Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Nebraska Supreme Court
by
The case involves an employee, Marlene Mosher, who filed a petition against her employer, Whole Foods Market, Inc., claiming she suffered an injury from a fall during her employment. Mosher alleged that she sustained injury to her right lower extremity and right ankle and developed low-back pain. She claimed that she had suffered periods of temporary disability, required reasonable and necessary medical care, incurred mileage and expenses, and had not yet reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). Mosher also alleged that Whole Foods had failed or refused to provide those benefits, thus, she was entitled to waiting-time penalties and attorney fees.The Workers’ Compensation Court found that Mosher had not yet reached MMI and was unable to return to work without restrictions. The court awarded Mosher temporary total disability benefits, payment for medical bills, future medical care, a waiting-time penalty, and attorney fees. The court found that Whole Foods had no reasonable controversy that compensation was due, which justified a waiting-time penalty. The court also found no reasonable controversy as to medical expenses.Whole Foods appealed, arguing that there was a reasonable controversy as to whether Mosher had reached MMI and, thus, as to whether its obligations to pay temporary total disability ceased and its obligations to pay permanent disability began. Whole Foods also contested the amount of the attorney fees awarded.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Court. The court held that when there is no reasonable controversy that the employee has been injured in a workplace accident and is entitled to some indemnity benefit, the employer is not excused from timely payments thereof. The court also held that the plain meaning of a “reasonable attorney’s fee” in § 48-125(4)(a) encompasses the work of a legal assistant for the attorney. View "Mosher v. Whole Foods Market" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the lower court's denial of summary judgment, determining that the Lincoln Public Schools (LPS), a political subdivision, retained immunity from an employee's wrongful discharge claim under the discretionary function exemption of the Political Subdivisions Tort Claims Act (PSTCA). The plaintiff, Lynne Simpson, claimed LPS wrongfully terminated her in retaliation for her filing a workers' compensation claim. LPS asserted sovereign immunity and immunity under the PSTCA, arguing that its decision to terminate Simpson's employment was a discretionary act.The Nebraska Supreme Court held that employment and termination decisions generally involve a judgment of the kind that the discretionary function exemption is designed to shield. The court found that LPS's decision to terminate Simpson's employment involved an element of judgment, as LPS had to balance information about Simpson's performance against information about her criminal history and honesty issues. Therefore, the court concluded that LPS was entitled to immunity under the discretionary function exemption and remanded the case with directions to dismiss. The court did not rule on LPS's claim that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to the exclusivity provisions of the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act, as it had already found that LPS was immune from suit. View "Simpson v. Lincoln Public Schools" on Justia Law

by
The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed a decision made by the Commission of Industrial Relations (CIR) that included corrections unit case managers within the protective service bargaining unit (PSBU), represented by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #88 (FOP 88). The case arose from a petition filed by FOP 88 to the CIR to clarify or amend the PSBU to include corrections unit case managers. The State of Nebraska appealed the CIR's decision, arguing that corrections unit case managers were supervisors and, hence, should not be in the same bargaining unit as their subordinates. The court deemed the CIR had erred in giving preclusive effect to its 2018 order, which certified FOP 88 as the bargaining representative for the PSBU. The court held that the issue of whether corrections unit case managers were part of the PSBU was not precluded by the 2018 order. The court remanded the matter back to the CIR to again determine whether the PSBU includes corrections unit case managers based on the existing record, with instructions to provide an explanation forming the basis for its ruling. View "Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #88 v. State" on Justia Law

by
In the case before the Nebraska Supreme Court, Kathryn Wright was employed as a customer service agent for Southwest Airlines Co. (Southwest). In her volunteer role on a workplace social committee, she was found to have not kept adequate records of expenditures and to have spent committee funds for personal purposes. Consequently, Southwest terminated her employment. Wright then applied for unemployment insurance benefits, which were initially granted by the Nebraska Department of Labor (DOL) adjudicator. However, this decision was overturned by the DOL appeal tribunal, disqualifying her from receiving unemployment benefits for the week of the discharge and the 14 weeks thereafter. The district court affirmed this decision and Wright appealed.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision, holding that Wright had committed misconduct connected with her work under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 48-628.10 (Reissue 2021). The court found that Wright's failure to keep a ledger and maintain supporting documentation for all committee expenses was misconduct connected with her work, regardless of the fact that her work on the committee was volunteer and separate from her paid job duties. The court also disagreed with Wright's argument that the committee funds were not Southwest's but her coworkers'. The court reasoned that the funds were contributed to the committee organized, promoted, supported, and regulated by Southwest, which had an interest in ensuring that the funds were spent appropriately. Therefore, Wright's failure to follow the rules harmed Southwest and was misconduct connected with her work. View "Wright v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law

by
In the case involving Sandra Lopez and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Omaha, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case, holding that the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act provides the exclusive remedy for workplace injuries. Lopez, an employee of Catholic Charities, sued her employer alleging assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress following a realistic active shooter drill conducted at her workplace. She claimed physical and mental injuries as a result of the drill. The district court dismissed the suit, asserting that her exclusive remedy was workers’ compensation. On appeal, Lopez argued that she should be able to pursue tort theories of recovery against her employer for injuries suffered if the employer acted with a specific intent to injure the employee. However, the court found that even if an employer acts with a specific intent to injure an employee, the resulting injury is accidental if it is unexpected or unforeseen to the person suffering the injury, and thus compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The court also rejected Lopez's constitutional challenge due to non-compliance with procedural requirements and her public policy argument because it was not grounded on any specific statute or recognized legal authority. View "Lopez v. Catholic Charities" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court dismissed Appellant's appeal of the judgment of the district court affirming the order of the Nebraska Police Standards Advisory Council denying Appellant admission into the basic officer certification training at the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center, holding that the district court lacked jurisdiction, and therefore, so did this Court.Appellant sought judicial review of the decision of the Council upholding the denial by the Director of the Training Center of Appellant's application for entrance into basic training for failure to meet the minimum requirements for admission. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court dismissed Appellant's appeal, holding that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider Appellant's petition because he failed properly to make the Director a party to the proceedings for review. View "Swicord v. Police Standards Advisory Council" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court determining that social media posts directed toward local public figures from a public account of an officer of a local bank did not constitute misconduct in connection with work disqualifying the employee from unemployment benefits, holding that the district court did not err.The posts at issue were not sent from the employee's work, during work hours, or using the employer's equipment and did not contain information obtained in the capacity as an employee, mention the employee's position at the bank, or refer to coworkers or customers. The Department of Labor determined that the employee was disqualified for benefits for the week in which the discharge occurred plus fourteen weeks because he had been discharged for misconduct. The Appeal Tribunal reversed, holding that the employer's social media policy was insufficient to transform the employee's personal social media postings into misconduct connected with his work. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant did not commit misconduct connected with his work, and therefore, the district court properly found that he was not disqualified for unemployment benefits. View "Pinnacle Bancorp v. Moritz" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the compensation court concluding that a claimant who sustains injuries along the same extremity sustains an injury to a single member for workers' compensation purposes, holding that the compensation court's decision was based on an incorrect interpretation of Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-121(3).Claimant injured her right wrist and right elbow upon falling at work. Claimant filed a claim for benefits, asserting that the workers' compensation court should award her permanent disability benefits based on her loss of earning capacity. At issue was section 48-121(3), which provides for discretionary loss of earning capacity where there is a "loss or loss of use of more than one member of parts of more than one member[.]" The compensation court refused to consider an award based on the loss of earning capacity because "an injury to the wrist and the elbow of the same arm is still an injury to a single member and does not entitle an employee to a loss of earning power.” The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the compensation court erred in its interpretation of section 48-121(3). View "Espinoza v. Job Source USA, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant, Millard Public Schools, and dismissing Plaintiff's action brought under the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act (NWPCA), Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-1228, holding that the district court did not err.Defendant underpaid Plaintiff, a public school teacher, for several years. In 2018, the salary error was discovered, and Defendant corrected Plaintiff's salary retroactive to the start of the 2018-19 year. Relying on a provision in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) stating that any errors found in salutary "shall only be corrected retroactive to the beginning of the year in which the error was discovered." Plaintiff brought this suit, alleging that he had an individual statutory right to payment under the NWPCA and that this right could not be waived. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in determining that the compensation sought by Plaintiff was not "wages" as defined under the NWPCA and that the terms of the CBA on which the district court relied were not against public policy. View "Hoagbin v. School District No. 28-0017" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying the petition and application filed by the State of Nebraska, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to vacate an arbitration award resulting from a labor dispute and confirming the award, holding that the district court did not err.On appeal, DHHS argued that the arbitrator exceeded his powers under DHHS' labor contract the Nebraska Association of Public Employees, Local #61 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and that the district court erred in finding that the arbitrator did not exceed his powers. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) whatever insufficiency existed in the findings of fact and conclusions of law, DHHS was instrumental in bringing about that insufficiency; and (2) the district court did not err by finding that the arbitrator did not add to or modify the labor contract and concluding that the arbitrator did not exceed his powers. View "State v. Neb. Ass'n of Public Employees" on Justia Law