Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Maine Supreme Court
Daniels v. Narraguagus Bay Health Care Facility
Appellant Timothy Daniels appealed a superior court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants Narraguagus Bay Health Care Facility and North Country Associates, Inc. Appellant contended that the court erred in concluding that Narraguagus and North Country were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on his disability discrimination and retaliation claims made pursuant to Maine's Human Rights Act. Appellant suffered a work-related injury to his right shoulder in 2007 and thereafter was given work restrictions by his physician that prevented him from performing all of the work duties he had previously handled. In 2008, Appellant underwent surgery and then began a leave of absence. A few months later, Appellant notified his employer that he was applying for more leave at her insistence. In that letter, Appellant also reported that he had been cleared for light duty work, accused his supervisor of refusing to accommodate his disability, and asked for light duty work. No work was afforded to Appellant as a result of that letter. Appellant suffered another work-related injury to his right shoulder in 2009, and, although he did not lose any time from work as a result of that injury, he was restricted to modified duty for the next three months. During that period Appellant was disciplined for performance issues. Early in November 2009, when Daniels no longer had any work restrictions, a new Narraguagus administrator gave Appellant a performance improvement plan for failing to complete some tasks at all and failing to complete other tasks on time. In November, 2009, in response to the complaint that he filed in 2008, the Commission issued Appellant a right-to-sue letter pursuant to the Human Rights Act. When state regulators visited Narraguagus to conduct a licensing inspection, they uncovered issues that resulted in fines to the facility. Narraguagus blamed Appellant for the negative inspection and terminated his employment on January 29, 2010. After his termination, Appellant filed a two-count complaint against Narraguagus and North Country. On appeal, Appellant advanced two theories of liability against North Country: (1) that it can be liable because it is part of an integrated enterprise with Narraguagus, and (2) that it acted in Narraguagus’s interest in discriminating against him. Finding multiple issues of disputed facts regarding North Country's involvement in the actions that Appellant claimed constituted discrimination and retaliation, the Supreme Court vacated the grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants, and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Estate of Joyce v. Commercial Welding Co.
Michael Joyce, who was frequently exposed to airborne asbestos while working, died of lung cancer. His last documented exposure to asbestos dust was while working for Commercial Welding. A Workers' Compensation Board hearing officer later awarded the estate of Joyce benefits on a petition for an award of compensation and ordered benefits paid to Mary Joyce, Michael's widow, on a petition for death benefits. Commercial Welding appealed the hearing officer's decision as well as the hearing officer's determinations that (1) it had not cured a previously established violation of the Board's "fourteen-day-rule" because it had not paid interest on the required payment imposed for the violation, and (2) it was not permitted to offset the amount of the death benefits ordered to be paid to Mary by the amount of the payment for the fourteen-day rule violation. The Supreme Court vacated in part and affirmed in part the hearing officer's decision. The Court (1) disagreed with the hearing officer's decision that interest was due on the required payment to the Estate, but (2) agreed that the required payment amount could not be used to offset the death benefits ordered to be paid to Mary.
Kezer v. Cent. Me. Med. Ctr.
Employee filed a complaint against Employer alleging employment discrimination based on numerous factual allegations. After a jury trial, the jury found (1) Employer had taken adverse employment action against Employee in violation of the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA), but (2) Employer had not failed to provide Employee with reasonable accommodations for his hearing impairment or the shoulder injury he received while working for Employer. Employee appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the superior court erred in instructing the jury on the statute of limitations, but the error did not prejudice Employee; (2) the court did not err in declining to give Employee's proposed instruction, as the instruction did not state the law correctly; and (3) the superior court did not abuse its discretion by awarding attorney fees less than the amount Employee requested.
Mitton v. Verizon
Employee suffered a work-related stroke, after which the Workers' Compensation Board awarded Employee 800 weeks of total incapacity benefits for the permanent and total loss of industrial use of one leg and one arm. After paying total incapacity benefits for the 800-week period, Employer filed petitions for review and for determination of offset rights. A Board hearing officer granted Employer's petitions and determined that because Employee had received 800 weeks of permanent incapacity benefits pursuant to the conclusively presumptive time period established in Me. Rev. Stat. 39-A, 212(2)(G), Employer could prospectively take statutory offsets against Employee's benefits pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 39-A, 221. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that although Employee remained totally incapacitated from work, after 800 weeks, Employer was entitled to reduce the total benefit by amounts authorized by Me. Rev. Stat. 39-A, 221.
Downing v. Dep’t of Transp.
Employee suffered a gradual injury while working for Employer. After Employee retired, he underwent spinal fusion surgery. Employee subsequently filed a petition for award. A Workers' Compensation Board hearing officer granted him the protection of the of the Workers' Compensation Act for his gradual injury but awarded no additional incapacity benefits. Employee appealed, arguing, among other things, that the hearing officer erred when determining that Employee did not rebut the retiree presumption in Me. Rev. Stat. 39-A with evidence that he was unable to perform suitable work for a discrete period of time after retirement. The Supreme Court vacated the decision in part, holding that the hearing officer's decision provided an inadequate basis for appellate review. Remanded for further proceedings.
Doughty v. Work Opportunities Unlimited
Employer, an employment agency, hired Employee and assigned him to work at a facility owned by a client company (Client). Employer paid Employee's salary, and Client paid Employer a fee for his services. Employee was injured while working at the Client plant, after which Client ended Employee's assignment at its facility. Employee filed petitions to remedy discrimination against Employer and Client. A workers' compensation board hearing officer denied the petitions to remedy discrimination against Employer and Client. Employee appealed, contending that the hearing officer erred by denying the petition against Client on the ground that Employee was not in an employer-employee relationship with Client. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the hearing officer did not misconceive the legal standard when focusing on whether a contract for hire existed between Employee and Client; (2) the hearing officer did not err in concluding that Employee had a contract for hire only with Employer; and (3) therefore, Employee did not have a right of action for discrimination pursuant to 39-A Me. Rev. Stat. 353 against Client.
Russell v. ExpressJet Airlines
Employee brought an employment discrimination claim against Employer pursuant to the Maine Human Rights Act, alleging that Employer discriminated against him based on his sexual orientation. A jury entered a verdict for Employee and awarded Employee compensatory and punitive damages. Employer appealed, arguing, among other things, that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on liability. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the record contained sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that actions of Employer made it futile for Employee to apply for a promotion, and thus, Employee's failure to apply for the position fell under the futility exception to the rule that an individual must apply for a position before he can claim he was denied that position; (2) the court applied the proper statutory cap to the jury's award; and (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Employer's motion for a new trial or remittitur of damages.
Walsh v. Town of Millinocket
The Town of Millinocket appealed and Mary Walsh cross-appealed from a judgment of the superior court following a jury trial finding that Walsh, the former town recreation director, had engaged in activities protected by the state whistleblowers' protection act and that those protected activities were a substantial motivating cause for the Town's decision to eliminate her position. At issue on appeal was whether discriminatory animus expressed by one member of the town council could be found to be a cause or motivating factor for an adverse employment action or whether the lack of evidence of discriminatory animus by any other member of the town council insulated the Town from liability in Walsh's discrimination action. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment, holding (1) an improper motive or discriminatory animus of one member of a multi-member council may create an actionable claim against the governmental entity if a plaintiff proves, and the jury finds, that the improper motive or discriminatory animus was a motivating factor or a substantial cause for an adverse employment action taken against a plaintiff who has engaged in a protected activity; and (2) evidence in the record supported the jury's verdict in this case.
Davis v. Dionne
Paul Davis was struck and seriously injured by a truck driven by Edwin Rodriguez. Rodriguez was driving while intoxicated soon after he and Davis exited a chartered bus at the conclusion of a business promotion trip. Rodriguez later pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment, aggravated assault, and DUI. Davis filed claims against the business that organized the trip, its employee, the chartered bus company, and its employee (Defendants) for common law negligence. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants. At issue on appeal was whether Defendants owed Davis a common law duty of care. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court, holding (1) the chartered bus company and the employee who drove the bus did not owe Davis a duty to ensure his safety by preventing Rodriguez from driving his truck after the bus trip ended, and (2) the business that organized the trip and its employee did not have a fiduciary duty to Davis because the employee organized and led the excursion.
Miller v. Spinnaker Coating
Peter Miller injured his lower back in 1992, 1995, and 1996 while working for S.D. Warren and in 1999 while working for Spinnaker Coating. A Workers' Compensation Board hearing officer awarded Miller sixty-five percent partial incapacity benefits apportioned equally among the four dates of injury. Later, the hearing officer (1) granted S.D. Warren's petition for review requesting permission to cease payment for the 1992 injury because it had made all payments to which Miller was entitled for that injury; (2) granted Spinnaker's petition to reduce its benefit payment accordingly; and (3) denied Miller's petition for review seeking an increase to total incapacity benefits, determining that Miller had not demonstrated a change in medical or economic circumstances. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the hearing officer did not improperly expand the Court's holding in Cust v. University of Maine to allow for a reduction in benefits when the durational limit has expired on the first of multiple injuries.