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Summary Judgment Vacated in Skycap's Workplace Retaliation Suit

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on December 16, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Did you know that you don't have to tip skycap employees? Tips are appreciated, but not required -- though to make sure our bags are in the same place as we are, and at the same time, we always tip.

What does this have to do with the First Circuit? It may be a factor in a retaliation suit.

Factual Background

One skycap, Joseph Travers, sued Flight Services under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") for failing to pay a minimum wage. He led the charge, and persuaded other skycaps to sue as well, creating a putative class.

In September 2010, while Travers' motion to certify an opt-in class was pending, Flight Services received a complaint from a customer that Travers had solicited a tip. Less than a month later, Travers was fired on grounds of tip solicitation. He filed a new suit, alleging retaliation, in 2011. Flight Services argued that he was fired for violation of company policy, and Travers argued that he was fired in retaliation for initiating the FLSA suit.

After discovery, Flight Services filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted. On appeal, the First Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Flight Services, and remanded for further proceedings.

Retaliatory Intent?

Here, the court had to determine whether a jury could find that Travers was fired in retaliation "without relying on improbable inferences or unsupported speculation," and it found that it could. Reviewing the evidence, the First Circuit held there were genuine issues of fact that should be left for triers of fact to determine.

Cautionary Note

Because this case turned on whether issues of fact existed, it is limited to the facts of this case. In fact, the court offered an "important note of caution": The First Circuit made clear that it was not saying that there was enough evidence to support Travers' claims, but only that the evidence is not clear and must be examined.

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