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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Nadendla, a physician, is of Indian origin. Nadendla was a member of WakeMed’s hospital's medical staff where she was granted clinical privileges in 2010, In 2017, citing “clinical concerns,” WakeMed informed Nadendla that she would not be reappointed clinical privileges; her appointment on the medical staff would expire. Nadendla requested a hearing, pursuant to the Bylaws. She alleges that WakeMed’s actions during the hearing process “exhibited an abject lack of fairness” and deprived her of adequate process in contravention of the Bylaws.Nadendla sued the hospital under 42 U.S.C. 1981, which guarantees to all persons in the United States “the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens.’” The district court initially ruled that Nadendla sufficiently stated a section 1981 claim and state-law claims for breach of contract and for arbitrary and capricious conduct, but subsequently dismissed Nadendla’s section 1981 claim. The Fourth Circuit affirmed in part. The district court had the discretion to revisit its prior order and did not abuse its discretion in doing so. The complaint contained extensive, specific allegations regarding WakeMed’s failure to abide by the Bylaws but details regarding race are conspicuously absent. The court reversed the dismissal of Nadendla’s claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. View "Nadendla v. WakeMed" on Justia Law

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In 2000, Jessup began to work for Barnes. In 2016, he suffered a panic attack and requested a leave of absence. Barnes approved that request and a subsequent extension. Jessup was prescribed medication for depression and anxiety, underwent months of therapy, started meditating, and developed relationships and activities outside of work. Jessup alleges that, upon his return to work, Barnes subjected him to discriminatory treatment and a hostile work environment; he was placed in a new position that he regarded as a demotion and Barnes raised his sales quota. Jessup suffered another panic attached and again requested leave. Barnes denied Jessup’s request, citing “significant burden to the business” and telling him to contact Human Resources if he “believe[d] some other change to [his] work environment would assist [him] in performing [his] job functions.” He did not do so. Barnes sent a letter stating it was “clear that he cannot return to work and perform the essential functions of his job, with or without accommodation.” Barnes later sent a formal termination notice.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of Jessup’s claims of wrongful termination, failure to accommodate, and a hostile work environment in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Jessup did not establish that he was a “qualified individual.” View "Jessup v. Barnes Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Coffey was employed by the Railway as a locomotive engineer. In 2012, a train that Coffey was operating derailed; a drug test revealed the presence of amphetamines in Coffey’s system. Coffey was permitted to continue working, but he was subject to follow-up drug testing for five years. In 2016, a test showed the presence of amphetamines and codeine. Coffey explained that he had prescriptions for Adderall, which he took for ADHD, and codeine (Tylenol #3), which he took for a back condition. Railway requested that Coffey provide medical records. Six weeks later, Coffey ruptured his Achilles tendon and took medical leave for 10 months. When his physician cleared him to return to work, Railway again requested the records it had previously requested. After two more demands, Railway received some records but was unsatisfied because they failed to include specifically requested information such as medication side effects. In anticipation of a disciplinary hearing, Coffey submitted approximately 400 pages of medical records. Upon determining that those records still did not address much of the required information, Railway terminated Coffey’s employment.The EEOC concluded that there was reasonable cause to believe that Railway’s demands violated the ADA, 42 U.S.C. 12112(a). The district court and Fourth Circuit rejected Coffey’s subsequent suit. Railway made a lawful request under the ADA. Its inquiries were related to Coffey’s job and were required by federal regulation. Complying with federal regulations is, by definition, a business necessity. View "Coffey v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Conner sued her employer, EMS, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201–219, alleging that she was underpaid for non-overtime hours worked during weeks in which she also worked overtime. To determine the overtime rate for 24 on/48 off EMS personnel, the employee’s regular hourly pay rate was determined by dividing her annual salary by 2,928 hours (based on the 24 on/48 off schedule; the overtime rate was the resultant hourly rate multiplied by 1.5. To calculate a “revised semi-monthly rate,” the hourly rate was multiplied by 2,080 (40 non-overtime hours per week for 52 weeks), then divided by 24. When an employee worked overtime during a particular pay period, EMS added the overtime amount to the revised semimonthly wages. Conner alleged that this “revised semi-monthly rate” unlawfully paid her regular wages using overtime compensation. She claims her annual salary established by ordinance represents her compensation for regular wages and that for each semimonthly pay period, she should be paid regular wages (her salary divided by 24) plus any overtime.The Fourth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the case, holding that the Act permits an action for “gap time” that is not directly covered by its overtime or minimum wage provisions. The complaint must plausibly allege that the employee worked overtime in at least one week and was not paid all straight-time wages due under an employment agreement or statute. The employee need not “identify a particular week.” View "Conner v. Cleveland County" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Tactile hired Sempowich — a woman. In 2014, Tactile promoted Sempowich — then 49 years old — to be the regional sales manager, supervising a team of up to 15 people. Later that year, Tactile hired Seeling — 46-year-old man — as the regional sales manager for another region. In 2018, Sempowich was notified that she would no longer be a regional manager. Her region was reassigned to Seeling. She could retain her base salary in a newly-created marketing position, which she regarded as a demotion. She did not accept the position and was terminated.In Sempowich’s suit, alleging Title VII discrimination, retaliation, and Equal Pay Act claims, the parties disputed whether she me the company’s performance goals, the district court granted Tactile summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit vacated. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Sempowich, there is an issue of material fact as to whether Tactile’s asserted expectations were legitimate or genuine. Sempowich presented substantial evidence that they were not. The district court also erred in applying the same-actor inference, under which if the plaintiff’s “hirer and the firer are the same individual and the termination of employment occurs within a relatively short time span following the hiring, a strong inference exists that discrimination was not a determining factor.” View "Sempowich v. Tactile Systems Technology, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2017, SCANA, an electric and natural gas public utility, halted construction at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in South Carolina. WEC, a contractor with SCANA, laid off its employees working at the project, as did Fluor, a subcontractor hired by WEC. Employees of WEC and Fluor sued SCANA and Fluor, alleging that the companies failed to give notice of the plant closure and layoffs as required under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, 29 U.S.C. 2102(a).The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. None of the plaintiffs were “employees” of SCANA. There was no common ownership between SCANA and WEC or Fluor, nor did they share any directors or officers. WEC and Fluor were responsible for hiring, firing, and paying their own personnel and decided which employees would be responsible for accomplishing which tasks. WEC and Fluor employees did not even receive SCANA’s employee handbook, nor were they at all integrated with SCANA’s human resources department. WEC and Fluor operated “distinct businesses that were not dependent” on SCANA. Fluor was relieved of any obligation to provide 60 days of notice by the unforeseeable business circumstances exception. View "Pennington v. Fluor Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Union represents employees at Constellium’s plant. In 2013, after Constellium attempted to change retirees’ health benefits, the Union sued. In 2017, the Fourth Circuit held, in "Barton," that, because the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) stated that retiree health benefits would endure only for the CBA's term, they did not vest. Constellium and the Union subsequently negotiated another CBA, effective through September 2022, which outlines retiree healthcare benefits. Constellium sent a letter to its Medicare-eligible retirees, announcing changes to their healthcare coverage.The Union initiated a grievance, citing the CBA’s guarantee of retiree health benefits for the CBA’s term. Constellium claimed that the change did not violate the CBA and that Barton permitted the change with respect to retirees who retired under previous CBAs. Constellium unsuccessfully sought a declaratory judgment that it prevailed on preclusion grounds; the district court reasoned that whether Barton precluded arbitration was a question for the arbitrator.An arbitrator ruled in favor of the Union, reasoning that “the question of whether retiree health benefits were vested or durational”—which was “central” in Barton—was "a red herring” because the Union’s new claims did not depend on whether the benefits were vested or durational, but focused on the terms of the 2017 CBA, under which Constellium was obligated to maintain the same health benefits for the relevant retirees throughout the CBA's full term. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of Constellium’s motion to vacate the arbitrator’s award. View "Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood, LLC v. United Steel, Paper & Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial & Service Workers International Union" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Dr. DiCocco, then 67, accepted a job as a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) psychiatrist. As a condition of her hiring, DiCocco, like all new BOP employees, had to pass the Physical Abilities Test, which requires dragging a 75-pound dummy at least 694 feet for three minutes, climbing a ladder to retrieve an object within seven seconds, completing an obstacle course in 58 seconds, running a quarter-mile and handcuffing someone within two minutes and 35 seconds, and climbing three flights of stairs in 45 seconds while wearing a 20-pound weight belt. DiCocco took the test and failed. Under BOP policy, she could retake the test within 24 hours, but she declined. She was informed that unless she resigned, her BOP employment would be terminated. She resigned. After exhausting her administrative remedies, DiCocco filed suit, alleging disparate-impact theories of sex discrimination under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, and age discrimination, 29 U.S.C. 621–634.The Fourth Circuit reversed, in part, the dismissal of the complaint. In finding that DiCocco’s resignation did not constitute an “adverse employment action.” the district court inappropriately intertwined its standing analysis with the merits. DiCocco alleged that she suffered financial and job-related injuries that are fairly traceable to the government’s action and likely to be redressed by a favorable ruling. The age discrimination claim was properly dismissed because the ADEA provision applicable to federal-sector employees does not provide a disparate-impact cause of action. View "DiCocco v. Garland" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Smith began working with DEA as a subcontractor in the geospatial intelligence program. Smith has a disability that adversely affects her mobility; she was granted accommodations. In 2015, Smith was authorized to work remotely 50 percent of the time. Through 2017, Smith received positive performance reviews. Smith’s position did not change in 2016 when CRSA became the prime contractor. In 2017, Quinn, DEA’s Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator became dissatisfied when Smith was unable to answer questions about the Program. Quinn directed that Smith begin reporting to DEA headquarters. Smith lobbied to maintain her remote work arrangement. DEA officials did not respond to Smith’s request but, because of parking and transportation problems, Smith intermittently continued to work remotely despite notification that she was not authorized to do so. DEA concluded it could not grant the request; the CSRA contract did not expressly provide for remote work and DEA’s building lease limited the issuance of parking passes to employees. DEA alleges that it developed concerns about Smith’s technical skills and performance.DEA officials retrieved the equipment that supported Smith’s remote access and revoked Smith’s security clearance. CSRA terminated the Consultant Agreement. Smith sued, alleging disability discrimination and retaliation under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 791, against DEA, and violations of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, 42 U.S.C. 12101, against CSRA. The district court rejected the claims on summary judgment.The Fourth Circuit affirmed as to Smith’s disability discrimination claim but vacated as to her retaliation claim. Smith was an independent contractor and not a CSRA employee. DEA was not required to offer Smith a remote work accommodation and its failure to do so was not a refusal to accommodate but Smith established a prima facie case of retaliation. View "Smith v. CSRA, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying plaintiff's motion seeking to recover reasonable attorney's fees, costs, and expenses from Montgomery County. Plaintiff's case stems from her action against the county for failure to reasonably accommodate her disability. The district court held that plaintiff is not eligible for such an award because she is not a "prevailing party" under 29 U.S.C. 794a(b).In this case, plaintiff won a jury verdict that found the county liable for discrimination and entitled plaintiff to equitable relief—at least until the county capitulated by transferring her to a call center called MC 311. The court thought that this case is more like Parham v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 433 F.2d 421 (8th Cir. 1970), and concluded that plaintiff is not a prevailing party because she catalyzed the county to change its behavior by filing a lawsuit; rather, she is a prevailing party because she proved her claim to a jury before the county capitulated by transferring her to MC 311. The court noted that its holding is narrow, and that it would be unjust to hold that plaintiff did not prevail simply because the county's timely capitulation rendered unnecessary equitable relief that she would have otherwise been entitled to. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Reyazuddin v. Montgomery County, Maryland" on Justia Law