Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Henin began working Canadian Pacific (CP) in 2003. CP terminated Henin’s employment in 2015, citing rule violations. Henin filed a complaint with the Department of Labor, alleging violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act. After investigating, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration dismissed Henin’s complaint in a Decision, dated January 11, 2019. Henin received the Decision on January 22. On January 28, Henin filed with the Administrative Review Board a petition for review. On February 5, the Clerk issued a notice indicating acceptance of Henin’s petition. On February 26, the Board dismissed Henin’s petition as untimely. In his motion for reconsideration, Henin explained that he did not receive the Decision until 11 days after its issuance; that before the Decision, there had been no case activity since 2017; and that between December 22, 2018, and January 25, 2019, the federal government experienced a “shutdown.”The Board reinstated Henin’s claim as timely but immediately dismissed it, citing a complaint that Henin filed in federal court under 49 U.S.C. 20109(d)(3), which grants federal district courts jurisdiction to review employee claims de novo if, like here, the Secretary of Labor does not issue a “final” decision within 210 days of the complaint’s filing date. The Eighth Circuit denied CP’s petition for review. The Board properly granted reconsideration and appropriately utilized its equitable powers to control its own docket and to recognize the record’s incongruities and the 11-day delay in service. View "Soo Line Railroad Co. v. Administrative Review Board United States Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Lopez worked for Whirlpool under the supervision of Gralund. Various people, including Gralund and Penning, assigned Lopez to fill in areas of the line. Penning was not a supervisor. Lopez alleges that Penning began touching her in inappropriate ways. She asked him to “back off.” There were more incidents of touching but Lopez did not report them to HR, any supervisor, or her union. Lopez later testified that she “[made] it clear to [Gralund].” Lopez and Penning subsequently had two disputes about how Lopez was to perform her job. Lopez then made her first written complaint, which noted incidents involving her working conditions but did not mention Penning’s harassment. Lopez later reported “that [she] felt like [Penning] was retaliating” by hovering and staring at her. Lopez resigned four days later, apparently without mentioning “Penning” or “harassment” in her voicemail.Lopez sued for sex discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and the Iowa Civil Rights Act. During discovery, Whirlpool spent time and money on multiple depositions that never occurred. Whirlpool invoked 28 U.S.C. 1927; the magistrate imposed a $2,000 sanction against Lopez’s counsel. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the sanction order and the subsequent entry of summary judgment in favor of Whirlpool. Lopez failed to raise a triable fact on what Whirlpool knew or should have known about Penning’s conduct; she never gave Whirlpool an opportunity to take corrective action. View "Lopez v. Whirlpool Corp." on Justia Law

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After the railroad fired a train engineer for defecating on a train-car connector, an arbitration board reinstated him. The railroad sought to vacate the arbitration award in federal court, but the district court upheld the engineer's reinstatement by enforcing the award.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that the Board applied the governing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and acted within the scope of its authority. The court rejected the railroad's contention that the remedy creates new prerequisites to the CBA's discipline requirements. The court shared the district court's bewilderment at the Board's conclusion that a company cannot fire someone for purposefully defecating on company property. Even so, the court cannot review the merits. View "Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's adverse grant of summary judgment on her claims against the County, her former employer, alleging that it retaliated against her for participating in protected activity in violation of Title VII and the Minnesota Whistleblower Act (MWA).The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Title VII suspension-based claim, concluding that plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation. In this case, plaintiff failed to show that she engaged in statutorily protected activity because she did not communicate or report any sexual harassment before her suspension. In regard to the termination-based claim, the court applied the burden-shifting McDonnell Douglas framework and concluded that, assuming plaintiff made a prima facie case, the County articulated several legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for her discharge. Furthermore, plaintiff has not shown that the County's reasons are sufficiently intertwined or fishy that rebutting only some of the reasons discredits them all. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the termination-based claim under Title VII. However, given the relatively novel questions of state law, the court dismissed the MWA claims without prejudice so that they can be taken up by the Minnesota state courts. View "Kempf v. Hennepin County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit in state court against Amber Pharmacy and others, alleging claims of discrimination, retaliation, demotion and a hostile work environment. After removal to federal court, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on all but a portion of plaintiff's Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act (NFEPA) claim.In regard to plaintiff's claim of age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), the Eighth Circuit assumed that plaintiff established a prima facie case, but that defendants articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for eliminating plaintiff's position and demoting her: the need to restructure the financial department to put a stronger emphasis on accounting and more effectively implement the new operating system. The court concluded that plaintiff's evidence was insufficient and did not satisfy her burden of showing age was a motivating factor in defendants' decision to restructure. The court also concluded that defendants are entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff's federal claims under Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).Given the similarities between the federal and state ADEA claim, the court concluded that it was appropriate for the district court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction and grant summary judgment on the Nebraska ADEA claim. Because plaintiff's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress was neither novel nor complex, the exercise of supplemental jurisdiction would not offend principles of comity and fairness. The court concluded that the district court erred in splitting plaintiff's claim that her employer retaliated against her for reporting Medicaid and HIPPA issues and for filing charges with the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission. The court vacated the district court's order on the NFEPA claim with instructions to remand the claim in its entirety to state court so that Nebraska courts may resolve the novel questions of state law. View "Starkey v. Amber Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, TAW, in Nebraska state court, TAW removed to federal district court where the action was dismissed with prejudice. On appeal, a panel of the Eighth Circuit vacated the dismissal and ordered the action remanded to state court, concluding that a removal defect left the district court without subject-matter jurisdiction. TAW Enterprises petitioned for rehearing en banc and the Eighth Circuit vacated the panel opinion, granting rehearing en banc.The en banc court now overrules prior circuit precedents, Horton v. Conklin, 431 F.3d 602, 605 (8th Cir. 2005), and Hurt v. Dow Chemical Co., 963 F.2d 1142, 1146 (8th Cir. 1992), to the extent they hold that a violation of 28 U.S.C. 1441(b)(2), the so-called forum-defendant rule, is an unwaivable jurisdictional defect in removal. Therefore, the court has jurisdiction to reach the merits of plaintiff's appeal. On the merits, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal, holding that plaintiff failed to state a claim as a matter of law for retaliatory demotion and discharge in contravention of public policy under Nebraska law. View "Holbein v. TAW Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

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Maras's application for tenure as an associate professor at the University of Missouri Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology was denied. She filed suit, claiming discrimination on the basis of sex, citing the Missouri Human Rights Act and Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1), and violations of the implied covenants of good faith and fair dealing in her employment contract. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Describing the university's tenure-review process as “elaborate and painstaking,” the court noted that numerous people over four years expressed concerns about Maras's record of scholarship. Many throughout the application process, including people outside the university, expressed similar concerns. That widely shared opinion strongly supports the university's proffered reason for tenure denial. The comparators Maras identified are not similarly situated in all relevant respects to Maras; they did not share the same ultimate decision-maker. One comparator was in a completely different department. Each of them had several positive recommendations at many steps in the tenure process, while Maras did not; it is not obvious that their records of scholarship were no better than Maras's. Maras did not show "that the circumstances permit a reasonable inference of discriminatory animus." View "Maras v. Curators of the University of Missouri" on Justia Law

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Dassault hired Gipson in 2004; he was promoted in 2006. In 2011, Gipson received a poor evaluation from his supervisor. Gipson complained to HR about his supervisor. Later, Gipson and his supervisor had an argument which ended with security escorting Gipson to HR. Gipson filed an EEOC charge but did not sue. Dassault assigned Gipson a different supervisor. In 2012, Gipson reported to HR a racially offensive email sent by a colleague. The sender was suspended. In 2013, Gipson’s team leader resigned. Gipson assumed some team leader duties. Dassault claims that Gipson was not given “personnel/ supervisor responsibilities.” In 2014, Dassault promoted Gipson to senior manufacturing engineer. Months later Dassault posted an open team leader position. Gipson applied but HR responded that he was not qualified because he had not served as a senior manufacturing engineer for at least 12 months. His application was never forwarded to the decision-makers. Another African-American was selected for the promotion.Gipson claimed that he did not receive the promotion because of his race and because he filed a 2011 EEOC complaint. Dassault later terminated Gipson’s employment as part of a reduction in force. Gipson contends that two Caucasian senior manufacturing engineers, who he alleges had less seniority than him, were offered voluntary demotions in lieu of termination. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Dassault on claims under Title VII (42 U.S.C. 2000e), 42 U.S.C. 1981, and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act. View "Gipson v. Dassault Falcon Jet Corp" on Justia Law

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Auge, an experienced industrial-equipment salesman, started with Fairchild in 2013, with a base salary of $50,000 and a commission of 30% on the gross profits from most new equipment sales. Days after the company’s plan for calculating compensation changed in 2017, Auge abruptly quit. Fairchild deposited his commissions into his bank account. He demanded more. He believed he was entitled to a 30% commission on all anticipated gross profits, not just those “booked” in 2017. He also requested immediate payment on several “rental purchase option[s],” even though Fairchild’s policy was not to pay commissions on these rent-to-own arrangements until the end of the rental term. In Fairchild’s view, Auge lost those commissions once he quit.Auge sued for breach of contract and for alleged violations of the Minnesota Payment of Wages Act. The district court dismissed the suit. The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part but reversed with respect to “rental purchase options,” finding the contract provision ambiguous so that summary judgment was inappropriate. Fairchild owed Auge nothing for other commission, so the Act did not apply. View "Auge v. Fairchild Equipment, Inc." on Justia Law

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After the Fishery received two citations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), the OSHA Commission dismissed them. The citation stemmed from an incident where a Fishery boat capsized on the reservation in Lower Red Lake and two employees drowned.The Eighth Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that EEOC v. Fond du Lac Heavy Equip. & Constr. Co., 986 F.2d 246, 248 (8th Cir. 1993), was controlling here. The court concluded that OSHA was inapplicable to the Tribe because enforcement of the Act would dilute the principles of tribal sovereignty and self-government recognized in the applicable treaty which gave the Tribe fishing rights in the reservation. Even if OSHA applied to Indian activities in other circumstances, OSHA does not apply to an enterprise owned by and consisting solely of members of perhaps the most insular and independent sovereign tribe. View "Scalia v. Red Lake Nation Fisheries, Inc." on Justia Law