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Topic: "Big cases series" | Main

Big Case #7 - ATU v. Laidlaw Transit
September 01, 2006 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo

#7 in the Big Cases Series for 2006: Amalgamated Transit Union v. Laidlaw Transit, 435 F.3d 1140 (9th Cir 01/26/2006), en banc rehearing denied with opinions, 448 F.3d 1092 (05/22/2006)

Facts: A union and employees filed a class action in state court alleging state law claims, and the employer removed to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). The federal court denied plaintiffs' motion to remand to state court, and plaintiffs appealed.

Statute: 28 USC § 1453(c)(1): "... a court of appeals may accept an appeal from an order of a district court granting or denying a motion to remand a class action to the State court from which it was removed if application is made to the court of appeals not less than 7 days after entry of the order."

Held: Although § 1453(c)(1) provides that an application may be made "not less" than 7 days after entry of the order, it should be read as requiring that an application be made "not more" than 7 days after entry of the order.

Key quote: "Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure [FRAP] 5 governs the initiation of such appeals, and ... the petition for permission to take an appeal must be filed not more than seven court days after the district court's order."

On motion for rehearing: Six judges filed a dissent arguing that a court has no business rewriting the statute merely because the way it was actually written is "illogical."

Previous case: Pritchett v. Office Depot, Inc., 420 F.3d 1090 (10th Cir 2005) held that "not less" was a typographical error.



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Big Case #6 - Petruska v. Gannon University
August 31, 2006 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo

#6 in the Big Cases Series for 2006: Petruska v. Gannon University, 448 F.3d 615 [advance sheet; withdrawn from bound volume] (3rd Cir 05/24/2006) (2-1), vacated and referred for rehearing (06/20/2006).

Facts: A chaplain sued her Catholic university employer under Title VII claiming she was demoted because of her sex and in retaliation for her opposition to sexual harassment. She also had state law claims for breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent supervision and retention, and civil conspiracy.

Held: The district court cannot dismiss these claims on a 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6) motion.

Key quote:

"We adopt a carefully tailored version of the ministerial exception. Where otherwise illegal discrimination is based on religious belief, religious doctrine, or the internal regulations of a church, the First Amendment exempts religious institutions from Title VII. In such cases, restricting a church's freedom to select its ministers would violate the Free Exercise Clause by inhibiting the church's ability to express its beliefs and put them into practice. Furthermore, questions about religious matters would pervade litigation, entangling courts in ecclesiastical matters and violating the Establishment Clause.
"But where a church discriminates for reasons unrelated to religion, we hold that the Constitution does not foreclose Title VII suits. Employment discrimination unconnected to religious belief, religious doctrine, or the internal regulations of a church is simply the exercise of intolerance, not the free exercise of religion that the Constitution protects. Furthermore, in adjudicating suits that do not involve religious rationales for employment action, courts need not consider questions of religious belief, religious doctrine, or internal church regulation, a process that would violate the Establishment Clause by entangling courts in religious affairs."

Related cases:

  • The traditional and majority rule: The "ministerial exception" "deprives a federal court of jurisdiction to hear a Title VII employment discrimination suit brought against a church by a member of its clergy, even when the church's challenged actions are not based on religious doctrine." Combs v. Central Texas Annual Conference, 173 F.3d 350 (5th Cir 1999), following McClure v. Salvation Army, 460 F.2d 553 (5th Cir 1972).
  • Tomic v. Catholic Diocese, 442 F.3d 1036 (7th Cir 04/04/2006) followed the traditional rule.
  • Hankins v. Lyght, 438 F.3d 163 (2nd Cir 02/16/2006) (2-1) avoided deciding the ministerial exception issue, and held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act amended the ADEA. Remanded for reconsideration in light of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
  • Elvig v. Calvin Presbyterian Church, 375 F.3d 951 (9th Cir 2004), rehearing denied with opinions, 397 F.3d 790 (2005), held that a church minister can state a claim for sexual harassment.
  • Dolquist v. Heartland Presbytery, 342 F.Supp.2d 996 (D Kans 2004) held that a church pastor can state a claim for sexual harassment and retaliation.



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Big Case #4 - Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp
August 17, 2006 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo

#4 in the Big Cases Series for 2006: Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp , 126 S.Ct. 1235 (US Supreme Court 02/22/2006)

Facts: Arbaugh sued her former employer under Title VII and related state law claims. A jury returned a verdict in her favor. After the trial court entered judgment on that verdict, Y&H moved to dismiss the entire action for want of federal subject-matter jurisdiction, asserting, for the first time, that it had fewer than 15 employees on its payroll and therefore was not amenable to suit under Title VII.

Held: Title VII’s numerical threshold does not circumscribe federal-court subject-matter jurisdiction. Instead, the employee-numerosity requirement relates to the substantive adequacy of Arbaugh’s Title VII claim, and therefore could not be raised defensively late in the lawsuit, i.e., after Y&H had failed to assert the objection prior to the close of trial on the merits.

Later cases: The same result under other statutes:




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Big Case #3 - Sereboff v. Mid Atlantic Medical Services
August 15, 2006 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo

#3 in the Big Cases Series for 2006: Sereboff v. Mid Atlantic Medical Services, 126 S.Ct. 1869 (US Supreme Court 05/15/2006)

Facts: The Sereboffs were injured in a traffic accident, and their ERISA plan paid their medical expenses of about $75,000. Later, the Sereboffs recovered about $750,000 in a settlement from a third party. The ERISA plan had an “Acts of Third Parties” provision which requires a beneficiary who is injured as a result of an act or omission of a third party to reimburse the plan for benefits it pays on account of those injuries, if the beneficiary recovers for those injuries from the third party. The plan sued under ERISA §502(a)(3), seeking to collect from the Sereboffs’ tort recovery the medical expenses it had paid on the Sereboffs’ behalf. The Sereboffs agreed to set aside from their tort recovery a sum equal to the amount the plan claimed, and preserve this sum in an investment account pending the outcome of the suit.

Statute: A fiduciary may bring a civil action under §502(a)(3)(B) "to obtain … appropriate equitable relief … to enforce … the terms of the plan."

Held: The plan's suit properly sought “equitable relief” under §502(a)(3).

The Court distinguished Great-West Life & Annuity Ins. Co. v. Knudson, 534 U. S. 204 (2002), which involved a provision in an ERISA plan similar to the "Acts of Third Parties" provision in the Sereboffs’ plan. Relying on such a provision, Great-West sought equitable restitution of benefits it had paid when Knudson recovered in tort from a third party. In considering whether §502(a)(3)(b) authorized such relief, the Court asked whether the restitutionary remedy Great-West sought would have been equitable in "the days of the divided bench," id., at 212. The Court found that it would not have been equitable, because the funds Great-West sought were not in Knudson’s possession but had been placed in a trust under California law.

In contrast, in the Sereboff case the plan sought identifiable funds within the Sereboffs’ possession and control - that part of the tort settlement due to the plan and set aside in the investment account.

Later cases:

  • Coan v. Kaufman, ___ F.3d ___ (2nd Cir 07/21/2006) (plan participant's suit against trustees alleging breach of fiduciary duty did not seek equitable relief)
  • Dillard's Inc v. Liberty Life Assurance, ___ F.3d ___ (8th Cir 07/19/2006) (reimbursement claim for overpayments resulting from payment of social security benefits sought equitable relief)
  • LaRue v. DeWolff, Boberg & Assoc, 450 F.3d 570 (4th Cir 06/19/2006) (401(k) plan participant's Section 1132(a)(3) suit against plan administrator alleging failure to follow investment instructions was not seeking equitable relief)



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Big Case #2 - Garcetti v. Ceballos
August 14, 2006 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo

#2 in the Big Cases Series for 2006: Garcetti v. Ceballos, 126 S.Ct. 1951 (05/30/2006)

Facts: Ceballos, a supervising deputy district attorney, concluded that a search warrant affidavit made serious misrepresentations. He relayed his findings to his supervisors and followed up with a disposition memorandum recommending dismissal. His supervisors nevertheless proceeded with the prosecution. At a hearing on a defense motion to challenge the warrant, Ceballos recounted his observations about the affidavit, but the trial court rejected the challenge. Claiming that his supervisors then retaliated against him for his memo in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, Ceballos filed a 42 USC §1983 suit.

Held: When public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, they are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.

Key quote: "The controlling factor in Ceballos' case is that his expressions were made pursuant to his duties." "We hold that when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline."

Later cases:

  • Fuerst v. Clarke, ___ F.3d ___ (7th Cir 07/27/2006) (deputy sheriff was speaking in his capacity as a union representative rather than as a deputy sheriff)
  • Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, ___ F.3d ___ (3rd Cir 07/26/2006) (borough manager's complaints to borough council regarding the mayor: some unprotected, some cannot be determined on a 12(b)(6) motion)
  • Bailey v. Dept of Elementary & Secondary Educ, 451 F.3d 514 (8th Cir 06/23/2006) (consultant (contractor) complained to supervisor and Commissioner; speech primarily concerned consultant's own interests and "as an employee concerned with being paid for his time")
  • Mills v. City of Evansville, 452 F.3d 646 (7th Cir 06/20/2006) (police sergeant's statement to managers that the police chief's staffing plan would not work was unprotected)



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Big Case #1 - Burlington Northern v. White
August 13, 2006 by Ross Runkel at LawMemo

#1 in the Big cases series for 2006: Burlington Northern v. White, 126 S.Ct. 2405 (US Supreme Court 06/22/2006).

Facts: White claimed her employer retaliated against her for complaining about sex discrimination. She claimed two acts of retaliation under Title VII Section 704:

  1. White was working as a fork lift operator, and the employer transferred her to a job as a standard track laborer. Both assignments were within her job description.
  2. Later, the employer suspended White without pay for 37 days. After she filed a grievance, the employer reinstated her and gave her full back pay. The reinstatement followed from procedures in the collective bargaining agreement.

Held: Both employer actions were prohibited retaliatory actions.

Key quote: "We conclude that the anti-retaliation provision [Section 704] does not confine the actions and harms it forbids to those that are related to employment or occur at the workplace. We also conclude that the provision covers those (and only those) employer actions that would have been materially adverse to a reasonable employee or job applicant. In the present context that means that the employer’s actions must be harmful to the point that they could well dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination."

  • The retaliatory action need not cause financial loss.
  • The retaliatory action need not occur at the workplace.

    Examples: Rochon v. Gonzales, 438 F.3d 1211 (DC Cir 2006) (FBI retaliation against employee “took the form of the FBI’s refusal, contrary to policy, to investigate death threats a federal prisoner made against [the agent] and his wife”); Berry v. Stevinson Chevrolet, 74 F.3d 980 (10th Cir 1996) (finding actionable retaliation where employer filed false criminal charges against former employee who complained about discrimination).

  • The actions must be "materially adverse" - "harmful to the point that they could well dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination."

    "The anti-retaliation provision seeks to prevent employer interference with 'unfettered access' to Title VII’s remedial mechanisms. Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U. S. 337, 346 (1997). It does so by prohibiting employer actions that are likely 'to deter victims of discrimination from complaining to the EEOC,' the courts, and their employers. Ibid. And normally petty slights, minor annoyances, and simple lack of good manners will not create such deterrence."

  • The action is viewed from the perspective of the reasonable employee.

    "A schedule change in an employee’s work schedule may make little difference to many workers, but may matter enormously to a young mother with school age children. Cf., e.g., Washington v. Illinois Dept. of Revenue, 420 F. 3d 658, 662 (7th Cir 2005) (finding flex-time schedule critical to employee with disabled child)."

    "A supervisor’s refusal to invite an employee to lunch is normally trivial, a nonactionable petty slight. But to retaliate by excluding an employee from a weekly training lunch that contributes significantly to the employee’s professional advancement might well deter a reasonable employee from complaining about discrimination."

Later case: Randolph v. Ohio Dept. of Youth Services, 453 F.3d 724 (6th Cir 07/13/2006) (administrative leave, then discharge, then reinstatement with back pay).



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