U.S. Fifth Circuit - The FindLaw 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

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Worker's Emotional Distress Damages for Retaliation Upheld by 5th Cir.

A federal appeals court ruled that a worker can claim emotional distress damages for an employer's retaliation on a wage claim.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals joined other federal circuits in considering remedies available to workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The appellate court said the FLSA authorizes emotional damages as "legal and equitable relief" on account of employer retaliation.

In reversing and remanding, the appeals panel said the trial court must consider additional evidence of emotional distress and award damages accordingly. Santiago Pineda won only overtime and retaliation damages at trial.

Company Policy Must Bend to State Gun Laws

A man who, contrary to his employer's policy, kept a locked gun in his car in the company parking lot can sue for wrongful termination under Mississippi law, says the Fifth Circuit.

This case is fundamentally about the clashing of state laws with company policy with regard to dangerous arms. The circuit court's ruling recognizes a new public policy exception to the doctrine of at-will employment.

5th Cir.: Mississippi's Gun Laws Trump Company Policy

In a case about the clashing of state laws and company policy with regards to firearms, the Fifth Circuit has sided with the state.

A man who, contrary to his employer's policy, kept a locked gun in his car in the company parking lot can sue for wrongful termination under Mississippi law, the Fifth Circuit ruled on Monday. The unanimous three-judge panel reversed a lower court finding that state public policy opinions couldn't trump employer's policy on guns, reviving Robert Swindol's lawsuit against his former employer, Aurora Flight Sciences Corp.

OSHA and Walmart: 'Cookie-Cutter' Compliance Won't Do, 5th Circ. Rules

A recent Fifth Circuit ruling, which affirmed OSHRC's interpretation of a key OSHA provision, should prove helpful to companies concerned about compliance issues. Apparently, a cookie-cutter approach simply will not do. As Walmart learned, if you're a company with multiple identical buildings that must be OSHA compliant, it's no good arguing "they're all the same, anyway."

It was a strange outcome at the circuit level. Although it was found that the offending company Walmart was in violation of OSHA, it still managed to wiggle itself off the hook with a truly modest sum: $1,700.

Contractor Doctors Can Sue Under 1973 Rehab Act

Further complicating the growing conflict over employees and contractors, the Fifth Circuit recently declared that independent contractors can sue "any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance" on discrimination suits.

According to this circuit, Section 504 (The Rehabilitation Act of 1973) does not adopt the definition of who is covered under Title I even though it may be influenced by that law.

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.