Third Circuit Clarifies Requirements for “Regarded As” ADA Claims

Third Circuit Clarifies Requirements for “Regarded As” ADA Claims

In Eshleman v. Patrick Industries, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued a significant decision concerning claims brought under the American With Disabilities Act (ADA) by employees alleging their employers perceived them to be disabled. The decision clarifies the pleading requirements in such cases and explains the ADA provision that exempts employers from liability for disabilities that are “transitory and minor.” Notably, the Court did not provide a specific definition of a “minor” disability, leaving that determination for the lower courts on a case-by-case basis. Background William Eshleman took leave from his job as a truck driver for Patrick Industries to have a module removed from his lungs. Six weeks after he returned to work he suffered a severe respiratory infection and was out of work for four days. Patrick Industries terminated his employment after his second shift back to work. At various times, the employer gave Eshleman different reasons for his termination. Eshleman brought suit alleging the shifting reasons for his termination were pretextual and the true reason was that his employer regarded him as disabled in violation of the ADA. The perceived disability was alleged to be that he “suffered from [a] long-term or...

Supreme Court Asked to Decide Prior Salary/Equal Pay Act Issue

Supreme Court Asked to Decide Prior Salary/Equal Pay Act Issue

The Fresno County Office of Education has requested the Supreme Court to hear an appeal from an en banc decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals holding that the Equal Pay Act (“the EPA”) prohibits an employer when setting the compensation of a female employee from considering her compensation at her prior job. If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the County’s appeal, it will be the second time the case will come before the Supreme Court. Previously, the Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s decision because one of the appellate court judges who considered Fresno County’s appeal passed away, and was not replaced before the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion. Given that there is now a properly issued Ninth Circuit opinion, and given a split among the Courts of Appeals over whether and under what circumstances the EPA permits a new employer’s consideration of a woman’s prior salary when setting compensation, it seems likely that the Supreme Court will take up the case. Background After teaching middle school for a number of years, Aileen Rizo was hired by Fresno County as a math consultant. The county employed a twelve-level job classification system and each level was comprised of...

The New Jersey WARN Act and the Coronavirus Epidemic—An Update

The New Jersey WARN Act and the Coronavirus Epidemic—An Update

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has signed into law new amendments to the Millville Dallas Airmotive Plant Job Loss Notification Act, more commonly referred to as the New Jersey WARN Act. The new amendments apply to the current statute and to prior amendments enacted on January 21 of this year that were to take effect on July 19, 2020. A full discussion of the January 21 amendments can be found here. Once the January 21 amendments go into effect, the Act will require employers with 100 or more employees to give advance notice to the affected employees of any reduction in force involving at least 50 employees. Employees not given the required notice currently may bring a civil action for damages; when the January 21 amendments take effect, even when an employer complies with the Act’s notice requirements, each affected employee will be entitled to severance pay in an amount equal to one week of pay for each year of service. The new amendments to the Act have important implications for the Act’s notice and severance provisions. On March 13, 2020, President Trump utilized the National Emergency Act to declare a national emergency due...

The WARN Act and the Coronavirus Epidemic

The WARN Act and the Coronavirus Epidemic

As the coronavirus epidemic continues to impact the economy, employers are faced with the prospect of shutting down their operations or continuing operations with a significantly reduced workforce for an indeterminate period of time. Employers anticipating the need for significant workforce reductions should be mindful of whether these reductions will implicate the federal WARN Act, and companies with employees in New Jersey and/or New York must also pay attention to the WARN Acts in effect in those states. This article will first briefly outline the requirements of the federal, New Jersey, and New York WARN statutes and will then discuss those requirements in the context of workforce reductions necessitated by the current crisis. The WARN Statutes The WARN statutes are extremely complicated, but, as a rule of thumb, whenever a New Jersey employer is contemplating terminating at least 50 employees, the employer should seek advice from counsel familiar with the federal and New Jersey WARN statutes. Should either of those statutes apply, the affected employees must be given at least 60 days’ notice of their terminations unless a statutory exception permits a lesser period of notice. As a rule of thumb, employers in New York should seek advice from counsel...

New Jersey Court Invalidates Arbitration Agreement that Fails to Designate an Arbitration Forum

New Jersey Court Invalidates Arbitration Agreement that Fails to Designate an Arbitration Forum

The New Jersey courts have consistently held that the mutual assent necessary to support a binding arbitration agreement is not present where the agreement does not sufficiently put the parties on notice that, by agreeing to arbitrate, they are giving up the right to have their dispute resolved in a judicial forum and are waiving whatever rights they might have to a jury trial. In Flanzman v. Jenny Craig, Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division has now held that the mutual assent necessary to support a binding arbitration agreement will also be found lacking when the agreement does not designate the forum in which the arbitration will take place and otherwise fails to define the arbitration process. Background The plaintiff, Marilyn Flanzman, after being terminated from her position as a weight loss counselor for the defendant, a weight loss and nutrition company, brought suit in Superior Court, Law Division under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, alleging age discrimination and harassment. The defendant moved to compel arbitration based on an arbitration agreement into which the parties had entered during the plaintiff’s employment, which, in relevant part, stated: Any and all claims or controversies arising out of or relating to [plaintiff’s]...

Federal Courts Uphold Arbitration Agreements Via Email

Federal Courts Uphold Arbitration Agreements Via Email

Recently, federal district courts in New York and New Jersey turned aside employee attacks on arbitration agreements challenged on the grounds that the employer’s communication of its arbitration policy via email was inadequate. The courts in both Lockette v. Morgan Stanley and Schmell v. Morgan Stanley held that the employees’ assertions that they never saw the email forwarding the terms of the arbitration agreement were insufficient to overcome the employer’s evidence that the email had been delivered to the employees’ email inboxes. Lockette John Lockette sued Morgan Stanley in federal court in New York after Morgan Stanley terminated his employment in 2016. Lockette alleged he had been the victim of race discrimination and retaliation in violation of federal law. The company moved to compel arbitration. Prior to 2015, the company had in place an internal dispute resolution program entitled “CARE” (Convenient Access to Resolutions for Employees) for employees registered with FINRA, who could select, but were not required to select, arbitration as a means of resolving statutory discrimination claims. In 2015, however, the company expanded the CARE program to cover all employees and to require the arbitration of employment claims, including discrimination claims, among others. Under the terms of the expanded program,...

Third Circuit Overturns Summary Judgment Based on the Faragher-Ellerth Defense

Third Circuit Overturns Summary Judgment Based on the Faragher-Ellerth Defense

Employers who are sued for sexual harassment committed by a supervisor may be able to avoid liability, even if harassment had, in fact, occurred, by asserting the so-called Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense, named after the two United States Supreme Court cases that first recognized the defense. An employer may assert the Faragher-Ellerth defense to supervisor harassment when no tangible employment action has been taken against the harassed employee and the employer is able to demonstrate (a) it exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior and (b) the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer. Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Minarsky v. Susquehanna County, addressed the requirements of the Faragher-Ellerth defense in the context of the assertion of a female employee that she acted reasonably in not taking advantage of the procedures made available by her employer to prevent or correct the harassment against her by her supervisor. In so doing, the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the employer based on the Faragher-Ellerth defense and held on the facts of the case a jury should...

The U.S. Supreme Court Declines Review of Seventh Circuit Decision Rejecting Extended Leave as a Reasonable Accomodation for Disabled Employees under the ADA

The U.S. Supreme Court Declines Review of Seventh Circuit Decision Rejecting Extended Leave as a Reasonable Accomodation for Disabled Employees under the ADA

On April 2, 2018, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., a decision of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that rejected a disabled employee’s claim that, as an accommodation for his disability, he was entitled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“the ADA”) to leave beyond the maximum 12 weeks authorized by the Family and Medical Leave Act (“the FMLA”). The Seventh Circuit’s Decision Because of back pain, Raymond Severson took the maximum 12 weeks of leave permitted by the FMLA. On the last day of his leave he underwent back surgery, which required him to remain out of work for another two to three months. His employer rejected his request to extend his leave for an additional three months and terminated his employment, although did invite him to reapply when he was medically cleared to return to work. Instead of reapplying, Severson brought suit under the ADA, alleging that the employer failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for his disability by denying his request for extended leave. The district court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Seventh Circuit’s analysis of the issue...

Seventh Circuit Upholds Forum Selection Clauses in Employee Benefits Plans

Seventh Circuit Upholds Forum Selection Clauses in Employee Benefits Plans

In Mathias v. Caterpillar, Inc., the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a forum selection clause requiring a participant in a benefits plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) to bring suit in the Central District of Illinois. The plaintiff had brought suit in federal court in Pennsylvania, invoking ERISA’s venue provision, which, inter alia, allows suit to be brought in any district in which the defendant is found. The Court, however, ruled that ERISA’s venue provision was subject to the benefits plan’s forum selection clause. The decision is of obvious significance to employers who would prefer to avoid being subject to ERISA-based suits in multiple jurisdictions. Background Mathias, who had been employed at a Caterpillar facility in York, Pennsylvania, began receiving health insurance benefits in 1997 under the company’s long term disability plan. When he chose to retire in 2012 retroactive to 2009 his change in status mandated an increase in his insurance premiums, which Caterpillar mistakenly failed to implement. In 2013, the company realized its mistake and notified Mathias that he owed more than $9,500 in past-due premiums. When Mathias did not pay that amount, Caterpillar terminated his benefits. Mathias sued...

Third Circuit Decides Good Faith Belief of FMLA Abuse Justifies Termination

Third Circuit Decides Good Faith Belief of FMLA Abuse Justifies Termination

There are occasions when an employer becomes concerned that an employee on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA” or “the Act”) is using the leave for purposes not authorized by the Act. That situation was presented in Capps v. Mondelez Global, LLC, a recently issued opinion from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. There, the Court held that an employer’s good faith belief that an employee was abusing his authorized FMLA leave constituted sufficient grounds on which to terminate the employee. The case provides valuable guidance as to how employers should proceed in such situations. The Facts Frederick Capps worked as a dough mixing machine operator for Mondelez Global (“Mondelez”). Because of a blood flow condition, Capps underwent bilateral hip replacement. At times thereafter, he suffered from severe leg pain and was continuously recertified approximately every six months for intermittent FMLA leave for his condition. On the evening of February 14, 2013, Capps was arrested for driving under the influence and spent the night in jail. He had not reported to work that day having called Mondelez’s FMLA message line complaining of leg pain. On August 7, 2013, Capps pled guilty to a DUI charge and spent 72...