Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
Barrett v. PAE Government Services, Inc.
Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Virginia state law against two Arlington County police officers and a mental health examiner, alleging that the Arlington County defendants unlawfully seized and detained her for a mental health evaluation in violation of the Fourth Amendment and falsely imprisoned her in violation of Virginia state law. Plaintiff also filed suit against her employer, PAE, and three of PAE's employees, alleging that the PAE defendants conspired with the Arlington County defendants to unlawfully seize her and falsely imprison her, also in violation of section 1983 and Virginia state law.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to the Arlington County defendants on plaintiff's section 1983 claims where the Arlington County defendants had probable cause to detain plaintiff for an emergency mental health evaluation. Even assuming that they did not have probable cause to detain plaintiff, the Arlington County defendants are entitled to qualified immunity because the unlawfulness of their conduct was not clearly established at the time. Even if plaintiff had properly raised her challenge, the court also affirmed the dismissal of the state law conspiracy claims against the Arlington County defendants where the officers had the requisite legal justification to detain plaintiff for the evaluation, and they followed the legal process provided by Virginia law in doing so.The court further affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's section 1983 claim against the PAE defendants where plaintiff's allegations that the officers conspired with the PAE defendants to illegally seize her and remove her from the workplace for a psychological evaluation is comprised of nothing more than conclusory assertions and rank speculation. Furthermore, plaintiff's state law conspiracy claims rest upon the same conclusory and speculative allegation that the PAE employees and the police officers conspired to violate her civil rights and to falsely imprison her, regardless of how she acted or what she said to the police. The court affirmed the dismissal of this claim as well. View "Barrett v. PAE Government Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Wilcox v. Lyons
Plaintiff, a former Deputy Commonwealth Attorney for Carroll County, Virginia, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that her former employer violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause by terminating her in retaliation for reporting alleged sex discrimination.In line with Fourth Circuit precedent and the majority of courts to consider the question, the court held that a pure retaliation claim is not cognizable under the Equal Protection Clause. The court explained that, to the extent a public employee contends she suffered adverse consequences for expressing complaints or reporting discrimination to her employer, her claim arises under the First Amendment. Furthermore, to the extent a public employee links an alleged retaliatory action to her gender, that allegation would constitute part of an equal protection discrimination claim, not a freestanding retaliation claim. In this case, plaintiff has not made such an allegation, nor has she pleaded a First Amendment action. Rather, the right to be free from retaliation for protesting sexual harassment and sex discrimination upon which plaintiff solely relies is a right created by Title VII, not the equal protection clause. The court noted that these existing legal avenues challenging public employer retaliation remain open to employees, but declined to create a new one under the auspices of the Fourteenth Amendment. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's retaliation claim under the Equal Protection Clause. View "Wilcox v. Lyons" on Justia Law
Thomas Harwood, III v. American Airlines, Inc.
Plaintiff filed suit under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), after his civilian employer did not promptly rehire him after he completed a tour of duty.The Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's discrimination claim under 38 U.S.C. 4311, holding that plaintiff has not pleaded sufficient factual content to support a "reasonable inference" that his military service was a motivating factor in any of the airline's conduct about which he complains; the district court did not err in ruling that American Airlines failed to discharge its statutory duty promptly; and the district court did not err in rejecting plaintiff's contention that American Airlines' conduct was willful. The court affirmed in part and vacated in part, remanding for the district court to recalculate damages, presumptively imposing backpay damages against American Airlines and denying damages for the period from October 22 to January 25, unless the offered position was not an equivalent under the Act. View "Thomas Harwood, III v. American Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law
Fry v. Rand Construction Corp.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment entered in favor of Rand in an action brought by plaintiff, a former employee, alleging that Rand unlawfully fired her for taking leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).The court affirmed and agreed with the district court that plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that Rand's justification for the termination was false and merely a pretext for retaliation. In this case, Rand presented a lawful explanation for firing plaintiff: performance problems. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding a former employee's testimony under Federal Rule of Evidence 403. View "Fry v. Rand Construction Corp." on Justia Law
Bing v. Brivo Systems, LLC
Plaintiff filed suit pro se against Brivo, alleging discrimination based on race in violation of Title VII. In this case, within an hour of starting orientation at Brivo, Brivo's security architect approached plaintiff and confronted him about a newspaper article that he had found after running a Google search on plaintiff. The article reported plaintiff's tangential involvement in a shooting for which he faced no charges. Nonetheless, the security architect berated plaintiff about the incident, declared plaintiff unfit for employment at Brivo, and terminated him on the spot. The district court dismissed the case with prejudice, because plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts to plausibly support a claim of discrimination.The Fourth Circuit held that it had appellate jurisdiction despite the district court's dismissal of the complaint without prejudice. Under Domino Sugar Corp. v. Sugar Workers Local Union 392, 10 F.3d 1064, 1067 (4th Cir. 1993), the order is appealable because the district court held that the circumstances surrounding plaintiff's termination did not expose Brivo to legal liability, and plaintiff has no additional facts that could be added to his complaint; under Chao v. Rivendell Woods, Inc., 415 F.3d 342, 345 (4th Cir. 2005), the order is appealable because the district court dismissed the complaint and directed that the case be closed; and the order is likewise appealable under Chao and In re GNC Corp., 789 F.3d at 511, because plaintiff has elected to stand on his complaint as filed.On the merits, the court held that the district court did not err by dismissing the Title VII claims at this point in the proceedings. The court held that plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts to plausibly claim his termination or the Google search that lead to it was racially motivated. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Bing v. Brivo Systems, LLC" on Justia Law
Fessler v. IBM Corp.
Fessler sued, alleging that his former employer, IBM. unlawfully “capped” his sale commissions despite representing to him that his commissions would be uncapped. The district court dismissed his claims on the basis that the Incentive Plan Letters (IPLs) that IBM presents to its employees foreclosed any reasonable expectation that Fessler would receive additional commissions.The Fourth Circuit vacated, finding that Fessler adequately stated claims for fraud, constructive fraud, unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and punitive damages. Although the IPLs stated that they did not constitute a promise and IBM reserved the right to adjust the plan’s terms,.Fessler can plausibly allege that he reasonably relied on PowerPoint presentations that repeatedly informed him that his commissions would be uncapped, and his past experience that IBM never capped a commission before 2016. A jury could find that since the representations that his commission would be uncapped were presented subsequent to Fessler receiving IPLs, it was reasonable for Fessler to understand them as adjustments to the plan’s terms. Fessler can plausibly allege the requisite intent to deceive, based on IBM’s motivation to recruit good salespeople who would not work for IBM if they knew that their commissions would be capped. Fessler’s quantum meruit claim is sufficient because of the lack of a meeting of the minds with regard to the exact payment he would receive for his work. View "Fessler v. IBM Corp." on Justia Law
Ward v. AutoZoners, LLC
After AutoZone was found liable for creating a hostile work environment and for intentional infliction of emotional distress, plaintiff was awarded both compensatory and punitive damages. The Fourth Circuit reversed the award of punitive damages for plaintiff's claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and plaintiff's state law claims. In this case, the evidence does not permit a finding that the sales manager at issue served in a managerial capacity such that liability for punitive damages could be imputed to AutoZone. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to carry his burden of presenting sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the store manager and district manager at issue engaged in an intentionally discriminatory practice with malice or reckless indifference.The panel remanded with instructions for the district court to determine the final amount of plaintiff's compensatory damages award under his Title VII claim. The court rejected AutoZone's duplicative recovery, jury instruction, and evidentiary error challenges, affirming as to these claims. View "Ward v. AutoZoners, LLC" on Justia Law
Carey v. Throwe
Plaintiff filed suit against defendants after he was terminated for submitting two blog posts about the then Captain of the Internal Affairs Unit of the Maryland Natural Resources Police (MNRP). Among other things, the blog posts contained screenshots from the Captain's private Facebook page that showed photos of the Captain posing with scantily-clad women and various comments that he had made about gun violence.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim, holding that plaintiff's posts concern nothing more than purely personal speech, as they are devoid of any content that rises to a level of public concern. The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim that defendants violated plaintiff's right to carry a concealed firearm under the Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act, holding that the Act was not privately enforceable under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Finally, the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's defamation per se claim, holding that the statement at issue was not actionable as defamation. View "Carey v. Throwe" on Justia Law
Biggs v. North Carolina Department of Public Safety
Plaintiff filed suit against defendants under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging claims related to the demotion he suffered in 2012. Plaintiff alleged that defendants racially discriminated against him and seeks reinstatement of his prior position, the removal of negative materials from his personnel file, and reimbursement for his legal expenses. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants.The Fourth Circuit denied defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's appeal as moot based on plaintiff's retirement, because plaintiff has sworn that he would promptly return to work if reinstated to his prior position. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Department, because its removal of this case did not constitute a waiver of sovereign immunity. Finally, the court vacated the district court's award of summary judgment to Defendant Hooks and remanded for further proceedings. In this case, plaintiff is seeking prospective, not retrospective, relief and thus his claim against Hooks falls under the sovereign-immunity exception articulated in Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). View "Biggs v. North Carolina Department of Public Safety" on Justia Law
Allegis Group, Inc. v. Jordan
Allegis and its two subsidiaries filed suit against four employees to recoup the incentive payments made to them under the company's incentive plan on the ground that the employees failed to satisfy the plan's conditions for payment.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Allegis and order requiring the employees to return the incentive payments that they had already received. The court held that the conditions for payment were legally enforceable and that the record indisputably showed that the former employees did not comply with them. In this case, the employees voluntarily elected to participate in the incentive plan and agreed to abide by the specified conditions for receipt of the incentive payments. Because the employees failed to do so, they were not entitled to retain the incentive payments. View "Allegis Group, Inc. v. Jordan" on Justia Law
Posted in: Labor & Employment Law