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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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After plaintiff won a substantial arbitration award against his former employer, the employer sought vacatur in federal court. The district court agreed with the employer, Citi, that plaintiff had been an at-will employee and thus the arbitrators exceeded their powers by finding that he had been wrongfully terminated.The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's vacatur of the arbitration award, holding that plaintiff and Citi agreed to arbitrate all disputes about plaintiff's employment. The court stated that, under the Federal Arbitration Act, the merits of plaintiff's dispute were committed to the arbitrators and Citi does not get to start over in federal court because it identifies a possible legal error in arbitration. Therefore, the district court erred by substituting its own legal judgment for that of the arbitrators. View "Gherardi v. Citigroup Global Markets, Inc." on Justia Law

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After the Medical Center suspended plaintiff's medical privileges, plaintiff filed suit against the Medical Center, an injunction against the suspension, and a declaration that the Health Care Quality Improvement Act provided no immunity from damages to the Medical Center.The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's judgment and remanded with instructions to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff contends only that federal question jurisdiction exists over his suit, but a request for declaratory relief that a federal law does not entitle the opposing party to a defense ordinarily does not raise a federal question under 28 U.S.C.1331. The court explained that, because the Declaratory Judgment Act does not enlarge the court's jurisdiction, plaintiff must still assert an underlying ground for federal court jurisdiction. In this case, plaintiff's complaint does not establish that the Medical Center could file a coercive action under federal law. Furthermore, a plaintiff cannot create federal question jurisdiction by seeking a declaration that a federal defense does not protect the defendant. Therefore, plaintiff's request for declaratory judgment does not establish federal question jurisdiction. View "Patel v. Hamilton Medical Center, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit granted rehearing en banc and affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to plaintiff's retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. 1981. The court first held that plaintiff failed to demonstrate that Kia's stated reason for firing her -- solicitation of another employee to sue the company -- was a pretext to mask a retaliatory motive, and thus she has necessarily failed to show that a reasonable jury could find that but for the filing of her EEOC charge she would not have been fired.The court also held that an employee's oppositional conduct under Title VII is not protected if the means by which the employee has chosen to express her opposition so interferes with the performance of her job that it renders her ineffective in the position for which she is employed. In this case, Kia held a good faith belief that plaintiff had abandoned her responsibility to try to resolve an employee's dispute without litigation when she instead actively solicited a complaining employee to sue the company and provided the employee with the name of an attorney to use; Kia determined it could no longer keep her as its Manager of Team Relations, the department to which unhappy employees were sent to air their complaints; and Kia fired plaintiff because she chose to act in a way that conflicted with the core objectives of her sensitive and highly important position. View "Gogel v. KIA Motors Manufacturing of Georgia, Inc." on Justia Law

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After Costco terminated plaintiff, who has been deaf since birth, she filed suit in Florida state court for violations of the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 (FCRA). After Costco removed the case to federal court, the case went to trial, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Costco on one count of wrongful termination, but against the company on plaintiff's failure-to-accommodate claim. The district court subsequently granted summary judgment to Costco for judgment as a matter of law on the failure-to-accommodate claim.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that there was insufficient evidence to support plaintiff's failure-to-accommodate claim. In this case, plaintiff failed to point to a specific instance in which she needed an accommodation and was denied one. The court stated that it cannot hold that an employer fails to reasonably accommodate a deaf employee when it provide her with on-demand access to live sign-language interpreters at two, convenient locations within her place of work; when it goes further to provide on-site person interpreters for larger, group meetings; when it arranges a thorough training session on deaf culture, pursuant to the plaintiff's request; and when the plaintiff's general manager—the supervisor who was the sole subject of her sole complaint—resolves to improve his relationship with the plaintiff by attending multiple, one-on-one training sessions. View "D'Onofrio v. Costco Wholesale Corp." on Justia Law

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Warren, a manufacturer of unitary electric (UE) heaters for HVAC systems, filed suit against its competitor, Tutco and against a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), UL. Warren's claims are based on its allegations that, UL certified Tutco's UE heaters as compliant, even though the heaters are not actually compliant. Warren sought damages and injunctive relief under the Lanham Act for false advertising and contributory false advertising, damages under the common law of unfair competition, and declaratory and injunctive relief under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA).The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of Tutco's and UL's joint motion to dismiss. In this case, Warren calls UL's authorization to Tutco to use UL's mark, and Tutco's advertisements to that effect, "misrepresentations," but it really means nothing more than (by its lights) a "misinterpretation" of UL 1995. However, it does not follow, that even a misinterpretation of UL 1995 is a falsity -- or a "deceptive act" within the meaning of the Lanham Act -- rather than a matter of opinion, provided it was made in good faith and in accordance with OSHA's criteria for independence, procedural regularity, etc. The court held that, because all of Warren's claims against UL and Tutco are based upon the same allegation of falsity, they fail for want of a misrepresentation or a deceptive act. View "Warren Technology, Inc. v. UL LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment in Trees's favor on his hostile work environment and national origin discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA).The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Trees on plaintiff's national origin discrimination claim, holding that the claim fails as a matter of law where the supervisor's statement, although reprehensible, was not direct evidence that plaintiff was fired because of his national origin. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Trees on the hostile work environment claim, holding that plaintiff provided evidence sufficient to raise a material issue of fact as to whether the harassment was objectively severe or pervasive. In this case, plaintiff provided ample evidence that the harassment he faced was frequent; a reasonable jury could conclude that the harassment was sufficiently severe; the supervisor's conduct was sufficiently humiliating to support a hostile work environment claim; and, although more attenuated than typical interference-with-job-performance arguments, the court could not say on this record that plaintiff's on-the-job suicide attempt was wholly unrelated to his job performance. View "Soto Fernandez v. Trees, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her employer and its CEO for interference and retaliation under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and for retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and 42 U.S.C. 1981.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the employer on the FMLA claim, holding that plaintiff's visit to her counselor did not count as treatment by a health care provider under the statute. In regard to the Title VII claim against the employer, the court held that plaintiff failed to offer any evidence that the CEO knew she had complained about race or sex discrimination, and thus she cannot show a relationship between her firing and that protected activity. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to impeach the CEO's testimony or present circumstantial evidence of his knowledge beyond temporal proximity. Therefore, summary judgment was appropriate on this claim because a jury could find discrimination only based on speculation, rather than on evidence. Finally, plaintiff's section 1981 claims were abandoned on appeal. View "Martin v. Financial Asset Management Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Roper Pump and its affiliated companies, alleging a claim for retaliation and race discrimination in violation of Title VII. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants.The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Roper Pump on plaintiff's retaliation claim, holding that there was enough evidence in the record, when taken in a light most favorable to plaintiff, to support his claim that Roper Pump responded to a claim of race discrimination by conditioning continued employment on a release of claims and firing plaintiff for refusing to sign the release. However, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to the race discrimination claim, agreeing with the trial court that plaintiff failed to proffer comparators that were similar in all material respects. View "Knox v. Roper Pump Co." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff asked her employer, Rural, for a temporary light-duty or dispatcher assignment for the duration of her pregnancy because her physician advised her to refrain from lifting more than 50 pounds while pregnant, Rural declined plaintiff's request for accommodation. Plaintiff filed suit against Rural, alleging discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's grant of Rural's motion for summary judgment, holding that the district court erroneously factored into the "similar in their ability or inability to work" evaluation the distinct, post-prima-facie-case consideration of Rural's purported legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for treating plaintiff and the non-pregnant employees differently. The court explained that neither a non-pregnant EMT who is limited to lifting 10 or 20 pounds nor a pregnant EMT who is restricted to lifting 50 pounds or less can lift the required 100 pounds to serve as an EMT. Consequently, neither can meet the lifting requirement and are thus the same in their "inability to work" as an EMT. The court held that plaintiff's prima facie requirement to establish that she was similarly situated to other employees in their ability or inability to work was satisfied. The court remanded for the district court to determine the remaining issues in the first instance. View "Durham v. Rural/Metro Corp." on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Worldplay on plaintiff's claim of retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The court held that the district court erroneously applied the court's decision in Gowski v. Peake, 682 F.3d 1299, 1312 (11th Cir. 2012), and required plaintiff to show that the alleged retaliation was sufficiently pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment. However, the proper standard in a retaliation case is the one set out by the Supreme Court in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 57 (2006), where the retaliation is material if it well might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. In this case, the court held that a jury must decide plaintiff's retaliation claim and thus remanded for a jury trial. View "Monaghan v. Worldpay US, Inc." on Justia Law