Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The case revolves around the Employees Retirement System of the Government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (ERS), which was established in 1951 as the Commonwealth's pension program for public employees. The appellants are seven individual beneficiaries of pensions paid by ERS. They had been litigating claims against UBS Financial Services Inc. (UBS) in the Commonwealth Court of First Instance related to UBS's role in issuing ERS pension funding bonds in 2008. Meanwhile, in January 2022, as part of its broad authority to promulgate orders necessary to carry out the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), the district court confirmed the Modified Eighth Amended Title III Joint Plan of Adjustment (the Plan).The district court had previously confirmed the Plan, which implemented several changes related to ERS and its pension plan payments to retired Commonwealth employees. The Plan replaced the Committee with the Avoidance Action Trustee as the plaintiff with exclusive power to prosecute the Underwriter Action and recover damages that ERS incurred. The Plan also ordered the immediate dissolution of ERS.UBS filed a motion to enforce the Plan, requesting that the district court enjoin the ERS Beneficiaries from pursuing the Commonwealth Action. The district court granted UBS's motion and enjoined the ERS Beneficiaries from pursuing the Commonwealth Action. The district court concluded that the ERS Beneficiaries' Commonwealth Action claims were rooted in a generalized injury and were derivative of ERS's right to recover on its own behalf. The district court further rejected the ERS Beneficiaries' arguments that they were entitled to recover for non-derivative general tort claims against UBS under various Commonwealth statutes.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, concluding that the ERS Beneficiaries sought to raise derivative claims that belong exclusively to the Trustee or the Commonwealth. The court held that continued litigation of the FAC's derivative claims violates the terms of the Plan and PROMESA. View "UBS Financial Services Inc. v. Estate of Jose Nazario Serrano" on Justia Law

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Jennifer D. Aldea-Tirado, an employee of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PWC), filed a lawsuit against her employer alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and Puerto Rico law. Aldea-Tirado claimed she was subjected to adverse employment action due to her gender and pregnancy and was retaliated against for filing a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. PWC, however, argued that Aldea-Tirado's employment contract contained an arbitration clause and moved to compel arbitration.The United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico granted PWC's motion to compel arbitration. The court determined that PWC had established the existence of a valid agreement between PWC and Aldea-Tirado to arbitrate her claims. The court also found that Aldea-Tirado had tacitly consented to the Agreement by continuing to work for PWC after having received the Agreement through both regular mail and email. Aldea-Tirado appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court found no merit in Aldea-Tirado's arguments that she did not receive the Agreement or that it was unconscionable to hold her to it. The court also rejected Aldea-Tirado's contention that she was not given "some minimal level of notice" that her continued employment would effect a waiver of her right to pursue her claims in a judicial forum. The court concluded that Aldea-Tirado failed to show that there was any non-speculative basis in the record from which a reasonable factfinder could determine that she did not receive the email to which the Agreement was attached. View "Aldea-Tirado v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP" on Justia Law

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The case involves Carlos M. Rivera-Velázquez, an employee of the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division (CEPD), a component of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Rivera, a military veteran with a service-connected disability, was hired by the CEPD in 2001. Throughout his tenure, he expressed interest in being promoted to a GS-13 position. In 2006, the CEPD was reorganized, and Teresita Rodríguez became Rivera's supervisor. After Rivera returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010, Rodríguez began checking on his well-being. In 2012, Rivera was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In 2014, Nancy Rodríguez became the chief of the Multimedia Permits and Compliance Branch and Rivera's supervisor. Rivera filed several formal and informal complaints about his treatment by his supervisors, alleging discrimination and harassment.In the lower courts, Rivera filed formal complaints with the EPA Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in 2011, 2017, and 2018, alleging discrimination and retaliation. He also filed claims of "harassment" under EPA Order 4711 in 2017 and 2018. The OCR and the EPA Order 4711 investigations found no merit to Rivera's complaints. Rivera then filed a complaint in the District Court in 2019, alleging employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court granted summary judgment to the Administrator of the EPA on Rivera's claims.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision. The court found that Rivera failed to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act or retaliation under Title VII. The court concluded that Rivera failed to show that his supervisors regarded him as having a disability, that he was subjected to an adverse action, or that there was a causal connection between his protected conduct and the alleged adverse actions. View "Rivera-Velazquez v. Regan" on Justia Law

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A group of former employees of Luxury Hotels International of Puerto Rico, operating as Ritz-Carlton Hotel Spa & Casino, sued the company for alleged violations of federal and Puerto Rico law in connection with their discharge after the hotel closed due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The employees claimed that Ritz-Carlton violated Puerto Rico Law 80 of 1976, which provides severance pay for employees wrongfully terminated, and the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which requires employers to provide 60-day notice before mass layoffs.The case was initially filed in a Puerto Rico court but was later moved to the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. After discovery, Ritz-Carlton moved for summary judgment. The District Court granted summary judgment to Ritz-Carlton on all the employees' claims, denied the employees' motion to strike Ritz-Carlton's exhibits, and dismissed the case. The employees appealed the decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision. The court found that the employees' termination was for "just cause" under Puerto Rico Law 80, as the hotel's closure constituted just cause for their discharge. Regarding the WARN Act claim, the court concluded that even if there had been a violation, various payments that Ritz-Carlton had made to the employees would completely offset Ritz-Carlton's monetary liability. View "Rivera-Pina v. Luxury Hotels International of Puerto Rico" on Justia Law

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In the summer of 2020, amid pandemic mask mandates and nationwide racial justice protests, Whole Foods Market, Inc. began disciplining employees who wore facemasks to work supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, citing its dress code. The three plaintiff-appellants, Savannah Kinzer, Haley Evans, and Christopher Michno, persisted in wearing these masks, among taking other actions, until the company terminated them, ostensibly for repeated violations of the dress code or attendance policy. The Employees sued under Title VII, alleging retaliation. The district court granted Whole Foods' motion for summary judgment against all three.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that summary judgment was improper against one of the Employees, Savannah Kinzer, an outspoken critic of Whole Foods whose termination arguably deviated from the company's disciplinary process, but affirmed the court's holding as to both Haley Evans and Christopher Michno. The Employees also asked the court to review a discovery order compelling the production of communications whose confidentiality they argue is protected by the National Labor Relations Act. The court declined to reach the merits of that issue. View "Kinzer v. Whole Foods Market, Inc." on Justia Law

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The case involves Joseph A. Jakuttis, a former officer and detective in the Dracut Police Department, who also served as a Task Force Officer for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's Cross Borders Initiative. Jakuttis brought multiple federal and state claims against the Town of Dracut, certain Dracut police officers, and members of the federal law-enforcement task force. He alleged that he was demoted and faced retaliation after reporting serious criminal activities implicating two Dracut police officers, which he learned from a confidential drug informant.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Jakuttis's Bivens claims against Michael V. O'Hanlon and Richard P. Poirier, Jr., and his §1983 claim against the Town of Dracut, David J. Chartrand Jr., and Demetri Mellonakos. The court ruled that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, as they could have reasonably thought that Jakuttis was speaking as part of his official duties rather than as a private citizen when he reported the misconduct, thus not clearly violating his First Amendment rights.The court also affirmed the dismissal of Jakuttis's state-law tort claims against Poirier, as Poirier was deemed to be acting within the scope of his federal employment during the relevant times. However, the court remanded the Massachusetts Whistleblower Act claim against the Town of Dracut and the Intentional Interference with Advantageous Economic Relationship claim against Chartrand and Mellonakos to the District Court. The court reasoned that these state-law claims should be resolved by a state court due to reasons of comity. View "Jakuttis v. Town of Dracut" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Plaintiff, Barbara M. Parmenter, had subscribed to a long-term care insurance policy offered by her employer, Tufts University, and underwritten by The Prudential Insurance Company of America. The policy was governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. After Prudential twice increased Parmenter's premium rate payments for her policy, she sued Tufts and Prudential, alleging each breached their respective fiduciary duties owed to her when Prudential increased those rates. The defendants responded with motions to dismiss for failure to state a plausible claim. The district court granted each of their motions and Parmenter appealed.The United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit found that the language in the policy stating that premium increases would be "subject to the approval of the Massachusetts Commissioner of Insurance" was ambiguous, and could not be definitively interpreted based solely on the pleadings and contract documents currently available. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's decision to dismiss the case against Prudential and remanded it for further proceedings.However, the court affirmed the dismissal of the case against Tufts, as Parmenter's allegations that Tufts failed to prevent the premium rate increases or monitor Prudential did not fall into one of the categories of co-fiduciary liability set forth in section 1105(a) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. View "Parmenter v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, an African-American male, brought an employment discrimination lawsuit against his former employer, Genzyme Therapeutic Products, LP, and one of its executives. The plaintiff alleged racial discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that the plaintiff failed to provide sufficient proof that the employer's stated rationale for certain adverse employment actions was pretextual. The court also found that the plaintiff did not provide enough evidence to demonstrate a causal connection between the alleged protected conduct (filing a complaint against another employee for racial discrimination) and the adverse action (a poor performance review).On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that the plaintiff failed to establish that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the employer's proffered reason for the negative performance review was a pretext for discrimination. The court noted that the plaintiff's argument relied heavily on speculation and conjecture rather than definite and competent evidence. The court also highlighted that even if the plaintiff's direct manager thought he was deserving of a higher rating, this did not shed light on the executive's view, nor did it allow a reasonable juror to find that the executive's stated rationale was pretextual. The court concluded that a single racially tinged comment made by the executive was not sufficient to prove discriminatory intent. View "Boykin v. Genzyme Therapeutic Products, LP" on Justia Law

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In this case before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, five groups of current and former public employees in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (the "Commonwealth") appealed an order by the court overseeing the Commonwealth-wide debt restructuring litigation (the "Title III court") on their motions to secure administrative-expense priority for their back pay claims. The back pay claims arose from allegations that their public employers failed to adjust their wages upward, a violation of Puerto Rico law. The Title III court had previously rejected efforts to assert administrative-expense priority for back pay for work performed before the commencement of the Commonwealth's debt restructuring case under Title III of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act ("PROMESA").The appellate court affirmed the Title III court's decision. The appellate court agreed that the pre-petition work claims did not qualify for administrative-expense priority under § 503(b)(1)(A)(ii) of the Bankruptcy Code, which is incorporated into PROMESA, because they were not "wages and benefits awarded pursuant to a judicial proceeding . . . as back pay attributable to any period of time occurring after commencement of the case under this title." The appellate court also held that the Title III court did not abuse its discretion in deferring its decision on administrative-expense status for back pay claims concerning work performed post-petition but for which there has not yet been any judgment in the underlying commonwealth court and agency proceedings. View "Abraham Gimenez Plaintiff Group v. FOMB" on Justia Law

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Paulo Trindade, a former employee of Grove Services, Inc., sued his previous employer for breach of contract and violations of the Massachusetts Wage Act, claiming he had been underpaid on his sales commission compensation for the years 2014, 2015, and 2016. Following a bench trial, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled in part for Trindade and in part for Grove, awarding Trindade $330,597 in damages. Both parties appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the lower court's judgment. The Court of Appeals agreed with the district court's conclusion that Trindade's amended complaint, which included a claim for unpaid wages for 2016, related back to his original complaint, making the claim timely under Massachusetts law. The Court of Appeals also concluded that the district court was correct in its decision to award the damages it did, including an amount for the late payment and underpayment of Trindade's 2016 commission. View "Trindade v. Grove Services, Inc." on Justia Law