Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court entering judgment upon the jury's verdict in favor of Paul Reina on his claim that Walmart violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12112(a), (b) and acted maliciously or in reckless disregard of Reina's rights, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion.Reina, who was deaf and legally blind, worked as a cart attendant for Walmart for almost twenty years. After providing Reina with a job coach, Walmart eventually ended Reina's employment. Reina filed an administrative charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which sued Walmart for violating the ADA. The jury concluded that Walmart violated the ADA by refusing Reina a reasonable accommodation in the form of a full-time job coach and acted maliciously or in reckless disregard of Reina's rights. The jury awarded Reina $200,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. The Third Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court properly denied Walmart's motion for judgment as a matter of law; and (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to issue an injunction against Walmart as proposed by the EEOC. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc." on Justia Law

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In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Port Authority, a municipal bus and light-rail operator, required its uniformed employees to wear face masks. Initially, Port Authority was unable to procure masks for all its employees, so they were required to provide their own. Some employees wore masks bearing political or social-protest messages. Port Authority has long prohibited its uniformed employees from wearing buttons “of a political or social protest nature.” Concerned that such masks would disrupt its workplace, Port Authority prohibited them in July 2020. When several employees wore masks expressing support for Black Lives Matter, Port Authority disciplined them. In September 2020, Port Authority imposed additional restrictions, confining employees to a narrow range of masks. The employees sued, alleging that Port Authority had violated their First Amendment rights.The district court entered a preliminary injunction rescinding discipline imposed under the July policy and preventing Port Authority from enforcing its policy against “Black Lives Matter” masks. The Third Circuit affirmed. The government may limit the speech of its employees more than it may limit the speech of the public, but those limits must still comport with the protections of the First Amendment. Port Authority bears the burden of showing that its policy is constitutional. It has not made that showing. View "Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 v. Port Authority of Allegheny County" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing Plaintiffs' lawsuit asserting race-based discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, holding that the district court did not err in dismissing the suit for failure to state a claim.Plaintiffs represented a putative class of employees employed by Whole Foods and Amazon who were disciplined for wearing face masks with the message "Black Lives Matter." In their lawsuit, Plaintiffs alleged that the manner in which their employers enforced a previously unenforced dress code policy constituted race-based discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court dismissed all claims. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs did not adequately plead claims for racial discrimination and retaliation under Title VII. View "Frith v. Whole Foods Market, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was transferred from a class where she instructed emotionally disturbed (“ED”) children to a class where Plaintiff worked with children with moderate intellectual disabilities. Plaintiff alleged that one of her students sexually harassed her between fall 2018 through mid-March 2019. This student, S.M., was an eight-year-old boy diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”). Although the teacher in the classroom recorded the incidents in her notes, or “point sheets,” where she detailed each student’s daily behavior, Plaintiff claims the teacher was generally dismissive of her concerns. After exhausting her remedies with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff filed suit against the Chesterfield County School Board (“the School Board”) alleging that she was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.   The district court granted the School Board’s motion for summary judgment. At issue on appeal is whether the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim on summary judgment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding that the record does not support a prima facie case for hostile work environment sexual harassment. The court explained that Plaintiff cannot primarily rely upon her own statements to argue that S.M.’s conduct surpassed what could be expected of an eight-year-old child with his disabilities after two special education experts testified that it did not—instead, she is required by law to demonstrate it. Further, even if Plaintiff established that S.M. targeted her because of sex, she would still be unable to meet the third required element—that is, show that S.M.’s conduct rose to the level of severe or pervasive. View "Regina Webster v. Chesterfield County School Board" on Justia Law

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St. Vincent Hospital adopted a COVID-19 vaccine requirement. Employees had until November 12, 2021 to get vaccinated unless they received a medical or religious exemption. In reviewing exemption requests, St. Vincent considered the employee’s position and amount of contact with others, the current health and safety risk posed by COVID, and the cost and effectiveness of other safety protocols. Dr. Halczenko treated gravely ill children, including those suffering from or at risk of organ failure.St. Vincent denied Halczenko’s request for religious accommodation on the ground that “providing an exemption to a Pediatric Intensivist working with acutely ill pediatric patients poses more than a de minim[i]s burden to the hospital because the vaccine provides an additional level of protection in mitigating the risk associated with COVID.” Halczenko and four other St. Vincent employees filed an EEOC complaint. The others—a nurse practitioner and three nurses, including two in the pediatric ICU—were granted religious accommodations. St. Vincent terminated Halczenko’s employment. Halczenko attributes his lack of success in finding new work to his non-compete agreement with St. Vincent, his preference not to move his family, and the limited demand for an unvaccinated physician in his specialty. In a purported class action, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of preliminary relief, concluding that Halczenko had shown neither irreparable harm nor an inadequate remedy at law. View "Halczenko v. Ascension Health, Inc." on Justia Law

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Several public-sector employees filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 seeking to recover any agency fees taken from their paychecks by the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association and Santa Clara County. Specifically, Plaintiffs sought a refund for fees paid before the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Janus v. Am. Fed’n of State, Cnty., & Mun. Emps., Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018) (prohibiting public-sector unions from collecting compulsory agency fees).In the district court, Defendants successfully moved for summary judgment, claiming they were entitled to a good-faith defense because their actions were expressly authorized by then-applicable United States Supreme Court law and state law. Plaintiffs appealed.On appeal, Plaintiffs acknowledge that Danielson v. Inslee, 945 F.3d 1096 (9th Cir. 2019) precludes their claim against the Union. The Ninth Circuit held that the rule announced in Danielson also applies to municipalities because "precedent recognizes that municipalities are generally liable in the same way as private corporations in sec. 1983 actions." Thus, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' claim against both the Union and the County. View "SEAN ALLEN V. SANTA CLARA CNTY CORR. POA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff a former part-time employee of the City of Cedar Falls, brought an action against the City of Cedar Falls and certain city officials after her 2018 termination, alleging interference with and retaliation for the exercise of her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and claims of age discrimination, disability discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation under the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on all of Plaintiff’s claims, and she appealed.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that it need not consider the substantive elements of the claim because Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that she sustained any recoverable damages and it is undisputed that she did not seek any form of equitable relief.   Second, as to the retaliation claim, the court applied the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, which requires a plaintiff to make a prima facie showing of retaliation before the burden shifts back to the employer to offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions. Here, Plaintiff has failed to put forth any evidence of the kind that would demonstrate pretext. She offered nothing more than disagreement with the statements contained in the disciplinary reports. In the absence of any factual record demonstrating that these documented performance deficiencies were inaccurate, Plaintiff has failed to meet her burden of demonstrating pretext. Finally, Plaintiff has failed to show that the final three disciplinary reports were part of the same unlawful employment practice—harassment based on her age and disability. View "Michelle Brandt v. City of Cedar Falls" on Justia Law

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The California Insurance Commissioner filed an ex parte conservation application to place the California Insurance Company (“CIC I”) in a conservatorship after CIC I’s president attempted to consummate a purchase transaction with Berkshire Hathaway without the Commissioner’s approval, and then attempted to bypass the California insurance regulatory scheme by merging CIC I with the California Insurance Company (“CIC II”), a New Mexico-domesticated shell company formed by the president. The Superior Court granted the Commissioner’s conservatorship application and appointed the Commissioner as Conservator of CIC I. Applied Underwriters, of which the president is the Chief Executive Officer, and CIC II filed separate actions in federal court asserting causes of actions under Section 1983.   The district court dismissed both actions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). The Ninth Circuit held that because important considerations of federalism were at stake, the district court’s reliance on Younger abstention as a ground for dismissal was in error. The court held that an insurance conservatorship is not sufficiently akin to criminal prosecution to bring it within the purview of what constitutes a similar, Younger-eligible “civil enforcement proceeding.”   The court held that dismissal of Appellants’ claims was warranted on account of the prior exclusive jurisdiction rule. Further, Appellants’ interests were well represented in the conservatorship action; they had an adequate opportunity to raise constitutional challenges; they failed to sufficiently allege that the conservatorship action was brought in bad faith; they failed to demonstrate irreparable injury arising from extraordinary circumstances which might justify an exception to the prior exclusive jurisdiction rule. View "APPLIED UNDERWRITERS, INC. V. RICARDO LARA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff worked as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines. She alleged that, while working on an airplane, she heard a passenger refer to her using a racist remark and reported the passenger’s remark to the pilot. The pilot responded by demanding that Plaintiff “step out on the jet bridge with the passenger,” and when she refused the pilot had her removed from the plane. Plaintiff reported the pilot’s conduct to her supervisor, and within two months of these events Plaintiff alleged she was subjected to random drug testing, wrongfully suspended, and ultimately fired. She filed a complaint in state court, alleging retaliation and vicarious liability under the New York City Human Rights Law. (“NYCHRL”) Delta removed the case to federal district court and moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The district court granted the motion, holding that Leroy failed adequately to allege that Delta had discriminated against her and that she therefore failed to allege retaliation for a protected activity under the NYCHRL.   The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling dismissing Plaintiff’s claims finding that her complaint did not allege facts adequate to support a good-faith, reasonable belief that Delta engaged in discrimination against her. The court explained that the NYCHRL prohibits retaliation for “opposing [the] employer’s discrimination.” To succeed on a retaliation claim, the plaintiff must at least have a good-faith, reasonable belief that she was opposing an unlawful employment practice. On the facts as alleged, Plaintiff could not have reasonably and in good faith believed that the passenger’s comment or the pilot’s conduct was an unlawful employment practice. View "Leroy v. Delta Air Lines, Inc." on Justia Law

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Charlton-Perkins, a male research scientist, applied for a professorship at the University of Cincinnati (UC) in late 2017. He alleges that UC determined him the most qualified candidate for the position but refused to hire him on account of his gender, then canceled the job search itself, ensuring that Charlton-Perkins could never fill the position.The district court dismissed his complaint under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681 and 42 U.S.C. 1983, for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Because nobody ever filled the canceled position, it reasoned, Charlton-Perkins’s claims never ripened into an adverse employment action, and thus he suffered no concrete injury cognizable in federal court. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Charlton-Perkins plausibly alleged a ripe employment discrimination claim, so his suit may proceed. No matter whether somebody else ever got the spot, it has always been the case that Charlton-Perkins was denied the spot. He has always had that de facto injury, no matter whether someone else got the position instead. Charlton-Perkins claims that the defendants not only failed to hire him because of his gender, but they then canceled the search itself as a pretext to conceal the discriminatory reason for the failure to hire. View "Charlton-Perkins v. University of Cincinnati" on Justia Law