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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Plaintiffs, female truck drivers, filed suit against CRST alleging Title VII claims of retaliation and hostile work environment on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, as well as individual constructive discharge claims on behalf of themselves. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of CRST on the class and individual retaliation claims, as well as on the individual hostile work environment and constructive discharge claims.The Eighth Circuit concluded that CRST's removal policy does not constitute per se retaliation. With respect to the pre-2015 members of the class, the court concluded that the removal policy led to a net decrease in the women's pay; the removal policy was materially adverse; but there was no direct evidence that CRST had any motivative discriminatory bias. With respect to the post-2015 members of the class, the court concluded that these members were subject to adverse employment and the district court should address in the first instance the question whether direct or circumstantial evidence establishes that CRST took this adverse employment action in retaliation for the post-2015 class members' Title VII-protected activity.In regard to plaintiffs' individual hostile work environment claims, the court concluded that Plaintiff Fortune has not created a genuine factual dispute whether CRST's response was actionably deficient; plaintiffs have not established the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact whether CRST knew or should have known about ongoing coworker-on-coworker harassment and thereafter failed to take prompt remedial action that was reasonably calculated to end it; and plaintiffs have failed to show such discrimination on the part of CRST itself and therefore have failed to show that the employer created intolerable working conditions or took otherwise discriminatory action. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sellars v. CRST Expedited, Inc." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff left her employment at HKFS, she filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the restrictive covenants in her various employment contracts were unenforceable. HFKS brought counterclaims against plaintiff and a third-party complaint against plaintiff's new employer, Mariner.The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's order preliminarily enjoining plaintiff from breaching the non-compete and nonsolicitation provisions in her employment contracts. The court agreed with plaintiff and Mariner that the non-compete provision did not survive her termination of the Employment Agreement. Because HKFS is not likely to prevail on the merits of its breach of contract claim with respect to the non-compete provision, the district court erred in enjoining plaintiff from violating that provision. In regard to the non-solicitation provision in plaintiff's contract, the court concluded that South Dakota law applies under the agreement's choice-of-law provision, and such provisions cannot prevent a former employee from accepting unsolicited business. Therefore, the non-solicitation agreement, in part, violates South Dakota law and public policy and it is at least in part unenforceable. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Miller v. Honkamp Krueger Financial Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against CJS Solutions, a Florida entity doing business as The HCI Group, in the District of Minnesota. Plaintiffs moved to certify a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The putative class of plaintiffs was composed of all HCI employees hired on a per-project basis who were not paid wages for out-of-town travel to and from remote project locations. After the district court conditionally certified a collective action limited to claims arising out of travel to and from Minnesota, it granted summary judgment for HCI on the ground that plaintiffs were not employees when traveling.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not err in finding defendant had not waived its jurisdictional defense to plaintiffs' claims for certification of collective actions covering all of defendant's employees for all of their travel time anywhere in the United States; the district court properly excluded all claims with no connection with the forum state of Minnesota; and, in regard to the out-of-town travel claims, the district court did not err in finding that two plaintiffs were not employees when traveling and that defendant had no obligation to pay for their time. View "Vallone v. CJS Solutions Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed an arbitration award that reinstated a member of the union to her former position after she was discharged by the company. The court concluded that the parties agreement authorized the arbitrator to determine whether there has been a violation of the parties' agreement within the allegations set forth in the grievance. In this case, the parties bargained for the arbitrator's interpretation of the agreement's just cause provision and the provision does not specify that the same just cause is sufficient to justify all types of adverse action.The court also concluded that the arbitrator's award drew its essence from the parties' agreement. Finally, the court concluded that the record does not establish that the employee committed abuse as defined by the cited statutes, or that allowing her to return to work after a suspension violates public policy. View "WM Crittenden Operations, LLC v. United Food and Commercial Workers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a Missouri resident, filed suit in state court against her former employer, Ferrellgas, a propane supplier, as well as James Ferrell and Pamela Brueckmann, Kansas residents and employees and officers of Ferrellgas. Plaintiff alleged gender discrimination claims under the Missouri Human Rights Act against Ferrellgas (Counts I and II), and tort claims against all defendants (Counts IIIVI). After removal to the district court, the district court granted defendants' motion to compel arbitration in part.The Eighth Circuit reversed, concluding that the district court erred in concluding that no language in plaintiff's employment agreement suggested that she consented to arbitrate tort claims arising from actions which predated her employment. The court explained that, though plaintiff's claims are based on alleged misrepresentations and omissions made before and at the time she accepted employment, they are subject to arbitration because they arise out of and relate to the resulting employee agreement and employee relationship. The court also concluded that Ferrell and Brueckmann, officers and agents of Ferrellgas who were not parties to the Employee Agreement, may enforce the arbitration clause. The court concluded that a signatory plaintiff cannot avoid arbitration when she treated signatory and non-signatory defendants as a single unit. In this case, each of plaintiff's tort claims against defendants is a single one that should be referred in its entirety to arbitration. View "Morgan v. Ferrell" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the employer in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that the employer violated the Nebraska Equal Pay Act and the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act by giving her male counterparts better pay despite her stronger work performance.The court concluded that the facts presented were insufficient to establish plaintiff's prima face case under the Nebraska Equal Pay Act because nothing in the record suggests that her position required her to take on the additional duties and responsibilities of her higher-ranked coworkers. Because plaintiff's evidence was insufficient either to establish her prima facie case under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act or to show that the employer's reasons for the pay disparity were pretextual, the district court properly granted the employer's motion for summary judgment. View "Perry v. Zoetis LLC" on Justia Law

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CRST filed suit alleging that Swift wrongfully recruited and hired long-haul truck drivers who were "under contract" with CRST. Ruling on post-verdict motions, the district court upheld the intentional interference with contracts award, vacated the unjust enrichment award because it was predicated on a theory of damages rejected in the court's summary judgment rulings, and remitted the punitive damages to $3 million.The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's post-verdict order upholding the intentional interference verdict because it relied upon CRST's theory of liability that the court rejected in CRST Expedited, Inc. v. TransAm Trucking, Inc., 960 F.3d 499 (8th Cir. 2020). The court explained that the proper focus is on intentionally and improperly causing the employee to violate his or her covenant not to compete, not merely on the hiring of a competitor's at-will employee to further the actor's legitimate competitive interests. After careful review of the record, the court concluded that it must reverse with instructions to dismiss because, for multiple reasons, CRST failed to prove its interference with contract claim and therefore its claim for unjust enrichment as well. The court affirmed the amended judgment in favor of Swift on CRST's unjust enrichment claim. View "CRST Expedited, Inc. v. Swift Transportation Co." on Justia Law

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Trustees of five multi-employer benefits funds filed suit against Green Nature under section 515 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), alleging that Green Nature failed to contribute to the funds on behalf of its non-union employees and sought to collect from Green Nature the delinquent contributions, interest, costs, and attorney's fees.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the trustees. The court concluded that the district court correctly determined that the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) unambiguously required fringe benefit contributions for non-union employees. The court also found that an award of delinquent fringe benefit contributions would not improperly require Green Nature to "duplicate fringe contributions." The court need not determine whether issue preclusion could ever be a valid defense to a collection action because the substantive elements of issue preclusion are not satisfied. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the trustees attorney's fees and in declining to reduce the amount. View "Nesse v. Green Nature-Cycle, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's adverse grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's discriminatory discharge and failure to accommodate claims under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) against his former employer.In regard to plaintiff's disability-discrimination claim, the court concluded that the employer articulated a legitimate, non-discriminatory basis for his termination and plaintiff failed to establish a factual dispute as to pretext where the record is replete with evidence concerning his deficient performance, none of which was related to his disability or his period of leave. In regard to plaintiff's failure-to-accommodate claim, the court concluded that there is no evidence in the record suggesting that plaintiff's performance issues were linked to his disability, and the record simply does not support that an accommodation would have allowed him to perform the essential functions of his position. View "Vinh v. Express Scripts Services Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former employee of the Pine Bluff Arsenal, filed suit against the Army under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that she was subject to a hostile work environment based on sex and that the Army retaliated against her after she reported sexual harassment. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the Army.The Eighth Circuit concluded that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of the Army on plaintiff's hostile work environment claim where she failed to establish that the harassment she experienced was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive working environment. However, the court concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the Army on plaintiff's retaliation claim where she presented enough admissible evidence to raise a genuine doubt as the legitimacy of the Army's stated motive for her termination. Accordingly, the court remanded this claim for further proceedings. View "Hairston v. Wormuth" on Justia Law