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Showing 7 posts in Fifth Circuit.

Delivery Driver Loses Harassment Claim for Failing to Follow Complaint Procedure

It's important for employees to follow company policy, but it's even more important for employers to have those policies in the first place. In this case, the Fifth Circuit dealt a harsh blow to an employee who complained, but complained to the wrong people. More ›

Fifth Circuit: Race Discrimination claim fails Because Bankruptcy Trustee is not “Employer”

An African-American woman was employed with the office of the Chapter 13 standing trustee for the Western District of Louisiana for 14 years. For the last several years, she served as the office manager. A new trustee came on board in 2008. She and the trustee did not get along, frequently getting into disagreements. Ultimately, after a peer review process, it was recommended that the employee be terminated. When she was replaced by a Caucasian woman, the employee claimed that the Caucasian woman was less qualified than she.

The employee filed suit against the trustee claiming that she was terminated due to her race in violation of the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law. After various removal issues, the case ended up in federal district court, which granted summary judgment in favor of the trustee, finding that he was not an "employer" under state law. The employee appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit affirmed, finding that to qualify as an "employer" under the state statutes, the trustee would have to employ twenty or more employees for twenty or more weeks. The court rejected the employee's assertion that the trustee was part of the larger association of the Chapter 13 system (which employed over 125 employees in the state of Louisiana) because the employee provided no authority or evidence for this position.

For more information read Bell v. Thornburg, No. 13-30155 (5th Cir. December 30, 2013).

Mandatory bus Rides to Plant Deemed not Compensable work time Under FLSA

An engineering and construction services contractor initially offered its laborers the option of parking at a plant parking lot or participating in a park and ride program which would take the laborers directly to the plant, but then later required all employees to participate in mandatory park and ride. Prior to boarding the buses, laborers scanned their plant badge. While on the buses, the laborers were subject to the contractor's rules regarding use of cell phones, tobacco, alcohol, weapons, etc. Once they arrived at the plant, laborers would scan their badges and proceed to their work station. At the end of their shift, they boarded the buses and returned to the lot. The daily total travel time varied from 40-60 minutes.   More ›

Co-Workers’ Seemingly Ageist Remarks Insufficient to Create Triable Issue of fact in ADEA Case

During the course of an investigation into employees fraudulently submitting falsified customer service surveys, a 60 year-old employee was terminated. He subsequently filed an age-discrimination claim in Texas state court pursuant to the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA) and the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). In support of his claim, he claimed his co-workers called him names like "old man," "old fart," "pops," and "grandpa," but he never reported this before he was terminated. The District Court granted summary judgment on behalf of the employer. The employee appealed, contending the District Court 1) used the wrong causation standard in analyzing his termination and 2) erred in granting summary judgment on his hostile work environment claim. More ›

Fifth Circuit Recognizes “Hostile Work Environment” Claim Under the ADEA

In a matter of first impression, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in favor of the employer and permitted the employee to proceed with his harassment claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  More ›

EPPA Permits Employer to Request Polygraph Test After Receiving Credible Evidence that Employee Stole from Employer

A bank discovered that $58,000 was missing from one of its locations. Surveillance videos showed that the manager at the location had instructed his employees to ignore certain anti-theft policies, and employees confirmed that the manager had repeatedly violated the policies. The employer fired the manager for violating the policies. Before informing the manager of his termination, however, the employer requested that the manager submit to a polygraph test regarding the missing money. The manager refused and, after being fired, sued the employer for violating the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA). The EPPA prohibits employers from requesting that an employee take a polygraph test, except where the request is made as part of “an ongoing investigation” into a “specific incident of economic loss” and based upon a “reasonable suspicion” that the employee was involved. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the employer’s request was made as part of an investigation into a “specific incident of economic loss” because while the EPPA does not allow employers to use polygraph tests as “fishing expeditions” whenever money is lost, the employer here requested the test only after receiving other evidence suggesting that the manager had taken the money. The court also found that the employer’s suspicion of the manager was reasonable because the “totality of the circumstances” established not only that the manager had the opportunity to take the money, but also gave “reason to believe that [he] was actually capitalizing on that opportunity.” Employers should be aware that requesting or even suggesting that an employee take a polygraph test violates the EPPA, unless the employer has evidence prior to making the request that credibly suggests that the employee stole the employer’s money or property.

Title VII Caps Damage Awards per Plaintiff, not per Claim

A female employee sued her employer under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Title VII) after being fired, asserting three separate claims: (1) sex discrimination in setting of sales quotas, (2) retaliation for making complaints about discriminatory treatment on the basis of her sex, and (3) discriminatory termination. The jury found in favor of the employee on all three claims and awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages on each claim, $150,000 in back pay for both her retaliation and termination claims, and $2.4 million in punitive damages, for a total of $3.45 million in damages. The district court applied the U.S. Supreme Court’s prohibition on double recovery in back pay to her termination and retaliation claims and reduced the back pay award from $600,000 to $150,000. The district court then applied Title VII’s damages cap, which limited the amount for compensatory and punitive damages and reduced the employee’s award from $2.4 million to $200,000. On appeal the employee sought $200,000 in damages on each of her successful Title VII claims because they were “separate, distinct, and independent causes of action,” which could have been filed separately. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the trial court’s reduction of the damages award based on the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which amended Title VII to allow jury trials and compensatory and punitive damages. The statutory language provides that a “complaining party” may recover compensatory and punitive damages under Title VII, and the amount awarded “shall not exceed, for each complaining party” a designated amount based upon the size of the employer. The compensatory and punitive damages cap on the employer here was $200,000. In light of this case, when assessing whether to settle or litigate discrimination complaints, employers need to be mindful that Title VII caps damages per plaintiff, not per claim. Additionally, employers need to be cognizant of the fact that its number of employees determines the amount of the Title VII damages cap.

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