Happy 2016 Labor & Employment Year!

January, 2016


As we start the new year, there are some important labor and employment cases pending or recently decided that I would like to report.

Union Dues

On Monday, January 11th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument on a case affecting a public union’s authority to collect dues from non-members. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

All California teachers are represented by the state teachers’ union, an affiliate of the National Education Association. Those teachers who chose not to belong to the union as a member, and thus do not have full voting privileges, are nevertheless required to pay 98-99% of the dues amount as an “agency-fee” payers. The union, however, must represent all teachers, regardless of whether they are full members or agency-fee payers. Rebecca Friedrich objects to paying such amount as a non-member, claiming that violates the First Amendment.

The plaintiff in this case, Ronald Schofield, Jr. started working for the defendant employer, Loureiro Engineering Associates, Inc. on April 1, 2014. On April 16, 2014, Schofield was ordered to take a drug test in the form of a hair analysis. He was not informed that he would be subject to drug testing after he was employed. As a result of the drug screening, he was terminated.

Schofield sued, alleging he was terminated in violation of various Connecticut statutes, 31-51u, 31-51v and 31-51x. Schofield v. Loureiro Eng’g Assoc., 2015 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1262, Superior Court, judicial district of Waterbury, 2015. All three statutes specifically reference a urinalysis drug test requirement.

The court granted the defendant’s motion to strike the counts bases upon such statutes, but allowed the case to proceed on the fourth count, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, since the plaintiff had no statutory remedy available to him.

The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment on age discrimination issues, finding that the trial court failed to apply relevant law and came to its conclusions erroneously. Liebman v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 22104 (Dec. 18, 2015).

Termination and Suit
Liebman had worked for MetLife for more than 30 years before he was terminated in January, 2013 at age 49 as a Managing Director and replaced by a 42 year-old coworker under a company re-structuring. Evidence was introduced that his boss was jealous of Liebman’s more generous retirement plan.

Liebman brought an action under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The district court dismissed his case, stating that he could not prove a case under the ADEA, since his replacement was 42 years old and also a member of the protected class (age 40 and above). The district court further found that Liebman failed to show he was qualified for his position.

The appeals court reversed, claiming that the district court erred when it found that Liebman was not replaced by a substantially younger person and that he could not prove he was qualified to the job from which he had been fired.

“Substantially Younger” is the Key

The appeals court cited a U.S. Supreme Court holding, O’Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp., 517 U.S. 308, 312 (1996), which held that “the fact that one person in the protected class has lost out to another person in the protected class is … irrelevant, so long as he has lost out because of his age.” The six year difference between Liebman and his replacement satisfied the “substantially younger” requirement under the law.

You’ve Got To Be Joking

The Court then addressed the lower court’s finding that Liebman was not “qualified” for his job, because “he was not performing as expected.” The Court stated that Liebman had been with the company for 27 years, nine of those years in the position of Managing Director. It stated, “If a plaintiff has enjoyed a long tenure at a certain position, we can infer that he or she is qualified to hold that particular position.”

The Court vacated the summary judgment ruling of the lower court.

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