Enduring Tedium: The Future of Fights Over Electronically Stored Information

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By Sean F. Herrmann

“Seeking justice often involves enduring tedium.” It’s fitting that North Carolina’s first substantive legal decision on eDiscovery begins with this pithy observation. Employment litigators often lament the virtual hellscape of discovering electronically stored information (“ESI”). But the era when paper was king is long dead, and the fight is now firmly in the cyber world of custodians, native formats, and keyword searches.

For those in federal court, at least rules and precedent exist to help guide them through the dark ESI forest (especially those that find themselves before Chief Judge Frank Whitney in the Western District of North Carolina). North Carolina state court practitioners haven’t been so lucky. That is until this week. On Aug. 6, 2019, the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued its first substantive decision on ESI in Crosmun v. Trustees of Fayetteville Technical Cmty. Coll. (No. COA18-1054). Judge Lucy Inman, who authored the opinion, put it well: “This appeal presents this Court with our first opportunity to address the contours of eDiscovery within the context of North Carolina common and statutory law regarding the attorney-client privilege and work-product doctrine.” The Court ultimately reversed the trial court’s order granting Plaintiffs’ forensic expert direct access to Defendants’ ESI, but the way the Court got there and its recommendations on remand are far more important than the holding itself.

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Court Decision Highlights Importance of ADA ‘Interactive Process’

By Zachary Anstett

In an order filed July 18, U.S. District Court Judge Louise Flanagan of the Eastern District of North Carolina refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act for failure to make reasonable accommodations. Judge Flanagan’s decision in Murphy v. County of New Hanover illustrates how important it is for employers to engage in the “interactive process” under the ADA and to continue with that process even if the first attempt at accommodation is unsuccessful.


According to his lawsuit, Mr. Murphy was hired as a social worker in the foster care unit at the New Hanover County Department of Social Services in 2016, with the primary function of reunifying families. Mr. Murphy had Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, which made it difficult for him to focus, concentrate, communicate, and work with others. Mr. Murphy alleged that he had no problem performing his “reunification” duties but that his ADHD made it difficult for him to complete his required paperwork unless he was in a setting without distractions.

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Appellate Case Roundup

By Joe Murray

The appellate courts have been busy this summer. Unfortunately, none of the opinions are very enjoyable to read—unless you love technical opinions on ERISA, SOX, and the MSPB.

Pense v. MD Dep’t of Public Safety, No. 18-1554 (4th Cir. June 11, 2019) (11th Amendment): Just a reminder when bringing claims under state law against a state in federal court: a state can only waive its 11th Amendment immunity “by the most express language or by such overwhelming implication from the [statutory] text.” Pense’s claims alleging sexual orientation discrimination under Maryland’s FEPA are dismissed.

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. v. US Department of Labor, No. 17-1811 (4th Cir. June 13, 2019) (SOX): The 4th Circuit makes it clear to DOL that SOX whistleblower protection is limited to six specific areas and is not a catchall retaliation provision. The 4th Circuit reversed the DOL’s judgment,[1] finding that an employee arbitration policy is not shareholder fraud and, even if it could be shareholder fraud, there was no objective reason to believe this particular arbitration clause constituted a violation of SOX.

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Keep Out: NLRB Allows Further Restrictions of Union Access to Employers’ Property

By George J. “Jerry” Oliver

In a June 14, 2019, decision, the National Labor Relations Board clarified whether an employer may limit non-employee union organizers from entering the employer’s private property. UPMC and SEIU, 368 NLRB No. 2. In doing so, the NLRB overruled a precedent held for nearly four decades that allowed non-employee union organizers to enter public spaces on an employer’s private property to convene with employees during union organizing activity. Employers may now prohibit non-employee union representatives’ access to the employer’s private property, including public spaces.

In February 2013, two non-employee union representatives met with a group of hospital employees in the cafeteria of the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital (“hospital”) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to discuss union organizational campaign matters and distribute union-related materials. The hospital permitted only patients, their families and visitors, and employees to use the cafeteria. Hospital security received two complaints about the presence of the un-permitted non-employee union representatives and following hospital protocol, security asked the union representatives to leave the hospital. When the union representatives refused to leave, hospital security requested the assistance of the police to escort the union representatives from the hospital. The union representatives subsequently filed charges alleging unfair labor practices against the hospital, arguing their presence for the purpose of solicitation and promotional activities is permitted in the hospital cafeteria, as the cafeteria is a public space.

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Book Review: The Life and Times Of a Union Organizer At a Tennessee Textile Mill

By Jonathan Harkavy

The Jackson Project
By Phil Cohen
The University of Tennessee Press, 2016

Phil Cohen’s memoir of his days as a union organizer at a troubled southern textile mill is a worthwhile read for any audience. The book’s subtitle, “War in the American Workplace,” is a pithy summary of the author’s main point about unionization in our country. Mr. Cohen traces a tortuous and (spoiler alert) ultimately unsuccessful battle to save the jobs and preserve the dignity of hundreds of mill workers in Jackson, Tennessee. On a deeper level, the book portrays Mr. Cohen’s own struggle to juggle his many roles as a relentless proponent of workplace justice, a trusted confidant of the workers he represents, an effective adversary of mill owners and management, a faithful employee of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, and – not incidentally at all – a loving father to his pre-school daughter.

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Appellate Update

By Joe Murray

It’s our semi-regular roundup of appellate decisions, with two non-appellate highlights at the end.

McCaffery v. Chapman, No. 17-2198 (4th Cir. April 9, 2019) (1st Amendment): Why does anyone want to be a sheriff’s deputy? It seems to have all the negatives of being a government employee with even fewer benefits. McCaffrey supported Sheriff Chapman’s political opponent during an election campaign. After Sheriff Chapman won, he did not reappoint McCaffrey as a deputy sheriff. McCaffrey sued, alleging that Sheriff Chapman’s failure to reappoint him violated his First Amendment rights to freedom of political association and speech. The 4th Circuit upheld the dismissal of McCaffrey’s political association claim based on the Elrod-Branti doctrine, which allows public officials to terminate public employees who meet certain criteria for supporting a political opponent. The court easily dismissed McCaffery’s Pickering-Connick retaliation (political speech) claim since once the Elrod-Branti doctrine applied “the Pickering balance generally tips in favor of the government because of its overriding interest in ensuring an elected official’s ability to implement his policies through his subordinates.”

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Nothing To Croak About: Westmoreland v. TWC

By Sean F. Herrmann

Judge Niemeyer’s fiery dissent in Westmoreland v. TWC Admin. LLC, No. 18-1600 (4th Cir. May 22, 2019) has people talking more than the typical employment discrimination case. In it, Judge Niemeyer proclaims:

Congress would croak to learn that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., would entitle an employee to recover in the circumstances of this case. I too croak, in harmony.

So what’s all the fuss about? When boiled down, this decision isn’t groundbreaking. It doesn’t create any new law and should be relatively uncontroversial.

The Circuit upheld a jury verdict for Glenda Westmoreland in her ADEA lawsuit against Time Warner Cable. Westmoreland easily established her prima facie case. First, at the time of Westmoreland’s termination, she was 61-years-old and in a protected class under the ADEA. Second, she was qualified for her job and meeting her employer’s legitimate expectations. During her three decades with the company, she had only two infractions before the event that allegedly led to her termination. Third, TWC fired her and, thus, there was an adverse employment action. Finally, TWC replaced her with a 37-year-old employee.

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NLRB General Counsel Says Uber Drivers Aren’t ‘Employees’ For Labor Law Purposes

By Robin Shea

Last week, the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board publicly released an Advice Memorandum saying that Uber drivers are not “employees” with protections under the National Labor Relations Act.

The memorandum, issued on April 16, indicates possibly tougher times for all workers in the gig economy.

The General Counsel concluded that Uber drivers operating under the arrangements in place during most of 2015 and part of 2016 were independent contractors, not employees, which means that they had no rights under the NLRA.

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Collaborative Training In Asheville June 19-20

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The NCBA has offered six basic training courses in Collaborative Law Practice in the past, and is offering the next one June 19-20  in Asheville. Click here to view the brochure with all the details and to register.

Collaborative Practice Training
Wednesday-Thursday, June 19-20, 2019
Renaissance Asheville Hotel

This 14-hour training is for any lawyer who wishes to add the collaborative approach to their practice, whether they are family lawyers or other civil lawyers, including those practicing in the areas of construction, employment, small business, probate, as well as general litigation. Because collaborative law is practiced entirely out of court, it is not necessary to have training or experience as a litigator to become a collaborative lawyer.

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How Not to Terminate an Employee

By Joe Murray

I don’t know if Waste Connections, Inc. (WCI) discriminated against Jimmy Haynes when it terminated him in October 2015, but I do know that it did just about everything wrong from an HR standpoint. Because Haynes had to use the McDonnell-Douglas framework to prove his case, those mistakes allowed the 4th Circuit to reverse an award of summary judgment in favor of WCI. Haynes v. Waste Connections, Inc., No. 17-2431 (4th Cir. April 23, 2019).[1] Ultimately, the 4th Circuit found that Haynes proffered sufficient evidence to identify a comparator employee, that he was performing at a satisfactory level, and that WCI’s reason for termination was pretext.

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