Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Waymo sued Uber and Ottomotto for patent infringement and violations of trade secret laws, claiming that its former employee, Levandowski, improperly downloaded documents related to Waymo’s driverless vehicle technology, then left Waymo to found Ottomotto, which Uber subsequently acquired. Before that acquisition closed, counsel for Ottomotto and Uber retained Stroz to investigate Ottomotto employees previously employed by Waymo, including Levandowski. During discovery, Waymo successfully moved to compel the defendants to produce the Stroz Report. Waymo also subpoenaed Stroz to obtain the Report plus the communications, documents, and devices provided to Stroz. Levandowski, Ottomotto, and Uber unsuccessfully moved to quash the subpoena, arguing that the Report was subject to attorney-client privilege or work-product protection. The Federal Circuit denied Levandowski’s petition for mandamus relief. Levandowski failed to articulate any persuasive reasons why disclosure of the Report should be barred; the possibility of admissions against his interest is a valid function of civil discovery. The court rejected Levandowski’s “unsupported assertions” that the district court would be unable to “cleanse the trial of all taint from the improper disclosure,” noting that the court had examined the Report in camera and declined to exclude it. The district court properly determined that the common interest doctrine did not apply, found that Levandowski waived work-product protection, and rejected Levandowski’s claim of Fifth Amendment privilege. View "Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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Piccolo, an officer at the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made a disclosure related to DHS’s practice of releasing unaccompanied alien children to non-family sponsors with criminal records. The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) dismissed, for lack of jurisdiction, his individual right of action appeal claiming that he was subject to adverse personnel action in retaliation for that protected whistleblowing activity. The MSPB found that he failed to make nonfrivolous allegations “to demonstrate that his protected activity was a contributing factor in the agency’s decision to take [adverse] personnel action,” 5 U.S.C. 1221(e)(1). The MSPB subsequently agreed that Piccolo had established jurisdiction and that “the AJ made legal errors in his jurisdictional findings” The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded, “reiterating” that a petitioner’s credibility including, as in this case, consideration of affidavits submitted by an allegedly retaliatory supervisor claiming no knowledge of the petitioner’s protected disclosure or motivation to retaliate, “relate[s] to the merits of [the] claim.” Non-frivolous allegations suffice at the jurisdictional stage Piccolo’s disclosures allege serious breaches in DHS’s practices that threaten the safety of minor children. His non-frivolous allegations that such disclosures contributed to negative personnel action deserve a merits hearing. View "Piccolo v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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There are 10 federal holidays each year; six are celebrated on Mondays. All federal employees are paid for holidays that fall on a workday but on which the employee is not required to work. 5 C.F.R. 610.405-406. When employees are required to work on holidays, they are entitled to premium pay for their work on that day that is not overtime work, 5 U.S.C. 5546(b). Certain employees whose basic workweek of five workdays is Monday through Friday are granted days off “in-lieu-of” holidays when holidays fall on weekends. Employees whose basic workweek of five workdays is other than Monday through Friday enjoy corresponding benefits. Yanko has been employed, part-time, by the VA for several years. His regular workweek is Sunday through Thursday. Between December 15, 2009, and May 16, 2016, eight public holidays fell on either Friday or Saturday. Yanko, as a part-time employee, was not credited with an in-lieu-of holiday for any of those days, pursuant to a longstanding policy of the Office of Personnel Management. The Court of Federal Claims and Federal Circuit rejected Yanko’s claims, holding that the statute and Executive Order do not provide part-time employees with a right to in-lieu-of holidays when federal holidays fall outside the employees’ normal workweek. The term “basic workweek,” which appears in both, refers only to full-time employees. View "Yanko v. United States" on Justia Law

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Rumsey, a Department of Justice employee, protested grant-making decisions and ultimately went to the media and members of Congress and filed a complaint with the Inspector General, alleging fraud. Her efforts resulted in corrective action. Rumsey alleged that the agency subsequently gave her improperly low performance ratings, moved some of her job duties to other employees, and canceled her telework agreement. She prevailed in an individual right of action appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board, alleging whistleblower reprisal. Rumsey sought attorney’s fees under 5 U.S.C. 1221(g)(1)(B). At the time of that request, Rumsey and Slavet, one of the three lawyers that represented Rumsey during the Board proceedings, were in fee dispute before the District of Columbia Bar, Attorney/Client Arbitration Board. Rumsey “distanced herself from Slavet,” who had been Rumsey’s principal lawyer before and during the initial hearing before the administrative judge. The AJ had previously awarded sanctions based on Slavet’s failure to respond to discovery requests. The Board affirmed the AJ’s refusal to award attorney’s fees for Slavet’s services. Slavet and Rumsey settled their fee dispute, agreeing that Rumsey would pay $120,000 of the $145,445 sought by Slavet. The Federal Circuit reversed. Rumsey carried her burden of showing entitlement to some award of attorney’s fees. View "Rumsey v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Miskill was employed as an IT Specialist with the Social Security Administration for 14 years. Her supervisor proposed to remove Miskill for violations of the time and attendance policy. The Assistant Associate Commissioner sustained four charges and removed Miskill from Federal Service. The Union submitted a grievance and subsequently invoked arbitration. Miskill obtained the records of the eight other individuals within her component at the Division of Network Engineering (DNE) for the relevant time period. Those records were analyzed by a CPA, Certified Product Examiner, and Certified Information Technology professional, who concluded that the eight other DNE employees had committed the same or similar violations as Miskill; none were investigated or charged with misconduct. The parties later stipulated that those employees were under investigation, but had not yet been charged. The Arbitrator sustained Miskill’s removal, finding that the comparators were not similarly situated because possible disciplinary action regarding them was still pending. The Federal Circuit vacated. Miskill sufficiently raised the issue of disparate treatment but arbitrator erred in its treatment of the comparator evidence. His categorical conclusion that the eight DNE employees could not be comparator employees because they were under investigation was an incorrect statement of law. Although the fact that a comparator employee is under investigation is a factor to be considered in determining whether that comparator is similarly situated, it is not a complete bar. View "Miskill v. Social Security Administration" on Justia Law

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Appellants, current and former employees of the U.S. Secret Service, alleged that, as a result of new practices, the government denied them the two consecutive days off from work to which they were entitled under 5 U.S.C. 6101(a)(3)(B). The Claims Court concluded that it was without jurisdiction because this provision is not money-mandating because it only concerns work scheduling practices and does not address employees’ entitlement to pay. The Federal Circuit affirmed that court's dismissal of the case. “At most,” section 6101(a)(3)(B) entitles employees to have their basic 40-hour workweek scheduled in a particular fashion; whether their basic 40- hour workweek is Monday through Friday with Saturday and Sunday off, or Monday through Saturday with Wednesday and Sunday off, does not, itself, affect employees’ statutory entitlement to pay. Because section 6101(a)(3)(B) does not “‘command[] payment of money to the employee,’” nor is it “reasonably amenable to the reading that it mandates a right to money damages,” violations of the subsection do not implicate the remedies prescribed in the Back Pay Act. View "Adams v. United States" on Justia Law

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Tartaglia served as Chief of Police at the Veterans Administration Hampton Virginia Medical Center. The VA proposed Tartaglia’s removal based on Abuse of Authority” (six specifications); “Lack of Candor” (two specifications); and “Misuse of Government Property” (one specification). The VA’s deciding official rejected Charge 3 as unsubstantiated, sustained Charge 1 based on five specifications and Charge 2 based on both specifications, and removed Tartaglia from service. An administrative judge affirmed Tartaglia’s removal, finding that the VA failed to prove either specification of Charge 2 and that it proved only three specifications of Charge 1. As to Charge 1, Tartaglia admitted to Specification 5: instructing a subordinate to drive him in a government-owned vehicle for a personal errand while on duty. The Merit Systems Protection Board sustained Tartaglia’s removal based solely on Specification 5, stating that removal fell within the Table of Penalties for that misconduct; Tartaglia’s “misconduct was particularly serious because it went beyond merely misappropriating a Government vehicle, but also included instructing a subordinate to help him”; mitigating factors such as Tartaglia’s “outstanding work record and lack of prior discipline” were “temper[ed]” because Tartaglia had served with the VA for “only approximately [four] years” and Tartaglia expressed remorse “only after initially denying the misconduct..” The Federal Circuit vacated, based on the Board’s miscalculation of Tartaglia’s length of service. View "Tartaglia v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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Kitlinski, employed by the DEA and a Coast Guard reservist, was recalled to active duty. For an extended period, he served full-time at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. He filed complaints under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. 4301-35, and an equal employment opportunity complaint against DEA, based on DEA’s responses to his requests to be transferred from DEA’s San Diego office to Arlington, Virginia, where Kitlinski’s wife worked. After a deposition, Kitlinski returned to his car, in a secure DEA parking lot, and discovered a Blackberry device bearing a DEA sticker under his car's hood. He suspected that it was intended to track his location and record his conversations. Kitlinski reported his discovery to the FBI. Kitlinski’s wife was interrogated and was threatened with discipline if she did not turn over the Blackberry. Kitlinski filed an action with the Merit Systems Protection Board, alleging that the placement of the Blackberry and his wife's interview violated USERRA as discrimination and by creating a hostile work environment. He also alleged retaliation and a hostile work environment in retaliation for his exercise of his USERRA rights. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s dismissal of various claims but remanded in part because the Board did not make a finding on Kitlinski’s claim that DEA had created a hostile work environment in retaliation for his USERRA activities. View "Kitlinski v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Lee began an appointment under the Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security. Before that appointment. Lee had completed almost six years of federal service under a series of term appointments. In 2010, the agency notified Lee that her FCIP appointment would expire on March 15, 2010, and that upon completion of the appointment, the agency would not convert it into a competitive service appointment. She completed her FCIP term and was terminated from federal service. A Merit Systems Protection Board Administrative Judge dismissed her appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The Board and Federal Circuit affirmed. Lee was not subject to an adverse action appealable to the Board; successful completion of her internship and satisfaction of other Office of Personnel Management requirements did not guarantee her the right to further federal employment when her internship expired. View "Lee v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act (VACAA) provisions vesting significant authority in administrative judges violates Appointments Clause. In 2014, Congress investigated reports that senior executives in the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) had manipulated hospital performance metrics by maintaining secret wait lists of veterans who needed care. The resulting VACAA established new rules for the removal of DVA Senior Executive employees, 38 U.S.C. 713. Previously, senior DVA executives could only be removed under the Civil Service Reform Act, 5 U.S.C. 1101, and were entitled to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), to a hearing, and to attorney representation. Section 713 created an accelerated timeline for MSPB appeals and required the MSPB to refer all appeals to an administrative judge (AJ) for decision within 21 days. Helman, the Director of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System, was removed from her position under section 713. An MSPB AJ affirmed. Helman sought review from the full Board. Citing section 713(e)(2), the Board refused to take any further action. The Federal Circuit remanded, holding that, by prohibiting Board review under section 713(e)(2), Congress vested significant authority in an AJ in violation of the Appointments Clause. Section 713(e)(2) and two related sections are severable, leaving the remainder of the statute intact. View "Helman v. Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law