Just over a year ago, we examined the propensity of the Sixth Circuit to uphold district courts’ decisions to grant summary judgment for employers in cases tagged as “Labor & Employment” cases. As can be seen in our 2014 review, the Sixth Circuit upheld 60% of summary judgment decisions in favor of the employer. We have recreated the search by collecting Sixth Circuit cases from 2015 that fell under the “Labor and Employment” classification and ended in district court with some level of summary judgment for the employer.
The survey of 2015 cases revealed a sharp increase in the number of summary judgment decisions that were upheld by the Sixth Circuit. In just over 80% of the cases that we uncovered using our search method, the Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for defendant employers. Another 7% of cases were “affirmed in part, reversed in part.” However, there was a complete reversal of the employer’s summary judgment victory in district court in only about 13% of the cases reviewed.
As was the case in our 2014 analysis, this search also allowed us to gain an understanding of which statutes were the most frequently litigated in these employment cases. Most prominently, at least one-third of employment cases from 2015 involved a discrimination claim of some sort; this result was also noted in our 2014 review. Contrary to our 2014 review, where ADA was the most frequently litigated statute by a large margin, our review of 2015 employment cases showed that ADA claims and FMLA claim are raised at virtually the same rate followed very closely by ADEA claims. While the variation among the statutes is not significant, an appreciation for which statutes tend to be used most frequently by plaintiffs is important for a complete understanding of the labor and employment landscape.
Assuming that the affirmance rate for summary judgment in the Sixth Circuit has remained steady at 90%, our finding of an 80% affirmance rate for employer’s summary judgment victories is more in line with the overall rate than last year’s observed rate of 60%. Two important points can be gleaned from this information. First, the increase from 60% affirmance in 2014 to 80% in 2015 demonstrates the difficulty employees face when overcoming a summary judgment ruling in a lower court. The second takeaway is that, despite the increase, the rate at which summary judgment is affirmed is still lower than the overall affirmance rate. This should indicate to employers and their counsel that, despite being awarded summary judgment in district court, the Sixth Circuit is carefully reviewing summary judgment appeals in Labor and Employment cases. As we advised in 2014, employers must be sure that they carefully craft the arguments needed to convince the court that summary judgment was properly awarded.