally recognized legitimate contractor-subcontractor relationship and did not intend to avoid compliance with the FLSA or Maryland law. The court concluded, however, that the legitimacy of a business relationship between putative joint employers and the putative joint employers’ good faith are not dispositive of whether entities constitute joint employers for purposes of the FLSA. The court held that joint employment exists when (1) two or more persons or entities share, agree to allocate responsibility for, or otherwise codetermine—formally or informally, directly or indirectly—the essential terms and conditions of a worker’s employment and (2) the two entities’ combined influence over the essential terms and conditions of the worker’s employment render the worker an employee as opposed to an independent contractor. Applying this test to this case, the court concluded that Commercial jointly employed plaintiffs for purposes of the FLSA and the analogous Maryland law. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment. View "Salinas v. Commercial Interiors, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two groups of satellite television technicians, filed suit alleging that defendants, through a web of agreements with various affiliated and unaffiliated service providers, are jointly and severally liable for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201 et seq. The district court dismissed the pleadings because plaintiffs failed to adequately allege that DIRECTV and DirectSat jointly employed plaintiffs. The court concluded that the district court relied on out-of-circuit authority that the court has since rejected as unduly restrictive in light of the broad reach of the FLSA. The court concluded that, under the appropriate legal standards, plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to make out a plausible claim that defendants jointly employed them as DIRECTV technicians; defendants may be held jointly and severally liable in the event that plaintiffs performed uncompensated overtime work for defendants during plaintiffs’ respective periods of employment; and the court reversed the dismissal of plaintiffs' FLSA and Maryland state-law claims against defendants because they have sufficiently pleaded that DIRECTV jointly employed them as satellite technicians, and that they are owed some amount of unpaid compensation. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Hall v. DIRECTV, LLC" on Justia Law

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B&P appealed the confirmation of four labor arbitration awards. The Union cross-appealed for attorneys' fees. The court affirmed the confirmation of the arbitration award, based in large part upon the limited scope of its review of a labor-arbitration decision pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The court explained that, by balancing competing provisions in the CBA and coming to a conclusion, the arbitrator cleared the very low bar needed to insulate the award from a charge that he failed to construe the CBA. In this case, the court found B&P’s arguments on this point amount to an impermissible attack on the correctness of the arbitrator’s decision. The court also concluded that the arbitrator was within his authority to find the grievance timely under the continuing violation doctrine. Furthermore, the district court did not err in confirming the Hours Reduction Award; did not err in confirming the Drivers’ Pay Award, did not err in confirming the Vacation Pay Award; and did not err in confirming the Monies Owed Award. Finally, the court held that the Union waived its claim for attorneys’ fees by not complying with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Brown & Pipkins, LLC v. Service Employees International Union" on Justia Law

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Metro Machine and Signal Mutual seek review of the Benefits Review Board's order affirming the ALJ's grant of a claim for medical benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. 907. The court concluded that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s order awarding Claimant medical benefits for his work-related COPD. The only error the ALJ committed was in failing to apply the “naturally or unavoidably results” standard to the fracture claim. Because remand for application of that standard would be a futile exercise, given that there was no issue presented regarding avoidability, the court denied the petition for review and affirmed the Board's decision. View "Metro Machine Corp. v. DOWCP" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an Army Reservist and fifth grade teacher, filed suit against the Board. Plaintiff claimed that she was improperly reemployed in violation of Section 4313 of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4313, because her mental state rendered her unqualified, and the Board’s allegedly hostile work environment triggered or exacerbated her disability. Plaintiff was reemployed by the Board after her deployment, but eventually terminated based on her deficient performance. The Board later discovered that plaintiff was disabled due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The district court granted summary judgment to the Board. The court affirmed the judgment because Section 4313 cannot serve as a basis for claims involving acts occurring after reemployment, and because plaintiff has no available remedies. View "Butts v. Prince William County School Board" on Justia Law

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RB&F seeks relief from the Benefits Review Board's holding that RB&F is responsible for the payment of benefits to Turl Mullins, a coal miner, and survivor's benefits to his widow under the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), 30 U.S.C. 901 et seq. At issue is whether RB&F or another operator is liable for the claim. The court concluded that Wilder is not a “responsible operator” for the purposes of the BLBA. The court explained that a mine operator cannot be the responsible operator if it is financially incapable of assuming liability. In this case, it is undisputed that Wilder is bankrupt and is itself incapable of assuming liability. It is also undisputed that Wilder’s insurance company, Rockwood, is insolvent and is incapable of assuming liability. The court need not reach the preemption issue because the VPCIGA is not an insurer for this claim and is not covered by the BLBA. Under DOL regulations, the liability for Mullins’s claim falls to the “potentially liable operator” that most recently employed the miner. Since Wilder cannot be found to be a “potentially liable operator” under 20 C.F.R. 725.494, the liability properly falls to the miner’s next most recent employer, RB&F. The court need not address RB&F's claim regarding the regulatory burden-shifting analysis because the burden of proof was irrelevant to the outcome of this case. Accordingly, the court affirmed the Board's decision. View "RB&F Coal, Inc. v. Mullins" on Justia Law

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The Commission determined that a fatal accident in a coal mine operated by Consol resulted from Consol's "unwarrantable failure" to ensure that certain equipment in the mine was maintained in a safe, working condition. Consol petitions for review and challenges the Commission's final order. The court concluded that Consol had fair notice that the failure to replace defective shutoff valves raised the possibility of sanctions, and MSHA is therefore not barred from seeking civil penalties in connection with this violation; the ALJ’s conclusion that Addington acted as Consol’s agent in responding to the damaged valves is amply supported by the evidence; the ALJ properly imputed his knowledge and negligence in connection with the accident to Consol; and the court affirmed the ALJ's findings that the challenged violations stemmed from Consol’s unwarrantable failure to comply with applicable MSHA health and safety regulations. Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review. View "Consol Buchanan Mining Co. v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law