Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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In 2014, Cooperative, a Wisconsin-based governmental entity that services 35 public-school districts, hired Simon as an Alternative Program Lead Teacher at REACH Academy. Simon taught, managed paraprofessionals, developed integrated education plans, and communicated with parents, school districts, social workers, and law enforcement officials. In 2016, a student kicked a door into Simon’s head, which caused a concussion. Simon took Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave and was cleared to return to full-time work with no restrictions weeks later. Cooperative did not allow Simon to return to her previous position, having determined that doing so would present an “unreasonable risk.” Cooperative placed her in a support position with duties resembling those of a paraprofessional and requiring her to split her time between schools. Although Simon received the same salary and benefits in her new role, it involved significantly less responsibility, independence, and discretion.The district court found that Cooperative had violated the FMLA by not returning Simon to an equivalent position following her leave and that only declaratory—rather than injunctive—relief was appropriate based on Cooperative’s hiring trends, the unavailability of Simon’s previous role, and Simon’s new job elsewhere, and awarded Simon attorney’s fees of $59,773.62. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The FMLA’s use of the term “equitable relief” encompasses declaratory relief. Simon suffered prejudice from Cooperative’s failure to return her to an equivalent position. The district court did not err in finding that attorney’s fees were available under the circumstances. View "Simon v. Cooperative Educational Service Agency #5" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review centered on whether the First Amendment barred claims for defamation and tortious interference with contract against a defendant who, in an email to a law firm, described as “shockingly racist” a lawsuit filed by one of the firm’s partners in his personal capacity. The suit aimed to preserve a nearby high school’s “Indian” mascot. The partner, who claimed to have lost his position with the law firm because of the email, sued his detractor, contending that the characterization of his lawsuit was demonstrably false and pled four causes of action, including defamation and tortious interference with contract. The partner’s detractor, in response, contended her statements about the partner were opinions protected by the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. The Superior Court agreed with the detractor and dismissed the partner’s tort action. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court: the statements at issue did not on their face contain demonstrably false statements of fact, nor did they imply defamatory and provably false facts. "As statements concerning an issue of public concern, moreover, they are entitled to heightened First Amendment protection and cannot form the predicate of the plaintiff’s tort claims." View "Cousins v. Goodier" on Justia Law

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Pennsylvania’s Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act (“Act 140”) mandated the forfeiture of the pension of a public official or public employee when he or she was convicted of certain Pennsylvania crimes related to public office or public employment, or was convicted of federal offenses that were “substantially the same” as the forfeit-triggering state crimes. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether a federal conviction for false statements to a federal agent, 18 U.S.C. § 1001 was “substantially the same” as the Pennsylvania crime of false reports to law enforcement authorities, 18 Pa.C.S. § 4906, for purposes of Act 140. The Supreme Court concluded that the two offenses were not “substantially the same,” and, thus, the Commonwealth Court erred in affirming the forfeiture of the pension of Appellant, former Municipal Court of Philadelphia County Judge Joseph O’Neill. View "O'Neill v. SERS" on Justia Law

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Vines sued under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, Gov. Code, 12900, alleging he was a 59-year-old Black man who had been subjected during his employment with O’Reilly to discriminatory treatment and harassment by his supervisor and others because of his age and race. His supervisor allegedly created false and misleading reviews of Vines, yelled at him, and denied his requests for training given to younger, non-Black employees. Although Vines repeatedly complained to management, O’Reilly took no remedial action.A jury awarded damages on his claims for retaliation and failure to prevent retaliation, Vines moved for an award of $809,681.25 in attorney fees. The trial court awarded only $129,540.44, based in part on its determination the unsuccessful discrimination and harassment claims were not sufficiently related or factually intertwined with the successful retaliation claims. The court of appeal reversed the post-judgment fee order and remanded for recalculation of Vines’s fee award. The trial court erred in finding the claims not sufficiently related or factually intertwined. Evidence of the facts regarding the alleged underlying discriminatory and harassing conduct about which Vines had complained was relevant to establish, for the retaliation cause of action, the reasonableness of his belief that conduct was unlawful. View "Vines v. O'Reilly Auto Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

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Davis, a former Congressman, mayoral candidate, candidate for governor of Alabama, and federal prosecutor, is Black. In 2016, he became Executive Director of LSA, a non-profit law firm serving low-income Alabamians. Davis experienced problems with some of his subordinates and colleagues; some complained to LSA’s Executive Committee. On August 18, 2017, as Davis left work, he was informed that the Executive Committee had voted to suspend him with pay pending an investigation of those complaints. A “Suspension Letter” cited spending decisions outside the approved budget, failure to follow LSA's hiring policies and procedures, creating new initiatives without Board approval, and creating a hostile work environment for some LSA employees. LSA posted a security guard in front of its building and hired Mowery, an Alabama political consultant, to handle public relations related to Davis’s suspension. Mowery had handled one of Davis’s failed political campaigns until their relationship soured; Mowery had worked for the campaign of Davis’s opponent in another race.Days later, Davis notified the Board of his resignation. He filed suit, alleging race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 1981 and under Title VII, and defamation. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Being placed on paid leave was not an adverse employment action and Davis did not raise a fact issue on his constructive discharge claim. LSA’s disclosures to Mowery did not constitute “publication”—an essential element of defamation. View "Davis v. Legal Services Alabama, Inc." on Justia Law

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Moniz managed a staffing firm's (Adecco’s) relationship with Google. Correa was assigned to work at Google. Moniz and Correa sued Adecco to recover civil penalties for alleged violations of the Labor Code. Under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), an employee aggrieved by alleged Labor Code violations may act as an agent of the Labor Workforce and Development Agency (LWDA) to bring an action to recover civil penalties. If an aggrieved employee settles such an action, the court must review and approve the settlement; civil penalties are distributed 75 percent to the LWDA and 25 percent to the aggrieved employees.Moniz settled her case first. The court approved the settlement. Correa challenged the settlement process and approval, including the manner in which the court treated Correa's and LWDA's objections to the settlement, the standard used by the court to approve the settlement, numerous alleged legal deficiencies, and the trial court’s ruling denying her attorney fees and an incentive payment. The court of appeal reversed. While the court applied an appropriate standard of review by inquiring whether the settlement was “fair, adequate, and reasonable” as well as meaningful and consistent with the purposes of PAGA, it is not possible to infer from the record that the trial court assessed the fairness of the settlement’s allocation of civil penalties between the affected aggrieved employees or whether such allocation comports with PAGA. View "Moniz v. Adecco USA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff John Hayes prosecuted his employment discrimination case to a favorable verdict and judgment. During trial, two instances of misconduct prompted Defendant SkyWest Airlines, Inc. to request a mistrial. But it was Defendant’s own misconduct. Thus, the district court tried to remedy the misconduct and preserve the integrity of the proceedings, but did not grant Defendant’s request. After the trial, exercising its equitable powers, the district court granted Plaintiff’s request for a front pay award. Following final judgment, Defendant moved for a new trial based, in part, on the district court’s handling of the misconduct incidents and on newly discovered evidence. The district court denied that motion. Defendant appealed, asking the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse and remand for a new trial or, at the very least, to vacate (or reduce) the front pay award. Finding the district court did not abuse its discretion or authority in this case, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the front pay award. View "Hayes v. Skywest Airlines" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying plaintiff's motion seeking to recover reasonable attorney's fees, costs, and expenses from Montgomery County. Plaintiff's case stems from her action against the county for failure to reasonably accommodate her disability. The district court held that plaintiff is not eligible for such an award because she is not a "prevailing party" under 29 U.S.C. 794a(b).In this case, plaintiff won a jury verdict that found the county liable for discrimination and entitled plaintiff to equitable relief—at least until the county capitulated by transferring her to a call center called MC 311. The court thought that this case is more like Parham v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 433 F.2d 421 (8th Cir. 1970), and concluded that plaintiff is not a prevailing party because she catalyzed the county to change its behavior by filing a lawsuit; rather, she is a prevailing party because she proved her claim to a jury before the county capitulated by transferring her to MC 311. The court noted that its holding is narrow, and that it would be unjust to hold that plaintiff did not prevail simply because the county's timely capitulation rendered unnecessary equitable relief that she would have otherwise been entitled to. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Reyazuddin v. Montgomery County, Maryland" on Justia Law

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Retired superior court judges who have participated in the Temporary Assigned Judges Program (TAJP) challenged recent changes to the program made by the Chief Justice, including limits on the duration of service in the program with some exceptions. Plaintiffs, claiming these changes discriminate against “older” retired judges, filed suit, alleging disparate impact age discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The trial court dismissed without leave to amend on the ground legislative immunity bars the suit.The court of appeal reversed and remanded to allow the plaintiffs to amend their complaint. Legislative immunity shields the Chief Justice and the Judicial Council from suit, regardless of the nature of the relief sought, to the extent plaintiffs’ discrimination claim is based on the Chief Justice’s promulgation of changes to the TAJP. Legislative immunity does not foreclose suit to the extent the claim is based on the defendants’ enforcement of the challenged provisions through individual judicial assignments. Judicial immunity applies to the Chief Justice’s assignment of individual judges under the new TAJP provisions, and while judicial immunity forecloses monetary relief, it does not foreclose prospective declaratory relief. The plaintiffs’ current allegations are insufficient but a disparate impact age discrimination claim can be based on disparate impact on an older subgroup within the class of persons protected under the Act--employees 40 years of age and older. View "Mahler v. Judicial Council of California" on Justia Law

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In 2006, plaintiff Brenda Gilbert divorced her husband, Monroe Gilbert, who acquired sole possession of the family’s vehicle, which was still registered in plaintiff’s name. In April 2014, Monroe informed plaintiff that he had to report to the Woodland Park Municipal Court (WPMC) regarding many outstanding traffic tickets; the court summonses were issued in plaintiff’s name. On April 15, 2014, plaintiff met Monroe and his attorney, defendant Kenyatta Stewart, at WPMC. The matter was adjourned, and plaintiff, defendant, and Monroe discussed the best way to resolve the outstanding summonses. Plaintiff did not retain defendant as her attorney or request that he represent her; nor did defendant bill plaintiff or enter into a fee agreement with her. Nevertheless, he indicated to plaintiff that the optimal resolution would be for her to plead guilty to the charges because Monroe was at greater risk of license suspension due to his poor driving record. Plaintiff worked in the Passaic probation department since 1994. The parties disputed the extent to which defendant advised plaintiff of certain risks associated with the plea agreement. It was undisputed that defendant failed to advise plaintiff of the impact that a guilty plea might have on her public employment. In July 2014, plaintiff, through different counsel, challenged her conviction; ultimately the disposition against her was vacated, her fines were repaid to her, and the charges against plaintiff were dismissed. Plaintiff ultimately filed a complaint against defendant, alleging he breached a duty of care by “engaging in a clear conflict of interest” and urging her to enter into “unwarranted guilty pleas.” Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that he was not the proximate cause of plaintiff’s harm because any discipline from her employer resulted from her failure to notify, not her conviction. Judgment was entered in defendant's favor. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding a jury should have decided whether defendant’s legal advice was a substantial factor in plaintiff's demotion and suspension. View "Gilbert v. Stewart" on Justia Law