Justia Transportation Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
Guerra v. Consolidated Rail Corp
The Federal Railway Safety Act (FRSA) provides that if railroad carriers retaliate against employees who report safety violations, the aggrieved employee may file a complaint with OSHA within 180 days after the alleged retaliation, 49 U.S.C. 20109(d)(2)(A)(ii). The Secretary of Labor then has 210 days to issue a final decision. If the Secretary takes too long, the employee may file suit. Guerra, a Conrail conductor and brakeman, alleged that Conrail urged him to ignore safety regulations. When he refused, Conrail threatened him and eliminated incidental perks of his job. Guerra reported this to Conrail’s compliance office. He says he was told that if he kept reporting safety issues, there would be “undesirable consequences.” Soon after Guerra filed complaints about allegedly defective braking systems, a train Guerra was operating failed to brake properly and ran through a railroad switch. On April 6, 2016, Conrail notified Guerra that he would be suspended. On May 10, Guerra’s attorney, Katz, allegedly filed a FRSA complaint. Receiving no response, on November 28, Katz followed up with OSHA by email. OSHA notified Guerra that his claim was dismissed as untimely because OSHA first received Guerra’s complaint 237 days after the retaliation. Guerra attempted to invoke the common-law mailbox rule’s presumption of delivery. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The Third Circuit affirmed on other grounds. FRSA’s 180-day limitations period is a non-jurisdictional claim-processing rule. Guerra’s claim still fails because he has not produced enough reliable evidence to invoke the common-law mailbox rule. View "Guerra v. Consolidated Rail Corp" on Justia Law
Miller v. Southwest Airlines Co.
Under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, before obtaining any fingerprint, a “private entity” must provide the subject or “the subject’s legally authorized representative” with certain written information and obtain the consent of the subject or authorized representative, 740 ILCS 14/15(b). The private entity must make available to the public a protocol for retaining and handling biometric data and follow rules regarding the destruction of the data. Private entities must protect biometric information from disclosure. Both Southwest and United Airlines maintain timekeeping systems that require workers to clock in and out with their fingerprints. Plaintiffs contend that the airlines implemented these systems in violation of the Act. The airlines contend that the plaintiffs’ unions consented. Plaintiffs argued that a judge should resolve their contentions. The airlines claimed that resolution belongs to an adjustment board under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. 151–88, which applies to air carriers. The Seventh Circuit held that dispute about the interpretation or administration of a collective bargaining agreement must be resolved by an adjustment board under the RLA. Unions in the air transportation business are the workers’ exclusive bargaining agents. Illinois cannot and did not remove a topic from the union’s purview. Its statute provides that a worker or an authorized agent may receive necessary notices and provide consent. Whether the unions did consent or grant authority through a management-rights clause, is a question for an adjustment board. View "Miller v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law
Beckington v. American Airlines, Inc.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by airline pilots, seeking damages under the Railway Labor Act (RLA). Plaintiffs alleged that their employer colluded with a union in the union's breach of its duty of fair representation.The panel held that, under the RLA, employees can hold their union liable for breaching its duty of fair representation during collective bargaining. The panel held, however, that the RLA does not support the imposition of liability on an employer solely for its "collusion" in the union's breach of duty. In this case, plaintiffs did not claim that their employer breached its own obligations under a collective bargaining agreement. Rather, the only identifiable breach in this case was USAPA's breach of its duty of fair representation. View "Beckington v. American Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law
Muller v. Roy Miller Freight Lines, LLC
Defendant Roy Miller Freight Lines, LLC (RMFL) appealed a trial court order granting in part and denying in part its motion to compel its former employee, plaintiff William Muller (Muller), to arbitrate his wage and hour claims under the arbitration provision in his employment agreement. The trial court granted RMFL’s motion on all but one cause of action: Muller’s claim for unpaid wages, and stayed the prosecution of that remaining claim pending the completion of the arbitration. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review centered on whether the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) applied, and more specifically, whether Muller was a transportation worker engaged in interstate commerce under 9 U.S.C. 1 (section 1) and thus exempt from FAA coverage. If he was exempt from FAA coverage, as the trial court held, Muller did not have to arbitrate his cause of action for unpaid wages because Labor Code section 229 (section 229) authorized lawsuits for unpaid wages notwithstanding an agreement to arbitrate. If the FAA applied, as RMFL contended, the FAA preempted section 229, and Muller had to submit his cause of action for unpaid wages to arbitration, along with his five other causes of action. The Court found the trial court correctly concluded Muller was exempt from FAA coverage under section 1. Even though Muller did not physically transport goods across state lines, his employer was in the transportation industry, and the vast majority of the goods he transported originated outside California. Thus, section 229 required staying the prosecution of his cause of action for unpaid wages while the other five causes of action proceed to arbitration. View "Muller v. Roy Miller Freight Lines, LLC" on Justia Law
BNSF Railway Co. v. Loos
Loos sued BNSF under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act for injuries he received while working at BNSF’s railyard. A jury awarded him $126,212.78, ascribing $30,000 to lost wages. BNSF asserted that the lost wages constituted “compensation” taxable under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA) and asked to withhold $3,765 of the $30,000. The district court and the Eighth Circuit rejected the requested offset. The Supreme Court reversed. A railroad’s payment to an employee for work time lost due to an on-the-job injury is taxable “compensation” under the RRTA. RRTA refers to the railroad’s contribution as an “excise” tax, 26 U. S. C. 3221, and the employee’s share as an “income” tax, section 3201. Taxes under the RRTA and benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act, 45 U.S.C. 231, are measured by the employee’s “compensation,” which both statutes define as “any form of money remuneration paid to an individual for services rendered as an employee.” The Court noted similar results under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act and the Social Security Act. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. Loos" on Justia Law
Ruark v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
Ruark was working for Union Pacific, using a hydraulic rail drill. Ruark was involved connecting the drill to the hydraulic lines and used the machine to drill several holes without noticing any leaking fluid or other malfunction. As he drilled the last hole, Ruark reached down to turn the drill off. Hot fluid sprayed over him, including in his eyes. Ruark declined medical attention. The supervisor sent him home to clean up. Ruark returned the following day, but did not do much work, because, he claims, “it hurt too bad.” Ruark saw his regular nurse practitioner the next day, for “sinus and stomach problems.” Ruark did not return to work because he was convicted of a felony unrelated to the accident. Ruark sued under the Federal Employers Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. 51-60. Ruark’s prison sentence interrupted his trial preparation. The judge denied a motion for a continuance because the case had been pending for almost three years, Ruark had been well represented by his initial counsel, and Ruark's incarceration did not justify reopening exhausted deadlines and allowing Ruark to begin discovery anew. The judge allowed Ruark’s trial testimony by video deposition and deposition of Ruark’s treating physician. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of Ruark’s theory of negligence based on res ipsa loquitur. That doctrine requires that the defendant was in control of the instrumentality that caused the injury and that the plaintiff was not also negligent; those conditions were not met. A jury could not assume that “the matter spoke for itself.” The court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to grant a continuance. View "Ruark v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Kopplin v. Wisconsin Central Limited
Kopplin, a former train conductor, brought claims of negligence and negligence per se against the Wisconsin Central railroad under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. 51, alleging that Kopplin injured his elbow in trying to operate a broken railroad switch on January 24, 2014. The district court granted the railroad summary judgment because Kopplin could not prove that the broken switch caused his injury. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. A video of the incident shows no immediate signs of injury and Kopplin never mentioned any pain to his coworkers until two hours later. He had continued to perform other physical tasks. Kopplin’s sole causation expert conceded, in a deposition, that he knew so little about Kopplin’s job that it would be mere speculation to say throwing a switch even could cause the elbow injury and that he did not investigate whether Kopplin’s other physical activities could have caused his renewed elbow problems. That expert later provided an affidavit in which he definitively stated that the January 24 incident caused the elbow injury, explaining that the nature of the injury was so clear that there was no need to even consider other potential causes. The judge refused to consider the affidavit because it contradicted sworn deposition testimony. View "Kopplin v. Wisconsin Central Limited" on Justia Law
Bedoya v. American Eagle Express, Inc
Delivery drivers filed a putative class action, alleging that AEX misclassified them as independent contractors when they are actually employees under the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (NJWHL), and the New Jersey Wage Payment Law (NJWPL). AEX argued that the Drivers’ claims are preempted by the Federal Aviation Authorization Administration Act of 1994 (FAAAA), 49 U.S.C. 14501- 06. The district court denied AEX’s motion and certified the order for interlocutory appeal. The Third Circuit affirmed. The FAAAA does not preempt the New Jersey law for determining employment status for the purposes of NJWHL and NJWPL. AEX has not shown that New Jersey’s "ABC classification" test has a “significant impact” on Congress’ deregulatory efforts with respect to motor carrier businesses, nor are the NJWHL and NJWPL—typical state wage and hour laws—the kinds of preexisting state regulations with which Congress was concerned when it passed the FAAAA. New Jersey’s ABC classification test has neither a direct, nor an indirect, nor a significant effect on carrier prices, routes, or services. View "Bedoya v. American Eagle Express, Inc" on Justia Law
CSX Corp. v. United States
The Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA) does not impose a tax on a railroad's stock transfers to its employees nor a railroad's provision of relocation benefits to its employees. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further consideration of the statutory requirements and the calculation of CSX's taxable compensation. The court held that the Supreme Court's decision in Wisconsin Cent. Ltd. v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2067 (2018), was dispositive of the stock issue. Under Wisconsin Central, the phrase "money remuneration" in the RRTA refers only to currency or a medium of exchange. Wisconsin Central, as well as the court's plain meaning of the statute, guided the court's decision regarding the relocation benefits. View "CSX Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law
Rookaird v. BNSF Railway Co.
After a jury found that BNSF violated the anti-retaliation provision of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) when it fired plaintiff for, in part, refusing to stop performing an air-brake test on a 42-car train that he was tasked with moving, plaintiff was awarded over $1.2 million in damages.The Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not err in denying BNSF's motion for judgment as a matter of law with respect to whether plaintiff engaged in FRSA-protected activity. Therefore, the panel affirmed the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law on that claim. However, the panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to plaintiff on the contributing-factor issue because the district court conflated plaintiff's prima facie showing, which he successfully made as a matter of law, with his substantive case, which should have gone to the jury. The panel held that plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment on the contributing-factor element of his prima facie showing, but that he was not entitled to summary judgment on his substantive case. View "Rookaird v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law