Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries
Alaska, Department of Health and Social Services v. Thomas et al.
An Alaska State Commission for Human Rights (State) employee with preexisting medical conditions was involved in a work-related motor vehicle accident in January 2017. The employee consulted with Dr. Teresa Bormann two days after the accident; Dr. Bormann referred the employee to chiropractic treatment. After several month of treatment, Dr. Bormann referred the employee to physical therapy at United Physical Therapy (UPT) for chronic neck pain and headache. After an evaluation UPT recommended eight weeks of twice weekly physical therapy. Dr. Bormann endorsed the treatment plan, and the employee’s symptoms improved enough that she reduced her physical therapy visits to once a week beginning in mid-January. She saw UPT three times in February 2018. Payment for these February visits became the main dispute before the Board. The State arranged an employer’s medical evaluation (EME) with a neurologist and an orthopedist. The EME doctors diagnosed the employee with a cervical strain caused by the accident as well as several conditions they considered preexisting or unrelated to the work injury. After the State filed a retroactive controversion of medical treatment, the employee’s healthcare provider filed a workers’ compensation claim seeking payment for services it provided before the controversion was filed. The State disputed its liability for payment, and after several prehearing conferences, the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board set a hearing on the merits of the provider’s claim. The Board ordered the State to pay the provider approximately $510.00 for the services. The State appealed, disputing several procedural aspects of the decision, and the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the Commission’s decision. View "Alaska, Department of Health and Social Services v. Thomas et al." on Justia Law
Communications Workers of America v. National Labor Relations Board
T-Mobile's call centers employ customer service representatives (CSRs). Since 2009, the union, CWA, has attempted to organize T-Mobile CSRs but has not filed a representation petition. In 2015, T-Mobile launched T-Voice to “Enhance Customers and Frontline experience by identifying, discussing, and communicating solutions for roadblocks for internal and external customers. Provide a vehicle for Frontline feedback and create a closed-loop communication with T-Mobile Sr. Leadership,” with T-Voice representatives at each call center. T-Mobile emailed all CSRs: You can raise issues by reaching out to your T-Voice representatives. Prospective T-Voice representatives were told that they would be “responsible for gathering pain points from your peers.”CWA alleged that T-Voice was a labor organization under the National Labor Relations Act (Section 2(5)), T-Mobile supported T-Voice (Section 8(a)(2)), and its operation of T-Voice constituted solicitation of grievances during an ongoing organizing campaign and an implied promise to remedy those grievances (Section 8(a)(1)). The Board concluded that T-Voice did not “deal with” T-Mobile as required for it to be a “labor organization” and its operation did not violate Section 8(a)(2); given the duration of CWA’s organizing campaign, there was no inference that T-Voice would tend to erode employee support for union organizing.The D.C. Circuit upheld the Board’s finding that the creation of T-Voice was not aimed at interfering with union organizing but remanded with respect to whether T-Voice constitutes a labor organization. The Board has two lines of precedent: one holding an organization is not engaged in “dealing with” an employer unless the organization makes “group proposals,” the other has no such requirement. The Board needs to identify what standard it has adopted for separating “group proposals” from proposals of employee representatives. View "Communications Workers of America v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law
Rubio v. CIA Wheel Group
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment entered against defendants after a bench trial in a wrongful termination action brought by a former employee. The employee alleged, inter alia, that CWG terminated her in violation of public policy because she had cancer.The court concluded that the $500,000 punitive damages award is not constitutionally excessive. In this case, the trial court properly considered harm to the employee beyond her economic damages; there are no comparable civil penalty provisions; defendants' conduct was reprehensible; and the punitive damages award is constitutionally permissible given the reprehensibility of defendants' conduct and the emotional harm to plaintiff. The court also concluded that defendants have not shown that the punitive damages are excessive under California law. The court further concluded that defendants have forfeited their claim that the trial court erred in considering Holdings's financial condition in assessing punitive damages. Finally, defendants have forfeited their claims based on Civil Code section 3294. View "Rubio v. CIA Wheel Group" on Justia Law
City of Laramie v. Hanft
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff on his complaint seeking reinstatement of his employment and damages for his wrongful termination and the City of Laramie's failure to reinstate him, holding that the circuit court properly granted summary judgment but erred in denying Plaintiff's motion for costs on the ground that Plaintiff did not include the request in his complaint.The City discharged Plaintiff from his employment as a shift commander in the fire department. The City's Fire Department Civil Service Commission denied its consent to the discharge, and the Supreme Court gave effect to that order. The City did not reinstate Plaintiff, however, and he brought this action seeking reinstatement and damages. The district court ruled that Plaintiff was entitled to reinstatement and awarded him damages of approximately $280,000. The court denied Plaintiff's post-trial motion for attorney fees, costs, and pre-judgment and post-judgment interest. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the district court did not err in entering summary judgment for Plaintiff and in denying attorney fees and prejudgment interest; (2) the court did not err when it failed to specify post-judgment interest; and (3) the court erred in denying Plaintiff's request for costs. View "City of Laramie v. Hanft" on Justia Law
Zoller v. GCA Advisors, LLC
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendants' motion to compel arbitration of plaintiff's statutory employment discrimination and civil rights claims. Plaintiff, a former corporate attorney who became an investment banker with defendants, entered into an agreement that set her compensation and benefits, as well as provided that all disputes arising from her employment would be resolved through binding arbitration. Plaintiff also signed a second document that specified the arbitration procedures.The panel concluded that employment disputes are encompassed by the arbitration provisions, and plaintiff knowingly waived her right to a judicial forum. The panel applied Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp., 500 U.S. 20 (1991), where the Supreme Court has held that, while not all statutory claims may be appropriate for arbitration, if a party agreed to arbitration, the party will be held to that agreement unless the party could prove a congressional intent to preclude a waiver of judicial remedies for the statutory rights at issue. In this case, plaintiff carries the burden to show such an intention. The panel extended Gilmer to Title VII claims and held that there must be at least a knowing agreement to arbitrate employment disputes before an employee may be deemed to have waived judicial remedies.The panel assumed, without deciding, that the knowing waiver requirement remains good law and is applicable to these statutes despite the district court's failure to utilize the proper analysis to establish that the standard applies to these statutory claims. Instead, the panel held that this appeal is resolved on the arbitration agreement's clear language encompassing employment disputes and evidence that plaintiff knowingly waived her right to a judicial forum to resolve her statutory claims. The panel remanded to the district court with the direction that all claims be sent to arbitration and the case be dismissed without prejudice. View "Zoller v. GCA Advisors, LLC" on Justia Law
Thomas v. CalPortland Co.
The Ninth Circuit granted a petition for review of the Commission's decision concluding that petitioner failed to prove a prima facie case of discrimination under Section 105(c) of the Mine Safety and Health Act. Petitioner, a dredge operator, claimed that his former employer, CalPortland, discriminated against him for engaging in protected activities related to safety issues.The panel concluded that Section 105(c)'s unambiguous text requires a miner asserting a discrimination claim under Section 105(c) to prove but-for causation. Therefore, the panel rejected the Pasula-Robinette framework and concluded that the Commission applied this wrong causation standard. The panel explained that the Supreme Court has instructed multiple times that the word "because" in a statutory cause of action requires a but-for causation analysis unless the text or context indicates otherwise. Section 105(c) contains no such indication. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Thomas v. CalPortland Co." on Justia Law
The American Bottling Co. v. National Labor Relations Board
The DC Circuit denied the Company's petition for review of the Board's decision affirming the Regional Director's determination that the Company had failed to demonstrate that elimination of the position was both definite and imminent. In this case, after the Company planned to eliminate one of the jobs at its plant, the Company first planned to make the transition in the Spring of 2018. However, that did not work out. Then the Company told its employees that it planned to eliminate the classification around Super Bowl weekend in 2019, but it did not. Then the Company told them that it would definitely eliminate the classification on April 1, 2019, but it did not.The court concluded that, given the Company's track record, the Board reasonably concluded that termination of the position on July 21st was anything but certain. The court explained that the Board's decision to order an election in a unit containing representatives was supported by substantial evidence as the Company failed to show that contraction of the proposed bargaining unit was definite and imminent. The court also concluded that the Board correctly denied the Company's objections to the election process itself. View "The American Bottling Co. v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law
Gill v. Waltz
In December 2015, Joseph Gill was injured in an on-the-job car accident when he was struck by a truck owned by Swift Transportation Company, LLC (“Swift”), driven by Christopher Waltz. As a result of the injuries he suffered in the accident, Gill obtained workers’ compensation benefits through Pinnacol Assurance (“Pinnacol”) to cover his medical expenses. Gill’s medical providers produced bills totaling $627,809.76 for the services he received. However, because Colorado’s workers’ compensation scheme caps the amount that medical providers can charge, Pinnacol satisfied all of Gill’s past medical expenses for significantly less. Pinnacol then pursued, and ultimately settled, its subrogation claim with Swift. Gill and his wife subsequently sued Swift and Waltz for damages resulting from the accident, and the case was removed from state court to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. Swift sought partial summary judgment , relying on case law which, in applying Colorado’s workers’ compensation law, concluded that an injured employee lacked standing to pursue damages for services that were covered by workers’ compensation after the insurer had settled its subrogated claims with the third-party tortfeasor. While the federal district court was considering Swift’s motion, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Scholle v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 2019 COA 81M, in which a divided court disagreed with the case law. Instead, it determined that a plaintiff-employee could seek damages for medical services covered by workers’ compensation insurance if the billed amounts were higher than the paid amounts, even after the insurer had settled its subrogation claim. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, finding that a settlement between a workers’ compensation insurer and a third-party tortfeasor for all past medical expenses paid as a result of an on-the-job injury extinguished the plaintiff-employee’s claim to recover damages for those past medical expenses from the third-party tortfeasor. "As a result, while Joseph Gill may still pursue his claims for noneconomic damages and any economic damages not covered by his workers’ compensation insurer, he no longer has any claim to recover economic damages based on services paid for by workers’ compensation. There is consequently no reason to present evidence of either the amounts billed or the amounts paid for those services, and the collateral source rule is not implicated in this case." View "Gill v. Waltz" on Justia Law
Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. Scholle
William Scholle worked for United Airlines, Inc., driving luggage tugs from the terminal to waiting planes, loading or unloading the bags, and returning to the terminal. In June 2012, Scholle was stopped at a stop sign on a return trip to the terminal when he was rear-ended by Daniel Moody, an employee of Delta Air Lines, Inc. Scholle applied for and received workers’ compensation insurance benefits from United, a self-insured employer. United covered all medical expenses resulting from Scholle’s on-the-job injuries, as well as a portion of his lost wages. Scholle’s medical providers produced bills for the services he received that reflected costs in excess of what is permitted by the workers’ compensation fee schedule, though they never tried to collect amounts beyond those permitted by statute. United exercised its subrogation right and sued Delta and Moody to recover the payments it made to and on behalf of Scholle. Scholle separately sued Delta and Moody for negligence, seeking to recover compensation for damages as a result of the collision. Eventually, Delta settled United’s subrogation claim; Scholle’s claims against Moody were later dismissed, leaving only Scholle and Delta as parties. Delta admitted liability for the accident, and the case went to trial on damages. In pretrial motions in limine, Scholle argued that the collateral source rule should preclude Delta from admitting evidence of the amount paid by Scholle’s workers’ compensation insurance to cover the medical expenses arising from his injuries. Instead, Scholle contended, the higher amounts billed by his medical providers reflected the true reasonable value of the medical services provided to him and should have been admissible at trial. The trial court disagreed, reasoning that when Delta settled with United, it effectively paid Scholle’s medical expenses, such that amounts paid for those expenses were no longer payments by a collateral source. The court further noted that, under the workers’ compensation statute, any amount billed for medical treatment in excess of the statutory fee schedule was “unlawful,” “void,” and “unenforceable.” The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that when, as here, a workers’ compensation insurer settles its subrogation claim for reimbursement of medical expenses with a third-party tortfeasor, the injured employee’s claim for past medical expenses is extinguished completely. "Because the injured employee need not present evidence of either billed or paid medical expenses in the absence of a viable claim for such expenses, the collateral source rule is not implicated under these circumstances. The court of appeals therefore erred in remanding for a new trial on medical expenses based on a perceived misapplication of that rule." View "Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. Scholle" on Justia Law
Hadsall v. Sunbelt Rentals, Inc.
The Regional Director of the NLRB sought a temporary injunction under 29 U.S.C. 160(j), pending the Board’s resolution of unfair labor practices charges against Sunbelt. The ALJ in the Board proceeding subsequently issued its recommendation, concluding that Sunbelt had violated sections 8(a)(1), (3), and (5) of the Act. Before the district court, the Director submitted that Sunbelt had violated, and continued to violate those sections by interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of their rights under the Act; discriminatorily eliminating the bargaining unit and failing and refusing to bargain collectively and in good faith. The district court granted an injunction, ordering Sunbelt to cease certain unfair labor practices.While Sunbelt’s appeal was pending, the Board issued its decision and order. The Director then moved to dismiss this appeal of the injunction as moot. Sunbelt submitted that the appeal was not moot because the Board had severed and retained one issue for further consideration. The Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal and directed the district court to vacate its judgment. The Board’s resolution of the unfair labor practices charges moots the appeal, regardless of the fact that the Board severed one issue and retained it for further consideration. The severed issue was not one presented to the district court in the Director’s petition for an injunction. The temporary relief authorized by the statute is no longer available. View "Hadsall v. Sunbelt Rentals, Inc." on Justia Law