As part of my ongoing research efforts to help our members, I discipline myself to review Find Law’s weekly appellate court case summaries. A few weeks ago, the review summarized 29 cases – count ‘em, 29:
1. Rent-A-Center West, Inc. v. Jackson
2. Granite Rock Co. v. Int’l. Brotherhood of Teamsters
3. Rodriguez-Garcia v. Miranda-Marin
4. Malone v. Lockheed Martin Corp.
5. Zakrzewska v. The New School
6. NLRB v. Talmadge Park
7. Durakovic v. Bldg. Serv. 32 BJ Pension Fund
8. Ruiz v. Cty. of Rockland
9. Edwards v. A.H. Cornell & Son, Inc.
10. Air Line Pilots Ass’n v. US Airways Group
11. Kemp v. Holder
12. Winnett v. Caterpillar, Inc.
13. Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr.
14. Kobus v. Coll. of St. Scholastica, Inc.
15. Ringwald v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am.
16. Jones v. Nat’l. Am. Univ.
17. Hawaii Stevedores, Inc. v. Ogawa
18. EEOC v. Peabody Western Coal Co.
19. Simonia v. Glendale Nissan/Infiniti Disability Plan
20. Medlock v. United Parcel Serv., Inc.
21. Narotzky v. Natrona Cty. Mem. Hosp. Bd. of Trustees
22. Armstrong v. Geithner
23. Schaefer v. McHugh
24. Gonzalez v. Dept. of Labor
25. Murthy v. Vilsack
26. Bifulco v. Patient Bus. & Fin. Serv., Inc.
27. Myrick v. Mastagni
28. Baker v. Am. Horticulture Supply, Inc.
29. Faulkinbury v. Boyd & Assoc. Inc.
Of course, none of these companies planned on being a defendant in an employment lawsuit. So, what were all the lawsuits about? Five were ERISA cases. We’ve had ERISA experts on some of our Webinars.
There were also five union cases, including one in which the company was suing the union under the Labor Management Recording Act for damages caused by a strike. In one of the union cases, the 2nd Circuit invalidated an NLRB Bush-era decision that only had two judges on the board. This is the beginning of the undoing of those Bush-era NLRB decisions. Again, we have had Webinar guests on union avoidance.
There were four race and discrimination cases, including an interesting one against a coal company by Hopi and other Native American, claiming that the coal company discriminated by favoring Navajo workers.
There were two ADA cases, one FMLA case, one privacy case, one breach of contract case, and one age discrimination case. Of the three wrongful termination cases, one was brought by a group of neurosurgeons who sued a hospital for “constructive discharge” in part because after the surgery operations shut down and the doctors left, the hospital claimed that they had stolen equipment and ordered a search of their lockers. Apparently, the search didn’t find any equipment, nor did the hospital claim that any of the surgeons specifically stole anything. The court held that it was reasonable for the hospital to do this search because it focused on instruments that could only be used in surgery.
There was a wage and hour class-action suit in California (no surprise there), claiming that security guards weren’t paid properly for their rest and meal periods. Another lawsuit was brought by a whistleblower who was transferred after testifying in an ethics probe.
That’s nearly 30 appellate cases decided during a single week in a country with millions of employers. Employment practices liability exposures might not be frequent. However, I can tell you from reading the results in these cases they are certainly severe. According to Jury Verdict Research, the average verdict hovers around $270,000, with million-dollar verdicts seemingly commonplace. Whether a company won or lost in any of these cases, it probably spent at least $200,000 in attorneys’ fees.
What should you make of all this? Very simple – be prepared to handle compliance basics! Get proper advice on managing your benefits. Focus on developing effective employee relationships and work with competent attorneys to prevent unnecessary union organization, as well as bargaining with an existing union. Make sure your HR folks stay abreast of the ADA, FMLA, age discrimination, race discrimination, and sexual harassment exposures. We have a ton of tools on HR That Works to help with those.
If you’re an HR That Works member and have a question in any one these areas, you can rely on the Hotline support of the Worklaw® members and yours truly to help get you through any tough spot.