Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The case involves Anthony Perry, a former employee of the Census Bureau, who retired under a settlement agreement after the Bureau initiated procedures to terminate him. Perry filed a "mixed case" appeal before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), alleging violations of the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) and various federal anti-discrimination laws. The MSPB dismissed the case, stating it lacked jurisdiction over voluntary retirement decisions. Perry appealed to the district court, which upheld the MSPB's decision and granted summary judgment in favor of the government.Perry then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, arguing that the district court erred by not considering his discrimination claims de novo and by affirming the MSPB's dismissal of his case for lack of jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals partially reversed the district court's decision, ruling that the district court should have allowed Perry to litigate the merits of his discrimination claims as required by statute. However, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's conclusion that the MSPB correctly dismissed Perry's mixed case for lack of jurisdiction. View "Perry v. Raimondo" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Jay Anthony Dobyns, a former agent with the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), who sued the United States for failing to adequately protect him and his family from threats related to his undercover work. The government counterclaimed, alleging that Dobyns violated his employment contract and several federal regulations by publishing a book based on his experience as an agent and by contracting his story to create a motion picture. The Court of Federal Claims found that the government had not breached the settlement agreement but had breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, awarding Dobyns emotional distress damages. The court also found that the government was not entitled to relief on its counterclaim.The government appealed the Claims Court’s judgment to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which reversed the finding that the government breached the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing. Dobyns, having prevailed on the government’s counterclaim, sought attorneys’ fees and costs. However, the Claims Court denied his application for attorneys’ fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) as untimely. Dobyns appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that the Claims Court had abused its discretion and applied the incorrect legal standard. The Appeals Court held that the filing deadline for fee applications under EAJA is subject to equitable tolling. It found that Dobyns had justifiably relied on the government's representations about the procedure for Claims Court judgments, and thus his motion for attorneys’ fees under EAJA should be accepted as timely. The court reversed the Claims Court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Dobyns v. United States" on Justia Law

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The case involves Carlos M. Rivera-Velázquez, an employee of the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division (CEPD), a component of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Rivera, a military veteran with a service-connected disability, was hired by the CEPD in 2001. Throughout his tenure, he expressed interest in being promoted to a GS-13 position. In 2006, the CEPD was reorganized, and Teresita Rodríguez became Rivera's supervisor. After Rivera returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010, Rodríguez began checking on his well-being. In 2012, Rivera was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In 2014, Nancy Rodríguez became the chief of the Multimedia Permits and Compliance Branch and Rivera's supervisor. Rivera filed several formal and informal complaints about his treatment by his supervisors, alleging discrimination and harassment.In the lower courts, Rivera filed formal complaints with the EPA Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in 2011, 2017, and 2018, alleging discrimination and retaliation. He also filed claims of "harassment" under EPA Order 4711 in 2017 and 2018. The OCR and the EPA Order 4711 investigations found no merit to Rivera's complaints. Rivera then filed a complaint in the District Court in 2019, alleging employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court granted summary judgment to the Administrator of the EPA on Rivera's claims.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision. The court found that Rivera failed to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act or retaliation under Title VII. The court concluded that Rivera failed to show that his supervisors regarded him as having a disability, that he was subjected to an adverse action, or that there was a causal connection between his protected conduct and the alleged adverse actions. View "Rivera-Velazquez v. Regan" on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of incarcerated individuals who were sent from a detention center to work at a recycling facility operated by Baltimore County, Maryland. The workers alleged that they were employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Maryland state laws, and thus entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the county, concluding that no reasonable adjudicator could view the incarcerated workers as "employees" under the FLSA.The district court's decision was based on the fact that the workers were part of a work detail program run by the Department of Corrections (DOC), which the court found had a rehabilitative, rather than pecuniary, interest in the workers' labor. The court also found that the workers did not deal at arms' length with their putative employer, as they were not free to negotiate the terms of their employment and were under the control of the DOC.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The appellate court clarified that there is no categorical rule that incarcerated workers cannot be covered by the FLSA when they work outside their detention facility’s walls and for someone other than their immediate detainer. The court also held that the district court applied the wrong legal standards in granting summary judgment to the county. The court emphasized that the question under the FLSA is whether the principal or primary purpose for using incarcerated workers at the recycling center during the time frame at issue was for “rehabilitation and job training.” The case was remanded for a fresh look at the facts under these clarified standards. View "Scott v. Baltimore County, Maryland" on Justia Law

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Dr. Jennifer Seed, a former employee of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), filed a lawsuit against the EPA and the United States, alleging age discrimination. Seed claimed that she was involuntarily demoted to a junior position as older managers were replaced with younger employees. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the EPA, concluding that Seed had not provided sufficient evidence to support her claim of age discrimination.The district court's decision was based on its finding that Seed had not provided direct evidence of discriminatory intent that would entitle her to a trial, nor had she provided indirect evidence that would give rise to an inference of discrimination. The court also found that Seed had not shown that she was treated less favorably than younger employees after her reassignment or that her treatment was based on her age.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed Seed's appeal, ruling that the court lacked jurisdiction to address the merits of her reassignment claims because she lacked standing under Article III of the United States Constitution. The court found that Seed had not demonstrated that a favorable court decision would likely redress her claimed injuries. The court therefore remanded the case to the district court with instructions to vacate the grant of summary judgment and to dismiss the reassignment claim for lack of standing. View "Seed v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The case involves two plaintiffs, Michael Grim and Jim Maynard, who were employees of the Denton Municipal Electric (DME), a local electric utility owned by the City of Denton. The plaintiffs supported the construction of a controversial new power plant, the Denton Energy Center (DEC). Keely Briggs, a member of the Denton city council, opposed the new plant and leaked internal city documents about the project to a local newspaper. The plaintiffs reported Briggs's leak of confidential vendor information, alleging it violated the Public Information Act and the Open Meetings Act. They claimed that this report triggered the protections of the Whistleblower Act. The plaintiffs were later fired, which they alleged was retaliation for their report about Briggs.The case was initially heard in the district court, where the city argued that the Whistleblower Act did not apply because the plaintiffs did not report a violation of law "by the employing governmental entity or another public employee." The court was not convinced, and the case proceeded to a jury trial, which resulted in a $4 million judgment for the plaintiffs. The city appealed, raising several issues, including the legal question of whether the Whistleblower Act applied in this case. The court of appeals affirmed the district court's decision.The Supreme Court of Texas reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. The court held that the Whistleblower Act did not protect the plaintiffs because they reported a violation of law by a lone city council member, not by the employing governmental entity or another public employee. The court found that the lone city council member lacked any authority to act on behalf of the city, and her actions could not be imputed to the city. Therefore, her violation of law was not a "violation of law by the employing governmental entity." The court concluded that the plaintiffs did not allege a viable claim under the Whistleblower Act, and rendered judgment for the city. View "CITY OF DENTON v. GRIM" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between Union Pacific Railroad Company and its employee, Randy G. Franklin. Franklin, a long-time employee of Union Pacific, brought a gun to work and stored it in his locked vehicle, which was parked in Union Pacific's parking lot. This action was in compliance with Arkansas law, but violated Union Pacific's company policy that bans employees from carrying firearms onto its property. As a result, Union Pacific terminated Franklin's employment, which was later reduced to a lengthy suspension by an arbitration panel.Union Pacific filed a declaratory-judgment action in federal court, seeking a declaration that Arkansas Code Annotated section 11-5-117, which allows employees to store firearms in their vehicles on their employer's property, is preempted by the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) when applied to Union Pacific parking lots in Arkansas. Franklin counterclaimed, seeking a declaratory judgment that Union Pacific must allow him to bring his firearm onto railroad property, as long as the firearm is legally possessed for a lawful purpose and stored out of sight in his locked car.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas certified a question to the Supreme Court of Arkansas: whether the prohibitions in Arkansas Code Annotated section 11-5-117 are severable from the liability-immunity provisions in section 16-120-802(a) such that section 11-5-117 would still apply when the liability-immunity provisions of section 16-120-802(a) cannot apply.The Supreme Court of Arkansas answered the certified question in the affirmative. The court found that section 11-5-117, which protects the rights of employees to store firearms in their vehicles on their employer's property, is not dependent on the liability-immunity provisions of section 16-120-802. Therefore, even if the latter is preempted by FELA, section 11-5-117 is not likewise preempted. The court concluded that regardless of whether FELA preempts section 16-120-802(a), section 11-5-117 still applies. View "UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY V. FRANKLIN" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a workers' compensation claim filed by Billy J. Ottinger, who suffered a severe injury while working for B&B Wrecking & Excavating, Inc. Ottinger fell from a roof and landed on his legs, resulting in significant weakness and immobility. The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation awarded Ottinger compensation for the loss of use of both legs. However, the Industrial Commission of Ohio later vacated this decision, denying Ottinger's request for loss-of-use compensation.The Bureau's decision was initially challenged by the Industrial Commission, which argued that there was a lack of medical evidence to support the award for loss-of-use compensation. The Commission exercised its continuing jurisdiction and vacated the Bureau's decision, citing a clear mistake of fact and law. The Commission found that the Bureau's decision was based on an incorrect diagnosis of paraplegia, leading to the incorrect conclusion that Ottinger was completely paralyzed.Ottinger appealed to the Tenth District Court of Appeals, seeking a writ of mandamus to reinstate the Bureau's decision. However, the court of appeals denied the request, concluding that the Commission's decision was supported by some evidence and that awarding Ottinger loss-of-use compensation based on that evidence was a clear mistake of law.The Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed the Tenth District's judgment. The court found that the Commission did not abuse its discretion by exercising its continuing jurisdiction to vacate the Bureau's order awarding Ottinger loss-of-use compensation based on a clear mistake of fact. The court also concluded that the Commission did not abuse its discretion by denying Ottinger's motion for loss-of-use compensation, as the decision was supported by some evidence. View "State ex rel. Ottinger v. B&B Wrecking & Excavating, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves Duke Bradford, Arkansas Valley Adventure (AVA), and the Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA) who appealed against the District of Colorado’s order denying their motion to preliminarily enjoin a Department of Labor (DOL) rule. The rule required federal contractors to pay their employees a $15.00 minimum hourly wage. The DOL promulgated the rule pursuant to a directive in Executive Order (EO) 14,026, issued by President Biden. The EO imposed the minimum wage requirement on most federal contractors and rescinded an exemption for recreational services outfitters operating on federal lands.The appellants argued that the district court erred in concluding that the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act (FPASA) authorizes the minimum wage rule as applied to recreational services permittees because the government does not procure any services from them or supply anything to them. They also argued that the DOL acted arbitrarily and capriciously in promulgating the minimum wage rule without exempting recreational service permittees.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that the appellants have not shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits that the DOL’s rule was issued without statutory authority. The court held that FPASA likely authorizes the minimum wage rule because the DOL’s rule permissibly regulates the supply of nonpersonal services and advances the statutory objectives of economy and efficiency. The court also held that the appellants have not shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits that the DOL’s rule is arbitrary and capricious. View "Bradford v. U.S. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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In February 2022, Workers United sought to represent 90 employees at a Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle. Due to rising COVID-19 cases, the Regional Director ordered a mail-ballot election, which took place in April 2022. Starbucks refused to recognize and bargain with the union, arguing that the Regional Director should have ordered an in-person election. The Regional Director overruled Starbucks' objection and certified the election results. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Starbucks' refusal to recognize and bargain with the union constituted unfair labor practices in violation of Section 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act.The NLRB's decision was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Starbucks argued that the court lacked jurisdiction over the enforcement application because the NLRB had severed the question of whether to adopt a compensatory remedy. The court rejected this argument, holding that the NLRB's order was final and reviewable under 29 U.S.C. § 160(e).Starbucks also claimed that the Regional Director abused his discretion by ordering a mail-ballot election instead of an in-person one. The court rejected this argument as well, holding that the Regional Director had correctly applied the NLRB's own law in deciding to hold a mail-ballot election. The court affirmed the NLRB's finding that Starbucks had violated Section 8(a)(5) by refusing to bargain. The court granted the NLRB's application for enforcement of its order directing Starbucks to recognize and bargain with the union. View "NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD V. SIREN RETAIL CORPORATION DBA STARBUCKS" on Justia Law