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On April 23, 2024, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it had finalized a new rule that, once implemented, will prohibit employers from enforcing noncompete clauses.

When does the new rule become effective?

The new rule will become effective one hundred twenty (120) days after the publication date of the new rule (which has not yet occurred).

What is the definition of “noncompete clauses” under the new rule?

A non-compete clause means any term or condition of employment that prohibits or prevents a worker from, or penalizes a worker for:

  1. seeking or accepting work with a different employer in the United States after separating from the current employer; or
  2. operating a business in the United States after separating from the current employer.

What, specifically, does this new rule prohibit?

Under the new rule, employers will be prohibited from:

  1. enforcing existing noncompete clauses, except with respect to senior executives (defined as individuals earning at least $151,164 annually and are in a “policy-making” position); and
  2. entering into new noncompete agreements with employees.

What does the rule NOT prohibit?

Employers are not prohibited under the new rule from:

  1. entering into and enforcing non-solicitation agreements and non-disclosure agreements, provided that they do not meet the definition of “noncompete clause.”
  2. entering into and enforcing noncompete clauses in connection with the sale of a business.
  3. continuing to litigate noncompete enforcement actions that accrued before the effective date of the new rule.

What obligations does the new rule create for employers?

Employers will be required to inform employees who have signed noncompete clauses that those clauses are no longer in effect and will not be enforced.

What else should employers be doing?

As the effective date approaches, employers should review existing agreements or form agreements they regularly utilize, and eliminate noncompete clauses.  Once again, the new rule does not prohibit clauses that prevent solicitation of clients or customers, nor does it probit non-disclosure provisions that protect confidential information or trade secrets.  Employers may continue utilizing these narrower restrictive covenants.

Can the FTC really do this?

That is a good question that many are asking.  Undoubtedly, legal challenges to the FTC’s authority to implement this rule have already been initiated by several business groups, and those challenges will likely reach the United States Supreme Court.  We will monitor these challenges and provide updates as they become available.


Photo by Romain Dancre on Unsplash

 

Every now and then, we will have a company (or an employee) contact us and tell us that an employee has been involved in a car accident while performing duties for the company. The question we of course are asked is, “Are we on the hook for this?” The answer is possibly, under the theory of vicarious liability. Recently, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal (“Fifth DCA”) addressed this issue and provided guidance on when an employer can be held liable in such circumstances.

In Kulzer v. Way & Greenleaf Trust, No. 5D23-0750 (Fla. 5th DCA Feb. 2, 2024), an employee of Greenleaf Trust got into a car accident while “running errands she said were related to her employment duties of inspecting and readying a condominium unit and its contents for sale.”[1] According to the record, “[a]fter completing two errands, Ms. Way grabbed a hamburger which she ate in the parking lot of McDonald’s. She was then heading back to the condominium for a business meeting when she negligently collided her car into the car driven by Appellant, Carol Ann Kulzer[.]”[2] Ms. Kulzer filed suit, claiming injuries and damages in her suit against Ms. Way and Greenleaf.[3] The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Greenleaf, absolving it of any liability for Ms. Way’s negligence.[4] The trial court held that Ms. Way “was not within the course and scope of her employment at the time of the wreck based upon application of the coming and going rule.”[5] Ms. Kulzer appealed.[6]

The Fifth DCA began its analysis with an overview of the pertinent facts. Ms. Way ordinarily worked for Greenleaf in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but she was temporarily assigned to Ormond Beach, Florida.[7] On the day in question, “she traveled to the condominium in the morning, left the premises around noon, and was scheduled to attend a 2:00 p.m. work-related meeting at the condo.”[8] Around noon, Ms. Way traveled from the condo to a store where she purchased packing supplies; there was no dispute that this errand was within the course and scope of her employment.[9] Next, Ms. Way drove to an ABC Fine Wine & Spirits to purchase wine and hors d’oeuvres.[10] She next stopped at McDonald’s for lunch.[11] As she was driving back to the condo, Ms. Way crashed into Ms. Kulzer’s vehicle.[12] Ms. Way admitted fault for the accident, but Greenleaf denied that it was vicariously liable for her conduct, “claiming that Ms. Way was not within the course and scope of her employment at the time of the wreck.”[13]

As the Fifth DCA asserted, “[a]n employer is vicariously liable for the tortious conduct of its employee only if committed within the scope of employment.”[14] The court noted that the Third District Court set forth a widely accepted test of whether an employee, while driving, was within the scope of employment in the case Sussman v. Florida East Coast Properties, Inc., 557 So. 2d 74 (Fla. 3d DCA 1990).[15] There, the Third District Court stated that employer liability arises:

only if (1) the conduct is of the kind the employee is hired to perform, (2) the conduct occurs substantially within the time and space limits authorized or required by the work to be performed, and (3) the conduct is activated at least in part by a purpose to serve the master.[16]

Regarding the “coming and going” rule, the court noted that it applies in “situations where the employee’s wreck occurred as the employee was simply going to the workplace at the beginning of the workday or as she was coming home at the end of the normal workday.”[17] The rule has been codified as part of the workers’ compensation statute (section 440.092) and has been judicially adopted in tort cases.[18] The court noted that here, “the traditional coming and going rule was inapplicable.”[19] The court further noted that “[w]hen an employee is on a single-purpose, personal lunch break, away from the workplace, and not engaged in the employer’s business in any manner, the employee is not considered to be within the course and scope of employment for workers’ compensation purposes.”[20] In a 1935 Florida Supreme Court opinion, the court determined that the jury “should decide whether the employee’s lunch detour was merely a slight departure from work or an abandonment of the employer’s business, with vicarious liability attaching only for the former circumstances.”[21] Vicarious liability can be found if an accident occurs after an employee returns to her duties.[22]

In determining that the trial court erred, the Fifth DCA reviewed the factors set forth in Sussman.[23] As to the first factor, “Ms. Way running the errands was self-described as work-related, and at least one of the errands was indisputably conduct of the kind the employee was hired to perform.”[24] As to the second factor, “there was no undisputed evidence that the mid-day journey occurred substantially outside the time and space limits authorized or required by the work to be performed.”[25] Finally, as to the third element, the Fifth DCA held that “the evidence was undisputed that Ms. Way’s mid-day journey was motivated at least in part by a purpose to serve her employer, Greenleaf.”[26] Thus, the court reversed the trial court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of Greenleaf and remanded for further proceedings.[27]

It is imperative that employers be aware that there are circumstances where a company will be held liable for the conduct of its employees.  As Kulzer demonstrates, the analysis can be complicated, and it is vital to seek guidance from experienced counsel. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this topic, or any topic related to labor and employment law, please contact us.

 


 

[1] Kulzer, at *1-2. The opinion can be found at the following link: https://5dca.flcourts.gov/content/download/1700274/opinion/Opinion_23-0750.pdf (last visited Mar. 1, 2024).

[2] Id., at *2. An appellant is the party who filed an appeal.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id., at *3.

[13] Id.

[14] Id. (citation omitted).

[15] Id.

[16] Id. (quoting Sussman, 557 So. 2d at 76).

[17] Id.

[18] Id. at *3-4.

[19] Id. at *4.

[20] Id.

[21] Id. (citing W. Union Tel. Co. v. Michel, 163 So. 86, 87-88 (Fla. 1935)).

[22] Id.

[23] Id. at *5.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

 

Photo by Clark Van Der Beken on Unsplash

 

On occasion, we will have a client ask whether their company’s CEO will have to testify if the matter proceeds to litigation. Recently, the Fourth District Court of Appeal provided guidance on what is known as the “apex doctrine,” which governs depositions of individuals at the highest levels of corporations. This blog post will discuss the court’s opinion in Tesla, Inc. v. Monserratt, No. 4D2023-2075 (Fla. 4th DCA Jan. 3, 2024), and discuss its implications for cases moving forward.[1]

The facts of Monserrat are tragic. The case involved a 2018 accident where an 18-year-old crashed his Tesla Model S while driving 116 miles per hour.[2] The driver and his passenger died in the crash.[3] Subsequently, the father of the passenger sued Tesla for negligence, alleging that “a Tesla service technician deactivated the 85-mph top speed limiting software previously enabled on the vehicle” at the driver’s behest.[4] Following the crash and ensuing media coverage, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, called the driver’s father to extend his condolences.[5] According to the father, during the course of the conversation Mr. Musk “‘said something to the effect of, perhaps we should not have removed the limiter. We will have to review and revise our policies.’”[6] Mr. Musk and the father also exchanged e-mails where “Mr. Musk conveyed information learned in Tesla’s initial investigation of the crash.”[7]

Subsequently, the plaintiff sought to depose Mr. Musk regarding the conversation with the driver’s father.[8] Tesla asserted that Mr. Musk was entitled to protection under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.280(c) and (h).[9] In a declaration filed by Tesla, Mr. Musk described his executive role in the company and other companies and “stated that it would place a substantial burden and hardship on him if he were to be deposed.”[10] Mr. Musk also asserted, under penalty of perjury, that “he had no independent recollection of the phone call beyond what was in the e-mail communications and his extension of condolences.”[11] Tesla did produce the e-mails between Mr. Musk and the father of the driver.[12] The presiding judge granted Tesla’s motion for protective order (blocking the deposition of Mr. Musk), “finding that the call was sympathy call and that Mr. Musk did not possess unique, personal knowledge.”[13]

After the case was transferred to another judge as part of a routine administrative transfer process, Plaintiff again sought to depose Mr. Musk.[14] In lieu of the deposition, Tesla agreed to have Mr. Musk respond to requests for admissions and interrogatories about the phone call.[15] Mr. Musk reiterated that he did not recall discussing the matters claimed by the father, besides extending his condolences.[16] After receiving the answers, Plaintiff again sought to compel the deposition of Mr. Musk.[17] The new trial judge granted the request, reasoning “‘apparently there allegedly is a dispute as to what was said by Mr. Musk via-à-vis (sic) his conversation with [the father].’”[18] Tesla timely sought review of that determination by filing a petition for writ of certiorari.[19]

The Fourth District Court addressed “the merits of the petition—whether the trial court departed from the essential requirements of the law when it granted Plaintiff’s motion to compel the deposition of Mr. Musk.”[20] In reaching its decision that the trial court did err, the court began by setting forth the text of rule 1.280(h), Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, as adopted in 2021.[21] That rule provides:

Apex Doctrine. A current or former high-level government or corporate officer may seek an order preventing the officer from being subject to a deposition. The motion, whether by a party or by the person of whom the deposition is sought, must be accompanied by an affidavit or declaration of the officer explaining that the officer lacks unique, personal knowledge of the issues being litigated. If the officer meets this burden of production, the court shall issue an order preventing the deposition, unless the party seeking the deposition demonstrates that it has exhausted other discovery, that such discovery is inadequate, and that the officer has unique, personal knowledge of discoverable information.

The court may vacate or modify the order if, after additional discovery, the party seeking the deposition can meet its burden of persuasion under this rule. The burden to persuade the court that the officer is high-level for purposes of this rule lies with the person or party opposing the deposition.[22]

The Fourth District Court noted that in deciding whether the trial court erred, “the first inquiry is whether Tesla met its two-fold burden of (1) demonstrating that Mr. Musk met the high-level officer requirement, and (2) producing an affidavit or declaration explaining Mr. Musk’s lack of unique, personal knowledge of the issues being litigated.”[23]

The court held that the Plaintiff did not demonstrate that the existing discovery was inadequate or that Mr. Musk possessed unique, personal knowledge.[24] The court noted that Mr. Musk twice denied making any statements during the call regarding the limiter.[25] The court determined that “[u]nder these circumstances, requiring Mr. Musk to sit for a deposition would serve no purpose other than to harass and burden Tesla and disrupt Mr. Musk’s ability to meet his obligations to consumers, stockholders, Tesla’s employees, and other activities integral to his position as CEO.”[26] The court therefore granted Tesla’s petition and quashed (i.e., voided) the court’s order compelling Mr. Musk’s deposition.[27]

As the Monserratt opinion demonstrates, Florida courts are now reluctant to subject high-level government or corporate officers to depositions, absent certain circumstances. As two authors have  noted, Florida was the first state to codify the apex doctrine “as a stand-alone rule of civil procedure.”[28] The doctrine is designed to protect high-ranking government officials and corporate officers from harassment and discovery abuses.[29] In determining whether an individual is a high-level officer, courts will look to well-established precedent.[30] It is important to note that the party seeking the deposition of the officer will have the opportunity to demonstrate “that it has exhausted other discovery, that such discovery is inadequate, and that the officer has unique, personal knowledge of the discoverable information.”[31] Reviewing the text of rule 1.280(h) and the pertinent case law is vital in those matters where a party contemplates deposing a high-level government or corporate officer.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding this topic, or any topic related to labor and employment law, please contact us.

 


[1] The opinion is available on the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s website at the following link: https://4dca.flcourts.gov/content/download/1702694/opinion/Opinion_2023-2075.pdf (last visited Feb. 2, 2024).

[2] Monserratt, at *1.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id., at *2.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id. Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.280(c) involves protective orders in discovery disputes, while 1.280(h) sets forth the apex doctrine. The rules can be found at the following link: https://www-media.floridabar.org/uploads/2023/12/Civil-Procedure-Rules-01-01-24.pdf (last visited Feb. 2, 2024).

[10] Monserratt, at *2.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id., at *3.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id., at *4.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Mark A. Behrens & Christopher E. Appel, Florida Supreme Court Leads on Apex Doctrine, American Bar Association (Mar. 9, 2022), available at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/tort_trial_insurance_practice/publications/the_brief/2021-22/winter/florida-supreme-court-leads-apex-doctrine/ (last visited Feb. 2, 2024). According to Behren and Appel, “Florida’s approach provides a clear expression of the doctrine that should serve as a model for other states.” Id.

[29] See id.

[30] Id.

[31] Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.280(h).

 

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

 

In June 2023, the United States Supreme Court released its opinion in U.S. ex rel. Polansky v. Executive Health Resources, Inc., 143 S. Ct. 1720 (2023) (“Polansky”). Justice Kagan authored the opinion of the 8-1 decision (Justice Thomas was the sole dissenter). The C­­ourt addressed “the Government’s ability to dismiss an FCA (False Claims Act) suit over a relator’s objection.”1 As we have discussed previously, the FCA “imposes civil liability on any person who presents false of fraudulent claims for payment to the Federal Government. The statute is unusual in authorizing private parties—known as relators—to sue on the Government’s behalf.”2 This blog will discuss the Court’s opinion in Polansky and whether the Government can dismiss a suit over a relator’s objection if it does not initially intervene in the matter.

The Court begins Polansky by providing a historical overview of the FCA.3 The Court noted that “Congress gave the Government continuing rights in the action—not least the right to the lion’s share of the recovery. Most relevant here, the Government can intervene after the seal period ends, so long as it shows good cause to do so.”4 The Court summarized the main issue as “whether the Government, if it has declined to intervene during the seal period, retains yet another right: the right to dismiss a qui tam action over the relator’s objection.”5 The pertinent statutory provision, 31 United States Code section 3730(c)(2)(A) (“Subparagraph 2(A)”) does not expressly state whether the authority for the Government to dismiss “survives the Government’s decisions to let the seal period lapse without intervening.”6 Instead, it provides that “‘[t]he Government may dismiss the action notwithstanding the objections of the [relator],’ so long as the relator has received notice of the motion and an opportunity for a hearing.”7 The Court thus sought to answer whether the Government had the right to dismiss when it did not initially intervene.

The Court did not delve too deeply into the facts of the case. The Relator, Jesse Polansky, is a doctor who worked for a “company that helped hospitals bill the United States for Medicare-covered services.”8 Polansky alleged that his former employer allowed its clients to charge “inpatient rates for what should have been outpatient services.”9 The Government reviewed the matter and declined to intervene; the case “then spent years in discovery, with [the company] demanding both documents and deposition testimony from the Government.”10 Ultimately, the Government determined that the “varied burdens of the suit outweighed its potential value” and sought to dismiss the action over the relator’s objection.11 The District Court granted the Government’s request, and the court of appeals affirmed.12 The court of appeals held that the Government does have the power to dismiss an action under Subparagraph (2)(A) as long as it intervened at some time; here, the court held the Government’s “motion to dismiss was reasonably construed to include a motion to intervene[.]”13 The court further held that the proper standard a district court should utilize comes from Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a) (governing voluntary dismissals in civil matters), and it found that the district court’s decision, “which was based on a ‘thorough examination’ of the interests that Rule 41 makes relevant, was not an abuse of discretion.”14 The Supreme Court granted review because there was a split among the circuit courts.15

The Court affirmed the court of appeals and agreed with the lower court “across the board.”16 In reaching its decision, the Court carefully reviewed the pertinent statutory provisions. The Court determined that “Congress decided not to make seal-period intervention an on-off switch” and that “Congress enabled the Government, in the protection of its own interests, to reassess qui tam actions and change its mind.”17 Regarding the standard courts should utilize to assess the Government’s motion to dismiss, the Court held that courts should “assess a (2)(A) motion to dismiss using Rule 41’s standards.”18 The Court noted that the FCA references the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, providing support for the position that the Rules apply.19 In the FCA context, courts must provide notice and an opportunity for a hearing before a (2)(A) dismissal can take place.20 Furthermore, courts must consider the relator’s interests as well as the Government’s.21 The Court did hold, however, that “the Government’s views are entitled to substantial deference” in the FCA context.22 Here, the Court held the case was “not a close call” and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the Government’s motion to dismiss.23

The Polansky decision provides valuable guidance for Relators and counsel and should be kept in mind when considering pursuing a qui tam action. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this topic, or any topic related to labor and employment law, please contact us.


1 Polansky, 599 U.S. at 1726

2 Id. at 1726; see Don’t Cross Uncle Sam: A Brief Overview of the False Claims Act (May 16, 2022), available at https://www.schwartzlawfirm.net/dont-cross-uncle-sam-a-brief-overview-of-the-false-claims-act/, and Case Law Update: The United States Supreme Court Provides Guidance on the False Claims Act, available at https://www.schwartzlawfirm.net/case-law-update-the-united-states-supreme-court-provides-guidance-on-the-false-claims-act/ (July 31, 2024) (last visited Jan. 11, 2024).

3 Id. at 1727.

4 Id. at 1728 (citation omitted).

5 Id.

6 Id.

7 Id. (quoting Subparagraph 2(A)).

8 Id. at 1729.

9 Id.

10 Id.

11 Id.

12 Id.

13 Id.

14 Id. at 1730.

15 Id.

16 Id.

17 Id. at 1733.

18 Id.

19 Id.

20 Id. at 1734.

21 Id.

22 Id.

23 Id. at 1734-35.

 

Photo by Anna Sullivan on Unsplash

 

On December 12, 2023, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (as referenced in a previous blog, Florida is in the Eleventh Circuit) issued its opinion in Tynes v. Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Case No. 21-13245 (11th Cir. Dec. 12, 2023).  In the opinion, the court reiterated that the McDonnell Douglas framework (discussed more below) is not “a stand-in for the ultimate question of liability in Title VII discrimination cases.”[1]  The court held, “Properly understood, McDonnell Douglas is an evidentiary framework that shifts the burden of production between the parties to figure out if the true reason for an adverse employment action was the employee’s race. It is not a set of elements that the employee must prove[.]”[2] This blog post will discuss the Tynes opinion and its importance in discrimination cases.

The court provided only a brief recitation of the facts in Tynes.  Tynes was an employee of the Department of Juvenile Justice (“Department”) for sixteen years.[3] “At the time of her termination, she was the superintendent of the Broward Regional Juvenile Detention Center.”[4]  One day, while Tynes was on medical leave, “an unusually high number of incidents required an officer to call for back up.”[5] In response, the assistant secretary of detention services assembled “a technical assistance team to review staffing and personnel issues.”[6] Before the final report was issued, the Department terminated Tynes.[7] Tynes did not have any disciplinary history.[8] The Department alleged that Tynes was terminated for “poor performance, negligence, inefficiency or inability to perform assigned duties, violation of law or agency rules, conduct unbecoming of a public employee, and misconduct.”[9]

Tynes subsequently filed suit under Title VII for race and sex discrimination.[10] Her “complaint also stated that it brought ‘other causes of actions [sic] which can be inferred from the facts herein.”[11] Tynes alleged that similarly situated white and male employees were treated differently and that the reasons for termination were pretextual (i.e., dubious).[12] Tynes pointed to two white superintendents whose facilities had “incidents that reflected a lack of control or failure to abide by the Department’s policies,” but they were not terminated.[13] Regarding pretext, Tynes presented evidence that the assistant secretary was biased against her.[14] Tynes’s direct supervisor testified that the written report from the assistant director contained inaccuracies and that the efforts of the technical assistance team amounted to a ‘search-and-kill mission’ against Tynes.”[15] The assistant director faltered during her testimony at trial.[16] The jury returned a verdict in favor of Tynes and awarded her $424,600 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in damages for emotional pain and anguish.[17] The court ordered the Department to reinstate Tynes under a new supervisor.[18]

Following the verdict, the Department renewed its motion for judgment as a matter of law, or alternatively, sought a new trial.[19] The Department argued that for the Title VII claims, Tynes did not “present comparators who were ‘similarly situated in all material respects’ and therefore failed to satisfy her burden to establish a prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas.” The Department also argued that Tynes did not properly plead her section 1981 claim (section 1981 does not have a cap on damages).[20] The district court denied the Department’s motion, holding that Tynes presented sufficient circumstantial evidence to establish the discrimination claims and that even if Tynes did not properly plead the section 1981 claim, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (rule 15(b)(1), to be exact) gives the court the discretion to allow an amendment to the complaint during the trial.[21] The Department appealed.

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision.[22] In reviewing the district court’s order, the court provided an overview of Title VII case law.[23] As the court noted, “the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas set out a burden shifting framework designed to draw out the necessary evidence in employment discrimination cases.”[24] The court set forth a detailed breakdown of the McDonnell Douglas framework that is certainly worth reviewing.[25] The court summed up the framework as “an evidentiary tool that functions as a ‘procedural device, designed only to establish an order of proof and production.’”[26] The court further noted that “[w]hat McDonnell Douglas is not is an independent standard of liability under either Title VII or § 1981.”[27] The court continued:  Nor is its first step, the prima facie case—‘establishing the elements of the McDonnell Douglas framework is not, and never was intended to be, the sine qua non for a plaintiff to survive a summary judgment motion.’”[28] The court asserted that the Supreme Court’s terminology led to the confusion, as “prima facie case” in McDonnell Douglas “has a different meaning—it marks ‘the establishment of a legally mandatory, rebuttable presumption.’”[29]

The court went on to note that “McDonnell Douglas is ‘only one method by which the plaintiff can prove discrimination by circumstantial evidence.’”[30] The court explained that “[a] plaintiff who cannot satisfy the framework may still be able to prove her case with what we have sometimes call a ‘convincing mosaic of circumstantial evidence that would allow a jury to infer intentional discrimination by the decisionmaker.’”[31] As the court stated, “[a] ‘convincing mosaic’ of circumstantial evidence is simply enough evidence for a reasonable factfinder to infer intentional discrimination in an employment action—the ultimate inquiry in a discrimination lawsuit.’”[32] Under the “convincing mosaic” standard, a plaintiff may use “any relevant and admissible evidence” to prove her case.[33] The court emphasized that the McDonnell Douglas framework is used like the convincing mosaic standard to “decide the ultimate question of intentional discrimination.”[34] As the court stressed, “[u]nder McDonnell Douglas, the failure to establish a prima facie case is fatal only where it reflects a failure to put forward enough evidence for a jury to find for the plaintiff on the ultimate question of discrimination.”[35] Following trial, the court’s only questions was “whether there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for the jury to find that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff.”[36]

Turning to the facts at hand, the court determined that Tynes did present sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict that it intentionally discriminated against her.[37] The court held that “to the extent that there are material differences between Tynes and her comparators at this stage of the case, it is the jury’s role. . .to determine how much weight the comparator evidence should be given.”[38] The court thus affirmed the district court’s order denying the Department’s renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law.[39] The court concluded by asserting that “[a]fter a full trial on the merits, a defendant cannot successfully challenge the jury’s verdict by arguing only that the plaintiff’s comparators were inadequate or that the prima facie case was otherwise insufficient.”[40]

The Tynes opinion provides much-needed guidance for practitioners and litigants alike. Although there was some confusion surrounding the use of McDonnell Douglas, the Eleventh Circuit has done an excellent job of clarifying the framework. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this topic, or any topic related to labor and employment law, please contact us.


[1] Tynes v. Fla. Dep’t of Juvenile Justice, Case No. 21-13245 (11th Cir. Dec. 12, 2023), at *2, available at https://media.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/files/202113245.pdf (last visited Dec. 14, 2023). The full citation for McDonnell Douglas is McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).

[2] Tynes, at *2.

[3] Id., at *3.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id., at *4.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id., at *5.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id., at *6.

[21] Id.

[22] Id., at *3. The Department did not even cite to rule 15(b)(1) on appeal, and the Eleventh Circuit determined that the Department’s challenge of that portion of the district court’s order was forfeited. Id.

[23] Id., at *7-8.

[24] Id.

[25] Id., at *8.

[26] Id., at *9 (quoting St. Mary’s Honor Ctr. V. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 521 (1993)).

[27] Id.

[28] Id. (quoting Smith v. Lockheed-Martin Corp., 644 F.3d 1321, 1328 (11th Cir. 2011)).

[29] Id. (quoting

[30] Id., at *12 (quoting Vessels v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys., 408 F.3d 763, 768 n.3 (11th Cir. 2005)).

[31] Id. (quoting Smith,644 F.3d at 1327-28).

[32] Id., at *12-13 (citation omitted).

[33] Id., at *13 n.2.

[34] Id., at *14.

[35] Id.

[36] Id. (citation omitted).

[37] Id., at *15.

[38] Id.

[39] Id.

[40] Id., at *18.

 

Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash

 

As we enter the holiday season, we would like to begin by expressing our sincere gratitude to our clients, current and former, who have allowed us to serve the community since 1993.  We are fortunate to be able to provide high-quality legal representation to such wonderful individuals.  Turning to this blog post, in light of the holidays, this edition will explore the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) with a holiday twist.

The ADEA was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967.  The ADEA prohibits discrimination against people who are 40 or older.1  The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees.2  As the EEOC has noted, the ADEA “prohibits discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.”3  The ADEA also prohibits harassing an employee because of his or her age.4  In 2022, the EEOC received 11,500 Charges of Discrimination alleging age discrimination.5  The law also protects employees from retaliation for raising complaints of age discrimination.6  Age is also a protected category under the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”), which applies to employers with 15 or more employees.7  Courts analyze claims for age discrimination under the FCRA using the same framework as the ADEA.8

As a hypothetical, imagine that Yohan (who is 33) and Daniele (who is 63) work for Santa’s Workshop, conveniently located in Christmas, Florida.  Yohan is Daniele’s manager in the facility, which manufactures toys that are distributed all around the world.  Daniele has been with the company for over twenty years, and Yohan was appointed her manager two months ago after the unexpected retirement of her former manager, Buddy.  Under Buddy, Daniele consistently earned high praise and had excellent performance scores.  After a few weeks of taking over the department, Yohan begins criticizing Daniele’s performance, while continually praising her younger colleagues.  Yohan also tells Daniele that she is “slowing down in her old age” and repeatedly asks her when she is going to retire.  Daniele has clear grounds to raise a complaint to Nick, the owner of the workshop, for age discrimination and harassment.  If Nick ignores Daniele’s complaint, or retaliates against her for raising the complaint, he is at risk of Daniele having a cause of action against Santa’s Workshop under the ADEA and the FCRA.

As the example above shows, employers must take complaints of age discrimination seriously, or they risk being placed on the “Naughty list.”  If you have any questions or concerns regarding this topic, or any topic related to labor and employment law, please contact us.


[1] For context, the life expectancy in 1967 was 67 for men and 74.3 for females. Social Security Administration, Period Life Expectancies—Calendar Years 1940-2001, available at https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/TR/TR02/lr5A3-h.html (last visited Nov. 17, 2023).  We often hear surprised comments about 40 being the threshold, but it has not been raised since the Act’s passage.

[2] U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Age Discrimination, available at https://www.eeoc.gov/age-discrimination (last visited Nov. 17, 2023).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Age Discrimination in Employment Act (Charges filed with EEOC) (includes concurrent charges with Title VII, ADA, EPA, and GINA) FY 1997 – FY 2022, available at https://www.eeoc.gov/data/age-discrimination-employment-act-charges-filed-eeoc-includes-concurrent-charges-title-vii-ada (last visited Nov. 17, 2023).

[6] See U.S. Dep’t of Labor, What do I need to know about . . . Age Discrimination, available at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/oasam/centers-offices/civil-rights-center/internal/policies/age-discrimination (last visited Nov. 17, 2023).

[7] §§ 760.02, 760.10, Fla. Stat. (2023).

[8] Mazzeo v. Color Resolutions Int’l, LLC, 746 F.3d 1264, 1266 (11th Cir. 2014).

 

Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

 

In 2021, the Florida Supreme Court amended Rule 1.510, Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, which governs summary judgment. In short, summary judgment is a procedural tool that permits courts to allow only cases with genuine issues of material facts to proceed to trial.2 In Whitlow v. Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare, Inc., the First District Court of Appeal (“DCA”) addressed the revision to rule 1.510 and its impact on cases in Florida.3 Understanding this change is critical for practitioners and those looking to proceed through Florida’s state court system.

For purposes of this blog, the facts of Whitlow will only be briefly summarized, as it involved a slip-and-fall injury at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.4 Ms. Whitlow alleged that she slipped on water left by employees pushing a stretcher out of an elevator immediately before she entered.5 The DCA noted that pursuant to statute, Ms. Whitlow had to prove that the hospital “had ‘knowledge of the dangerous condition and should have taken action to remedy it.’”6 The DCA agreed with the lower court that Ms. Whitlow “failed to present substantive evidence from which a jury reasonably could infer that the [hospital] employees knew of the dripping water . . . or that the employees could have done anything to correct the unsafe condition in the short time” between when the employees got off the elevator with the stretcher and she got on.7 The court thus affirmed the lower court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of the hospital, meaning that Ms. Whitlow did not “come forward with evidence that could lead a rational jury to find in her favor.”8 

For purposes of this blog, the key aspects of the Whitlow opinion are the DCA’s discussion of the history of summary judgment and the relatively new standard being used by Florida’s state courts. The DCA begins its analysis with an excellent historical overview of the right to trial by jury and its importance under federal and Florida law, with roots dating back to ancient English common law.9 As the DCA notes in Whitlow, the right to trial by jury is a matter of substance, not procedure, leaving “open the possibility that the legislative or judicial power could develop mechanisms of procedural expediency to weed out cases that lacked a genuine dispute over facts requiring court resolution.”10 Judges are free to determine if the evidence presented is sufficient to warrant a trial by jury, “provided the judge limit[s] the assessment to the quantum of evidence and not the weight of it.”11 One such method judges use to make such a determination is the directed verdict, which permits judges “to take the case from the jury without running afoul of the constitutional right, provided he concluded ‘as a matter of law that no recovery can be lawfully had upon any view taken of facts that the evidence tends to establish.’”12 The directed verdict is sought during the course of the trial.13

Summary judgment is another tool judges can use in determining if a case should proceed to a jury, although that determination occurs before the trial begins.14 The United States Supreme Court adopted a summary judgment rule applicable to all civil cases; similarly, the Florida Supreme Court also adopted such a rule.15 The Florida Supreme Court has urged lower courts to exercise caution in utilizing the summary judgment power.16 The new Rule 1.510 adopted by the Florida Supreme Court mirrors the summary judgment standard set forth in Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.17 According to the DCA, this change “represents a return to the procedural expediencies that the supreme court had approved over a century earlier as complementing, rather than conflicting with, the right to a trial by jury.”18 The Florida Supreme Court “essentially requires that the directed verdict standard—which it has approved for application mid-trials since the nineteenth century—now to be applied pre-trial as well.”19 As the DCA notes, “The function of the trial court at the summary judgment stage is not ‘to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.’”20 The non-moving (i.e., the party who did not file the summary judgment motion) party has the burden “to come forward with evidence showing a ‘dispute about a material fact [that] is “genuine,”’ or, in other words, demonstrate that ‘the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the’ party opposing the motion.”21 If the non-moving party fails to meet that burden, the trial court “may grant summary judgment against the party without running afoul of the constitution’s jury-trial guarantee.”22

Turning to the case at issue, the DCA held that the trial court correctly determined that “Whitlow failed to come forward with evidence that demonstrated one or more genuine disputes of material fact that required resolution by a jury.”23 In making its determination, the DCA reviewed the trial court’s decision de novo (Latin for “anew”), meaning the court does not owe the trial court’s decision deference.24

The revised Rule 1.510 will have far-reaching consequences for litigants in Florida. It is critical that practitioners and clients understand this change and consider its application in determining whether to proceed to filing a claim in state court.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding this topic, or any topic related to labor and employment law, please contact us.

 


 

1 Credit to Coach Lee Corso for popularizing the catchphrase.

2 See Whitlow v. Tallahassee Mem’l Healthcare, Inc., No. 1D21-3413 (Fla. 1st DCA Aug. 16, 2023), available at https://1dca.flcourts.gov/content/download/875603/opinion/Opinion2021-3413.pdf (last visited Oct. 2, 2023).

3 See id.

4 Id., at *1.

5 Id.

6 Id., at *1-2 (citing section 768.0755(1), Florida Statutes.

7 Id., at *2.

8 Id. 2

9 Id., at *2. The right to a trial by jury in civil matters is enshrined in the United States and the Florida Constitutions. U.S. Const. amen. VII; Art. I, § 22, Fla. Const. Furthermore, the denial of the right to trial by a jury was one of the grievances raised by the colonists against the Crown in the Declaration of Independence. Whitlow, at *2-3.

10 Id., at *4.

11 Id.

12 Id., at *5 (citation omitted).

13 Id., at *9.

14 Id., at *6.

15 Id., at *7.

16 Id., at *8.

17 Id.

18 Id., at *8-9.

19 Id., at *9.

20 Id. (citation omitted).

21 Id., at *9-10 (citation omitted).

22 Id., at *10.

23 Id., at *10, 15.

24 See id., at *10.

 

 

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

 

Recently, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (which has jurisdiction over the district courts in Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, and Ohio) addressed the following question: “whether Congress’s delegation to [OSHA] to set workplace-safety standards is constitutional.”1 The court noted that since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSH” or “the Act”) in 1970, challenges to the law’s constitutionality have been repeatedly rejected.2 Plaintiff Allstates Refractory Contractors (“Allstates”), a general contractor that falls under the oversight of OSHA, argued that OSHA’s authority to set “‘reasonably necessary or appropriate’” work-place standards was unconstitutional.3 The district court rejected Allstates’ argument, and the Sixth Circuit, in a 2-1 opinion, agreed.4 This blog post will discuss the Sixth Circuit’s reasoning and explore the nondelegation doctrine of constitutional law.

At the district court and on appeal, Allstates argued that “because the only textual constraint on setting workplace-safety standards is that they be ‘reasonably necessary or appropriate’ . . . OSHA does not have the constitutional authority to set those standards” and that employers therefore did not have to comply with them.5 The district court (and the Sixth Circuit) concluded that the “‘reasonably necessary or appropriate’” standard satisfied the nondelegation doctrine because it provides an “‘intelligible principle,’” and the United States Supreme Court has upheld similar delegations on numerous occasions.6 As the Sixth Circuit explained, the nondelegation doctrine is “‘rooted in the principle of separation of powers that underlies our tripartite system of governance,’ the maintenance of which ‘manadate[s] that Congress generally cannot delegate its legislate power to another Branch.’”7 To determine if Congress has properly “obtained the assistance” from the other Branches for non-legislative duties, courts have established the “‘intelligible principle’” test.8 As the Supreme Court has stated, “‘If Congress shall lay down by legislative act an intelligible principle to which the person or body authorized to [act] is directed to conform, such legislative action is not a forbidden delegation of legislative power.’”9 This test “balances Congress’s need for flexibility with the Constitution’s prohibition on legislative delegation,” recognizing the complexities of a modern society.10 The “intelligible principle” test “is satisfied and the statute is constitutional ‘if Congress clearly delineates the general policy, the public agency which is to apply it, and the boundaries of this delegated authority.’”11 This test requires an interpretation of the statute at issue, including its purpose, the instruction provided, and whether an agency’s discretion is sufficiently guided by the legislation.12

As the Sixth Circuit noted, the “Supreme Court, in examining nondelegation challenges, has almost uniformly upheld ‘delegations under standards phrased in sweeping terms.’”13 The Sixth Circuit provides an indepth discussion of the nondelegation doctrine and the “intelligible principle” test, noting that only on two occasions (both in 1935) has the Supreme Court found a violation of the nondelegation doctrine.14 The court explored the history of the Act and noted that the Act delineates the general policy behind it (to ensure safe working conditions), authorizes the Secretary of Labor to set standards, and sets forth the boundaries of the Secretary’s authority.15 The court observed that the Supreme Court has also construed 3 the “‘reasonably necessary or appropriate’” language of the Act and provided guidance. 16

Taking the statutory context and case law into consideration, the Sixth Circuit held that “the OSH Act’s ‘reasonably necessary or appropriate’ standard passes the ‘intelligible principle’ test and is therefore constitutional.”17 The court emphasized that the Act contains several purposes, significantly limits OSHA’s discretion, and requires the agency to act in response to safety issues.18 The court held that “a condition is ‘reasonably necessary or appropriate’ in the context of the OSH Act if it is something that OSHA can do to ameliorate or mitigate, but not necessarily eliminate, an unsafe condition.”19 The court rejected Allstates’ reliance on the two 1935 cases where the Supreme Court found violations of the nondelegation doctrine.20 The Sixth Circuit concluded by reiterating that “the standard prescribed by the OSH Act” is “a constitutional delegation of authority” and affirmed the decision of the district court.21

For a real-world example, imagine that Kody owns a warehouse. If Kody fails to abide by the pertinent OSHA regulations and employee Janelle suffers a workplace injury, it is unlikely that Kody will be able to avoid paying a fine by arguing that OSHA did not have the authority to impose such a fine.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding this topic, or any topic related to labor and employment law, please contact us.

 


 

1 Allstates Refractory Contractors, LLC v. Su, et al., No. 23-3772 (6th Cir. Aug. 23, 2023), at *2, available at https://www.opn.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/23a0194p-06.pdf (last visited Sept. 15, 2023).

2 Id.

3 Id.

4 The Sixth Circuit noted that Allstates was fined $10,000 by OSHA in 2019 for a catwalk injury. Id., at *3.

5 Id.

6 Id. 2

7 Id., at *4 (quoting Mistretta v. U.S., 488 U.S. 361, 371-72 (1989)).

8 Id.

9 Id. (quoting J.W. Hampton, Jr., & Co. v. U.S., 276 U.S. 394, 409 (1928)).

10 Id.

11 Id. (quoting Mistretta, 488 U.S. at 372-73 (other citation omitted)).

12 Id., at *5.

13 Id. (quoting Loving v. U.S., 517 U.S. 748, 771 (1996)).

14 Id., at *6. In those cases, the statutes at issue did not provide limitations on the president’s authority or provide any guidance. Id.

15 Id., at *7-8.

16 Id., at *8.

17 Id., at *9.

18 Id.

19 Id., at *10.

20 Id., at12-14.

21 Id., at *15.

Photo by Adrian Sulyok on Unsplash

 

In June 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA” or “Act”) (Pub. L. 75-718, ch. 676, 52 Stat. 1060) into law (taking effect in October 1938) while the country was in the throes of the Great Depression.  President Roosevelt stated regarding the Act, “I do think that next to the Social Security Act it is the most important Act that has been passed in the last two to three years.”2  The FLSA “establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State, and local governments.”3  This blog post will provide a brief overview of the FLSA and discuss how it may protect Your rights in the workplace.

It is not an exaggeration to state that the FLSA “changed the entire employment culture of the United States and easily rivals Social Security in its importance.”4  The FLSA was the culmination of a decades-long fight to protect workers, both children and adults.5  During his reelection campaign in 1936, President Roosevelt asserted, “Something has to be done about the elimination of child labor and long hours and starvation wages[.]”6  The FLSA took more than a year to make it to President Roosevelt’s desk, and it was a contentious fight.7  Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, who spent much of her working life advocating for pro-labor causes, was instrumental in crafting the FLSA.8   The FLSA has been amended several times since its passage in 1938.9

Under the FLSA, children are limited in the jobs they can perform and the hours they can work.10  The FLSA also sets a minimum wage for covered workers and employers.  Currently, the federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 (the minimum wage in Florida is $11.00, which will increase to $12.00 on September 30, 2023).11  Another important component of the FLSA’s protections is overtime pay.  As noted by the Department of Labor, the entity tasked with enforcement of the FLSA, “Unless exempt, employees covered by the Act must receive overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek at a rate not less than time and one-half their regular rates of pay.”12

Today, the Department of Labor estimates that “[m]ore than 143 million American workers are protected (or ‘covered’) by the FLSA[.]”13  As President Roosevelt and Secretary Perkins envisioned, the FLSA continues to play a pivotal role in providing important protections to American workers.  The Department of Labor has provided the following guidance regarding ways employees can be covered by the law:

Enterprise Coverage.

Employees who work for certain businesses or organizations (or “enterprises”) are covered by the FLSA. These enterprises, which must have at least two employees, are:

those that have an annual dollar volume of sales or business done of at least $500,000.

hospitals, businesses providing medical or nursing care for residents, schools and preschools, and government agencies.

Individual Coverage.

Even when there is no enterprise coverage, employees are protected by the FLSA if their work regularly involves them in commerce between States (“interstate commerce”). The FLSA covers individual workers who are “engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce.”

Examples of employees who are involved in interstate commerce include those who: produce goods (such as a worker assembling components in a factory or a secretary typing letters in an office) that will be sent out of state, regularly make telephone calls to persons located in other States, handle records of interstate transactions, travel to other States on their jobs, and do janitorial work in buildings where goods are produced for shipment outside the State.

Also, domestic service workers (such as housekeepers, full-time babysitters, and cooks) are normally covered by the law.14

Navigating the intricacies of the FLSA requires experienced counsel, and we are well-versed in the law.  If you have any questions or concerns regarding this topic, or any topic related to labor and employment law, please contact us.


[1] Samuel, Howard D., “Troubled Passage: the labor movement and the Fair Labor Standards Act,” Monthly Labor Review (December 2000), available at https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2000/12/art3full.pdf (last visited Aug. 31, 2023).

[2] Wages and the Fair Labor Standards Act, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Wage & Hour Div., https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa (last visited Aug. 31, 2023).

[3] Cole, supra note 1.

[4] See id.

[5] Id.

[6] Grossman, supra note 1.

[7] Id.

[8] See History, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Wage & Hour Div., https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/about/history (last visited Aug. 31, 2023).

[9] Basic Information, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Wage & Hour Div., available at https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/WHD/legacy/files/whd_fs.pdf (last visited Aug. 31, 2023).  States, including Florida, also have limitations on employing minors.

[10] Minimum Wage, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Wage & Hour Div., https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/minimum-wage (last visited Aug. 31, 2023); https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/minimum-wage/state#fl (setting forth the minimum wage in Florida) (last visited Aug. 31, 2023).

[11] Overtime Pay, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Wage & Hour Div., https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/overtime (last visited Aug. 31, 2023).

[12] Fact Sheet #14: Coverage Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Wage & Hour Div., available at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fact-sheets/14-flsa-coverage (last visited Aug. 31, 2023).

[13] Id.

 

Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash

 

On June 29, 2023, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Groff v. DeJoy, No. 22-174 (2023).1 In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Alito, the Court provided guidance regarding the phrase “undue hardship” under Title VII. This blog post will breakdown the opinion in Groff and discuss its implications moving forward.

In Groff, the plaintiff, Gerald Groff, “is an Evangelical Christian who believes for religious reasons that Sunday should be devoted to worship and rest[.]”2 Groff was employed by the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) as a Rural Carrier Associate, which required him to assist regular carriers with mail delivery.3 Within a few years of Groff joining USPS, the agency began delivering mail on Sundays through an agreement with Amazon.4 Ultimately, USPS informed Groff that he would have to work on Sundays.5 Groff sought and received a transfer to a different rural USPS station that at the time did not make Sunday deliveries.6 In March 2017, however, Sunday deliveries began at that station as well.7 Deliveries that would have been made by Groff had he worked on Sundays were performed by others, including the local postmaster, who typically did not deliver mail.8 Throughout 2017 and 2018, Groff continued to receive “‘progressive discipline’” for failing to work Sundays, and other employees complained about the consequences of Groff not working Sundays, including at least one employee filing a grievance related to the matter.9 He resigned in January 2019; he asserted that his termination was imminent.10 

Groff filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (“Title VII”), asserting that USPS could have accommodated his request not to work Sundays “‘without undue hardship on the conduct of [USPS’s] business.’”11 The District Court (i.e., the trial court) granted summary judgment (effectively ending the case) in favor of USPS, and the appellate court (here, the Third Circuit) affirmed.12 The Third Circuit held that under controlling case law, “‘requiring an employer “to bear more than a de minimis cost” to provide a religious accommodation is an undue hardship.’”13 The Third Circuit, and other courts, reached this conclusion based on a single line in the Supreme Court’s opinion in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63, 84 (1977).14 The Third Circuit held that “[e]xempting Groff from Sunday work . . . had ‘imposed on his coworkers, disrupted the workplace and workflow, and diminished employee morale.’”15

The Supreme Court took the opportunity to clarify Hardison and held that “showing ‘more than a de minimis cost,’ as that phrase is used in common parlance, does not suffice to establish ‘undue hardship’ under Title VII.”16 The Court emphasized that Hardison “cannot be reduced to that one phrase.”17 The Court explained that “[w]e therefore, like the parties, understand Hardison to mean that ‘undue hardship’ is shown when a burden is substantial in the overall context of an employer’s business.”18 The Court went on to state that “[w]e think it enough to say that an employer must show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.”19 The Court stressed that “courts must apply the test in a manner that takes into account all relevant factors in the case at hand, including the particular accommodations at issue and their practical impact in light of the nature, ‘size and operating cost of [an] employer.’”20 Turning to Groff’s claim, the Court left it to the lower courts to apply the clarified test and remanded the matter to the Third Circuit for further proceedings.21

The Supreme Court’s decision in Groff provides helpful guidance in claims involving “undue hardship” under Title VII. By way of example, if employee Gary requests that he be excused from working evening shifts at a warehouse because his religion prohibits working between sundown and sunup, the owner of the company, Glenn, would have to determine if he can accommodate the request without a substantial burden to his business. It may be that, given the nature of the business, Glenn would not be able to accommodate such a request. This is an issue that will undoubtedly be litigated moving forward, but Groff does provide much-needed guidance after over four decades of courts relying upon a single sentence in Hardison regarding the “undue hardship” standard.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding this topic, or any topic related to labor and employment law, please contact us.


1 The opinion can be found on the Supreme Court’s website at https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/22pdf/22-174k536.pdf (last visited July 20, 2023).
2 Groff, at *1.
3 Id., at *2.
4 Id.
5 Id.
6 Id.
7 Id.
8 Id., at *2-3.
9 Id., at *3.
10 Id.
11 Id.
12 Id.
13 Id.
14 Id. The line was: “‘To require TWA to bear more than a de minimis cost in order to give Hardison Saturdays off is an undue hardship.’” Id., at * 11 (quoting Hardison, 432 U.S. at 84).
15 Id., at *3-4.
16 Id., at *15.
17 Id.
18 Id., at *15-16.
19 Id., at *18.
20 Id.
21 Id., at 21.

 

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