Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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A Black woman, Erika Buckley, filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of the Army, alleging that her former colleagues at Martin Army Hospital engaged in conduct that was racially discriminatory. Buckley, a speech pathologist, claimed her colleagues diverted white patients from her care, encouraged white male patients to complain about her, and engaged in other race-based harassing conduct. The Secretary moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted on all counts. Buckley appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the lower court's decision regarding Buckley's retaliation claims, but vacated the lower court's decision on her race-based disparate treatment claim and her race-based hostile work environment claim. The court found that Buckley had provided enough evidence to suggest that her race played a role in the decision-making process leading to her dismissal, even if her race was not the but-for cause of the dismissal. The court also concluded that Buckley had provided sufficient evidence to establish a hostile work environment claim. The case was sent back to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the appeals court's opinion. View "Buckley v. Secretary of the Army" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Tyler Copeland, a transgender male, sued his employer, the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC), for workplace harassment. Copeland was a sergeant at a prison in Georgia and alleged that, after coming out as transgender at work, he endured constant and demeaning harassment from colleagues at various levels, despite repeated complaints to supervisors and HR personnel.He brought three claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The first was that his employer had created a hostile work environment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of GDOC, concluding that the harassment Copeland experienced was not sufficiently severe or pervasive. However, the appellate court disagreed and vacated the summary judgment on this claim.The second claim was that Copeland had been denied promotion due to his transgender status. The district court also granted summary judgment on this count, as Copeland failed to provide evidence that those who decided not to promote him were aware of his protected conduct. The appellate court affirmed this decision.The third claim was that GDOC had retaliated against Copeland for engaging in a protected practice, namely opposing sex discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment on this count as well, and the appellate court affirmed the decision, citing lack of evidence of causation.In summary, the appellate court vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment on the hostile work environment claim but affirmed the summary judgments on the failure to promote and retaliation claims. The case was remanded for the district court to consider the fifth element of Copeland’s hostile work environment claim. View "Copeland v. Georgia Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed an appeal by Dr. LeThenia Joy Baker against her former employer, Upson Regional Medical Center. Dr. Baker alleged that Upson violated the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by providing her a less favorable bonus compensation structure than that of her male colleague. Though Upson admitted that Dr. Baker was paid less than her male colleague, they argued that the pay disparity was due to the male doctor's greater experience, not his gender. The district court ruled in favor of Upson, stating that the EPA claim failed as Upson established a defense that the bonus structure, which paid Dr. Baker less than her comparator, was based on factors other than sex.The Eleventh Circuit upheld the district court's decision, stating that Upson had met its burden of proving that the difference in bonus compensation was based on factors other than sex. The court clarified that under the EPA, it only consists of a two-step analysis. First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case showing that she performed substantially similar work for less pay. Second, if the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to prove that the pay differential was justified under one of the Equal Pay Act’s statutory exceptions. If the employer fails, the plaintiff wins. The plaintiff is not required to prove discriminatory intent on the part of the defendant. The court concluded that no reasonable jury could find in favor of Dr. Baker on the question of whether her sex was considered in the different bonus structure she agreed to. View "Baker v. Upson Regional Medical Center" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the plaintiffs, Honeyfund.com Inc, Chevara Orrin, Whitespace Consulting LLC, and Primo Tampa LLC, challenged a Florida law known as the Individual Freedom Act. This law bans certain mandatory workplace trainings that espouse or promote a set of beliefs related to race, color, sex, or national origin deemed offensive by the state. The plaintiffs asserted that the Act violated their rights to free speech and was both vague and overbroad. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, with the understanding that the Act was both unconstitutionally vague and an unlawful content- and viewpoint-based speech restriction. Florida appealed this decision.The appellate court held that the Act was indeed a violation of the First Amendment. The court rejected Florida's argument that the Act regulated conduct, not speech, noting that the Act's restrictions were based on the content and viewpoint of the speech in the prohibited meetings. The court applied strict scrutiny, determining that the Act was not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. It also rejected Florida’s attempt to tie the Act to Title VII, a federal law prohibiting employment discrimination, stating that having similar asserted purposes did not make the two laws equivalent. The plaintiffs' claim of irreparable injury due to an ongoing violation of the First Amendment was also acknowledged. The court thus affirmed the district court's order preliminarily enjoining the operation of the provision. View "Honeyfund.Com Inc v. Governor, State of Florida" on Justia Law

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In this case, Plaintiff Jennifer Akridge, a former employee of Alfa Mutual Insurance Company, appealed the entry of summary judgment in favor of Alfa on her claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Akridge had multiple sclerosis and severe migraines, and she alleged that the company wrongfully terminated her to avoid paying for her healthcare costs. Alfa argued that it eliminated her position because her duties were automated and no longer needed, and the company wanted to cut business expenses.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment ruling. The court found that Akridge failed to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the ADA. Even if she had, her evidence failed to show that Alfa’s reason for firing her (that her position was no longer needed and it wished to cut business expenses) was pretext for disability discrimination. The court also rejected Akridge's argument that she merely needs to show that her disability was a motivating factor, rather than a but-for cause, of her termination. The court clarified that, unlike Title VII, the ADA does not incorporate the motivating-factor causation standard, and an ADA plaintiff must show that a cause was outcome determinative. Therefore, it upheld the district court’s decision that Akridge did not produce sufficient evidence to suggest that her termination was a result of discrimination based on her disability.The court also affirmed the district court's award of $1,918 in discovery sanctions against Akridge. The lower court found that Akridge's motion to compel a certain deposition was not substantially justified, and the appeals court found no error or abuse of discretion in that ruling. View "Akridge v. Alfa Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the plaintiff, Taquila Monroe, was a former employee of Fort Valley State University's Head Start and Early Head Start department. She sued the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (the "Board") under the False Claims Act's (FCA) anti-retaliation provision, alleging that she was terminated for reporting mismanagement and misuse of federal and state funds meant for the Head Start programs. The district court granted the Board's motion to dismiss, citing the Board's sovereign immunity. The central issue on appeal was whether the FCA's anti-retaliation provision abrogates sovereign immunity for lawsuits against states, and whether the Board is an arm of the state entitled to the same immunity.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that Congress did not unequivocally express its intent to subject states to suits under the FCA's anti-retaliation provision, and therefore did not abrogate sovereign immunity. The court also held that the Board is an arm of the state and thus entitled to sovereign immunity. In reaching these conclusions, the court considered how Georgia law defines the Board, the degree of control the state exercises over the Board, the Board's source of funding, and who would be responsible for a judgment against the Board. The court found that all of these factors pointed to the Board being an arm of the state that is entitled to sovereign immunity. View "Monroe v. Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia" on Justia Law

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Maria Blanco, the plaintiff, worked as a nanny and housekeeper for Anand Samuel and Dr. Lindsey Finch (the defendants), for three years, working for 79 hours each week. Blanco filed a lawsuit to collect overtime wages for 39 hours of the 79 hours she worked each week. The defendants disputed Blanco’s claim for overtime pay, arguing that she fell under a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that exempts “any employee who is employed in domestic service in a household and who resides in such household” from receiving overtime compensation. The district court agreed with the defendants, ruling that Blanco “resided” in their house, and hence was exempted from overtime compensation.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, however, disagreed with the lower court's decision. The court of appeals concluded that Blanco did not “reside” in the defendants’ house, as she maintained a separate residence and left the defendants’ house after each of her shifts. Therefore, Blanco was not exempted from overtime pay under the FLSA. The court of appeals also concluded that there was a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the defendants were Blanco’s employer, which the lower court needed to resolve on remand. Thus, the court of appeals vacated the district court’s decision in part and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Blanco v. Samuel" on Justia Law

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Doris Lapham, a former employee of Walgreen Co., filed a lawsuit against the company claiming violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Florida’s Private Sector Whistleblower Act (FWA). Lapham asserted that Walgreens interfered with her attempts to obtain leave under the FMLA to care for her disabled son, and retaliated against her for those attempts. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Walgreens on all claims.Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The Appeals Court held that the proper causation standard for both FMLA and FWA retaliation claims is but-for causation, meaning that the plaintiff must prove that the adverse action would not have occurred but for the purported cause. Here, Lapham failed to show that Walgreens’ stated reasons for her termination (insubordination and dishonesty) were merely pretext for retaliation and that, but for her attempts to exercise her FMLA rights, she would not have been fired. Furthermore, Lapham failed to produce evidence showing she suffered any remediable prejudice due to Walgreens' alleged interference with her FMLA rights. View "Lapham v. Walgreen Co." on Justia Law

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This case concerns an appeal by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (the "Department") against a jury's verdict in favor of Lawanna Tynes, a former employee. Tynes had sued the Department for race and sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, after she was terminated from her position as the superintendent of the Broward Regional Juvenile Detention Center. The Department argued on appeal that Tynes failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, as required under the evidentiary framework set by the McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green case, because the comparator employees she presented were not similarly situated in all material respects.However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. The appellate court ruled that the Department's focus on the McDonnell Douglas framework and the adequacy of Tynes's comparators missed the ultimate question in a discrimination case, which is whether there is enough evidence to show that the reason for an adverse employment action was illegal discrimination. The jury found that the Department had intentionally discriminated against Tynes, and the Department did not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence for that conclusion on appeal. Therefore, the Department's arguments regarding the adequacy of Tynes's comparators and the insufficiency of her prima facie case were irrelevant and did not disturb the jury's verdict.The Department also challenged the jury's verdict on Tynes's § 1981 claim, arguing that her complaint did not adequately plead the § 1981 claim and that she did not prove that race was a but-for cause of her termination. However, the appellate court found that the Department had forfeited both arguments because it failed to challenge the district court's authority to allow an amendment to the pleadings during the trial under Rule 15(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and did not argue that Tynes failed to prove that race was a but-for cause in its post-trial motion.Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of Tynes on both her Title VII and § 1981 claims. View "Tynes v. Florida Department of Juvenile Justice" on Justia Law

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In this case heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the appellant, Christopher Ounjian, claimed that his employer, Globoforce, Inc., retaliated against him and forced him to resign after he objected to their unlawful conduct. Ounjian filed a suit alleging constructive discharge and sought damages under the Florida Private Whistleblower Act and Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. The district court dismissed the complaint, stating that Ounjian failed to allege facts constituting a constructive discharge under the Florida Private Whistleblower Act and failed to allege damages cognizable under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.The Court of Appeals agreed with the district court's ruling, stating that the alleged instances of criticism, improper disclosure of personal information, and the withdrawn demotion threat did not meet the high bar for stating a constructive discharge claim. The court also stated that the company's actions were not compelling enough to force a reasonable employee to resign. The court further stated that the company's alleged improper sales practices were not a result of Ounjian's objections, thus negating any causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action required by the Florida Private Whistleblower Act.Regarding the claim under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, the court ruled that while Ounjian did allege deceptive or unfair actions in the conduct of trade or commerce, the damages he sought resulting from the loss of his employment were not cognizable under the Act. As such, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint with prejudice. View "Ounjian v. Globoforce, Inc." on Justia Law