5th Circuit Employment Law News - U.S. Fifth Circuit
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Coffee Barista's Don't Interact With Customers Enough for Tip Pooling

The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded a decision by a Texas federal district court in a case that involved barista tips, Montano v. Montrose Restaurant Assoc.

The legal issue at bar was whether or not "coffeemen" (aka baristas) are lawfully entitled to a percentage customer tips under a restaurant's tip pooling arrangement. It turns out that it has little to with what you call them; it has more to do with the nature of their work.

5th Cir. Favors Worker Mobility Over Texas-Based Non-Compete Clauses

The Fifth Circuit unanimously rejected a Texas-based financial institution's argument that Texas' applied Selection Clause automatically subsumed Choice-of-Contract because allowing such an application would violate Oklahoma's public policy in favoring worker's right to earn a living.

The is noteworthy because it contrasts the two state's competing viewpoints of worker's rights. It also displays the Fifth Circuit's lively writing style.

Mandatory Arbitration Agreements for Employees OK, 5th Cir. Rules

The National Labor Relations Board has been a thorn in the Fifth Circuit's said these past few years. Several days ago, however, the panel court made it perfectly clear that it hadn't changed its mind with regards to the proper scope of the National Labor Standards Act.

The issue at bar (now apparently settled) is whether or not employers can require the signing of mandatory arbitration clauses that preclude employee lawsuits against the company. The answer? Such clauses are allowed.

Lunch breaks are the best time of the day. Workers get to rest and stuff their faces and employers don't have to pay them for that time -- so long as the break is about 30 minutes or more. Cut into that time, however, and you no longer have a lunch, you just have a rest, even if workers were able to chow down between tasks.

Take, for example, the naval base security guards who had their lunch breaks eroded by travel requirements. Since their employer required them to leave their post to eat, their lunch breaks were too short to be automatically exempt from pay under the Fair Labor Standard Acts, the Fifth Circuit ruled recently.

Employers who opt out of providing health insurance coverage for contraceptives don't have their religious exercise burdened by those opt out procedures, the Fifth Circuit ruled on Monday. The Circuit joined the Seventh, Sixth, Third, and D.C. Circuits in rejecting a challenge to Obamacare's contraception mandate by religious nonprofit organizations.

Under Obamacare, religious nonprofits can opt out of directly providing contraception to their employees. To do so, they need simply fill out a short form and send to the Department of Health and Human Services for certification. Third parties then provide contraception access. 

Religious groups have said that simply filing out the form "triggers" their participation in contraception and burdens their religious freedom. The Fifth rejected that argument yesterday, as had all other circuit courts who've addressed it.

Humana, as a third party service provider to an ERISA benefit plan, cannot sue under the Act to recover funds paid out, since it was not an ERISA fiduciary, the Fifth Circuit ruled on Monday. Rather, under the plan management agreement, Humana's role was simply ministerial, more akin to a lawyer or collections agent.

Humana and API entered into a plan management agreement whereby Humana would administer API's employee benefits plan. Under the PMA, API was to retain decisionmaking control over all discretionary decisions, with Humana acting within the framework of the plan's management policies. The limited discretion Humana had, even under the agreements broad subrogation terms, kept it from being treated as a true ERISA fiduciary, the Fifth Circuit found.

For a claim of age discrimination to withstand summary judgment, a plaintiff must show that he or she was treated differently from similarly, very similarly, situated employees because of his or her age, the Fifth Circuit reminded us yesterday. While those similar employees don't have to be identical they have to be fairly close.

James Hinga, a machinist who was let go after a recall, couldn't find a close enough match to support his age discrimination claim. Though he pointed to three younger employees, the fact that they had different roles and different discipline histories kept them from being appropriate comparators.

A federal judge in Texas has put a stop to the Obama administration's plans to expand coverage of Family and Medical Leave Act protections to married same-sex couples, at least temporarily. Judge Reed O'Connor, in the District Court for the Northern District of Texas, ordered the government to stay its FMLA final rule after Texas brought suit.

The stay puts a halt to an expansion which would have seen leave protections extended to all married spouses, regardless of state. The FMLA allows covered workers to take to take unpaid leave in the case of serious health conditions, to care for a spouse or child, or for the birth or adoption of a new child.

A Double Bench-Slapping and Appellate Advocacy Basics

The case? Thomas Roque v. Natchitoches Parish School Bd., in which Roque is alleging that he was denied a school superintendent position because of race-based discrimination.

During oral arguments for the case, Roque's attorney David Broussard got a quick lesson in Fifth Circuit appellate advocacy, courtesy of Fifth Circuit Judge E. Grady Jolly and District Court Judge Lance M. Africk (sitting by designation) in the form of a double bench-slapping.

Why? One word: interrupting. (H/T to Above the Law and NMissCommentor)

Decreased Job Duties Can Amount to Demotion, 5th Cir. Rules

The facts of this case are pretty simple: Allen Thompson was a detective in Waco, Texas. Thompson and two other detectives were found to have falsified their time sheets. Thompson, but not the other two detectives, was subjected to written restrictions. Thompson is black; the other two detectives aren't. Hopefully you can see the Title VII employment discrimination lawsuit coming.

A federal district court dismissed Thompson's suit on the ground that he had failed to allege an adverse employment action. Last week, the Fifth Circuit reversed, finding that restrictions on his job duties were the equivalent of a demotion.