Showing 20 posts from January 2012.

Department of Labor Announces Proposed Rules Expanding FMLA Leave

Today, the Department of Labor announced that it is issuing a notice of proposed rule-making to implement new statutory amendments to the Family and Medical Leave Act. The provisions specifically address military caregiver leave and airline flight crew employee leave. More ›

Significant Public Interest in Investigation, Discipline of School Teacher Outweighs His Right to Privacy

Though personnel files are typically afforded protection from inquiring minds, the rules are a little bit different when there’s a significant public interest at issue. That was precisely the case in this recent decision by the California Court of Appeals. More ›

Court Imposes Liquidated Damages Against Employer for FMLA Interference

Calculating Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave can be a daunting task. The law provides employers with various options for determining how the 12 weeks plays out, and also sets forth various notice responsibilities, both for the employee and the employer. This proved to be a problem for one employer, however, who, while providing its employee with FMLA leave, failed to properly notify him of how it was calculating his leave, which ultimately cost the employer big. More ›

D.C. Circuit Demonstrates the Danger of poor Documentation

In a decision released this week, the D.C. Circuit has proven that there is still truth to the old adage: document, document, document. The case, Hamilton v. Geithner, arose when a federal employee was passed over for a promotion. The begrudged employee felt that he had been far more qualified than the employee selected for the position. He brought suit against the IRS (his employer) under Title VII, calling its assertion that the selected employee had been more qualified a pretext, and alleging that the other employee (a Caucasian female) had actually been selected over him (an African-American male) based upon his race and gender. The district court granted summary judgment to the employer, finding that the disparity in the employees’ qualifications was “not significant enough to warrant an inference of discrimination.” More ›

Ninth Circuit Permits use of “Burden-Shifting” Test over “But For” Standard in ADEA Case

An Army employee filed suit against the Secretary of the Army and the United States Army Corps of Engineers alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") after he was not interviewed and his applications for two promotions were denied. The lower court relied upon the newer Gross v. FBL Financial standard of determining causation in an ADEA case, and found that the employee could not demonstrate that “but for” his age, he would have been given the position(s). More ›

Employees’ Delay in Complaining of Harassment lead to Dismissal of Claims

Five mid-level supervisors brought suit for racial and sexual harassment against their employer based upon purported physical and verbal misconduct by a higher-level supervisor. It turned out, however, that the employees had delayed almost eight months before reporting the misconduct, despite the fact that the employer had a “zero tolerance” policy regarding this type of misconduct, had policies in place which set forth the complaint process. The employer only learned of the supervisor’s alleged misconduct after the employees filed EEOC charges, and at that time, the employer undertook a prompt investigation. The employees claimed that they didn’t complain earlier because their complaints would have been ignored and/or because they feared retaliation. More ›

National Labor Relations Board Issues new Rules Designed to Speed up Union Elections

On December 21, 2011, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued final amendments to the procedures governing union representation elections. These amendments become effective on April 30, 2012. Employer groups have asserted that the changes allow unions to “ambush” businesses with union elections and force employees to make quick, uninformed decisions about whether to unionize. Union advocates, on the other hand, claim that the amendments will prevent unnecessary litigation and remove what they believe to be unnecessary delays in effectuating an “employee’s free choice” to unionize. More ›

State Claims for Wrongful Discharge Related to Facebook post not Preempted by Federal Law

A nurse posted complaints about high patient-to-nurse ratios at the hospital where she worked on her Facebook page, and asserted that the high ratio negatively impacted patient safety. The nurse was subsequently warned that she should think about her behavior because her actions—whether at work or at home — reflected on the hospital. Fearing termination, the nurse deleted the Facebook page. Five months later, the nurse was terminated for substandard customer service. She sued the employer in Kentucky state court, alleging that she was fired in retaliation for exercising her free-speech rights under the Kentucky Constitution. The hospital sought to remove the lawsuit to federal court on the basis that the nurse’s complaint involved claims for violations of federal law, including the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), and that those federal laws preempted her complaint. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky found that the nurse’s claim was firmly rooted in Kentucky state law and that neither the NLRA nor the Labor Management Relations Act preempted the claim. Accordingly, the case was remanded to the state court. Employers should be mindful that an employee’s public complaints about working conditions on social media networks may be protected by various state law protections that vary depending on the state of employment, which could in turn support a claim for wrongful discharge. Consequently, it is important to fully evaluate not only applicable federal laws when making an adverse employment decision, but also applicable state and local laws that may offer additional protections to an employee.

Moore v. Highlands Hosp. Corp., No. 7:11-cv-131 (E.D. Ky. Nov. 17, 2011)

Employer’s Lack of Knowledge of Employee’s Overtime Dooms FLSA Claim

A sewing manager at a Midwestern manufacturing company sued her employer for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), alleging that the employer failed to pay her overtime. The former manager testified that she regularly arrived to work between 15-45 minutes prior to the official start of her shift and spent that time unlocking doors, turning on lights, turning on the compressor, punching-in, preparing coffee for the rest of the employees, reviewing schedules, gathering and distributing materials to her subordinates’ workstations and cleaning up workstations. Her timecards often reflected that she punched in early. The former manager was aware that her employer had a policy requiring employees to request pre-approval to work overtime, and on one occasion she had even reprimanded one of her subordinates for punching in too early. The former employee admitted that she never complained or made her employer aware that she needed to be paid for arriving early. The district court dismissed the claim finding that the employee’s pre-shift activities were preliminary and de minimis, and that her employer did not know that she was engaging in pre-shift work. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit disagreed with the district court’s conclusions about the preliminary and de minimis nature of the work. But it affirmed the dismissal because it agreed that the sales manager did not show that the employer knew, or had reason to know, that she was working before her shift. Although the employee had pointed to her timecards to impute knowledge on behalf of her employer, the court noted that punching in early does not necessarily mean that an employee is working pre-shift. More persuasive was the fact that the employee had weekly meetings with her managers where she failed to disclose the pre-shift work or to complain about improper compensation. Additionally, she was aware of the overtime policy and had enforced it. Employers should note that the mere promulgation of a rule against overtime work is insufficient to justify the nonpayment of overtime if an employer has the opportunity through reasonable diligence to acquire knowledge that an employee worked outside of his or her official work hours.

Kellar v. Summit Seating Inc., No. 11-1221 (7th Cir. Dec. 14, 2011)

RICO Claim of Retaliation for Whistleblower Activity Restored on Appeal

A tax manager at a home products company was terminated after reporting a tax fraud scheme to the company and federal agencies. Following the internal report, the tax manager received a negative performance evaluation from a supervisor involved in the alleged scheme. After the external reports and failed attempts to get the tax manager to sign a release of claims, the company terminated him and sued the tax manager for breach of contract and conversion. In response, the tax manager sued for a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). In a RICO claim, recovery is available upon a showing that the plaintiff was injured “by reason of” a pattern of racketeering activity. Based on the pleadings, the tax manager was limited to showing that he was injured “by reason of” the company’s retaliatory conduct to his whistleblower activity. In allowing the tax manager’s claim to survive a motion to dismiss, the U.S. Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit focused on a provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act making it unlawful to “knowingly . . . take[] any action harmful to any person . . . for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any Federal offense.” Violation of this provision is a “racketeering activity” under the RICO, and the Seventh Circuit held that retaliatory acts are inherently connected to the underlying wrongdoing exposed by the whistleblower. Accordingly, the alleged tax fraud scheme and retaliatory acts could not be viewed as isolated acts. After all, the same supervisors involved in the tax fraud scheme were responsible for the retaliatory conduct. Additionally, the timing between the whistle-blowing, attempts to get a release and the decision to terminate could support an inference that the tax manager was terminated for whistle-blowing after attempts to silence him failed. If possible, employers should prohibit supervisors accused of wrongdoing from making disciplinary decisions related to the complaining employee.

DeGuelle v. Camilli, No. 10-2172 (7th Cir. Dec. 15, 2011)