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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Plaintiffs filed suit against FCI and its owners, alleging claims under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The district court entered judgment on the WARN Act claim in favor of plaintiffs and on the FLSA claim in favor of FCI. While FCI's appeal was pending, plaintiffs sought to dismiss the appeal because FCI had failed to post the appeal bond ordered by the district court.The Fourth Circuit declined to exercise its discretion to dismiss the appeal after considering the facial invalidity of the bond and prejudice to the parties. On the merits, the court concluded that the district court erred in determining that FCI was an "employer" covered by the WARN Act. The court explained that FCI employed fewer than 100 employees on August 6, 2018, and is therefore not an "employer" whose shutdown activities are covered by the WARN Act. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment on the WARN Act claim. View "Schmidt v. FCI Enterprises LLC" on Justia Law

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Tecnocap petitioned for review of the Board's decision affirming an ALJ's finding that the company engaged in several unfair labor practices in violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The Board cross-petitioned for enforcement of the order.The Fourth Circuit denied the petition for review and granted the cross-petition for enforcement as to the partial implementation of the last, best and final offer without reaching a good faith impasse and locking out union members in support of a demand that was a permissive subject of bargaining; granted the petition for review and denied the cross-petition for enforcement as to direct dealing; denied the petition for review and granted the cross-petition for enforcement as to Tecnocap's discouragement of union membership in how it undertook the lockout; and remanded for the Board to determine the effect the court's limited grounds for enforcing its order has on the remedies it ordered and for entry of a remedial order that is consistent with the court's decision. View "Tecnocap, LLC v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that "job sharing" a single full-time position with a willing partner does not qualify as a reasonable accommodation that an employer must provide under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The court explained that, if the job share in question did not exist at the time it was proposed as an accommodation, the ADA does not require the employer to create the new position to accommodate a disabled employee.In this case, the court concluded that providing plaintiff with the job share position with another employee was not a reasonable accommodation required by the ADA—not because the position was not "vacant" but because the position she sought did not exist. Therefore, summary judgment should have been granted to Sanofi on plaintiff's failure-to-accommodate claim on this ground. Furthermore, because plaintiff failed to demonstrate the existence of a reasonable accommodation, Sanofi cannot separately be liable for failing to engage in the interactive process. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Sanofi. View "Perdue v. Sanofi-Aventis U.S., LLC" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff, a York County Sheriff's Office (YCSO) employee, disclosed confidential information about an ongoing investigation into an inmate's death to his wife, who worked at a local news station, and then lied to internal investigators about the disclosure, defendant terminated plaintiff's employment. Plaintiff filed suit against defendant under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that he was fired in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights. The district court ruled in favor of plaintiff, but the Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded. On remand, the district court concluded that plaintiff's speech was not protected speech after applying the proper standard. The district court found the speech in question caused a reasonable apprehension of disruption in the YCSO and that defendant's interest in avoiding such a disruption outweighed plaintiff's circumstantially diminished First Amendment interest. Plaintiff appealed, challenging the district court's balancing of the parties' interests.The Fourth Circuit afforded diminished weight to plaintiff's First Amendment interest and concluded that it was outweighed by defendant's reasonable apprehension of disruption. In this case, plaintiff acted on limited and unconfirmed information when disclosing confidential details, and did so knowing that an investigation into the incident was underway, making no effort whatsoever to proceed through the chain of command or any law enforcement channel. Furthermore, the record reveals a reasonable apprehension of disruption in the YCSO, particularly considering plaintiff's speech propelled a frenzy of media attention about unconfirmed facts related to the inmate's death. The court explained that the disruption ballooned into separate internal investigation into the unauthorized disclosure, undercutting manpower and resources to continue the ongoing investigation into the incident. Accordingly, plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim failed and the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Billioni v. Bryant" on Justia Law

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Industrial hired Roberts as a diver’s assistant. Roberts received and acknowledged the company handbook, which included a policy, requiring that all complaints of sexual harassment be reported to the CEO, Glenn. Roberts’ supervisor, Rhyner repeatedly called Roberts “gay,” made sexually explicit and derogatory remarks toward him, and physically assaulted Roberts at least twice. Roberts complained to Rhyner’s supervisor, to another supervisor, Neal, who witnessed some of Rhyner’s conduct, and to the company’s Human Resources Manager (wife of the CEO) but did not complain directly to Glenn. Rhyner was not disciplined or counseled; the harassment continued. Roberts was involved in a work-related accident in which he suffered burns. Later, Roberts was on an assignment when Neal removed him from the site for being “disruptive and acting erratic,” working in the wrong area, and wearing earbuds. Glenn contends that he terminated Roberts based on the two safety incidents.Roberts sued, alleging same-sex sexual harassment and retaliation under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000(e). The Fourth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the company on Roberts’ retaliation claim, but vacated summary judgment on his sexual harassment claim. A plaintiff may prove same-sex harassment where the plaintiff was perceived as not conforming to traditional male stereotypes. A reasonable jury could conclude that Roberts was subjected to conduct based on his sex and that the conduct was unwelcome, sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of his employment, and was imputable to Glenn Industrial. Roberts did not establish a causal relationship between his protected activity and his termination. Glenn did not have actual knowledge of Roberts’ complaints and there was a lack of temporal proximity between Roberts’ last complaint and his termination. View "Roberts v. Glenn Industrial Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed a whistleblower-retaliation complaint under 42 U.S.C. 5851 after the NRC rejected his applications for promotions. Petitioner is an NRC employee who made disclosures to Congress and the NRC's Inspector General regarding health and safety risks at a nuclear power plant. The ALJ dismissed the case because the United States had not waived sovereign immunity for such whistleblower actions against the NRC, and the ARB affirmed.After determining that it had jurisdiction over the petition, the Fourth Circuit denied the petition for review, agreeing with the ARB that Congress has not waived sovereign immunity for complaints against the NRC. In this case, petitioner failed to make the necessary affirmative showing of waiver with the required unequivocal expression. The court explained that the lesson in its recent decision in Robinson v. U.S. Dep't of Educ., 917 F.3d 799 (2019), is that the substantive and remedial provisions of a statute may not be coextensive. The court concluded that there is no doubt that the NRC is bound by the prohibitions of section 5851, but that fact alone is simply insufficient to form the basis of an unequivocal waiver of sovereign immunity. View "Peck v. U.S. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, the City of Newport News, alleging that it failed to accommodate his disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff alleged that the City concluded that he could not perform the essential functions of his job as a detective and then offered him the options of either retiring early or accepting reassignment to a civilian position he did not want. Plaintiff reluctantly retired.The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City, concluding that it is generally inappropriate for an employer to unilaterally reassign a disabled employee to a position the employee does not want when another reasonable accommodation exists that would allow the disabled employee to remain in their current, preferred position. The court clarified that it did not hold that an employer can never reassign an employee when there exists a reasonable accommodation that will keep the employee in their current and preferred position. This broad question was not before the court. Nor should this opinion be read in any way to restrict the ability of employers and employees to agree to a voluntary transfer. Rather, the court simply reiterated that reassignment is strongly disfavored when an employee can still do their current job with the assistance of a reasonable accommodation, and that reassignment should therefore be held "in reserve for unusual circumstances." View "Wirtes v. City of Newport News" on Justia Law

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After defendant pleaded guilty to forced labor, in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), the district court sentenced defendant to 120 months' imprisonment and ordered him to pay restitution of roughly $273,000, representing unpaid minimum wages and overtime compensation computed under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In this case, defendant forced the victim to work at his restaurant over 100 hours per week without pay from 2009 to 2014.The Fourth Circuit vacated the award of restitution and concluded that the district court erred in failing to include liquidated damages under the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. 216(b), for when minimum wages and overtime compensation have not been paid as required, in the restitution award. At bottom, the court concluded that the value of the victim's labor as guaranteed under the minimum wage and overtime guarantees of the FLSA includes liquidated damages provided by the FLSA. The court explained that this fulfills defendant's obligation to compensate the victim for the full amount of the victim's losses, which includes the full value of his labor. Accordingly, the court remanded for recalculation of the restitution award. View "United States v. Edwards" on Justia Law

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After the DEA terminated Darek and Lisa Kitlinski's employment based on their refusal to participate in an internal investigation into their own allegations of misconduct by the DEA, the Kitlinskis alleged that the DEA terminated Darek in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), and that the DEA terminated Lisa in retaliation for her support of Darek’s USERRA claims against the DEA. The Kitlinskis also claim that the DEA retaliated against them for their prior protected activity in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the DEA, concluding that the Kitlinskis offer no evidence that Darek's military service or his prior USERRA-protected activity was a motivating factor in his termination. Furthermore, even assuming that Armstrong v. Index Journal Co., 647 F.2d 441, 448 (4th Cir. 1981), applies here, the court has little difficulty concluding that the DEA's interest in ensuring its employees' full participation in internal investigations outweighs any interest Lisa had in promoting USERRA's nondiscriminatory purpose. The court also concluded that no reasonable factfinder could conclude that the DEA terminated the Kitlinskis' employment in retaliation for engaging in protected activity. The court explained that the Kitlinskis offer no evidence showing that the DEA terminated their employment for any reason other than their conduct during the OPR investigation. The court rejected the Kitlinskis' remaining claims. View "Kitlinski v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two Maryland public school teachers, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging claims against the union defendants, a county school system, and various public officials, seeking relief for themselves and other non-union Maryland public school teachers who were compelled to pay "representation fees" to unions in order to be employed as Maryland public school teachers. Specifically, plaintiffs seek a refund of representation fees that they paid to the unions prior to the Supreme Court's decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018). In Janus, the Supreme Court decided that requiring non-union employees to pay representation fees to public-sector unions contravenes the First Amendment.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action based on failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Assuming without deciding that Janus is entitled to retroactive application, the court agreed with its six sister circuits and recognized that the good-faith defense is available to a private-party defendant under section 1983; union defendants are entitled to utilize the good-faith defense with respect to plaintiffs' Janus claim; and defendants are not required to refund the representation fees that plaintiffs paid to the union defendants prior to the Janus decision. In this case, because plaintiffs are unable to point to any identifiable fund in the union defendants' possession, the court followed the reasoning of the Sixth and Seventh Circuits and concluded that, in substance, plaintiffs' claim for relief is a claim for damages. Therefore, the union defendants are entitled to interpose the good-faith defense against that claim. Finally, the court rejected plaintiffs' contention that the good-faith defense is not available to the union defendants because it was not recognized as a defense to the most closely analogous tort — the tort of conversion — in 1871 when Congress enacted section 1983. Rather, abuse of process most closely corresponds to the union defendants' use of a Maryland statute to collect representation fees from non-union teachers, like plaintiffs. View "Akers v. Maryland State Education Ass'n" on Justia Law