Monday, August 14, 2017

Retired Employee Looses Tenure Protection

Richardson v. City of New York, ___F. Supp. 2d ___(S.D.N.Y. Feb. 23, 2017), is an interesting case concerning the interaction of a retirement with the right to a hearing. A tenured administrator retired while an OSI disciplinary investigation was still taking place. Several years later, that administrator learned that she was on the invalid list after she applied for a different position. The court held that because the administrator resigned, she had no property interest which would trigger the right to a due process hearing. The plaintiff also did not have a protected "liberty interest". As the court explained:

As regards Richardson's alleged property interest, "there is no constitutionally protected property interest in prospective government employment." See Abramson v. Pataki, 278 F.3d 93, 100 (2d Cir. 2002). Richardson thus cannot allege a deprivation of property resulting from her placement on the Ineligible List. And indeed Richardson does not appear to contest Defendants' argument that she lacks a property interest in her security clearance. The cases cited by Richardson in which a property interest was found arose only in the context of termination of existing employment, not the denial of future employment. See, e.g., Locurto v. Safir, 264 F.3d 154 (2d Cir. 2001); Otero v. Bridgeport Housing Auth., 297 F.3d 142, 151 (2d Cir. 2002).
As regards the deprivation of a liberty interest, Richardson does not adequately allege a "stigma plus" due process violation. See, e.g., Behrend v. Klein, No. 04 Civ. 5413, 2006 WL 2729257, at *7 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 25, 2006). A stigma-plus claim requires a plaintiff to show (1) a stigmatizing statement that "effectively put[s] a significant roadblock in that employee's continued ability to practice his or her profession," Donato v. Plainview-Old Bethpage Cent. Sch. Dist., 96 F.3d 623, 631 (2d Cir. 1996); (2) public dissemination of that statement; and (3) that any stigmatizing statements were made in close temporal proximity to the plaintiff's dismissal from government employment. See Segal v. City of N.Y., 459 F.3d 207, 212 (2d Cir. 2006).
Here, Richardson has failed to carry her burden at this stage, as she has not adequately alleged that any potentially stigmatizing description of her conduct was disseminated publicly. She only claims that her security clearance was denied, not that her prospective employer was ever informed of the nature of the charges against her. (Compl. ¶¶ 40-43.) She nowhere alleges that the report of the investigation was made public, or that the DOE's denial of her security clearance entailed the disclosure of the reasons for the denial. See McPherson v. N.Y. City Dep't of Educ., 457 F.3d 211, 216-17 (2d Cir. 2006) (affirming dismissal of a stigma-plus claim where "the reasons for placement on the `Ineligible/Inquiry List' remain confidential, and Plaintiff has provided no evidence suggesting otherwise").
Accordingly, Richardson's due process claim must be dismissed.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Procedural Arbitrability Questions Are For The Arbitrator To Decide

Matter of City of Yonkers v. Yonkers Firefighters, ___A.D. 3d___(2d Dep't. Aug. 9, 2017) illustrates how difficult it is to stay a labor arbitration and that questions concerning procedural arbitrability are for the Arbitrator. As the court explained:
The City's contention that arbitration was precluded because Local 628's grievance was not timely pursuant to step one of the grievance procedure is without merit. The "threshold determination of whether a condition precedent to arbitration exists and whether it has been complied with, is for the court to determine" (Matter of Village of Chester v Local 445, Intl. Bhd. of Teamsters, 118 AD3d 1012, 1013; see Matter of Incorporated Vil. of Floral Park v Floral Park Police Benevolent Assn., 131 AD3d at 1242; Matter of Town of N. Hempstead v Civil Serv. Empls. Assn., Inc., 78 AD3d 847, 848). By contrast, "[q]uestions concerning compliance with a contractual step-by-step grievance process have been recognized as matters of procedural arbitrability to be resolved by the arbitrators, particularly in the absence of a very narrow arbitration clause or a provision expressly making compliance with the time limitations a condition precedent to arbitration" (Matter of Enlarged City School Dist. of Troy [Troy Teachers Assn.], 69 NY2d 905, 907; see Matter of Triborough Bride & Tunnel Auth. [Dist. Council 37 of Am. Fedn. of State, County & Mun. Empls., AFL-CIO, 44 NY2d 967, 969; Matter of Incorporated Vil. of Floral Park v Floral Park Police Benevolent Assn., 131 AD3d at 1242; Matter of Hartsdale Fire Dist. v Greenburgh Uniform Firefighters Assn., Inc., Local 1586, IAFF, AFL-CIO, 55 AD3d 731, 732). As the CBA does not specify that timely commencement of the grievance is a condition precedent to arbitration, the issue of whether Local 628 timely initiated the grievance at step one must be resolved by the arbitrator, not the court

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Sitting Next To A Superstar May Improve Your Performance

Use your Seat to Get Ahead is an interesting Wall Street Journal article from August 8, 2017 which readers may find of interest. The premise of the article is that your work performance may improve when you sit next to a superstar employee. As the article states:

Proximity to high achievers can lift people’s performance in various jobs, via inspiration, peer pressure or new learning, a growing body of research shows. The findings offer a silver lining to anyone annoyed at the current fad of flexible office-seating arrangements; employees can use them to their advantage.
Simply sitting next to a high achiever can improve someone’s performance by 3% to 16%, according to a two-year Northwestern University study of 2,452 help-desk and other client-service workers at a technology company.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Not Every Mistake is Disqualifying Misconduct For Unemployment

Matter of Humphreys, ____A.D.3d____(3d Dept. August 3, 2017), illustrates an important principal. Namely, not all forms of misconduct are disqualifying for unemployment purposes. Unfortunately, distinguishing between what is misconduct and what is not is often difficult.
Here, a security guard made the following statement to another security guard:   "if people mess with him, mess with his money, he would cut them." 
In finding that this did not constitute misconduct, the court reasoned:

Whether a claimant's actions rise to the level of disqualifying misconduct is a factual issue for the Board to resolve, and not every mistake, exercise of poor judgment or discharge for cause will rise to the level of misconduct" (Matter of Jensen [Victory State Bank—Commissioner of Labor, 126 AD3d 1207, 1207-1208 [2015] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; accord Matter of Muniz [Mitarotonda Servs., Inc.—Commissioner of Labor], 140 AD3d 1426, 1427 [2016]). "Pursuant to our limited review, this Court may not weigh conflicting evidence or substitute its own judgment, and if, as here, the findings turn on the credibility of witnesses, we may not substitute our perceptions for those of the agency" (Matter of Suchocki [St. Joseph's R.C. Church—Commissioner of Labor], 132 AD3d 1222, 1223 [2015] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; accord Matter of Kacperska-Nie [DePaula & Clark, Inc.—Commissioner of Labor], 144 AD3d 1303, 1304 [2016]).
Here, the security guard, to whom claimant made the statement regarding cutting people, testified that he felt that the statement was a work-related threat because claimant was always worried about losing his job or having his hours cut. While there was evidence presented that claimant had also previously made disparaging remarks about female coworkers, the employer's security manager testified that claimant's employment was terminated solely because his statement regarding cutting people violated the employer's rules prohibiting workplace harassment and fighting, and not for any other conduct. The Board, however, credited claimant's testimony that the statement he made was not work-related or intended as a threat against any of his coworkers, but instead referred to a personal issue regarding individuals who had recently harassed his family. Inasmuch as the Board is the final arbiter of factual and credibility issues, its determination that claimant's statement, although inappropriate, did not create a hostile work environment and did not rise to the level of disqualifying misconduct is supported by substantial evidence and it will not be disturbed, even though there is evidence in the record that could support a contrary conclusion

Friday, July 28, 2017

2d Circuit Issues Major FMLA Case Rejecting But For Standard

Woods v. Star Treatment, ___F.3d___(2d Cir. July 19, 2017), is an important FMLA case to be aware of. The 2d Circuit holds that the "motivating standard" as opposed to the "but for" causation standard is applicable in FMLA discharge cases. This standard is much easier for plaintiffs to meet.
Interestingly, the 2d Circuit also held that the court erred by allowing the jury to draw a negative inference because of the plaintiff's invocation of the 5th Amendment during a deposition reasoning:

The instruction accurately states the law insofar as “the Fifth Amendment does not forbid adverse inferences against parties to civil actions when they refuse to testify in response to probative evidence offered against them.” Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308, 318 (1976). Such adverse inferences are appropriately admitted, however, only if they are relevant, reliable, and not unduly prejudicial. See Brink’s Inc. v. City of New York, 717 F.2d 700, 710 (2d Cir. 1983). We conclude that the district court exceeded the bounds of its discretion in admitting and permitting the adverse inferences to be drawn here. First, most of the questions in Woods’s deposition were merely whether Woods had been accused of something. Even assuming her answers would have been “yes,” accusations have little, if any, probative value because the innocent and guilty alike can be accused of wrongdoing. Without more, accusations do not “impeach the integrity or impair the credibility of a witness.” Michelson v. United States, 335 U.S. 469, 482 (1948). Thus, Woods suffered acute prejudice from the admission of adverse inferences based on her answers to those deposition questions and from the court’s related instructions. 22 Second, Woods suffered even harsher prejudice from the admission of an adverse inference based on her invocation of the Fifth Amendment in response to being asked whether she was ever convicted of any immoral or unethical conduct. Federal Rule of Evidence 609(a)(2) permits the admission of a conviction only when the crime is a felony or the court “can readily determine that establishing the elements of the crime” required proving a “dishonest act or false statement.” The district court here failed to consider whether the requirements of Rule 609(a) were met. The results of a Rule 609(a) analysis are especially important in this case because the record is unclear as to what, if any, crime Woods was convicted of. Indeed, there was only a reference to “disorderly conduct,” which is not necessarily “dishonest,” much less “immoral” or “unethical.” An adverse inference based upon Woods declining to answer that deposition question is of questionable probative value on the issue of her credibility. Third, the danger of unfair prejudice is high when a jury is told that a witness declined to answer a question by invoking the Fifth Amendment; the implication is, at best, that the witness refused to answer because she had something to hide. We tolerate some danger of prejudice from such inferences in civil cases, unless it substantially outweighs the probative value of those inferences. See Brink’s Inc., 717 F.2d at 710. Here, the way in which Woods’s Fifth Amendment invocation was raised and later argued at closing elevated the prejudice to an intolerable level. Woods’s Fifth Amendment invocation 23 was repeatedly emphasized—defense counsel raised it during Woods’s crossexamination, the district court instructed the jury on it, and defense counsel argued it during his summation. Although defense counsel attempted to moderate this line of argument, see J. App’x 632 (“I am not hanging my hat on [the] Fifth Amendment invocation.”), he did so only after forcefully highlighting the inferences that the jury was permitted to draw. In arguing that the entire case hinged on Woods’s credibility, defense counsel told the jury “you are permitted in this case to infer that Ms. Woods was the subject of a government grand jury investigation, was accused of fraud, lying, fabricating events, and misrepresenting facts to the government and was then convicted of a crime.” Id. Defense counsel’s statement was consistent with the district court’s instruction, but the inferences that the jury was permitted to draw did not necessarily mean anything with respect to Woods’s credibility or character for truthfulness. Apart from allowing such vigorous argument on this point, the district court erred by failing to engage in the required Rule 403 analysis. See Brink’s, Inc., 717 F.2d at 710. In our view, the unfair prejudice Woods suffered substantially outweighed the minimal, if not immaterial, probative value of Woods’s Fifth Amendment invocation. Accordingly, it was error for the district court to admit those invocations into evidence and to instruct the jury as to what it was allowed to infer from them. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Pending Improper Practice Does Not Bar Related Arbitration

I bring Matter of City of Watertown and Watertown Professional Firefighters, ___A.D.3d___(4th Dept. July 7, 2017), to your attention for several reasons. First, in a relatively short opinion, the court does a nice job summarizing the standards to stay arbitration under New York law. Second, the court holds that a pending administrative case, presumably one at PERB, would not bar arbitration over a similar issue. As the court explained:

"It is well settled that, in deciding an application to stay or compel arbitration under CPLR 7503, we do not determine the merits of the grievance and instead determine only whether the subject matter of the grievance is arbitrable" (Matter of City of Syracuse [Syracuse Police Benevolent Assn., Inc.], 119 AD3d 1396, 1397; see CPLR 7501; Matter of Board of Educ. of Watertown City Sch. Dist. [Watertown Educ. Assn.], 93 NY2d 132, 142-143). "Proceeding with a two-part test, we first ask whether the parties may arbitrate the dispute by inquiring if there is any statutory, constitutional or public policy prohibition against arbitration of the grievance' . . . If no prohibition exists, we then ask whether the parties in fact agreed to arbitrate the particular dispute by examining their [CBA]. If there is a prohibition, our inquiry ends and an arbitrator cannot act" (Matter of County of Chautauqua v Civil Serv. Empls. Assn., Local 1000, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, County of Chautauqua Unit 6300, Chautauqua County Local 807, 8 NY3d 513, 519; see Syracuse Police Benevolent Assn., Inc., 119 AD3d at 1397; Matter of Mariano v Town of Orchard Park, 92 AD3d 1232, 1233).
We reject the City's contention on appeal that arbitration of respondent's grievance with respect to the City's failure to maintain minimum staffing levels is prohibited by law. Under the first prong of the arbitrability test, "the subject matter of the dispute controls the analysis" (Matter of City of New York v Uniformed Fire Officers Assn., Local 854, IAFF, AFL-CIO, 95 NY2d 273, 280). Contrary to the City's contention, a pending administrative proceeding concerning respondent's alleged improper practices does not preclude arbitration inasmuch as there is no indication that the "particular subject matter of the dispute" is not "authorized," i.e., not " lawfully fit for arbitration' " (id.).
We reject the City's further contention that the parties did not agree to arbitrate the grievance. " Our review of that question is limited to the language of the grievance and the demand for arbitration, as well as to the reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom' " (Matter of Wilson Cent. Sch. Dist. [Wilson Teachers' Assn.], 140 AD3d 1789, 1790; see Matter of Niagara Frontier Transp. Auth. v Niagara Frontier Transp. Auth. Superior Officers Assn., 71 AD3d 1389, 1390, lv denied 14 NY3d 712). "Where, as here, the [CBA] contains a broad arbitration clause, our determination of arbitrability is limited to whether there is a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of the dispute and the general subject matter of the CBA' "

Employer Policy that Bans Use of Cameras Violates the NLRA

T-Mobile USA, Incorporated v. NLRB, ___F.3d___,No. 16-60284 (5th Cir. July 25, 2017), is an important decision to be aware of. The Fifth Circuit enforced a National Labor Relations Board  which held that an employer's policy that banned the use of "cameras, camera phones/devices, or recording devices (audio or video) in the workplace" was unlawful. The court summarized the relevant standard as follows:

Section 7 of the NLRA provides a declaration of statutory policy: “[e]mployees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” 29 U.S.C. § 157. Section 8(a)(1) of the Act in turn provides enforcement of that policy by stating that it shall be an “unfair labor practice” to “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights” protected by Section 7. 29 U.S.C. § 158(a)(1). Here, the “appropriate inquiry” is whether T-Mobile’s rules for workplace conduct violate § 8(a)(1) by chilling a reasonable employee in the exercise of his or her Section 7 rights. See Flex Frac Logistics, L.L.C. v. NLRB, 746 F.3d 205, 209 (5th Cir. 2014). Indeed, our precedent has previously noted that “[w]here the rules are likely to have a chilling effect, the Board may conclude that their maintenance is an unfair labor practice, even absent evidence of enforcement.” Id. (quoting Lafayette Park Hotel, 326 NLRB 824, 825 (1998)) (ellipses omitted). In order to determine whether a workplace rule violates Section 8(a)(1), this Court applies the two-part Lutheran Heritage framework. First, the Court decides “whether the rule explicitly restricts activities protected by Section 7.” Flex Frac, 746 F.3d at 208-09 (quoting Lutheran Heritage Village-Livonia, 343 NLRB 646, 646 (2004)); see also NLRB v. Arkema, Inc., 710 F.3d 308, 318 (5th Cir. 2013). Second, even if the restriction is not explicit, the rule may still violate Section 8(a)(1) where “(1) employees would reasonably construe the language to prohibit Section 7 activity; (2) the rule was promulgated in Case: 16-60284 Document: 00514086892 Page: 6 Date Filed: 07/25/2017 No. 16-60284 Cons. w/ No. 16-60497 7 response to union activity; or (3) the rule has been applied to restrict the exercise of Section 7 rights.” Id. at 209 (quoting Lutheran Heritage, 343 NLRB at 647).8 When construing a work rule, the Board must “give the rule a reasonable reading.” Lutheran Heritage, 343 NLRB at 646. Additionally, the Board “must refrain from reading particular phrases in isolation” and “must not presume improper interference with employee rights.” Id. The appropriate, objective inquiry is not whether the rules “could conceivably be read to cover Section 7 activity, even though that reading is unreasonable,” but rather whether “a reasonable employee reading the[] rules would . . . construe them to prohibit conduct protected by the Act.” Id. at 647 (emphasis added). The “reasonable employee,” although not specifically defined in Lutheran Heritage or subsequent jurisprudence, refers to a hypothetical, objective standard analogous to the “reasonable person” in tort law. Cf. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 283 (1965) (“[T]he standard of conduct to which [an actor] must conform to avoid being negligent is that of a reasonable man under like circumstances.”). In this case, where the record does not suggest that the rules have been applied in the context of union or collective activity, the “reasonable employee” is a T-Mobile employee aware of his legal rights but who also interprets work rules as they apply to the everydayness of his job. The reasonable employee does not view every employer policy through the prism of the NLRA. Indeed, “[the Board] must not presume improper interference with employee rights.” Lutheran Heritage, 343 NLRB at 646. Here, there is no contention that the rule explicitly restricts protected activity, or that the rule was promulgated in response to union activity, or that the rule has been applied to restrict the exercise of protected activity; the NLRB only alleges generally that employees would reasonably construe the language to prohibit protected activity. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Everything You Wanted To Know About Defamation Law

Tannerite Sports v. NBC, ____F.3d___(2d Cir. July 25, 2017), though not an employment law case, is brought to your attention because the court exhaustively examines defamation under New York Law. One interesting aspect is that the court states that New York's stringent pleading requirements do not apply in federal court actions because federal courts are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As the court explains in footnote 10:

New York state law requires that, “[i]n an action for libel or slander, the particular words complained of shall be set forth in the complaint,” Nowak v. EGW Home Care, Inc., 82 F. Supp. 2d 101, 113 (W.D.N.Y. 2000) (emphasis added) (quoting N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 3016(a)). Although federal pleading standards, not state standards, govern this matter, see Kelly, 806 F.2d at 46, the strictness of New York’s law reflects the importance of giving defendants notice of why any alleged statements were defamatory.  Similarly, we note that stricter rules for defamation pleading prevailed under earlier pleading regimes, see, e.g., Foltz v. Moore McCormack Lines, Inc., 189 F.2d 537, 539 (2d Cir. 1951), and although we do not suggest a return to those standards, they underline the importance of receiving proper notice of a defamation claim.

Retired Employee Looses Tenure Protection

Richardson v. City of New York , ___F. Supp. 2d ___(S.D.N.Y. Feb. 23, 2017), is an interesting case concerning the interaction of a retireme...