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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Appellant appealed the district court’s dismissal of her amended complaint filed against her former employer, the United States Department of the Army. Appellant alleged that she experienced a hostile work environment due to race-based harassment from a co-worker and retaliation by her supervisors through both discrete acts and a retaliatory hostile work environment.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Appellant’s discrete-act retaliation claim but vacated its dismissal of her race-based hostile work environment and retaliatory hostile work environment claim. The court explained that Appellant has stated a prima facie case. The court wrote that an “employee’s decision to report discriminatory behavior cannot immunize that employee from those petty slights or minor annoyances that often take place at work and that all employees experience,” but the consistent (even if not constant) conduct Appellant alleged plausibly qualifies as materially adverse. The court further wrote that it agreed that Appellant failed to allege a non-speculative link between her Title VII claim and her non-selection. View "Marie Laurent-Workman v. Christine Wormuth" on Justia Law

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Three independent contractors of Eastman Chemical Company were severely injured, one of them fatally, when a pump exploded during maintenance. Eastman moved to dismiss their state-law personal injury suits, contending that the contractors qualified as Eastman’s “statutory employees” under the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law – which would mean that workers’ compensation was their exclusive remedy and that the courts lacked jurisdiction to hear their claims.   The district court agreed that Plaintiffs were Eastman’s “statutory employees” under the workers’ compensation law and dismissed their actions. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit held their cases in abeyance pending the decision of South Carolina’s Supreme Court in Keene v. CNA Holdings, LLC, 870 S.E.2d 156 (2021).   The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s ruling. The court explained that in Keene, when an employer makes a “legitimate business decision” to outsource a portion of its work, the contractors it hires to perform that work are not “statutory employees” for workers’ compensation purposes. 870 S.E.2d at 163. No party here contests that Eastman’s outsourcing of its maintenance and repair work was a “legitimate business decision.” It follows that the plaintiffs, independent contractors performing maintenance at the time of the 2016 pump explosion, were not statutory employees and may bring personal injury actions. View "Sallie Zeigler v. Eastman Chemical Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought Title VII and Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) claims against the U.S. Attorney General because she failed an allegedly discriminatory physical-fitness test that was a condition of her federal employment and was told to either retake the test, resign, or be fired. She resigned. The district court dismissed her complaint for lack of Article III standing, finding that her resignation did not constitute an “adverse employment action” that could serve as the basis of either claim.   The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal and remand for further proceedings. The court held that the district court inappropriately intertwined its standing analysis with the merits. Plaintiff alleged that she suffered financial and job-related injuries in fact that are fairly traceable to the government’s action and likely to be redressed by a favorable ruling. View "Jane DiCocco v. Merrick Garland" on Justia Law

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Appellant challenges the district court’s dismissal of his complaint -- which alleges whistleblower protection and discrimination claims relative to his employment at the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (the “DEA” or the “Agency”) -- for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit concluded that the district court correctly held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the whistleblower protection claims, and the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of those claims. However, the court remanded the case to the district court so that it may consider in the first instance whether it possesses subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the merits of Appellant’s discrimination claims.   The court explained that Appellant points out that if an IRA appeal cannot serve as the basis for a mixed case, then an employee alleging both WPA claims and discrimination claims would be required to pursue those claims separately. But because the MSPB cannot consider an employee’s discrimination allegations as part of his IRA appeal, his WPA claims and his discrimination claims are, by necessity, already bifurcated.   Lastly, Appellant argues that even if he failed to allege a mixed case, the district court should still have considered his discrimination claims. However, the district court considered only whether Appellant’s discrimination claims were properly before it as part of a mixed case, not whether it could adjudicate the Title VII claims independently of the other claims. Accordingly, remand is necessary for the district court to decide in the first instance whether it may address the merits of Appellant’s Title VII claims. View "Robert Zachariasiewicz, Jr. v. DOJ" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that she was subjected to multiple instances of racial harassment and other discrimination during two periods of employment with the defendant Oakland Living Center, Inc. (“OLC”). According to Plaintiff, she was compelled to resign for good in the summer of 2018 after repeatedly being called racial slurs by the six-year-old son of an OLC supervisor and others (collectively “Defendants”).   Plaintiff contests the district court’s award of summary judgment to OLC on her hostile work environment and constructive discharge claims under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. Section 1981. The Fourth Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded for further proceedings on the claims against OLC.   The court explained that in considering all of the circumstances, the fact that the three n-word incidents were perpetrated by a six-year-old boy does not preclude a finding that those incidents are sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter Plaintiff’s conditions of employment and create an abusive work environment. Accordingly, the court rejected OLC’s contention that it is entitled to summary judgment for lack of an adequate showing on the third element of Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim.   Further, here, the record indicates that OLC failed to provide reasonable procedures for complaints of workplace harassment. OLC has produced no evidence that it had any harassment reporting policy in July and August 2018, when the three n-word incidents occurred. In these circumstances, a reasonable jury could charge OLC with constructive knowledge of all three n-word incidents. View "Tonya Chapman v. Oakland Living Center, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to his former employer, Gestamp West Virginia, LLC, on his Family & Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and common law retaliatory-discharge claims. Gestamp fired Plaintiff after he missed work due to a recurring infection from an emergency appendectomy. The district court granted Gestamp’s summary judgment motion because Plaintiff, it said, didn’t comply with the company’s “usual and customary” absentee notice procedures, as the FMLA requires. 29 C.F.R. Section 825.303(c).On appeal, Plaintiff contends the district court erred because, through his dealings with Gestamp, the company’s “usual and customary” notice procedures for leaves of absence expanded beyond those in its written policy. And Plaintiff argues that he complied with his FMLA obligations by notifying Gestamp of his absences over Facebook Messenger, which the company had previously accepted.The Fourth Circuit agreed with Plaintiff’s reading of the FMLA regulations and find that he’s raised a jury question on whether using Facebook Messenger satisfied the Act’s requirements. But Gestamp counters that even if Plaintiff’s initial notice were adequate, he neglected his FMLA obligation to update the company on the duration of his absence, defeating his FMLA-interference claim. On this too, Plaintiff has raised a material factual dispute to survive summary judgment. Thus, the court vacated the district court’s judgment on his interference claim and remand.Finally the court agreed with Gestamp that the district court properly granted judgment against Plaintiff’s FMLA retaliation and common law retaliatory-discharge claims. Plaintiff hasn’t offered enough evidence that Gestamp fired him in retaliation for exercising his FMLA rights. View "Kasey Roberts v. Gestamp West Virginia, LLC" on Justia Law

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The National Labor Relations Board petitioned the Fourth Circuit to enforce its order imposing obligations on an employer. The charged employer, Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood, LLC, consented in a stipulated settlement agreement to the enforcement of the order, skipping a process of agency prosecution and adjudication. Constellium agreed to a factual statement, waived any defenses, and now dutifully agrees that the Fourth Circuit should enter a judgment against it.The Fourth Circuit dismissed the petition. The court held that it lacks jurisdiction to exercise judicial power when it would have no real consequences for the parties and would only rubberstamp an agreement the parties memorialized in writing and consummated before ever arriving on a federal court’s doorstep. The court further explained that the parties agree on every relevant question potentially before the court. That agreement led the parties to resolve this dispute among themselves before ever coming to federal court, leaving nothing for the court to do that would have real consequences in the world. And the Board agrees that Constellium has complied with the order and continues to do so. View "NLRB v. Constellium Rolled Products" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency alleging religious discrimination and retaliation under Title VII. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The court explained that because the alleged discrimination and retaliation arose from Plaintiff’s failure to satisfy additional security requirements and would require the court to review the merits of the security-authorization decision, the court is bound by the decision in Department of the Navy v. Egan, 484 U.S. 518 (1988), to affirm the district court’s dismissal of this matter for lack of jurisdiction.   The court explained that it agrees that courts must exercise caution in expanding the reach of Egan. Nevertheless, the court declined to adopt the hardline position, urged by Plaintiff, that Egan’s rationale may only ever apply to determinations explicitly labeled “security clearances.” Rather, as in Foote and Sanchez, this case requires a more detailed analysis of whether the judgment at issue is of the type that Egan intended to shield from judicial review. Furhter, the court held that the CIA’s decision to stop Plaintiff’s assignee-security authorization processing is the kind of discretionary predictive judgment shielded from judicial review by Egan. View "Nathan Mowery v. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff claims that Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations discriminated against her based on her race by allowing a hostile work environment to pervade its manufacturing plant and by retaliating against her for accusing a co-worker of tampering with her machine. Bridgestone moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted summary judgment in Bridgestone’s favor on all claims.   On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the district court wrongly concluded that her hostile-work-environment claim was not supported by evidence of race-based harassment that was severe or pervasive enough. She also argues that her retaliation claim was based on a reasonable belief that the tampering with her machine was due to her race and that her transfer to KBN2 was causally related to her complaints.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff presented no evidence that would allow a jury to conclude that any tampering that occurred in 2018 was based on her race. The court explained that the totality of Plaintiff’s these allegations, and the evidence put forward to support them, fails to create a genuine question of material fact that racial discrimination in Bridgestone’s MTS department was so severe or pervasive that it constituted a hostile work environment. View "Laverne McIver v. Bridgestone Americas, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Board of Trustees of the Sheet Metal Workers’ National Pension Fund (“the Fund”) sought to recover a delinquent exit contribution from Four-C-Aire, Inc., a former participating employer, under Section 515 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). 29 U.S.C. Section 1145. The Fund claims Four-C-Aire’s obligation arose under a collective-bargaining agreement (“the CBA”) between the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association Local Union No. 58 and the Central New York Sheet Metal Contractors Association, a multiemployer bargaining unit. According to the Fund, Four C-Aire signed on to this preexisting agreement while it was a member of the Contractors Association.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding that Four-C-Aire adopted the agreement by its conduct. The court held that even if Four-C-Aire had preserved the issue, it’s meritless. The record contains several iterations of the written trust documents, including those imposing the exit-contribution requirement. And the Fund’s Director of Operations verified each version of the document in a declaration to the district court. Further, the court wrote there is no evidence the trust documents are invalid. In sum, Four-C-Aire offers no reason why the court shouldn’t enforce the plain terms of the agreement and trust documents, as ERISA requires. View "Board of Trustees v. Four-C-Aire, Inc." on Justia Law