Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

by
An attorney began representing two injured workers after both encountered difficulties representing themselves in their workers’ compensation claims against the same employer. Both claimants then successfully resolved their claims through mediation, with both receiving substantial settlements. The parties were unable to resolve the question of their attorney’s fees, so the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board held hearings on that issue. The Board limited the witnesses at the hearings and ultimately awarded significantly reduced attorney’s fees in both claims. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decisions. Because the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the Commission incorrectly interpreted Alaska case law about attorney’s fees, because the Board denied the claimants the opportunity to present witnesses, and because the amount of attorney’s fees awarded to both claimants was manifestly unreasonable, the Supreme Court reversed in part the Commission’s decisions and remanded for further proceedings. View "Rusch v. Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium" on Justia Law

by
This case arose out of the termination of Ryan and Lanie Berrett (“the Berretts”) from their jobs with Clark County School District No. 161 (the “School District”), and raised issues regarding the “law of the case” doctrine, the Idaho Protection of Public Employees Act (“Whistleblower Act”), and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The Berretts sued the School District, alleging that both of their terminations were in retaliation for Ryan Berrett reporting a building code violation to the School District’s board of trustees (the “board”). The district court granted the School District’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Ryan Berrett did not engage in a protected activity under the Whistleblower Act, and that Idaho’s public policy did not extend to protect Lanie Berrett in a termination in violation of public policy claim. The district court also denied the Berretts’ motion for reconsideration. The Berretts timely appealed. The Idaho Supreme Court concluded after review the law of the case doctrine did not preclude the district court from considering the School District’s motion for summary judgment, however, the Court erred in granting summary judgment on Ryan Berrett’s Whistleblower Act claim; the Court found genuine issues of material fact regarding whether Ryan Berrett engaged in a protected activity and causation. The trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on Lanie Berrett’s termination in violation of public policy claim. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Berrett v. Clark County School District" on Justia Law

by
Sonia Blunt, a teacher in the Tuscaloosa City Schools system ("TCS"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in her favor on the basis of State-agent immunity as to claims asserted against her by Keith Langston, as next friend and father of Joshua Langston and Matthew Langston, minors at the time the action was filed. Marcus Crawford, a student attending one of Blunt’s summer-school classes at TCS, left campus for lunch at a nearby fast food restaurant. Crawford testified it took longer to get his food order than he estimated, and hurried back to campus. Approximately one mile away on a two-lane public road, Crawford attempted to pass a vehicle in front of him by crossing a double-yellow center line and driving in the oncoming lane of traffic. In doing so, Crawford collided with a vehicle driven by Susan Kines Langston, a TCS teacher, in which Matthew Langston and Joshua Langston were passengers. Susan Langston was killed in the accident, and Matthew and Joshua were seriously injured and eventually had to be life-flighted to Children's Hospital in Birmingham. Crawford was charged, tried, and convicted of reckless manslaughter for his actions in causing Susan Langston's death. He was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison. Thereafter Keith Langston filed suit against Blunt and Patsy Lowry (another TCS teacher). Langston asserted claims of negligence and wantonness against Blunt and Lowry for failing to follow the "policies and procedures" of TCS, which failure allegedly proximately caused the injuries sustained by Matthew and Joshua Langston. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Langston failed to demonstrate the existence of a detailed rule binding upon Blunt that would establish that she acted beyond her authority in supervising students when she allowed Crawford to leave the school campus at the time and in the manner he did. Therefore, Blunt was entitled to State-agent immunity from Langston's claims of negligence and wantonness pertaining to her alleged violation of a TCS policy or procedure. View "Ex parte Sonia Blunt." on Justia Law

by
After plaintiff filed suit against her employer for violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime provisions, the employer made an offer of judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68(a) and plaintiff accepted. Before the judgment was entered, the district court sua sponte ordered the parties to submit the settlement agreement to the court for a fairness review and judicial approval, which the district court believed was required under the Second Circuit's decision in Cheeks v. Freeport Pancake House, Inc., 796 F.3d 199 (2d Cir. 2015). The court held, however, that judicial approval was not required of Rule 68(a) offers of judgment settling FLSA claims. The court considered amici's other arguments and found them to be without merit. Accordingly, the court reversed and vacated the district court's order, remanding with instructions. View "Mei Xing Yu v. Hasaki Restaurant, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Second Court clarified that, to establish a prima facie pay discrimination claim under Title VII, a plaintiff need not first establish an Equal Pay Act violation—that is, that she performed equal work but received unequal pay. Rather, all Title VII requires a plaintiff to prove is that her employer discriminated against her with respect to her compensation because of her sex. The court adopted the framework applicable to Sarbanes‐Oxley Act of 2002 whistleblower retaliation claims to Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act whistleblower retaliation claims. In this case, plaintiff filed suit alleging that defendants paid her less than they would have if she were a man, retaliated against her when she raised concerns about her disparate pay and possible Consumer Product Safety Act violations, and fired her because she was pregnant. The district court held that plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case for each of her claims. The court held that there was sufficient evidence to support a prima facie case for plaintiff's Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Title VII claims, but insufficient evidence to support her Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act whistleblower retaliation claim. Accordingly, the court vacated in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Lenzi v. Systemax, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's dismissal of Plaintiff's action against the University of Arkansas, the Trustees of the University of Arkansas, and several individuals, both in their individual and official capacities, holding that the circuit court properly dismissed Plaintiff's claims. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the circuit court (1) did not err by requiring Plaintiff to pay for counsel of the representatives of a class of students implicated in his 2015 Arkansas Freedom of Information Act data request; (2) did not err by dismissing Plaintiff's claims for monetary relief against the official-capacity defendants based on sovereign immunity; (3) did not err by dismissing individual-capacity claims against two individuals; (4) did not err in finding that Plaintiff's individual capacity claims under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act failed to state claims for which relief could be granted; and (5) properly dismissed Plaintiff's tortious interference with a contract claim and civil conspiracy claim. Finally, the Court held that the University did not waive its sovereign immunity on a claim under the Arkansas Whistle-Blower Act. View "Steinbuch v. University of Arkansas" on Justia Law

by
Elizabeth Imbragulio appealed a Superior Court decision that reversed the decision of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (“the Board”) and concluded that she had been terminated for just cause by her employer, Civic Health Services, LLC (“Civic Health”). The Board cross-appealed, arguing that the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction to consider Civic Health’s appeal in the first instance because it was not filed in a timely manner. The issue raised by the cross-appeal was whether Superior Court Civil Rule 6(a)’s method for computing time applied to the requirement in 19 Del. C. section 3323(a) that a party seeking judicial review of a decision by the Board must do so within ten days after the decision becomes final. After careful consideration, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the Board that it did not, and therefore concluded that the Superior Court did not have jurisdiction over Civic Health’s appeal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court directed the Superior Court to vacate its judgment. View "Imbragulio v. UIAB" on Justia Law

by
Stephen Powell appealed a Delaware Industrial Accident Board ("IAB") decision to deny his petition for workers' compensation benefits. Powell alleged he sufered a work injury in 2016 while employed by OTAC, Inc. d/b/a Hardee’s (“Hardees”). The IAB held a hearing regarding Powell’s petition in 2018. The IAB heard testimony by deposition from a doctor on Powell’s behalf and from a doctor on Hardees’ behalf. It also heard live testimony from a Hardees General Manager and from Powell himself. After the hearing, the IAB denied Powell’s petition, ruling that he had failed to establish that he injured his rotator cuff while working at Hardees. The IAB concluded that the testimony and evidence was “insufficient to support a finding that Claimant’s injuries were causally related to his work for [Hardees].” Specifically, the IAB noted that both Powell’s “inability to report a specific day of injury” as well as his “failure to seek medical treatment immediately” after the alleged incident detracted from his credibility. Further, it found that although “both medical experts agreed that [Powell’s] treatment was reasonable for his rotator cuff tear, there was insufficient evidence that the rotator cuff tear occurred as the result of the alleged work accident." Powell argued on appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court: (1) the Board erred as a matter of law in denying his petition, and he claims that he did present sufficient evidence to demonstrate that his injuries occurred while working at Hardees; and (2) the Superior Court erred in affirming the IAB’s decision and that it exceeded the scope of review by making findings of fact unsupported by the record. After review of the IAB and Superior Court record, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "Powell v. OTAC, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Sergeant Mueller took a leave of absence from the Joliet Police Department to report for active duty in the Illinois National Guard Counterdrug Task Force. The Department placed him on unpaid leave, Mueller resigned from his National Guard position and sued the city and his supervisors for employment discrimination, citing the Uniformed Service Members Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which prohibits discrimination against those in “service in a uniformed service.” The district court dismissed, finding that National Guard counterdrug duty was authorized under Illinois law and not covered by USERRA. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that “service in the uniformed services” explicitly covers full-time National Guard duty, including counterdrug activities, 38 U.S.C. 4303(13). USERRA does not limit protection to those in “Federal service” like the Army or Navy but to those in “service in a uniformed service,” which explicitly includes Title 32 full-time National Guard duty. The Posse Comitatus Act likewise only bars the Army and Air Force from domestic law enforcement, but does not apply to Title 32 National Guard duty, 18 U.S.C. 1385. View "Mueller v. City of Joliet" on Justia Law

by
McCord injured his back while serving in the Army and was discharged with a 20% disability rating. Because his rating was below 30% and he served for less than 20 years, McCord received severance pay instead of ongoing military retirement pay and received monthly VA benefits. The Army Board for Correction of Military Records later corrected his record to reflect a 30% disability rating and entitlement to medical retirement pay, rather than severance pay. McCord later challenged the government’s calculation of his entitlement to military retirement back pay and its claimed right to recover the severance pay and requested damages for medical expenses that he incurred because he was not afforded TRICARE coverage before the correction. The Claims Court rejected McCord’s approach to back pay calculation as “double-dipping,” denied relief regarding the recoupment of severance pay “as not ripe,” and held that McCord failed to exhaust administrative procedures for securing TRICARE benefits. The Federal Circuit affirmed except as to the out-of-pocket medical expenses. The court cited 10 U.S.C. 1201, 1203, 1212(d)(a), and 2774, as defining entitlement to retirement pay or severance pay, VA benefits, and the circumstances for recoupment of severance pay. A veteran receiving VA benefits may face a disadvantage if he also secures an award of military retirement pay because he would not be entitled to severance pay but military retirement pay includes TRICARE coverage. View "McCord v. United States" on Justia Law