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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment 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

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Plaintiff, a black female, worked at Crestwood Hospital as an emergency department nurse from 2007 to 2018. Plaintiff repeatedly complained about racial discrimination in the months before Crestwood Healthcare terminated her employment. But, also during that period, Crestwood uncovered evidence that Plaintiff engaged in bullying and other misconduct. After Plaintiff sued Crestwood for retaliating against her complaints of discrimination, she argued that circumstantial evidence created a reasonable inference of retaliation under either the McDonnell Douglas framework or a “convincing mosaic” of proof. The district court disagreed and entered summary judgment in favor of Crestwood.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court held that although an employee may prove retaliation with whatever circumstantial evidence creates a reasonable inference of retaliation, Plaintiff’s evidence falls short. The court wrote that Plaintiff turned to evidence of systematically better treatment of similarly situated employees. She asserts that two employees engaged in similar misconduct but were not terminated. The court explained that nothing in the record suggests that either of those employees engaged in misconduct comparable in degree or kind to Plaintiff’s misconduct. Neither employee was the subject of multiple reports that they were unprofessional, threatening, intimidating, and abusive. The court explained that because Plaintiff cannot prove that other employees engaged in a similar degree of misconduct, she lacks evidence of better treatment of similarly situated employees. View "Daphne Berry v. Crestwood Healthcare LP, et al" on Justia Law

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The case at hand is about whether Plaintiff was retaliated against by her former employer, Advanced Pharmaceutical Consultants, Inc. (“APC”), and the company that contracted with her employer, Centurion of Florida, LLC (“Centurion”) (together, “Defendants”), for engaging in protected activity. Plaintiff’s complaint alleged four counts. Centurion and APC both moved for summary judgment on all counts. The district court granted summary judgment on three of them. The district court directed the clerk to enter a final judgment on the three resolved counts, and it certified that the fourth count satisfied the requirements of 28 U.S.C. Section 1292(b) for immediate interlocutory review, should either party file an appropriate application with the Eleventh Circuit. At issue is whether the district court’s certification was proper as to Plaintiff’s direct appeal and whether the requirements of 28 U.S.C. Section 1292(b) have been met as to Centurion’s cross-appeal.
The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the answer to both questions is not and dismissed the appeals for lack of appellate jurisdiction. The court explained that there are substantial reasons to delay resolving Plaintiff’s appeal of her whistleblower counts against APC. Plaintiff’s whistleblower counts against Centurion and APC are identical. It makes good sense that appeals of an order dismissing those counts should be heard together. But because there is no final judgment against Centurion, the court wrote that it lacks the power to adjudicate those counts against Centurion at this time. View "Ronda Scott v. Advanced Pharmaceutical Consultants Inc, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff worked as a hospital nurse for St. Vincent’s Health System. After St. Vincent’s fired her, Plaintiff sued, alleging race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1981. The district court granted summary judgment for St. Vincent’s, and Plaintiff appealed.On appeal, Plaintiff claimed she presented sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment as to all her claims. She also claimed that the district court erred in applying the McDonnell Douglas framework to a “mixed-motive” retaliation claim.The Eleventh Circuit held that Plaintiff's hostile work environment claim failed because there was no evidence of severe or pervasive harassment; Bostock v. Clayton County, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020) did nothing to undermine the application of McDonnell Douglas to retaliation claims because but for causation still applies; Plainitff's retaliation claim cannot survive; and disparate-treatment claim fails because there is no evidence that race played a role in her termination. View "Cynthia Diane Yelling v. St. Vincent's Health System" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was hired as the Superintendent of Dothan City Schools in Dothan, Alabama. The employment contract stated Plaintiff could only be terminated for cause. Furthermore, the contract stated that the termination would not be effective until the Board provided Plaintiff with a statement of the cause for termination and allowed her an opportunity for a hearing. Lastly, the employment contract provided that Plainitff could resign with or without cause as long as she gave at least 120 days notice in writing of her resignation to the Board. Six days after Plaintiff’s intent to resign was sent, Plaintiff alleges that the Board voted to terminate Plaintiff’s contract. She brought claims for deprivation of due process and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, conspiracy to violate civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1985, and breach of contract. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims with prejudice.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of Plaintiff’s due process claims and affirmed the district court’s denial of Plaintiff’s conspiracy and breach of contract claims. The court explained that instead of construing all ambiguities in Plaintiff’s favor, the district court used the minutes to recharacterize the allegations within Plaintiff’s complaint. When taking the factual allegations in Plaintiff’s complaint as true, there is a plausible claim for relief. In paragraph 18 of the complaint, Plaintiff’s classifies her communication as an “intent” to resign, not an actual resignation. The court wrote that the district court erred by ignoring that Plaintiff had a plausible claim to relief and not drawing reasonable inferences in her favor. View "Phyllis Edwards v. Dothan City Schools, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a black nurse who was disciplined and ultimately fired by her employer, Public Health Trust of Miami-Dade County—appealed the district court’s entry of summary judgment on her Title VII and state-law claims alleging (1) employment discrimination, (2) hostile work environment, and (3) retaliation. Harris contends that the district court erred in rejecting all three claims.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that Public Health Trust says that several incidents that occurred at Jackson Reeves shouldn’t be considered because they weren’t caused by Plaintiff’s race. The court wrote that it agreed with Public Health Trust that three of the incidents weren’t caused by Harris’s race and, accordingly, shouldn’t be considered as part of the hostile-work-environment calculus. Further, the court reasoned that even considering Plaintiff’s limited evidence in the light most favorable to her, these are not, given the totality of the circumstances, sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of her employment and create an abusive working environment. View "Mary E. Harris v. The Public Health Trust of Miami-Dade County" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was employed at Office Depot as a senior financial analyst. He was responsible for, among other things, ensuring data integrity. One of Ronnie’s principal duties was to calculate and report a metric called “Sales Lift.” Sales Lift is a metric designed to quantify the cost-reduction benefit of closing redundant retail stores. Petitioner identified two potential accounting errors that he believed signaled securities fraud related to the Sales Lift. Petitioner alleged that after he reported the issue, his relationship with his boss became strained. Eventually, Petitioner was terminated at that meeting for failing to perform the task of identifying the cause of the data discrepancy. Petitioner filed complaint with the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and OSHA dismissed his complaint. Petitioner petitioned for review of the ARB’s decision.
The Eleventh Circuit denied the petition. The court explained that Petitioner failed to allege sufficient facts to establish that a reasonable person with his training and experience would believe this conduct constituted a SOX violation, the ARB’s decision was not arbitrary or capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law. The court wrote that Petitioner’s assertions that Office Depot intentionally manipulated sales data and that his assigned task of investigating the discrepancy was a stalling tactic are mere speculation, which alone is not enough to create a genuine issue of fact as to the objective reasonableness of Petitioner’s belief. View "Chris Ronnie v. U.S. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs worked as detention officers for Glynn County under Sheriff Jump’s supervision. Although it is unclear from the record whether the Officers are formally deputy sheriffs, it is undisputed that they are, at minimum, direct employees of Sheriff Jump, in his official capacity, akin to deputies. The Officers brought a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) collective action alleging that the County “illegally calculated their and other detention officers’ overtime wages.” The County moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. In response, the Officers amended their complaint to include Sheriff Jump in his individual capacity. The County and Sheriff Jump then moved to dismiss the amended complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim, arguing that neither defendant was the Officers’ employer under the FLSA.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed both the district court’s denial of the Officers’ motion for leave to amend and its ultimate dismissal of the amended complaint. The court held that the district court correctly dismissed the Officers’ complaint against Sheriff Jump in his individual capacity because he is not an “employer” under the FLSA. Further, the court agreed with the district court that Sheriff Jump would be entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity when making compensation decisions for his employees. Further, the court held that Georgia “retained its Eleventh Amendment immunity” from suits in federal court for breach-of-contract claims because no statute or constitutional provision “expressly consents to suits in federal court. View "Langston Austin, et al. v. Glynn County, Georgia, et al." on Justia Law