Justia Transportation Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
Rebecca Lancaster v. BNSF Railway Company
A former BNSF Railway Company employee died from lung cancer in 2018. Plaintiff, on behalf of her late husband’s estate, brought this wrongful death action against BNSF under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), alleging that her husband’s cancer was caused by his exposure to toxins at work. The district court excluded Plaintiff’s expert witness testimony and granted summary judgment to BNSF. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that there is no direct evidence that Plaintiff’s husband was exposed to asbestos or diesel combustion fumes. Even if a jury could infer that Plaintiff’s husband had been exposed, there is no evidence of the level of exposure. The court explained that while a quantifiable amount of exposure is not required to find causation between toxic exposure and injury, there must be, at a minimum, “evidence from which the factfinder can conclude that the plaintiff was exposed to levels of that agent that are known to cause the kind of harm that the plaintiff claims to have suffered,” There is no such evidence here. Moreover, the court explained that the district court did not abuse its considerable discretion by determining that the expert’s opinion lacked a sufficient foundation and that, in turn, his methodology for proving causation was unreliable. View "Rebecca Lancaster v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law
Financial Oversight & Management Bd. v. Vazquez-Velazquez Group
The First Circuit affirmed the determination of the Title III court, during the course of its confirmation of the Modified Fifth Amended Title III Plan of Adjustment (Plan) for the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority (PRHTA), that the Vazquez-Valezquez Group's claims for additional compensation made in a separate federal lawsuit were dischargeable, holding that there was no error.The Group, which was composed of sixty-nine current and former PRHTA employees who received extra compensation under PRHTA Regulation 12-2017, with which the PRHTA later broke. At issue was the Group's objection to the Title III court's determination that the Group's claims for additional compensation were dischargeable under the Plan. After the Title III court entered an order and judgment confirming the plan the Group appealed, arguing that its members' claims were nondischargeable. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the claims for additional compensation were not exempt from discharge. View "Financial Oversight & Management Bd. v. Vazquez-Velazquez Group" on Justia Law
Dawn Polk v. Amtrak National Railroad Passenger Corporation
Plaintiff, an African American woman, worked as a conductor for Amtrak National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak). During her employment, she belonged to a division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) union, which maintained a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with Amtrak. Plaintiff brought the instant lawsuit pro se. She named Amtrak and the company’s director of employee relations as Defendants, along with three other Amtrak colleagues. Plaintiff asserted state-law claims of breach of contract and tort, as well as a federal claim of racial discrimination in violation of Title VII. Defendants moved to dismiss, and Plaintiff moved for summary judgment as well as for leave to amend her complaint. The district court granted Defendants’ motion and denied Plaintiff’s two motions. The district court held that Plaintiff’s claims were subject to arbitration under the Railway Labor Act (RLA). The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that it declines to unwind a statutory scheme without a clear congressional directive to do so. Plaintiff argued that at least her particular claim is not a minor dispute. The mere fact that Plaintiff’s claim arises under Title VII does not disqualify that claim from being a minor dispute within the RLA’s ambit. The thrust of Plaintiff’s Title VII claim is that Amtrak deviated from its policies when dealing with her. While Plaintiff’s allegations as to her own treatment are factual, those concerning Amtrak’s policies directly implicate the relevant CBA between Plaintiff’s union, SMART, and Amtrak. That some of Plaintiff’s interpretive disagreements concern the Drug-Free Program does not alter the character of her claim. View "Dawn Polk v. Amtrak National Railroad Passenger Corporation" on Justia Law
Gregg v. Uber Technologies, Inc.
Plaintiff sued Uber under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA), claiming Uber willfully misclassified him as an independent contractor rather than an employee, which led to numerous other Labor Code violations. In response, Uber moved to compel arbitration under the “Arbitration Provision” in the “Technology Services Agreement” (TSA).The trial court denied Uber's motion and the Second Appellate District affirmed. However, in June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the decision when it granted Uber's petition for certiorari in light of Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana (2022) ___ U.S. ___ [142 S.Ct. 1906, 213 L.Ed.2d 179] (Viking River).Following this posture, the Second Appellate District held 1.) the TSA’s PAGA Waiver is invalid and must be severed from the Arbitration Provision; 2.) under the Arbitration Provision’s remaining terms, Plaintiff must resolve his claim for civil penalties based on Labor Code violations he allegedly suffered in arbitration, and his claims for penalties based on violations allegedly suffered by other current and former employees must be litigated in court; and 3.) under California law, Plaintiff is not stripped of standing to pursue his non-individual claims in court simply because his individual claim must be arbitrated. View "Gregg v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law
ANNA GALAZA V. ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS
Plaintiff brought an action against the TSA, alleging discrimination in violation of the Rehabilitation Act when she was terminated from her limited-duty position. According to the allegations in Plaintiff’s complaint, she suffered two injuries while working for the TSA. She alleged that she was terminated due to her disability, and despite the availability of limited duty positions that she could fill, such as “exit lane monitor,” “secondary ticket checker,” or “bypass door monitor.” Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of her Rehabilitation Act claim for the second time. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order dismissing, as preempted by the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (“ATSA”), Plaintiff’s claim against the TSA. The panel joined the First, Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits in holding that the ATSA, as applicable to security screeners, preempts the Rehabilitation Act. The ATSA authorized the Administrator of the TSA to set aside employment standards for security screeners as necessary to fulfill the TSA’s screening functions under the ATSA. A statutory note to the ATSA provides that the Administrator is authorized to do so notwithstanding any other provision of law. The panel held that use of the phrase “notwithstanding any other provision of law” reflected legislative intent to preempt the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act. Plaintiff contended that preemption was unnecessary because the two statutes could be harmonized, and preemption was foreclosed by explicit language in the Whistleblower Protection Act (“WPEA”). The panel declined to address the issue of whether the WPEA made the Rehabilitation Act generally applicable to security screeners because this issue was not raised in the district court. View "ANNA GALAZA V. ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS" on Justia Law
City of Ames v. Iowa Public Employment Relations Bd.
The Supreme Court held that the Iowa Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) and the district court misinterpreted Iowa Code 20.32 by extending broader bargaining rights to nontransit employees in the same bargaining unit as public transit employees, holding that the plain meaning of the statute protects only transit employees, not nontransit employees in the same bargaining unit.The City of Ames sought guidance as to whether section 20.32 requires broader bargaining rights for nontransit employees in the same bargaining unit. PERB concluded that broader bargaining rights must be extended under the statute to nontransit employees in a bargaining unit consisting of at least thirty percent transit employees, and the district court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the City was not required to provide broader bargaining rights to nontransit employees, regardless of the percentage of transit employees in the bargaining unit. View "City of Ames v. Iowa Public Employment Relations Bd." on Justia Law
Edward Blackorby v. BNSF Railway Company
After Plaintiff prevailed at trial and was awarded $58,240 in damages, plus post-judgment interest, Plaintiff sought attorneys’ fees in the amount of $701,706, litigation costs in the amount of $43,089.48, and additional filing and transcript-preparation fees in the amount of $1,620.45. The district court ultimately awarded attorneys’ fees in the amount of $570,771 and filing and transcript-preparation fees in the amount of $1,620.45 but denied the request for litigation costs. Defendant BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) appealed, asserting that the district court abused its discretion with respect to the award of attorneys’ fees. The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and reduced the award of fees by $103,642.50. BNSF first argued that the award of fees is unreasonable because Plaintiff only achieved limited success. The court reasoned that Plaintiff undisputedly prevailed at trial on his FRSA claim. As this claim was at the heart of Plaintiff’s case, his degree of success is significant, regardless of the fate of his FELA claim or another theory of liability underlying his FRSA claim. However, the court found that BNSF’s request for the reduction of fees related to the first trial, however, has merit. The court wrote that Plaintiff undisputedly offered the jury instruction that contained a legal error based on Eighth Circuit precedent, which required vacatur of the judgment. The court agreed with BNSF that Plaintiff is not entitled to fees that were unreasonably caused by his own legal error. View "Edward Blackorby v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law
Timothy Johnson v. Diakon Logistics, Inc.
Innovel hired Diakon to take furniture from warehouses to customers’ homes. Plaintiffs, two of Diakon's drivers, were citizens of Illinois who drove out of Innovel’s Illinois warehouses and made deliveries to customers in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. They signed “Service Agreements” that classify the drivers as independent contractors yet include detailed expectations for the drivers, covering uniforms, business cards, truck decals, and how to perform deliveries and installations. The Agreements select Virginia law to govern the parties’ relations and authorize Diakon to deduct fees and penalties from the drivers’ pay for truck rental fees, insurance, workers’ compensation coverage, damaged merchandise, and customers’ refused deliveries.Plaintiffs sued, alleging that Diakon misclassified them as independent contractors when they were employees under Illinois law. Illinois courts apply a three-part test to determine employee status, which is more likely to classify workers as employees than is Virginia law, which would treat the plaintiffs as contractors. The Illinois Wage Payment and Collections Act allows deductions from pay only if the employee consents in writing at the time of the deduction.The district judge certified a class but ruled in favor of Diakon. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The plaintiffs’ claims arise from their work in Illinois, not from their contracts. The Illinois Act governs payment for work in Illinois regardless of what state’s law governs other aspects of the parties' relations. View "Timothy Johnson v. Diakon Logistics, Inc." on Justia Law
Brousil v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Administrative Review Board
The Seventh Circuit denied Petitioner's petition for review of the judgment of the Department of Labor's Administrative Review Board (ARB) affirming an administrative law judge's (ALJ) determination that BNSF Railway Company had a valid same-action affirmative defense to Plaintiff's retaliation claim, holding that substantial evidence supported the decision.Plaintiff, a train engineer, brought an administrative complaint with the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) alleging that BNSF, his employer, violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act by retaliating against him for raising safety concerns and refusing to engage in unsafe practices. OSHA dismissed the complaint. A Department of Labor ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim based on the statutory same-action affirmative defense. The ARB affirmed. The Seventh Circuit denied review, holding that substantial evidence supported the ARB's decision that the same-action defense applied to BNSF's discipline of Plaintiff. View "Brousil v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, Administrative Review Board" on Justia Law
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety v. FMCSA
In 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) modified its regulations governing the maximum hours that commercial motor vehicle operators may drive or operate within a certain timeframe. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a labor union representing commercial truck drivers, and three national nonprofit organizations petitioned for review. They argued that the Final Rule was arbitrary and capricious for failing to grapple with the safety and driver health consequences of changes to record-keeping rules for short-haul commercial vehicle drivers and break requirements for long-haul drivers. The DC Circuit denied the petition for review. The court held that the modifications to the hours-of-service rules were sufficiently explained and grounded in the administrative record. The court explained that the Administration not only directly tackled the issue of driver health but also reasonably explained why the health benefits estimated in the 2011 Rule would continue under the modified 30-minute break rule. That met the APA’s requirements. View "Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety v. FMCSA" on Justia Law