Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court rejecting Plaintiff's appeal of the Montana Human Rights Commission's rejection of his claims grounded in political discrimination, holding that while the district court erred in ruling that Appellant had to pursue his 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim under the exclusive remedy of the Montana Human Rights Act (MHRA), claim preclusion now barred him from relitigating that claim.Plaintiff, the undersheriff of Missoula County, was reassigned to the position of senior deputy when his opponent in an election race won the office of Missoula County Sheriff. Plaintiff brought a human rights complaint alleging, inter alia, retaliation, discrimination, and constructive discharge based on his demotion. The Commission denied the complaint. Thereafter, Plaintiff brought this complaint alleging wrongful discharge, intentional infliction of emotion distress, unlawful political discrimination, and unlawful retaliation. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding that the MHRA was Plaintiff's exclusive remedy. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court improperly dismissed Plaintiff's section 1983 claim; and (2) because the underlying facts in Plaintiff's amended complaint were the same as his human rights complaint, the claims were precluded by the final judgment of the administrative proceedings. View "Clark v. McDermott" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment to Defendant, Plaintiff's former employer, on her wrongful discharge claims brought under the Montana Wrongful Discharge From Employment Act (WDEA), Mont. Code Ann. 39-2-905(1), holding that genuine issues of material fact remained.After Plaintiff was discharged from her employment she brought this action alleging that Defendant discharged her without good cause, as defined by Mont. Code Ann. 39-2-903(5), and in violation of Defendant's own personnel policy. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendant on the wrongful discharge claims on the ground that the damages elements of those claims failed as a matter of law because Plaintiff failed reasonably to mitigate her claimed damages by seeking comparable full-time employment after her discharge. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the causation of damages element of Plaintiff's asserted wrongful discharge claims. View "Timpano v. Central Mont. District Six Human Resources Development Council, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the district court (1) resolving the parties' summary judgment motions, ruling in favor of Defendant, Plaintiff's former employer, in Plaintiff's wrongful discharge lawsuit; and (2) denying Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint in that case to add an age discrimination claim, holding that there was no error.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) did not err in holding that Defendant's failure to exhaust internal grievance procedures precluded his wrongful discharge case as a matter of law; and (2) did not abuse its discretion in finding Defendant's age discrimination claim futile and therefore denying his motion for leave to amend the complaint. View "Hathaway v. Zoot Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim, holding that the district court did not err in granting Defendants' motion to dismiss.Plaintiff was employed with Defendant for seven years until he was terminated for testing positive for THC in a random drug and alcohol urine analysis test. Plaintiff had been prescribed medical marijuana as treatment for his diagnosed PTSD and challenged his termination, alleging wrongful discharge from employment and employment discrimination and seeking a declaratory judgment that Mont. Code Ann. 50-46-320(4)(b) and (5)(b) were unconstitutional as applied to his case. The district court dismissed the claims, concluding that Plaintiff had failed to notify his supervisor that he had been using medical marijuana, as required the company's policy. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the failure to follow Defendants' policy constituted good cause for termination. View "Barthel v. Barretts" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Western Montana Community Health Center (WMMHC) and dismissing Plaintiff's claim brought under the Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA), Mont. Code Ann. 39-2-901 - 915, holding that the district court's grant of summary judgment was not an abuse of discretion.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) WMMHC satisfied its burden to demonstrate that it had legitimate business reasons constituting good cause for terminating Plaintiff as program manager; (2) Plaintiff failed to meet her burden of demonstrating that the reason for the termination was false or arbitrary; and (3) WMMHC met its burden of demonstrating that it did not violate the express provisions of its written personnel policies. View "Buckley v. Western Community Mental Health Center" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying BNSF Railway Company summary judgment and entering final judgment in favor of Robert Dannels, holding that the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) does not preempt an injured railroad employee's state law bad faith claims.Dannels was employed by BNSF when he suffered a disabling back and spine injury. Dannels sued BNSF under FELA to recover damages, and the jury returned a verdict in Dannels' favor. Dannels subsequently filed claims for bad faith and punitive damages against BNSF. The district court entered final judgment against BNSF. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court properly determined that the FELA does not preempt a railroad worker's right to seek redress for all bad faith conduct in the adjustment of a claim. View "Dannels v. BNSF" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's claim brought under the Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA) as time-barred, holding that the district court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of the Department of Corrections (DOC).In granting summary judgment for the DOC, the district court held that since Plaintiff's grievance procedures took longer than 120 days from the date of her termination her claim was untimely. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the limitation period on Plaintiff's WDEA claim was tolled from the time she commenced her grievance until the grievance procedures were exhausted; and (2) excluding the period during which the limitation period was tolled, Plaintiff timely filed her claim within the one-year statute of limitations. View "Shepherd v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the district court upholding a hearing officer's conclusion that Montana State University-North (MSU-N) retaliated against Dr. Randy Bachmeier for reporting and pursuing a claim of sexual harassment against his supervisor, holding that the district court erred in reinstating the hearing officer's first decision as the final agency decision in this matter.The hearing officer's original order concluded that Bachmeier failed to demonstrate that his supervisor sexually harassed him but that MSU-N retaliated against Bachmeier. The HRC rejected the hearing officer's conclusion that Bachmeier was discriminated against, upheld the hearing officer's retaliation conclusion, and remanded the case. The hearing officer issued a second decision concluding that Bachmeier had been sexually harassed. The Montana Human Rights Commission (HRC) then issued a final agency decision reducing the damages award for sexual harassment but leaving untouched the retaliation award. The district court voided the hearing officer's second decision and remanded with instructions to reinstate the hearing officer's first decision as the final agency decision. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the district court (1) abused its discretion by concluding that the HRC did not have the authority to modify the hearing officer's first decision; and (2) correctly upheld the hearing officer's retaliation conclusion. View "Montana State University-Northern v. Bachmeier" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Workers' Compensation Court that Mont. Code Ann. 39-71-703(2) did not violate Appellant's right to equal protection by denying an impairment award to a worker with a Class 1 impairment who has suffered no wage loss, holding that the statute passes rational basis muster under the Equal Protection Clause of the Montana Constitution.Section 39-71-703(2) allows impairment awards for claimants without actual wage loss only if they have a Class 2 or higher impairment rating. Appellant, who was designated as Class 1 and was denied an impairment award, challenged the statute, arguing that it violated her constitutional right to equal protection because other workers with different injuries but the same whole-person impairment percentage would receive the award. The WCC denied the challenge. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the WCC did not err in its determination that section 39-71-703(2) did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. View "Hensley v. Montana State Fund" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Griz One Firefighting, LLC's petition for judicial review of a default order and determination by the Department of Labor and Industry Wage and Hour Division (DLI) and awarding Matthew Sean West $11,241 in back wages, penalties, costs, and attorney fees, holding that the district court did not err.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not clearly err when it concluded that DLI notified Griz One of West's wage claim; (2) Griz One was not entitled to relief on its due process and jurisdictional arguments; (3) the district court was correct in concluding that Mont. R. Evid. 605 does not apply to a DLI compliance specialist; and (4) the district court's award of attorney fees and costs to West was reasonable and based on competent evidence. The Supreme Court remanded the matter to the district court for a determination of West's costs and fees on appeal. View "Griz One Firefighting v. State Department of Labor & Industry" on Justia Law