Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Despite employment contracts providing for individualized arbitration to resolve employment disputes, employees sought to litigate Fair Labor Standards Act claims through collective actions. The Federal Arbitration Act generally requires courts to enforce arbitration agreements, but the employees argued that its “saving clause” removes that obligation if an arbitration agreement violates some other federal law and that the agreements violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The National Labor Relations Board ruled that the NLRA effectively nullifies the Arbitration Act in such cases. The Supreme Court disagreed. The Arbitration Act requires courts to enforce the arbitration terms the parties select, 9 U.S.C. 2-4. The saving clause allows courts to refuse to enforce arbitration agreements only on grounds that exist for the revocation of any contract, such as fraud, duress, or unconscionability. The NLRA, which guarantees employees “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively . . . , and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection,” 29 U.S.C. 157, does not mention class or collective actions nor indicate a clear and manifest wish to displace the Arbitration Act. The catchall term “other concerted activities” should be understood to protect the things employees do in exercising their right to free association in the workplace. The Board’s interpretation of the Arbitration Act, which it does not administer, is not entitled to Chevron deference. View "Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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Encino Motorcars' current and former service advisors sought backpay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime-pay requirement, 29 U.S.C. 213(b)(10)(A). The requirement exempts “any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles, trucks, or farm implements.” The Supreme Court reinstated the dismissal of the suit. Service advisors are “salesm[e]n . . . primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles." The ordinary meaning of “salesman” is someone who sells goods or services, and service advisors “sell [customers] services for their vehicles,” Service advisors are also “primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles.” “Servicing” can mean either “the action of maintaining or repairing” or “[t]he action of providing a service.” Service advisors satisfy both definitions. They meet customers; listen to their concerns; suggest repair and maintenance services; sell new accessories or replacement parts; record service orders; follow up with customers as services are performed; and explain the work when customers return for their vehicles. While service advisors do not spend most of their time physically repairing automobiles, neither do partsmen, who are “primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles.” The Ninth Circuit invoked the distributive canon—matching “salesman” with “selling” and “partsman [and] mechanic” with “[servicing]” but the word “or” is “almost always disjunctive.” Using “or” to join “selling” and “servicing” suggests that the exemption covers a salesman primarily engaged in either activity. FLSA gives no textual indication that its exemptions should be construed narrowly. View "Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro" on Justia Law

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Encino Motorcars' current and former service advisors sought backpay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime-pay requirement, 29 U.S.C. 213(b)(10)(A). The requirement exempts “any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles, trucks, or farm implements.” The Supreme Court reinstated the dismissal of the suit. Service advisors are “salesm[e]n . . . primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles." The ordinary meaning of “salesman” is someone who sells goods or services, and service advisors “sell [customers] services for their vehicles,” Service advisors are also “primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles.” “Servicing” can mean either “the action of maintaining or repairing” or “[t]he action of providing a service.” Service advisors satisfy both definitions. They meet customers; listen to their concerns; suggest repair and maintenance services; sell new accessories or replacement parts; record service orders; follow up with customers as services are performed; and explain the work when customers return for their vehicles. While service advisors do not spend most of their time physically repairing automobiles, neither do partsmen, who are “primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles.” The Ninth Circuit invoked the distributive canon—matching “salesman” with “selling” and “partsman [and] mechanic” with “[servicing]” but the word “or” is “almost always disjunctive.” Using “or” to join “selling” and “servicing” suggests that the exemption covers a salesman primarily engaged in either activity. FLSA gives no textual indication that its exemptions should be construed narrowly. View "Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro" on Justia Law

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Somers alleged that Digital terminated his employment after he reported suspected securities-law violations to senior management. Somers sued, alleging whistleblower retaliation under the Dodd-Frank Act. The Ninth Circuit affirmed denial of a motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court reversed. Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision does not extend to an individual, like Somers, who has not reported a violation to the Securities and Exchange Commission. While the Sarbanes-Oxley Act applies to all “employees” who report misconduct to the SEC, any other federal agency, Congress, or an internal supervisor. 18 U.S.C. 1514A(a)(1), Dodd-Frank defines a “whistleblower” as “any individual who provides . . . information relating to a violation of the securities laws to the Commission, in a manner established, by rule or regulation, by the Commission,” 15 U.S.C. 78u– 6(a)(6). A whistleblower is eligible for an award if original information provided to the SEC leads to a successful enforcement action; he is protected from retaliation for “making disclosures that are required or protected under” Sarbanes-Oxley or other specified laws. An individual who falls outside the protected category of “whistleblowers” is ineligible to seek redress under Dodd-Frank, regardless of the conduct in which that individual engages. The statute’s retaliation protections, like its financial rewards, are reserved for employees who have done what Dodd-Frank seeks to achieve by reporting unlawful activity to the SEC. View "Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers" on Justia Law

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In 1998, CNH agreed to a collective-bargaining agreement (CBA), providing health care benefits under a group benefit plan to “[e]mployees who retire under the . . . Pension Plan.” “All other coverages,” such as life insurance, ceased upon retirement. The group benefit plan was “made part of ” the CBA and ran concurrently with it. The agreement contained a general durational clause stating that it would terminate in 2004 and stated that it “dispose[d] of any and all bargaining issues, whether or not presented during negotiations.” When the agreement expired, a class of CNH retirees sought a declaration that their health care benefits vested for life. In 2015, while their lawsuit was pending, the Supreme Court decided “Tackett,” requiring interpretation of CBAs according to “ordinary principles of contract law.” The Sixth Circuit concluded that the 1998 agreement was ambiguous and that extrinsic evidence supported lifetime vesting. The Supreme Court reversed. The Sixth Circuit erred in finding that the agreement was ambiguous based on a presumption, from pre-Tackett precedent, that lifetime vesting was inferred whenever “a contract is silent as to the duration of retiree benefits” and in declining to apply the general duration clause. Such inferences are inconsistent with ordinary principles of contract law. A contract is not ambiguous unless it is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation. View "CNH Industrial N. V. v. Reese" on Justia Law

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In 1998, CNH agreed to a collective-bargaining agreement (CBA), providing health care benefits under a group benefit plan to “[e]mployees who retire under the . . . Pension Plan.” “All other coverages,” such as life insurance, ceased upon retirement. The group benefit plan was “made part of ” the CBA and ran concurrently with it. The agreement contained a general durational clause stating that it would terminate in 2004 and stated that it “dispose[d] of any and all bargaining issues, whether or not presented during negotiations.” When the agreement expired, a class of CNH retirees sought a declaration that their health care benefits vested for life. In 2015, while their lawsuit was pending, the Supreme Court decided “Tackett,” requiring interpretation of CBAs according to “ordinary principles of contract law.” The Sixth Circuit concluded that the 1998 agreement was ambiguous and that extrinsic evidence supported lifetime vesting. The Supreme Court reversed. The Sixth Circuit erred in finding that the agreement was ambiguous based on a presumption, from pre-Tackett precedent, that lifetime vesting was inferred whenever “a contract is silent as to the duration of retiree benefits” and in declining to apply the general duration clause. Such inferences are inconsistent with ordinary principles of contract law. A contract is not ambiguous unless it is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation. View "CNH Industrial N. V. v. Reese" on Justia Law

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Under the Civil Service Reform Act, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) has the power to review certain personnel actions against federal employees. If an employee asserts rights under the CSRA only, MSPB decisions are subject to judicial review exclusively in the Federal Circuit, 5 U.S.C. 7703(b)(1). If the employee invokes only federal antidiscrimination law, the proper forum is federal district court. An employee who complains of a serious adverse employment action and attributes the action, in whole or in part, to bias based on race, gender, age, or disability brings a “mixed case.” When the MSPB dismisses a mixed case on the merits or on procedural grounds, review authority lies in district court, not the Federal Circuit. Perry received notice that he would be terminated from his Census Bureau employment for spotty attendance. Perry agreed to early retirement. The settlement required Perry to dismiss discrimination claims he had filed separately with the EEOC. After retiring, Perry appealed to the MSPB, alleging discrimination based on race, age, and disability, and retaliation for his discrimination complaints. He claimed the settlement had been coerced. Presuming Perry’s retirement to be voluntary, an ALJ dismissed his case for lack of jurisdiction. The MSPB affirmed, stating that Perry could seek review in the Federal Circuit. Perry instead sought review in the D.C. Circuit, which transferred the case to the Federal Circuit. The Supreme Court reversed. The proper review forum when the MSPB dismisses a mixed case on jurisdictional grounds is district court. A nonfrivolous claim that an agency action appealable to the MSPB violates an antidiscrimination statute listed in section 7702(a)(1) suffices to establish district court jurisdiction. Had Congress wanted to bifurcate judicial review, sending merits and procedural decisions to district court and jurisdictional dismissals to the Federal Circuit, it could have said so. View "Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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Ochoa worked in a physically demanding job for McLane, which requires new employees in such positions and those returning from medical leave to take a physical evaluation. When Ochoa returned from three months of maternity leave, she failed the evaluation three times and was fired. She filed a sex discrimination charge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) began an investigation, but McLane declined its request for names, Social Security numbers, addresses, and telephone numbers of employees asked to take the evaluation. After the EEOC expanded the investigation’s scope, it issued subpoenas under 42 U.S.C. 2000e–9, requesting information relating to its new investigation. The district judge declined to enforce the subpoenas. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the lower court erred in finding the information irrelevant. The Supreme Court vacated. A district court’s decision whether to enforce or quash an EEOC subpoena should be reviewed for abuse of discretion, not de novo. The Court noted “the longstanding practice of the courts of appeals," to review a district court’s decision to enforce or quash an administrative subpoena for abuse of discretion. In most cases, the enforcement decision will turn either on whether the evidence sought is relevant to the specific charge or whether the subpoena is unduly burdensome under the circumstances. Both tasks are well suited to a district judge’s expertise. Deferential review “streamline[s] the litigation process by freeing appellate courts from the duty of reweighing evidence and reconsidering facts already weighed and considered by the district court,” something particularly important in a proceeding designed only to facilitate the EEOC’s investigation. Not every decision touching on the Fourth Amendment is subject to searching review. View "McLane Co. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission" on Justia Law

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Jevic filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after its purchase in a leveraged buyout. Former Jevic drivers were awarded a judgment for violations of state and federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Acts, part of which was a priority wage claim under 11 U.S.C. 507(a)(4), entitling them to payment ahead of general unsecured claims. In another suit, a court-authorized committee representing unsecured creditors sued Sun Capital and CIT for fraudulent conveyance in the buyout; the parties negotiated a structured dismissal of Jevic’s bankruptcy, under which the drivers would receive nothing on their WARN claims, but lower-priority general unsecured creditors would be paid. The Bankruptcy Court reasoned that the proposed payouts would occur under a structured dismissal rather than an approved plan, so failure to follow ordinary priority rules did not bar approval. The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. The drivers have standing, having “suffered an injury in fact,” or “likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” A settlement that respects ordinary priorities remains a reasonable possibility and the fraudulent-conveyance claim could have litigation value. Bankruptcy courts may not approve structured dismissals that provide for distributions that do not follow ordinary priority rules without the consent of affected creditors. Section 349(b), which permits a bankruptcy judge, “for cause, [to] orde[r] otherwise,” gives courts flexibility to protect reliance interests, not to make general end-of-case distributions that would be impermissible in a Chapter 11 plan or Chapter 7 liquidation. Here, the priority-violating distribution is attached to a final disposition and does not preserve the debtor as a going concern, nor make the disfavored creditors better off, promote the possibility of a confirmable plan, help to restore the status quo ante, or protect reliance interests. There is no “rare case” exception, permitting courts to disregard priority in structured dismissals for “sufficient reasons.” View "Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp. " on Justia Law

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The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay overtime compensation to covered employees who work more than 40 hours in a week; a 1966 exemption covers “any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles” at a covered dealership, 29 U.S.C. 213(b)(10)(A). In 1970, the Department of Labor defined “salesman” to mean “an employee who is employed for the purpose of and is primarily engaged in making sales or obtaining orders or contracts for sale of the vehicles . . . which the establishment is primarily engaged in selling.” The regulation excluded service advisors, who sell repair and maintenance services but not vehicles, from the exemption. Several courts rejected that exclusion. In 1978, the Department changed its position, stating that service advisors could be exempt. In 1987, the Department confirmed its new interpretation, amending its Field Operations Handbook. In 2011, the Department issued a final rule that followed the original 1970 regulation and interpreted the statutory term “salesman” to mean only an employee who sells vehicles. The Ninth Circuit reversed dismissal of a suit by service advisors, alleging violation of the FLSA by failing to pay overtime compensation. The Supreme Court vacated. Section 213(b)(10)(A) must be construed without placing controlling weight on the 2011 regulation. Chevron deference is not warranted where the regulation is “procedurally defective.” An agency must give adequate reasons for its decisions. An “[u]nexplained inconsistency” in agency policy is “a reason for holding an interpretation to be an arbitrary and capricious change from agency practice,” not entitled to deference. The 2011 regulation was issued without the reasoned explanation that was required in light of the Department’s change in position and the significant reliance interests. View "Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro" on Justia Law