Wyatt Employment Law Report


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Sixth Circuit Reversed in Union Benefits Health Case: Supreme Court Rules Against Retired Workers

By Amanda Warford Edge

On Monday, in M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett, No. 13-1010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that ambiguous provisions in union contracts should not be automatically interpreted in favor of a company’s retired workers. The case concerned a union contract from the 1990s that provided free health care benefits to the retirees of a chemical plant in Apple Grove, West Virginia who received pensions. In 2000, M&G bought the plant, and in 2006, it sought to make its retirees contribute to the health care costs. The retirees sued, alleging that they had been promised free benefits for life. The contract, of course, did not directly state whether the parties intended lifetime investiture.

Medical Records & StethoscopeThe district court found for M&G—but according to the Sixth Circuit, the retirees’ benefits had, in fact, vested for life. The Sixth Circuit relied on a long line of precedent, dating back to 1983, in support of this holding. Essentially, this precedent presumed the existence of lifetime benefits, even when the contracts at issue did not specify them. In Tackett, the Sixth Circuit expanded upon this presumption, holding that Continue reading


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Supreme Court Holds that Employer-Required Security Screenings Are Not Compensable Time in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, 574 U.S. ___ (2014).

On December 9, 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously held that warehouse employees were not entitled to be compensated for time spent at the end of their shifts in security screenings. The Court held that the post-shift screening activity was not compensable because it was not “integral and indispensable” to the principal activities the employees were hired to perform.

employee_staff_punch_clock_medThe employer, Integrity Staffing, provides warehouse  employee staffing to Amazon.com in various locations throughout the U.S. The Plaintiffs were hired to locate products in a warehouse and prepare them to be shipped. Id. at 1-2. Integrity Staffing required that its warehouse workers undergo security screenings at the end of their shifts to protect against employee theft. These screenings involved employees removing items like wallets, keys and belts, and passing through metal detectors. This process sometimes took up to 25 minutes. Id. at 2.

The Plaintiff/employees argued that they were entitled to be paid under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for time spent waiting in line to undergo security screenings. They argued that the security screenings were solely for Continue reading


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HHS Issues Guidance Regarding Same-Sex Marriages and HIPAA

By Margaret Y. Levi

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) has issued guidance concerning how the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision recognizing same-sex marriages may affect certain provisions relating to “family members” in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) Privacy Rule.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule recognizes that spouses, dependents and other family members often need access to information about patients in order to participate in their care as well as have privacy rights of their own regarding genetic information. The definition of family member under the HIPAA Privacy Rule includes the terms “spouse” and “marriage” but does not further define those terms.

In United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court held as unconstitutional the section of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) that excludes a same-sex partner from the definition of “spouse.” In light of the Windsor ruling, OCR advises health care providers and insurance companies (and business associates, as applicable) that the term “family member” in the HIPAA Privacy Rule will include same-sex spouses who are lawfully married, whether or not the state in which they live or get services recognizes same-sex marriages, as well as their dependents. OCR points out that this affects two standards under HIPAA:

  • Standard: Uses and disclosures for involvement in the individual’s care and notification purposes. Under certain circumstances, covered entities are permitted to share an individual’s protected health information with a family member of the individual. Legally married same-sex spouses, regardless of where they live, are family members for the purposes of applying this provision. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.510(b).
  • Standard: Use and disclosure of genetic information for underwriting purposes. This provision prohibits health plans, other than issuers of long-term care policies, from using or disclosing genetic information for underwriting purposes. For example, such plans may not use information regarding the genetic tests of a family member of the individual, or the manifestation of a disease or disorder in a family member of the individual, in making underwriting decisions about the individual. This includes the genetic tests of a same-sex spouse of the individual, or the manifestation of a disease or disorder in the same-sex spouse of the individual. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.502(a)(5)(i).

OCR has announced it will also issue additional guidance or regulations to address same-sex spouses as personal representatives under the HIPAA Privacy Rule.


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NLRB Ratifies Actions of Prior Board Found in Noel Canning to Lack a Quorum Due to Improper Recess Appointments

By Edwin S. Hopson

On August 4, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board announced that on July 18, 2014, it had “unanimously ratified all administrative, personnel, and procurement matters taken by the Board from January 4, 2012 to August 5, 2013.” This action was in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in NLRB v. Noel Canning holding that the Members recess-appointed on January 4, 2012 by President Obama were not validly appointed. The current Board was without question validly appointed on August 5, 2013, at which time a quorum was regained.

From January 4, 2012 to August 5, 2013, the NLRB took formal action on numerous matters including the appointment of some Regional Directors and Administrative Law Judges. In addition, there were agency restructurings of regional and headquarters offices. At the time these actions were taken, some parties appearing before the Board took exception to actions taken by some of these persons who they claimed were invalidly appointed. In an effort to eliminate those claims and challenges, the NLRB has taken this action.

In addition, the NLRB expressly authorized the following actions:

■ The selection of Dennis Walsh as Regional Director for Region 4 (Philadelphia);

■ The selection of Margaret Diaz as Regional Director for Region 12 (Tampa);

■ The selection of Mori Rubin as Regional Director for Region 31 (Los Angeles);

■ The selection of Kenneth Chu, Christine Dibble, Melissa Olivero, Susan Flynn, and Donna Dawson as Administrative Law Judges;

■ The restructuring of various Field Offices;

■ The restructuring of Headquarters’ Offices.

On July 30, 2014, the NLRB announced that following the Board’s July 18, 2014 authorization, Regional Directors Walsh, Diaz, and Rubin ratified all actions taken by them or on their behalf from the dates of their initial appointments and July 18, 2014. These ratifications also included all personnel and administrative decisions, all actions in representation case matters, and all actions in unfair labor practice cases taken by these Regional Directors.

Whether this action by the Board and the several Regional Directors will be effective to eliminate pending challenges remains to be seen.

The July 18, 2014 Minute of Board Action can be viewed here.

http://www.nlrb.gov/sites/default/files/attachments/basic-page/node-3302/7-18-14.pdf

 

 

 

 


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President Nominates Sharon Block to be a Member of the NLRB

By Edwin S. Hopson

On July 14, 2014, the White House announced that President Obama was sending to the Senate the nomination of Democrat Sharon Block, currently working as an attorney at the U.S. Department of Labor, to be a Member of the National Labor Relations Board for the term of five years expiring December 16, 2019, replacing Democrat Nancy Jean Schiffer whose term expires in mid-December, 2014.

Block was previously recess-appointed to the NLRB by the President in January 2012. Block and two other recess appointees (including Richard Griffin) were found to have been invalidly appointed in the Noel Canning v. NLRB case by the Supreme Court last month.

In mid 2013, the President nominated new members to the NLRB who were confirmed, and Block and Griffin resigned from the Board. Griffin was later nominated and confirmed as General Counsel of the Board.

This action may forestall a deadlock on the Board should the Republicans win control of the Senate in November 2014, since, if Schiffer is not replaced, that would leave a 2 – 2 split at the Board of Republicans and Democrats.  Without a majority, the Democrats would be unable to decide important issues in cases or issue new regulations impacting labor-managment relations based on a pro-union agenda.


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Supreme Court in Noel Canning Invalidates NLRB Recess Appointments

By Edwin S. Hopson

On June 26, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court in NLRB v. Noel Canning et al., 573 U.S. ___ (2014), held in a unanimous decision that President Obama’s purported recess appointment of three members (Richard Griffin, Sharon Block and Terence Flynn) to the National Labor Relations Board in January 2012 was invalid. The opinion written by Justice Breyer was joined in by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan. Justice Scalia wrote a concurring opinion in which Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Thomas and Alito joined.

Some of Justice Breyer’s key points in his analysis were:

“Accordingly, we conclude that when the Senate declares that it is in session and possesses the capacity, under its own rules, to conduct business, it is in session for purposes of the [recess appointment] Clause.

“Applying this standard, we find that the pro forma sessions were sessions for purposes of the Clause. First, the Senate said it was in session. The Journal of the Senate and the Congressional Record indicate that the Senate convened for a series of twice-weekly “sessions” from December 20 through January 20. 2011 S. J. 923– 924; 158 Cong. Rec. S1–S11. (The Journal of the Senate for 2012 has not yet been published.) And these reports of the Senate “must be assumed to speak the truth.” Ballin, supra, at 4.

“Second, the Senate’s rules make clear that during its pro forma sessions, despite its resolution that it would conduct no business, the Senate retained the power to conduct business.

“Senate has enacted legislation during pro forma sessions even when it has said that no business will be transacted. Indeed, the Senate passed a bill by unanimous consent during the second pro forma session after its December 17 adjournment. 2011 S. J. 924. And that bill quickly became law. Pub. L. 112–78, 125 Stat. 1280.

“We thus hold that the Constitution empowers the President to fill any existing vacancy during any recess—intra-session or inter-session—of sufficient length.”

The justices split only over the question of whether the vacancy to be filled had to itself have occurred during the recess or whether it could have occurred prior to the recess. The majority held that the vacancy could occur prior to the recess, based on historical practice.

Justice Scalia, in his concurring opinion, argued that the vacancy to be filled by a recess appointment by the President had to occur during the recess and relied upon the following language contained in the Constitutional provision at issue:

“The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.”

Thus this more restrictive view did not carry the day. However, the NLRB is now left with scores of cases which will have to decided again by the newly constituted Board, which was confirmed by the Senate.


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Supreme Court Hears Arguments in NLRB Recess Appointments Case

By Edwin S. Hopson

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in NLRB v. Noel Canning earlier this week.  This case, involved the recess appointment of three members to the National Labor Relations Board in early January 2102 by President Obama. The several issues to be resolved, as specified by the High Court are:

“1. Whether the President’s recess-appointment power may be exercised during a recess that occurs within a session of the Senate, or is instead limited to recesses that occur between enumerated sessions of the Senate.”

“2. Whether the President’s recess-appointment power may be exercised to fill vacancies that exist during a recess, or is instead limited to vacancies that first arose during that recess.”

The Court also stated:  “In addition to the questions presented by the Petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following question:  whether the President’s recess appointment power may be exercised when the Senate is convening every three days in pro forma sessions.”

According to various news reports, many of the Justices appeared skeptical of the government’s position during oral argument.

It may be several months before the Court issues its decision.