Employment Law News - U.S. Eighth Circuit
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After a Missouri health care worker was subject to several instances of physical and verbal harassment from a patient, she sued her employer. Chavonya Watson argued that Heartland Health Laboratories created a hostile working environment by failing to protect her from the third party harassment.

The Eighth Circuit, however, was unconvinced. the court found that, even if an employer could be held responsible for a third party, the harassment alleged was too fleeting to have created a hostile work environment, having occurred for just moments at a time.

8th Cir. Upholds UMKC Lecturer's Firing for Speaking Out

After Henry Lyons gave a student athlete an "F" in his course at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, a university committee determined that the student should get a second chance. The paper, graded by the committee, got a D+.

Lyons complained to the school's chancellor about the preferential treatment afforded student athletes and asked for an investigation. The university didn't offer him a job for the next semester, which Lyons said was retaliation for speaking out about the treatment of student athletes, a violation of his First Amendment rights.

Marketing Co. 'Brand Advocates' Entitled to Overtime: 8th Cir.

From the Eighth Circuit comes another in the increasingly lengthy list of lessons that courts do not like it when employers creatively classify employees in order to circumvent labor laws.

ActionLink, a marketing company, partners with electronics and appliance companies, like LG, to provide "brand advocates" who go into stores to convince employees to push their clients' products.

Indep. Contractor Gets No ADA, ADEA, FMLA, SDHRA Protection

Dr. Larry Alexander's case was obvious, yet unfortunate. And it's a great reminder of why independent contractor relationships are risky for the not-quite-employee.

From 1991 to 2011, Dr. Alexander was associated with Avera St. Luke's, a non-profit organization running St. Luke's Hospital in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Avera terminated its relationship with Dr. Alexander after he suffered from a series of health issues from 2008 to 2011 -- a heart attack, a heart transplant, and a hospitalization for bipolar disorder.

What is his recourse? Absolutely nothing, since he was providing services under an obvious independent contractor relationship.

8th Cir. Clarifies 401(k) Float Income Ownership, Fiduciary Duties

The Eighth Circuit recently issued a decision in a 401(k) fiduciary lawsuit that is raising questions about "float income" -- interest earned from plan assets.

At issue is the handling of funds that flow into and out of 401(k) plans and the question of who profits from the float income generated while the money is held by a service provider -- in this case, Fidelity Investments -- before its investment or before it is it cashed by participants.

If you're in the retirement plan industry, you might want to take a look at the court's decision in Ronald C. Tussey v. ABB Inc.

Can Employer Tell Breastfeeding Mom 'Go Home to Your Babies'?

Employment discrimination with respect to breastfeeding at work is garnering attention in courts across the nation. The Eighth Circuit recently tackled the issue in the context of constructive discharge.

The court affirmed a district court's grant of summary judgment to an employer embroiled in a pregnancy and sex discrimination case for compelling a breastfeeding's worker's resignation.

Fremont Votes to Ban Hiring, Renting to Undocumented Immigrants

The town of Fremont, Nebraska voted to uphold an ordinance prohibiting employers and landlords from hiring or renting to undocumented immigrants.

The measure, approved in 2010, survived a constitutional challenge before the Eighth Circuit.

Despite staving off a slew of legal challenges and passing yet again by popular vote, the ban may not be free from legal scrutiny just yet.

In Workplace Claims Against Many Supervisors, Focus on Individuals

A jury will determine whether five African American prison guards endured a hostile work environment, an Eighth Circuit panel ruled.

The appeals court ruled that the lower court erroneously granted summary judgment to all of the defendants. The appeals panel affirmed most of the dismissals, but reinstated claims against three of the supervisors, demonstrating how crucial it is to differentiate between supervisors.

The takeaway: even in employment settings conducive to mob mentalities (such as prisons and law enforcement), always present evidence of individual acts of discriminatory behavior.

8th Cir. Clarifies Sec. 1983 Race Discrimination and Retaliation Law

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently preserved a high-profile employment discrimination case against the Arkansas State Capitol Police Chief Darrell Hedden over an African American officer's firing.

The case sheds light on qualified immunity from Section 1983 racial discrimination and retaliation claims.

8th Cir. Temporarily Blocks Minn. Child-Care Provider Union Law

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has granted an injunction to temporarily block a Minnesota law authorizing child-care providers to unionize.

The decision is a victory for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is representing Minnesota providers who oppose unionization.

But the decision hasn't seemed to faze proponents of the law, who are chalking up the injunction to a "temporary roadblock," reports the St. Paul Pioneer Press.