Justia Transportation Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
Evenskaas v. California Transit, Inc.
Plaintiff worked as a driver for California Transit. After California Transit terminated his employment, Evenskaas filed this wage and hour class action against California Transit; its owner, and the company that administered California Transit’s payroll, Personnel Staffing Group, LLC (collectively, the California Transit defendants). Because Plaintiff signed an arbitration agreement, in which he agreed to arbitrate all claims arising from his employment and waived his right to seek class-wide relief, the California Transit defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration. The trial court denied the motion. The California Transit defendants appealed, contending the FAA applies to the arbitration agreement. The Second Appellate District reversed the order denying Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration is reversed. The court directed the trial court to enter a new order granting the motion and dismissing Plaintiff’s class claims. The court explained that because the paratransit services California Transit hired Plaintiff to provide involve interstate commerce for purposes of the FAA, the FAA applies to the arbitration agreement and preempts the Gentry rule that certain class action waivers in employment arbitration agreements are unenforceable. View "Evenskaas v. California Transit, Inc." on Justia Law
McMaster v. DTE Energy Company
Dean McMaster brought a negligence action against DTE Energy Company, Ferrous Processing and Trading Company (Ferrous), and DTE Electric Company (DTE), seeking compensation for injuries he sustained when a metal pipe fell out of a scrap container and struck him in the leg. DTE, the shipper, contracted with Ferrous to sell scrap metal generated by its business. DTE and Ferrous moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the motion as to DTE but denied the motion as to Ferrous. McMaster settled with Ferrous and appealed with regard to DTE. The Court of Appeals affirmed, reasoning that DTE did not have a duty to warn of or protect McMaster from a known danger, relying on the open and obvious danger doctrine. McMaster sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court peremptorily vacated Part III of the opinion and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration of DTE’s legal duty under the law of ordinary negligence. On remand, the Court of Appeals again affirmed the trial court, finding that the common-law duty of a shipper was abrogated by Michigan’s passage of MCL 480.11a, which adopted the federal motor carrier safety regulations as part of the Motor Carrier Safety Act (the MCSA). The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the common-law duty of care owed by a shipper to a driver was not abrogated by MCL 480.11a. As an issue of first impression, the Court adopted the “shipper’s exception” or “Savage rule” to guide negligence questions involving participants in the trucking industry, as this rule was consistent with Michigan law. Applying this rule, the Supreme Court affirmed on alternate grounds, the grant of summary disposition to DTE Electric Company (DTE) because there existed no genuine issue of material fact that DTE did not breach its duty to plaintiff. View "McMaster v. DTE Energy Company" on Justia Law
Intl Assn of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Trans v. Iowa Northern Railway Company
Iowa Northern Railway Company (“Iowa Northern”) and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (the “Union”) are both parties to a Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) that is subject to the Railway Labor Act (“RLA”). In 2019, Iowa Northern offered to increase the pay of unionized Train and Engine employees to $300 to recruit additional employees. The Union members rejected the pay increase. Subsequently, Iowa Northern served a Section 6 notice on the Union, proposing changes to the CBA. When the Union failed to respond, Iowa Northern provide notice it intended to resort to self-help, and then increased the pay rate to $300 per day.The Union then filed this case, claiming that Iowa Northern violated the RLA by unlawfully resorting to self-help and seeking a preliminary injunction to maintain the status quo prior to the pay-rate changes. The district court denied the Union's request, finding that it did not meet its burden of establishing the likelihood of success on the merits. The Union appealed.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a Union's requested preliminary injunction, finding that the Defendant railway operator did not violate the Railway Labor Act when it resorted to self-help. The court explained the Union's "prolonged foot-dragging and refusal to respond on an issue of vital importance to Iowa Northern (and to the Union’s members) raise substantial doubt that the Union’s status quo claim will survive." View "Intl Assn of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Trans v. Iowa Northern Railway Company" on Justia Law
Gomez v. JP Trucking
The four truckers who initiated this action regularly drove more than forty hours per week for their employer, JP Trucking, Inc., a Colorado transport company. The question they presented for the Colorado Supreme Courts review concerned whether they were entitled to overtime pay for hours exceeding forty hours per week or twelve hours per day. The Court surmised the answer depended on the meaning of a state regulation that exempted “interstate drivers” from overtime compensation. The truck drivers and JP Trucking both urged the Supreme Court to declare that the term “interstate drivers” was unambiguous: the truck drivers argued the term referred to drivers whose work predominantly took them across state lines; JP Trucking argued that “interstate drivers” were drivers involved in the transportation of goods in interstate commerce, even if their work never took them across state lines. A division of the Colorado court of appeals determined that “interstate drivers” was unambiguous from JP Trucking’s understanding of the term. The Supreme Court concluded the term was ambiguous, and consistent with a different appellate court division, held that “interstate drivers” refers to drivers whose work takes them across state lines, regardless of how often. Hence, the state exemption from overtime compensation was triggered the first time a driver crosses state lines during a work trip. The case was remanded for further proceedings, namely to allow the appeals court to consider JP Trucking’s remaining contentions regarding the calculation of damages. View "Gomez v. JP Trucking" on Justia Law
BLET v. Union Pacific Railroad
Defendant, Union Pacific, is a national rail carrier. Plaintiff, The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen ("BLET"), is a labor union representing Union Pacific engineers. Division 192 is the exclusive representative for Union Pacific employees around the area. An issue arose when an off-duty fistfight broke out during a union meeting between local division officers and an engineer. About two months after the fight, the engineer filed a complaint with Union Pacific, alleging that was threatened and assaulted by local division representatives in retaliation for taking extra shifts. The suspension of six union members effectively barred all of Division 192’s leadership from Union Pacific’s premises.BLET sued Union Pacific in federal court, alleging Union Pacific retaliated against the union for its shove policy. BLET argued the retaliation violated the section of the Railway Labor Act (“RLA”) prohibiting carrier interference with union activity.The court first found that federal courts have jurisdiction over post-certification disputes alleging that railroad conduct motivated by antiunion animus is interfering with the employees’ “choice of representatives.” Next, the court found that the facts support the determination that the union was likely to succeed in showing that the discipline was motivated by a desire to weaken the local division. Thus, the court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the union is likely to prevail in showing that Union Pacific’s suspension of effectively all the division’s elected representatives amounted to the prohibited interference under the RLA. View "BLET v. Union Pacific Railroad" on Justia Law
Coffey v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co.
Coffey was employed by the Railway as a locomotive engineer. In 2012, a train that Coffey was operating derailed; a drug test revealed the presence of amphetamines in Coffey’s system. Coffey was permitted to continue working, but he was subject to follow-up drug testing for five years. In 2016, a test showed the presence of amphetamines and codeine. Coffey explained that he had prescriptions for Adderall, which he took for ADHD, and codeine (Tylenol #3), which he took for a back condition. Railway requested that Coffey provide medical records. Six weeks later, Coffey ruptured his Achilles tendon and took medical leave for 10 months. When his physician cleared him to return to work, Railway again requested the records it had previously requested. After two more demands, Railway received some records but was unsatisfied because they failed to include specifically requested information such as medication side effects. In anticipation of a disciplinary hearing, Coffey submitted approximately 400 pages of medical records. Upon determining that those records still did not address much of the required information, Railway terminated Coffey’s employment.The EEOC concluded that there was reasonable cause to believe that Railway’s demands violated the ADA, 42 U.S.C. 12112(a). The district court and Fourth Circuit rejected Coffey’s subsequent suit. Railway made a lawful request under the ADA. Its inquiries were related to Coffey’s job and were required by federal regulation. Complying with federal regulations is, by definition, a business necessity. View "Coffey v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law
CSX Corp. v. United States
The Eleventh Circuit held that relocation benefits provided by a railroad to its employees are exempt under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act as bona fide and necessary expenses incurred by the employee in the business of the employer, 26 U.S.C. 3231(e)(1)(iii). The court also held that, because no regulatory substantiation requirements apply, CSX is entitled to a refund. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the United States in regard to whether relocation benefits are exempt under section 3231(e)(1)(iii); reversed in part the district court's grant of summary judgment in regard to CSX's need and failure to satisfy the Accountable Plan Regulation; and remanded for the district court to calculate the amount of CSX's refund and administer the notification process. View "CSX Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law
Monohon v. BNSF Railway Co.
Plaintiff filed suit alleging that BNSF violated the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) when it discharged him for reporting, in good faith, a hazardous safety condition. After the case proceeded to trial, the jury found in favor of plaintiff and awarded back pay. The district court denied plaintiff's request for reinstatement and instead awarded three years of front pay, thereafter granting BNSF's motion for judgment as a matter of law.The Eighth Circuit concluded that BNSF's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law was timely and therefore fell within Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b)'s 28-day time period; there existed a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to support the jury's finding that plaintiff's report regarding the danger of wearing a seatbelt while hy-railing is a report of a hazardous safety condition; and the evidence was sufficient to support a finding that BNSF intentionally retaliated against plaintiff. Finally, the court concluded that the district court abused its discretion in granting BNSF's conditional motion for a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgment in favor of BNSF, reversed the order granting BNSF's motion for judgment as a matter of law, and remanded for the reinstatement of the jury verdict and for the entry of such further relief. View "Monohon v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law
Ziparo v. CSX Transportation, Inc.
Plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, CSX, for unlawful retaliation under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), alleging that he was terminated because he engaged in protected activity by "reporting, in good faith, a hazardous safety or security condition."The Second Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of CSX, concluding that the district court erred in determining that plaintiff's belief that the subject of his report – pressure from supervisors to make false entries in work reports causing employees undue stress and distraction from their duties – concerned a "hazardous safety or security condition" was objectively unreasonable. Rather, the court concluded that the FRSA's protection of reports made "in good faith" requires only that the reporting employee subjectively believe that the matter being reported constitutes a hazardous safety or security condition, regardless of whether that belief is objectively reasonable. The district court also erred in determining that, in any event, only physical conditions subject to the railroad's control could constitute such a condition. The court explained that the statutory text suggests no reason to confine the meaning of "hazardous safety or security condition" to encompass only physical conditions. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Ziparo v. CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law
Romero v. Watkins & Shepard Trucking, Inc.
Romero, a truck driver employed by Watkins, an interstate trucking business, made deliveries only to retail stores in California. To complete paperwork and training, Romero periodically logged in to an online portal that required a unique employee identification number and password. Romero’s unique user account completed a set of “Associate Acknowledgements,” through which he clicked “I Agree,” signifying that he read and agreed to the Arbitration Policy, a stand-alone agreement that purports to waive any right to bring or participate in a class action; it states that the agreement is “governed by the Federal Arbitration Act,” and purports to waive "any provision of the FAA which would otherwise exclude [the agreement] from its coverage.” However, if "this [agreement] and/or its Waiver Provisions are not subject to and governed by the FAA, then the laws of the State of Nevada . . . will be the applicable state law.” The Arbitration Policy was not a condition of employment. Romero did not opt-out. In August 2019, Watkins announced it would cease operations. Romero and other employees were laid off.Romero filed a putative class action under the California and federal WARN Acts, 29 U.S.C. 2101, which require advance notice to employees before being laid off. The district court granted a motion to compel arbitration. The NInth Circuit affirmed, while noting that the Federal FAA exemption of employment contracts for transportation workers applies and cannot be waived by private contract. View "Romero v. Watkins & Shepard Trucking, Inc." on Justia Law