Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
Cosby v. South Carolina Probation, Parole & Pardon Services
In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the plaintiff, Kristin Cosby, claimed that the South Carolina Probation, Parole & Pardon Services (SCPPP) had discriminated against her based on her gender and retaliated against her for filing discrimination complaints in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Cosby had previously worked for SCPPP, left, and then reapplied in 2012. When she was not rehired, Cosby filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which found in her favor. SCPPP rehired her, but Cosby alleged that she was subsequently subjected to gender discrimination and retaliation, including being denied a promotion, being investigated for inappropriate relationships with subordinates, and ultimately forced to resign.The court affirmed the district court's granting of summary judgment to SCPPP. The court held that Cosby had failed to establish her gender discrimination claim under both the disparate treatment and hostile work environment theories. For the disparate treatment claim, Cosby failed to identify a valid comparator — a similarly situated individual of a different gender who was treated more favorably. In her hostile work environment claim, Cosby's internal complaint did not constitute protected activity under Title VII because it did not oppose an unlawful employment practice. The court also found no causal connection between Cosby's 2012 EEOC charge and any adverse employment action taken by SCPPP in 2018, defeating her retaliation claim. View "Cosby v. South Carolina Probation, Parole & Pardon Services" on Justia Law
Amisi v. Brooks
In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Bikachi Amisi, a contract nurse, sued Officer Lakeyta Brooks and Officer Roy Townsend for violating her Fourth Amendment rights when she was mistakenly strip searched on her first day of work at Riverside Regional Jail. Amisi also brought several tort claims under Virginia state law. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing they were entitled to qualified immunity and good-faith immunity under Virginia law. They also argued that the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusivity provision barred Amisi's claims. The district court denied their motions and the defendants appealed.The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. It held that both officers were not entitled to qualified immunity, a legal protection that shields officers who commit constitutional violations but who could reasonably believe their actions were lawful, because their actions were not reasonable and Amisi’s right to be free from unreasonable strip searches was clearly established. The court also held that the Virginia Workers' Compensation Act did not bar Amisi's state-law claims because her injuries did not arise out of her employment. The Court further held that Officer Townsend was not entitled to immunity under Virginia law as his belief that his conduct was lawful was not objectively reasonable. View "Amisi v. Brooks" on Justia Law
Tartaro-McGowan v. Inova Home Health, LLC
In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Laura Tartaro-McGowan, a clinical manager with Inova Home Health, was terminated after failing to perform direct patient care field visits by a specified date. Tartaro-McGowan, who suffers from chronic arthritis in her knees due to bilateral knee replacement surgeries, sued her employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for failure to accommodate, discrimination, and retaliation. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, Inova Home Health, LLC and Alternate Solutions Health Network, LLC.Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Inova Home Health experienced a severe shortage of field clinicians and informed all staff members, including clinical managers, that they would be required to perform direct patient care field visits. Tartaro-McGowan requested an accommodation to be excused from performing direct patient care field visits due to her physical limitations caused by her chronic arthritis. In response, the defendants proposed an accommodation that involved allowing Tartaro-McGowan to screen and select appropriate visits that would greatly reduce the possibility of injury. Tartaro-McGowan refused this accommodation and was later terminated for not performing any direct patient care field visits by the specified date.On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court determined that Tartaro-McGowan failed to prove the defendants denied her a reasonable accommodation, an essential element of her ADA claim. The court noted that the circumstances surrounding the pandemic were exceptional, and given the severe shortage of field nurses, the defendants' proposed accommodation was reasonable. The court also found that Tartaro-McGowan failed to establish a prima facie case for her discrimination and retaliation claims. View "Tartaro-McGowan v. Inova Home Health, LLC" on Justia Law
Kelly v. Town of Abingdon
In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Gregory Kelly, the former Town Manager of Abingdon, Virginia, sued the Town for discrimination, retaliation, interference, and failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Kelly alleged that he suffers from anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure, and these conditions worsened due to a hostile work environment created by the elected Mayor and Town Council. He further alleged that, despite his efforts to seek accommodations for his disabilities, the Town failed to engage in a meaningful dialogue to determine appropriate accommodations, and instead escalated its pattern of harassment.The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's dismissal of Kelly's discrimination and interference claims, along with its ruling that a letter Kelly sent to the Town in January 2018 was not an ADA accommodation request. The court reasoned that although Kelly had informed the Town of his disabilities and it was aware of them, the January 2018 letter, despite being titled "Accommodations Requests," did not make it clear that Kelly was seeking accommodations for his disabilities. The requests in the letter were not connected to Kelly's disabilities and were more related to general workplace issues. Therefore, the letter did not trigger the Town's duty to engage in an interactive process to determine appropriate accommodations under the ADA.The Court also found that Kelly failed to state a claim for ADA discrimination. He did not provide any facts suggesting that the Town had a discriminatory motive or that his disability was a "but-for" cause of his constructive discharge. The Court further held that Kelly failed to state a claim for ADA interference, as he did not allege that the Town engaged in behavior to prevent him from exercising his ADA rights or that the Town had a discriminatory motive. View "Kelly v. Town of Abingdon" on Justia Law
K & R Contractors, LLC v. Michael Keene
An administrative law judge (ALJ) working for the United States Department of Labor (DOL) ordered K & R Contractors, LLC to pay living miner’s benefits to its former employee pursuant to the Black Lung Benefits Act. K & R filed a petitioner for review challenging to the constitutionality of the ALJs' appointment.The Fourth Circuit found that both ALJs were constitutionally appointed and that, even if the dual good-cause removal protections were unconstitutional, K & R was not entitled to relief because it had not identified any harm resulting from those removal provisions. View "K & R Contractors, LLC v. Michael Keene" on Justia Law
Ashley Noonan v. Consolidated Shoe Company, Inc.
Plaintiff claimed that she suffered sex-based wage discrimination while working at Consolidated Shoe Company and, what’s more, was retaliated against when she complained about it. Before the district court, she sought to show wage discrimination by comparing her wages to those of a male co-worker at Consolidated Shoe. But the co-worker, a graphic designer, had a meaningfully different role at the company than Plaintiff, a content creator and part-time photographer. Because the two did not perform similar jobs, Plaintiff could not rely on the co-worker as a comparator to show wage discrimination. So the district court granted summary judgment to Consolidated Shoe. Plaintiff appealed but dropped her comparator argument. She instead argued that her complaint also included a broader theory that women at Consolidated Shoe were categorically paid less than men. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that to survive summary judgment Plaintiff must produce evidence that would allow a jury to find that she was discriminated against in violation of Title VII. But what Plaintiff provided would not permit a reasonable jury to find for her. And she did not suffer any materially adverse action because she raised concerns about the alleged sex discrimination. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Consolidated Shoe. View "Ashley Noonan v. Consolidated Shoe Company, Inc." on Justia Law
Jody Rose v. PSA Airlines, Inc.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act’s Section 502(a)(1)(B) allows a beneficiary to “recover benefits due to him under the terms of his plan.” And ERISA’s Section 502(a)(3) allows a beneficiary to sue for “other appropriate equitable relief.” This case requires us to answer when—and under what conditions—a plaintiff may seek monetary relief under one of those provisions. Plaintiff’s son had a rare heart condition. He died at the age of twenty-seven, awaiting a heart transplant, which Plaintiff says that Defendants—who administered her son’s employer-based health benefits program—wrongfully denied. So she sued on behalf of his estate, seeking monetary relief under both Section 502(a)(1)(B) and 502(a)(3). The district court dismissed both claims. As to Plaintiff’s (a)(1)(B) claim, the court held that money was not one of the “benefits” that her son was owed “under the terms of his plan.” And, as to her (a)(3) claim, the court held that her requested monetary relief was too similar to money damages and was thus not “equitable.” The Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part. The court explained that the district court correctly held that money was not one of the “benefits” that Plaintiff’s son was “due” “under the terms of his plan.” So it was right to dismiss her (a)(1)(B) claim. However, the court explained that it must vacate its complete dismissal of Plaintiff’s (a)(3) claim. While the district court correctly noted that compensatory, “make-whole” monetary relief is unavailable under Section 502(a)(3), it did not consider whether Plaintiff plausibly alleged facts that would support relief “typically” available in equity. View "Jody Rose v. PSA Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law
Jody Rose v. PSA Airlines, Inc.
Plaintiff’s son had a rare heart condition. He died at the age of twenty-seven, awaiting a heart transplant, which Rose says that Defendants—who administered her son’s employer-based health benefits program—wrongfully denied. So she sued on behalf of his estate, seeking monetary relief under both Section 502(a)(1)(B) and Section 502(a)(3). The district court dismissed both claims. As to Plaintiff’s (a)(1)(B) claim, the court held that money was not one of the “benefits” that her son was owed “under the terms of his plan.” And, as to her (a)(3) claim, the court held that her requested monetary relief was too similar to money damages and was thus not “equitable.” The Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part. The court explained that the district court correctly held that money was not one of the “benefits” that Plaintiff’s son was “due” “under the terms of his plan.” So it was right to dismiss her (a)(1)(B) claim. But the court explained that it must vacate its complete dismissal of Plaintiff’s (a)(3) claim. The court explained that while the district court correctly noted that compensatory, “make-whole” monetary relief is unavailable under Section 502(a)(3), it did not consider whether Plaintiff plausibly alleged facts that would support relief “typically” available in equity. The court thus remanded for the district court to decide in the first instance whether Plaintiff can properly allege such a theory based on a Defendant’s unjust enrichment, including whether an unjust gain can be followed to “specifically identified funds that remain in Defendant’s possession” or to “traceable items that the defendant purchased with the funds.” View "Jody Rose v. PSA Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law
Jeffrey Israelitt v. Enterprise Services LLC
While working an IT position at Enterprise Services LLC, Plaintiff said he was discriminated against because he has disability—an arthritic big toe. The company says the issues arose because Plaintiff didn’t work well with others, and actually, didn’t work much at all. Plaintiff says the issues arose because of his alleged disability. After he was fired, he brought claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act asserting that Enterprise Services discriminated against him because of his toe and retaliated against him for seeking toe-related accommodations. For the retaliation claim, the district court held that Enterprise Services’ only potentially retaliatory act was firing Plaintiff and allowed him to take that claim to trial. But Enterprise Services moved to strike Plaintiff’s jury-trial demand. The district court granted the motion. Following the bench trial, the district court entered judgment for Enterprise Services on the remaining claim because Plaintiff failed to prove he was fired because he asked for disability accommodations. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. First, while the district court did cite an outdated EEOC regulation when determining he is not disabled within the meaning of the ADA, he is not disabled under any reasonable reading of the ADA. So that disposes of every claim except retaliation. Second, Burlington Northern makes clear that only “significant” harm to an employee constitutes retaliatory adverse action. And only his termination met that threshold. Third, a straightforward reading of Section 1981a(a)(2) shows that an ADA-retaliation plaintiff is not entitled to legal damages and, therefore not guaranteed a jury trial by the Seventh Amendment. View "Jeffrey Israelitt v. Enterprise Services LLC" on Justia Law
Hannah P. v. Avril Haines
Appellant, a former employee of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (“ODNI”), asserts that ODNI violated the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”),by delaying her leave request and not hiring her for a permanent position. The district court determined that Appellant failed to meet her burden of proof to demonstrate that she was not selected for the permanent position “by reason of” ODNI’s FMLA interference. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that t the record supports the district court’s finding that Appellant’s non-selection for the permanent position was the result of the hiring official’s poor impression of Appellant as a prospective employee and Appellant’s attendance problems prior to the FMLA interference. View "Hannah P. v. Avril Haines" on Justia Law