Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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In 2012, plaintiff filed suit against Union Pacific under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. 51 et seq., alleging liability for a lower back injury. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that plaintiff's suit was time-barred because he should have known about his injury and its cause more than three years before filing suit. In this case, plaintiff, a locomotive engineer for Union Pacific, testified that in 2007 and 2008 he experienced recurring lower-back pain that he attributed to potholes in the tracks, and that this was the same pain for which he later sought medical treatment. View "White v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Clyde Carter, Jr. injured his shoulder and neck while working as a carman at BNSF Railway Company’s yard in Kansas City, Kansas. Carter immediately reported the injury to BNSF. The following year, he filed a Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) damage action, alleging that BNSF’s negligence caused his injury. BNSF’s discovery in defending the FELA lawsuit included a July 2009 deposition of Carter. In January 2012, as trial approached, a BNSF manager reviewed discovery materials provided by BNSF’s attorneys. He discovered discrepancies between Carter’s deposition testimony and information provided on his employment application and medical questionnaire submitted to BNSF in 2005. Thompson initiated a disciplinary investigation into potentially dishonest statements. Later, BNSF opened a second disciplinary investigation to determine if Carter signed a false statement that he arrived at work on time on February 5, 2012. The investigations culminated in two "on-property" evidentiary hearings, the conclusions of which found Carter committed dishonesty violations and recommended discipline in accordance with BNSF’s Policy for Employee Performance Accountability (PEPA). It was recommended Carter be terminated for dishonesty, a "stand alone" violation that could result in dismissal without regard to an employee's prior disciplinary history. Following termination, Carter filed an FRSA complaint with the Department of Labor, alleging that BNSF initiated the investigations leading to his dismissal in retaliation for Carter reporting the August 2007 work-related injury. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration dismissed Carter’s complaint, finding he committed the violations, and BNSF proved by clear and convincing evidence that "other employees who had not engaged in protected activity have been dismissed from service for dishonesty." Carter filed objections. After an evidentiary hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that BNSF violated 49 U.S.C. 20109(a)(4) and awarded reinstatement, back pay, attorneys’ fees, and $50,000 punitive damages. BNSF filed an administrative appeal. The Secretary’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) affirmed the ALJ. BNSF appealed. The Eighth Circuit found the ALJ's reasoning was based on a flawed interpretation of the FRSA; though the Administrative Review Board did not rely on the ALJ's chain-of-events causation theory, it affirmed based on findings which were either non-existent or insufficient to support the Board's contributing factor and affirmative defense rulings. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded with instructions. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. LABR" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against BNSF, alleging retaliation claims under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 20109(a)(1)(C). The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of certain claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies and conclusion that claims that were properly exhausted failed on the merits. The court held that the district court properly concluded that claims asserting additional adverse actions were unrelated to the claims in plaintiffs' OSHA complaint and unexhausted, and plaintiffs failed to exhaust their claims asserting retaliation for alleged protected activity in their statements to a claims representative. In regard to properly exhausted claims, the court held that, assuming that providing information about an injury caused by the carrier's negligence could give rise to liability, plaintiffs first alleged protected activity -- handwritten statements to the trainmaster -- fell short of satisfying section 20109(a)(1). Furthermore, plaintiffs' testimony at the investigative hearing could not have contributed to earlier adverse actions, and plaintiffs failed to prove that the discipline imposed by the company for rule violations was made with retaliatory motive. View "Foster v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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An arbitrator upheld Cooper Tire's discharge of an employee for his conduct on the picket line. The ALJ reversed, holding that Cooper's firing violated the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 151 et seq., and the Board affirmed. The Eighth Circuit denied Cooper's petition for review and enforced the Board's order, holding that substantial evidence supported the Board's conclusion that the employee's statements were not violent in character and did not contain any over or implied threats to replacement workers or their property. Furthermore, the statements were also unaccompanied by any threatening behavior or physical acts of intimidation. The court also held that reinstating the employee would not conflict with its obligations under Title VII where the employee's comments did not create a hostile work environment; because the employee was discharged for a prohibited reason, Cooper did not fire him for cause under section 10(c); and the Board did not abuse its discretion by not deferring to the arbitrator's award. View "Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. NLRB" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against BNSF, alleging a retaliation claim under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) and a negligence claim under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the FRSA claim, holding that the evidence did not raise a genuine dispute that retaliatory motive prompted by protected activity contributed to plaintiff's dismissal and thus plaintiff failed to make a prima facie case. The court also held that the RRTA was unambiguous and did not include damages for lost wages within the definition of "compensation." Therefore, the regulations providing to the contrary received no deference under Chevron and the court affirmed the district court's decision on this alternate basis. The court need not consider whether it was correct that 26 U.S.C. 104(a)(2) applied to the RRTA. Accordingly, the court affirmed the grant of summary judgment as to this issue. View "Loos v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding that an independent-contractor agreement's noncompete provision was unreasonable and therefore unenforceable. Without controlling precedent from the Iowa Supreme Court, the court predicted that the Iowa Supreme Court would hold that the enforceability of a noncompete provision was a question for the court. In this case, plaintiff developed his own customer base and received only minimal support from Ag Spectrum. The court explained that requiring plaintiff to forsake the customers that he brought to Ag Spectrum as an independent contractor was unreasonable in the circumstances, and plaintiff's business activity fostered fair competition in the marketplace, not unjust enrichment. View "Ag Spectrum Co. v. Elder" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer, alleging claims of discrimination and retaliation leading to wrongful termination. The Eighth Circuit rejected plaintiff's claim that the district court failed to consider her status as a pro se litigant; sovereign immunity barred plaintiff's claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; and 42 U.S.C. 1981 and 83; assuming that plaintiff met her burden of establishing a prima facie case of race and gender discrimination under Title VII, the university has offered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her (failure to report for work and the need to fill her position); and plaintiff's claim of discrimination was rejected. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Bunch v. University of AR Board of Trustees" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the school district, alleging that the district and others violated his due process rights by declining to renew his coaching contract solely on the basis of parental complaints. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed the due process claims. The court held that the 2013 amendment to Minnesota Statue 122A.33 did not grant plaintiff a property interest in the renewal of his coaching contract. View "McGuire v. Independent School District No. 833" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former jail administrator, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Peace Officer Discipline Procedures Act (PODPA), alleging claims related to his termination. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the County and held that, regardless of whether plaintiff held a constitutionally protected interest in his employment, the process surrounding his termination satisfied the Due Process Clause. The court also held that plaintiff was not entitled to the additional protections of PODPA given his actual duties as Assistant Jail Administrator and given the fact that the County neither charged him with the duties of general law enforcement nor utilized his services for those purposes. View "Pena v. Kindler" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit held that MikLin did not violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(1) and (3), because the means used by the disciplined employees here were so disloyal as to exceed their right to engage in concerted activities protected by the NLRA, as construed in a controlling Supreme Court precedent, NLRB v. Local Union No. 1229, IBEW, 346 U.S. 464 (1953) ("Jefferson Standard"). In this case, the employees' attack was sharp, proceeding in a manner reasonably calculated to harm the company's reputation and reduce its income. The posters, press releases, and letter were an effective campaign to convince customers that eating Jimmy John's sandwiches might cause them to become sick. Therefore, the court declined to enforce the determination that MikLin violated the Act by disciplining and discharging those employees and by soliciting removal of the unprotected posters. The court enforced the remainder of the Order as so modified. View "MikLin Enterprises, Inc. v. NLRB" on Justia Law