3rd Circuit Employment Law News - U.S. Third Circuit
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Employers cannot simply reject a faulty request for medical leave filed under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Third Circuit ruled on Monday. Rather, employers have a duty to inform their workers about their request's deficiency and allow them an opportunity to correct it.

The case came after Deborah Hansel, a nurse's assistant at Lehigh Valley Health Network in Pennsylvania, requested medical leave for a then undiagnosed condition. After taking days off, the hospital fired her. At her termination, the hospital only stated that her request was faulty and had been denied.

Three insurance companies were sued by two patients and their pharmacies after the companies had refused to pay for blood-clotting-factor products under ERISA health plans. Eventually, the insurance companies paid them in full, including interest. Each time, the patients recovered through settlement, not court order.

The patients filed for attorneys' fees under ERISA, which allows for recovery of attorneys' fees when there has been "some success" on the merits. The settlements were success enough, the First Circuit reasoned, deciding for the first time that the catalyst theory allows recovery of fees in ERISA cases. ERISA attorneys, now's the time to pop the champagne.

Can an ERISA retirement plan, after having paid out a consistent pension to early retirees, later reduce those pensions based on the age at which the pensioners retired? Not without violating ERISA's anti-cutback rule, the Third Circuit ruled last Wednesday.

The case, Cottillion v. United Refining Company, involved pensioned retirees who began collecting before they were 65. After several years of pension payouts, United amended the plan to reduce, based on an actuary assessment, payments for early retirees. The court found this not only an impermissible interpretation of the plan's terms, but a violation of ERISA, the law governing employee retirement plans.

The Third Circuit ruled Wednesday that certain truckers are entitled to overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, finding that drivers of lighter vehicles are subject to a "carveout" from the FLSA's overtime exemptions.

The FLSA establishes minimum wage and overtime requirements that apply to the majority of workers. Covered workers are entitled to "time and a half" overtime, except, of course, the many workers who fall within the Act's numerous exemptions.

3rd Cir. Follows Others in Upholding ACA Contraceptive Exemption

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act's religious exemption to contraceptive coverage suffered a setback today, as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court's determination that even the religious exemption runs afoul of the First Amendment.

The Third Circuit's opinion falls in line with opinions from other circuits last year, holding that the religious exemption to contraceptive coverage doesn't allow an employer to prevent an employee from ever obtaining contraceptives.

No Qualified Immunity for School District's Firing of Whistleblower

Qualified immunity? For a claim of employment retaliation for whistle-blowing? Believe it or not, that's the defense Philadelphia School District mounted after a federal district court denied its motion for summary judgment in this employment retaliation case.

Francis Dougherty, a former employee, was fired after she told the news media that the school district's superintendent, Dr. Arlene Ackerman, directed a contract to a minority-owned firm without a bidding procedure. The Third Circuit said "no" to the district's claim that it was protected by qualified immunity.

What Triggers Employer's Duty to Reinstate Under FMLA? Ask a Doctor

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is simple: If you're injured, you can take leave and your job is held for you while you recover. Except, the finer points can get a bit tricky. What if an employee can only come back with restrictions? Who makes the judgment call on whether an employee can fulfill her essential duties?

That was the key to Vanessa Budhun's case. She broke a finger, was told by HR that she had to take FMLA leave, and while she was gone, was replaced. The doctor cleared her with "no restrictions in splint," which is kinda-sorta like no restrictions, but with only seven functioning digits. (Bundhun's job requires typing.)

The district court granted summary judgment to the hospital, but the Third Circuit reversed. Why?

Remember the mailbox rule? Just the thought of it brings us back to our first year of law school. And believe it or not, it still comes up in cases today.

Last week, the Third Circuit had a chance to review the common law presumption of delivery, and noted that it in this day and age, that time-honored presumption may not be enough for employers attempting to give their employees legal notice.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is not without its detractors -- the Republican-controlled House has voted to repeal it 37 times, reports The Washington Post. But what is not achieved through the legislative process, people are hoping to achieve with the help of the judiciary.

Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, is a secular, for-profit, closely-held, family-owned company (say that fast three times). The Hahns, the family that owns Conestoga, are Mennonites who had a problem with two drugs they had to provide through their group health plans: the morning-after pill and the week-after pill. They claimed that Conestoga's right to free exercise of religion, under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), was violated because the health plan required they make the drugs available.

The Third Circuit disagreed.

Last week, the New Jersey Supreme Court handed down a decision that could have wide ranging repercussions for employers. Faced with determining several issues surrounding a discrimination claim, and its retaliatory responses, the New Jersey Supreme Court offered some clarity to employers, and employees alike.

Plaintiff Michael Battaglia at one point supervised defendant Wayne DeCraine, where he reprimanded DeCraine for making off-color comments about women. Because of Battaglia’s illness and time off from work, years later DeCraine ended up as Battaglia’s direct supervisor. Battaglia again heard DeCraine make derogatory statements about women, but only in the presence of men. These comments were the basis of a Law Against Discrimination (LAD) claim that Battaglia brought against UPS and DeCraine.