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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Plaintiff worked as a security officer at the Center for Behavioral Medicine (CBM). Plaintiff sued CBM, alleging a racially hostile environment, disparate treatment based on race, retaliation, and constructive discharge in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court granted summary judgment to CBM.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that while Plaintiff argued that his retaliation claims are like or related to the substance of his EEOC charge, he doesn’t address how they are related, thus the court considered the argument waived. Further, the court wrote that Plaintiff’s argument fails on the merits too. Plaintiff testified to three occasions he considered retaliation by HR, all of which occurred in mid-to-late 2019. But the charge’s only references to HR’s actions were about the finding that Plaintiff’s August 2018 grievance was unsubstantiated and HR’s failure to provide a grievance or complaint form when Plaintiff asked for one. Plaintiff never claimed that either action was retaliatory.   Further, the court found that Plaintiff has not exhausted his constructive discharge claim either. Here, Plaintiff’s charge gave no indication that he was about to be constructively discharged, and Plaintiff did not resign from CBM until approximately five months after he filed his charge. View "Anthony Slayden v. Center for Behavioral Medicine" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued St. Luke’s pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 42 U.S.C. Section 1981. Plaintiff alleged that St. Luke’s: discriminated against him on the basis of his disability, gender, and race; failed to accommodate him; and retaliated against him. St. Luke’s sought summary judgment on all issues, and the district court granted St. Luke’s motion. Plaintiff appealed the district court’s ruling regarding only his claims of disability discrimination under the MHRA and failure to accommodate under the ADA and the MHRA.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the record demonstrates several steps that St. Luke’s took in response to Plaintiff’s request for accommodation. Thus, because there is no triable issue as to whether St. Luke’s acted in good faith, the court wrote it need not reach the final step of the analysis, which is whether St. Luke’s could have reasonably accommodated Plaintiff. Accordingly, the court affirmed summary judgment on Plaintiff's failure-to-accommodate claim. Likewise, in opposing St. Luke’s motion for summary judgment before the district court, Plaintiff failed to argue his constructive discharge claim. View "Joseph Mobley v. St. Luke's Health System, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a campus police officer, initiated a retaliation action after he was terminated following an incident where he responded to a call for an intoxicated man who had lost consciousness. Employer's reason for Plaintiff's discharge was that he did not properly handle the situation, and it warranted termination. The trial court accepted Employer's reason as non-pretextual and granted Employer's motion for summary judgment.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding there are no genuine disputes of material fact that would allow a reasonable jury to find in favor of Plaintiff. Assuming without deciding that Plaintiff established a prima facie case of retaliation, Employer's proffered reason for Plaintiff's termination was legitimate and non-pretextual. View "Christopher Thompson v. University of Arkansas Brd of Trustees" on Justia Law

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Principal Life Insurance Company (Principal) offers a product called the Principal Fixed Income Option (PFIO), a stable value contract, to employer-sponsored 401(k) plans. Plaintiff on behalf of himself and a class of plan participants who deposited money into the PFIO, sued Principal under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), claiming that it (1) breached its fiduciary duty of loyalty by setting a low-interest rate for participants and (2) engaged in a prohibited transaction by using the PFIO contract to make money for itself. The district court granted summary judgment to Principal after concluding that it was not a fiduciary. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that Principal was a fiduciary. On remand, the district court entered judgment in favor of Principal on both claims after a bench trial. Plaintiff challenges the court’s judgment.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court agreed with the district court that Principal and the participants share an interest because a guaranteed CCR that is too high threatens the long-term sustainability of the guarantees of the PFIO, which is detrimental to the interest of the participants. The question then becomes whether the court clearly erred by finding that Principal set the CCR in the participants’ interests. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by finding that the deducts were reasonable and set by Principal in the participants’ interest of paying a reasonable amount for the PFIO’s administration.  Finally, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Principal on the prohibited transaction claim because it is exempted from liability for receiving reasonable compensation. View "Frederick Rozo v. Principal Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff made contributions to a 401(k) plan during her employment at Honeywell International Inc. She originally designated her husband, Defendant, as the sole beneficiary in the event of her death. The parties later divorced and in the marital termination agreement (MTA), they agreed that Plaintiff will be awarded, free and clear of any claim on the part of Defendant’s, all of the parties’ right, title, and interest in and to the Honeywell 401(k) Savings and Ownership Plan. Plaintiff submitted a change-of-beneficiary form to Honeywell. She, however, did not comply with a requirement.   Plaintiff died in 2019 and Honeywell paid the benefits to Defendant. The personal representative of Plaintiff’s estate sued Honeywell for breach of fiduciary duty, and Defendant for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, conversion, and civil theft. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Honeywell and reversed summary judgment for Defendant on the breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims.   The court explained that even if the Plan gave the administrator discretion to accept Plaintiff’s defective Form, it is not an abuse of discretion to act in accordance with plan documents. ERISA directs administrators to “discharge [their] duties . . . in accordance with the documents and instruments governing the plan.” Thus, because Honeywell followed plan documents in rejecting Plaintiff’s defective change-of-beneficiary form and distributing benefits, the breach of fiduciary duty claim fails. Further, even if the MTA were ambiguous, a reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff and Defendant intended for the MTA to waive his beneficiary interest in the 401(k). View "Robert Gelschus v. Clifford Hogen" on Justia Law

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In this class action, participants in a drug and alcohol recovery program alleged the program assigned them to work for defendant Hendren, a private company that paid the program for their services. Plaintiffs alleged the defendants failed to pay them the required minimum wage. The district court held that plaintiffs were employees and granted them relief. Defendant appealed.On appeal, the Eighth Circuit reversed, finding that the fact that the work Plaintiffs performed as participants in a court-ordered recovery program benefited Hendren did not make the program participants employees of either the program or Hendren. Thus, because Plaintiffs were not employees, they were not entitled to relief. View "Mark Fochtman v. Hendren Plastics, Inc." on Justia Law

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Northshore Mining Company filed a petition for review of a Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) order stating that Northshore had failed to maintain the walkway in good condition after an employee was injured in 2016. The order attributed the violation to Northshore’s reckless disregard of and unwarrantable failure to comply with the walkway-maintenance mandatory standard. In addition, MSHA designated the violation as “flagrant.” Commission’s conclusions on reckless.The Secretary cross-petitioned for review of the Commission’s conclusions on the flagrant designation and individual liability. The Eighth Circuit denied Northshore’s petition on the issue of the company's reckless disregard and unwarrantable failure and granted the Secretary’s cross-petition for review of the Commission’s conclusions on the flagrant designation and individual liability. View "Northshore Mining Company v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff resigned from his employment as a surgeon with Mayo Clinic (“Mayo”) after an internal committee recommended his termination following an investigation into allegations of his misconduct. Plaintiff sued Mayo and his supervisor, alleging discrimination and reprisal. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Mayo and the supervisor.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The court explained that Plaintiff argues Mayo’s recommendation to terminate his employment was based on his race, religion, and national origin. Because Said does not offer direct evidence of discrimination, Plaintiff must create a sufficient inference of discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas framework to survive summary judgment.   Here, Plaintiff claims another similarly situated former employee, who also received complaints, from Mayo received preferential treatment. The court concluded that even if Plaintiff was similarly situated to the other employee, the court concluded that Plaintiff does not present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude he received disparate treatment from the other employee. The court further explained that the record overwhelmingly demonstrates that Mayo believed Plaintiff was guilty of making unwelcomed advances toward female coworkers and of other misconduct. Said fails to “create a real issue as to the genuineness of” Mayo’s perceptions. Finally, regarding Mayo’s reporting of Plaintiff’s resignation to the State Board, as already discussed, the record demonstrates Mayo believed it was required to report Plaintiff’s termination to the State Board because Plaintiff resigned during an open investigation into his misconduct. Thus, Plaintiff fails to present sufficient evidence showing this was a pretext for retaliatory intent. View "Sameh Said v. Mayo Clinic" on Justia Law

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Three Anoka County residents sued a school district and teachers’ union about their union leave and reimbursement plan, alleging constitutional and statutory violations. The district court dismissed the case for lack of standing. The residents appealed.   The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment. The court explained that pleading jurisdiction requires only “a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction,” while pleading the merits requires not just “a short and plain statement of the claim,” but one that “show[s] that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Here, the residents adequately alleged they are school district taxpayers and identified a “municipal action” contributing to their injury. Specifically, the school district spends tax revenues on the allegedly illegal action because the collective-bargaining agreement requires it to provide up to 100 days of paid leave, and the union does not fully reimburse that expense. Since the district court did not address the preliminary injunction factors, the common approach is to remand for the district court to conduct the full analysis in the first instance. View "Don Huizenga v. ISD No. 11" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff worked at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) as the women’s softball head coach and part-time Director of Operations for the women’s hockey team. After UMD relieved Plaintiff of her hockey duties, she sued, claiming that she was fired for being gay. The district court granted summary judgment to UMD, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed.   The court explained that Title VII plaintiff can survive summary judgment either by (1) presenting direct evidence of discrimination, or (2) “creating the requisite inference of unlawful discrimination through the McDonnell Douglas analysis, including sufficient evidence of pretext.” Towery v. Miss. Cnty. Ark. Econ. Opportunity Comm’n, Inc., 1 F.4th 570 (8th Cir. 2021)   Here, Plaintiff did not present any direct evidence of discrimination, so the court analyzed her claims under the familiar McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. The court explained that. even assuming that Plaintiff could establish a prima facie case of discrimination, she has not met her burden of showing that UMD’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory justification for nonrenewal is pretextual. Plaintiff argued that UMD’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory justification isn’t credible because the accepted Division I practice of “cleaning house” when a head coach leaves is limited to firing coaching staff—not operations staff. The court reasoned that it finds it credible that UMD would want to allow its new head coach to choose her Director of Operations. Further, the court found that Plaintiff has not carried her ultimate burden of persuading the court that she was the victim of intentional discrimination. Out of four part-time hockey staff members, three were openly gay. View "Jen Banford v. Board of Regents of U of MN" on Justia Law