U.S. Eleventh Circuit - The FindLaw 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

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A recent decision of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals helps to provide OSHA and OSHA-regulated businesses with some certainty as to when the courts should issue an administrative search warrant sought by OSHA.

The case, USA v. Mar-Jac Poultry, involved a large poultry processor that reported an industrial injury to OSHA, as required, then became the subject of what it contended was undue scrutiny. After OSHA succeeded in getting a warrant issued for, pretty much, a full search, Mar-Jac successful fought to quash the warrant. When the district court agreed, and essentially told OSHA to seek a more limited warrant, OSHA appealed.

$100,000 Lesson on Employee Arbitration Agreements

Be careful what you ask for.

That should be the mantra for lawyers who advise businesses about arbitration clauses in employment agreements. It's cheap advice, given the real cost of arbitration.

In Hernandez v. Acosta, it turned out to be a $100,000 lesson. That's how much the employer owed in arbitration fees, which far exceeded the company's liability to one worker.

Court Says No Joint Employer Because 'Employer' Is a Homonym

Gaudencio Garcia-Celestino did not expect to get a grammar lesson from the federal appeals court.

In Garcia-Celestino v. Ruiz Harvesting, Inc., the issue was whether he worked for an "employer" under general common law principles. The U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said he did not, which meant he lost his case against a company that employed him to pick fruit.

Fortunately for Garcia-Celestino and his fellow workers, they settled their claims against another company that paid them to do the work. The difference, the appeals court said, came down to a homonym.

The Sovereign, Not the Plaintiff, Is King

John D. King was mad when he discovered the government had settled a case for $7.5 million -- because it was his case!

Or so he alleged in King v. United States Government. King said the government secretly settled his qui tam action, which he had initiated on behalf of the federal government.

In that underlying case, he claimed several corporations violated the False Claims Act. But to get a share of the recovery, he had to get around the United States' sovereign immunity.

Court Revives Officer's Tase-Me-Not Case

Jacqueline Lewis had a good reason not to get tased as part of her police training.

Nobody wants to get tased, but Lewis had another reason. She had a minor heart condition, and her doctor said she should not be subjected to the shock devices.

So the Union City Police Department didn't tase her; it fired her. She sued and asked for a jury to decide her case, and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals saw it her way in Lewis v. City of Union City.

Breastfeeding Decision Upheld for Constructive Discharge

Working on the narcotics task force, Stephanie Hicks wore a bulletproof vest to protect her from criminals.

That all changed after she returned from maternity leave, however. She asked for an accommodation at work because she was breastfeeding, but then the attacks came from her department.

She won a pregnancy discrimination case, and the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. In Hicks v. City of Tuscaloosa, the appeals court said employers can be liable for constructive discharge when a breastfeeding mother quits.

In a recent ruling out of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a panel of three justices reversed the lower court's dismissal on summary judgment in the First Amendment retaliation case, Rodriguez v. City of Doral et al. The case involved the alleged constructive termination of a police officer due to his support of a rival political candidate.

The reversal is significant not just for the plaintiff, but for the entire circuit. In issuing its ruling, the panel of judges explained:

The Civil Rights Act's protections against discrimination 'on the basis of sex' do not protect gay and lesbian workers who face discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, the Eleven Circuit ruled on Friday.

That wouldn't be a terribly noteworthy outcome, if this were still the 1970s, or even the early 2000s. During those periods of civil rights litigation, courts routinely refused to extend employment protections to gay, lesbian, and transgender employees. But in recent years, the consensus has started to shift. The EEOC has interpreted the Civil Rights Act to protect gay workers, for example, and the Eleventh itself has extended protections to transgender employees.

But those earlier cases still stand, the Eleventh ruled, and they still bind the court's interpretation of civil rights laws today.

ADA Doesn't Require Reassignment of a Disabled Employee

An employer does not have to reassign a disabled employee to a vacant position ahead of more qualified, non-disabled employees, a federal appeals court said.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said the American with Disabilities Act "only requires an employer allow a disabled person to compete equally with the rest of the world for a vacant position" as a reasonable accommodation.

"The ADA does not require reassignment without competition for, or preferential treatment of, the disabled," the panel said.

A police officer in Georgia, who claims he was punished for reporting racial profiling, can pursue his section 1983 and defamation suit against the local sheriff's department, the Eleventh Circuit ruled last week.

Derrick Bailey, a law-enforcement officer with more than 17 years of experience, alleges that he was terminated and harassed for reporting racial profiling and constitutional violations in the Douglasville police department and Douglas County sheriffs office. That retaliation included a "BOLO," or "be-on-the-lookout" advisory to all law enforcement in the county, describing Bailey as a "loose cannon" and danger to any cop -- a warning the Eleventh Circuit notes could have left him dead at the hands of his fellow officers.