Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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The New Hampshire Supreme Court accepted this petition for original jurisdiction filed pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 11 by the New Hampshire Division of State Police (“the Division”) to determine whether the Superior Court erred when, in the course of litigation between Douglas Trottier, formerly a police officer in the Town of Northfield, and the Northfield Police Department (“Northfield PD”), it ordered the Division (a nonparty) to produce a file related to the Division’s pre-employment background investigation of Trottier. The Division argued the trial court erred because it ordered a nonparty to produce discovery without a proper “jurisdictional basis,” such as a subpoena. It also argued the court erred when it concluded that RSA 516:36, II (2007) did not bar discovery of the pre-employment background investigation file. Although the parties never served the Division with a subpoena, the Supreme Court found that the trial court ultimately afforded the Division ample notice and the opportunity to object to disclosure of the file, and, therefore, there was no prejudicial error. Because the Supreme Court also held that RSA 516:36, II did not apply to the pre-employment background investigation file, and, therefore, the file is not shielded from discovery, it affirmed the trial court. View "Petition of New Hampshire Division of State Police" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Laura LeBorgne appealed a New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) decision upholding the denial of her request for reimbursement for massage therapy that she received in New York to treat an injury suffered while working for respondent, Elliot Hospital. She argued the CAB erred in finding that she failed to satisfy her burden to prove that the treatment was reasonable, necessary, and related to her workplace injury, and in applying the requirements of RSA 281-A:23, V(c) (2010) to her case. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined failure to meet the requirements of RSA 281-A:23, V(c) was irrelevant to the determination of whether the treatment received was reasonable, necessary, and related to the workplace injury under RSA 281-A:23, I. Thus, the Court held the CAB improperly determined that petitioner failed to establish that her New York massage therapy treatment was reasonable, necessary, and related to her 2011 injury because the form required by RSA 281-A:23, V(c) had not been submitted. "[A]lthough some of [petitioner's physician's] notes did not contain his recommendation that petitioner continue massage therapy, the CAB explicitly found that [the physician] ordered the continuance of massage therapy and gave substantial weight to his opinion that massage therapy was reasonable and necessary in treating her work-related injury. The CAB could not reasonably have found that the petitioner failed to prove that the massage therapy treatment at issue was reasonable, necessary, and related to her workplace injury because some of [the physician's] notes did not contain the massage recommendation, while also finding, based upon the evidence before it, that [he] ordered the continuance of massage therapy." The CAB was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Appeal of Laura LeBorgne" on Justia Law

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Claimant Elizabeth Doody worked for the Laconia School District as an elementary school speech assistant for over a decade. Her job required her to accompany students from their location to a special services room as well as to supervise a locked side entrance door at the beginning of the school day when students arrive and at the end of the school day when they depart. Of the school’s 300 students, approximately 125 students typically used the side entrance, which consisted of an outside concrete area, an exterior door that accessed a small atrium with a floor mat, and an interior door that accessed the corridor. In winter weather, the outside concrete area was treated with sand and ice melt product. On April 18, 2017, Claimant fell twice while walking down the corridor toward the side entrance, once at approximately 8:30 a.m. and again at approximately 3:00 p.m. Both falls occurred in the same location. The morning fall did not injure Claimant, but the afternoon fall fractured her right arm, which had to be repaired surgically. Claimant was taken out of work by one of her doctors the day after the injury and was released to part-time work with modifications. Because the District was unable to accommodate the restrictions, Claimant remained out of work until school resumed in the fall. Despite the surgery and a subsequent course of physical therapy, Claimant remained unable to lift her right hand over her head and continued to experience pain. Claimant appealed a New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) decision to deny her claim for indemnity benefits and payment of medical bills. The parties disputed whether Claimant’s injury arose out of her employment. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court determined the CAB misapplied the applicable law with respect to on-the-job injuries, and because applying that test required further fact-finding, it vacated the CAB’s decision and remanded for further factual findings and for the correct application of the “increased-risk test” to those facts. View "Appeal of Elizabeth Doody" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Amy Burnap appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to the Somersworth School District (District) on her claim of employment discrimination based upon her sexual orientation. The District hired the plaintiff as the Dean of Students at Somersworth High School for a one-year period beginning in July 2015. It was undisputed plaintiff “is a member of a protected class of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender individuals.” In January 2016, several instances of purported misconduct involving plaintiff came to light, setting in motion a sequence of events that culminated in her termination. She argued to the New Hampshire Supreme Court that the trial court erred because there were disputed material facts that could allow a jury to determine that the District’s stated reason for firing her, sexual harassment, was a pretext for unlawful sexual orientation discrimination because: (1) her colleagues’ alleged discriminatory animus infected the District’s decision to fire her; and (2) a preliminary investigation conducted prior to the District’s decision was a “sham.” The Supreme Court affirmed because there were insufficient facts in the record from which a jury could find, under either argument, that the District fired the plaintiff because of her sexual orientation and used sexual harassment as a pretext. View "Burnap v. Somersworth School District" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Wayne Preve appealed a New Hampshire Department of Labor (DOL) ruling that he failed to prove that respondent Town of Epsom (Town) violated the New Hampshire Whistleblowers’ Protection Act. Petitioner worked for the Town’s Police Department since 1997, and served as the Chief of Police since 2004. In 2017, an incident occurred between an attorney and a Town police officer at the Circuit Court in Concord. Specifically, the attorney made a comment to the officer that insinuated the officer was a “sex offender.” The officer later informed petitioner of the attorney’s comment. Petitioner testified at the DOL hearing that, as a result of this incident, as well as additional alleged incidents between the attorney and the Town’s Police Department, petitioner believed that the attorney posed an “officer safety” issue. Petitioner decided to file a complaint against the attorney: he collected all of the data relating to the attorney in the police department’s computer database, and sent these materials to the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC), rather than the disciplinary body that oversees attorneys, the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC). A copy was also sent to the attorney. The attorney complained to the Town about petitioner’s conduct, threatening to sue the Town as a result of, among other things, petitioner’s disclosure of private information regarding the attorney and his family. The JCC returned the materials to the Town, stating that the JCC was not the correct entity with which to file a complaint regarding an attorney. The Town engaged Municipal Resources Inc. (MRI) to investigate petitioner’s conduct. The Town also instructed petitioner not to re-file the materials with the PCC. MRI issued a report concluding that some of petitioner’s actions were improper and may have violated certain statutes. The Town subsequently disciplined petitioner by suspending him for one week without pay and requiring him to attend training. After appealing this disciplinary action through the Town’s internal procedures, the petitioner filed a complaint with the DOL, arguing that the Town wrongfully retaliated against him for reporting the attorney in violation of the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act. The DOL essentially found that the petitioner had not produced “direct evidence that retaliation played a substantial role” in the Town’s decision to discipline him. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found the record supported the DOL’s conclusion. “As the DOL emphasized, the Town did not immediately discipline the petitioner upon learning that he filed a complaint regarding the attorney with the JCC; rather, the Town engaged a third-party, MRI, to conduct an investigation into the petitioner’s actions before imposing discipline. . . . Thus, we cannot say the DOL erred …in ruling petitioner failed to prove that the Town violated the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act.” View "Appeal of Preve" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Steven Silva appealed a New Hampshire Personnel Appeals Board (PAB) decision that upheld decisions of respondent, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), to suspend and subsequently terminate the petitioner’s employment. Petitioner began working at the New Hampshire Hospital in 1999. He was terminated from employment in 2015 for violating the hospital’s sexual harassment policy. In 2016, the PAB found that the petitioner’s 2015 termination did not comply with New Hampshire Administrative Rules, Per 1002.08(d) because DHHS did not provide the petitioner, prior to termination, with all of the evidence it relied upon to justify his termination, and, consequently, he was not given an opportunity to refute the evidence that led to his dismissal. For that reason, the PAB ordered DHHS to reinstate the petitioner retroactively to the date of his termination and award him back pay and benefits. Following the PAB’s order, DHHS resumed paying the petitioner but simultaneously placed him on suspension so that it could conduct a new investigation into the same sexual harassment allegations that formed the basis for the 2015 termination. In 2017, after completing its investigation, DHHS terminated the petitioner again. The petitioner appealed his suspension as well as his 2017 termination to the PAB, arguing that the PAB’s decision overturning his prior termination prevents DHHS from terminating or suspending him for the same conduct. After a hearing on the merits, the PAB upheld the suspension and subsequent termination. On appeal, petitioner argued the statutory reinstatement requirement in the Administrative Rules precluded DHHS from terminating him a second time for the same conduct which gave rise to his 2015 termination. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found that because the PAB’s decision overturning the 2015 termination was based upon DHHS’s failure to satisfy the requirements of Per 1002.08(d) prior to termination, it was not a final judgment on the merits for res judicata purposes. Therefore Silva's argument failed and the Supreme Court affirmed the PAB's decision. View "Appeal of Steven Silva" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Michelle Clark appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to defendants the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security (DES), Dianne Carpenter, Darrell Gates, Sandra Jamak, Colleen O’Neill, Tara Reardon, and Gloria Timmons, on plaintiff’s claims alleging a violation of the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, and the Public Employee Freedom of Expression Act. She also appealed an order dismissing her claim of wrongful discharge/demotion against DES. As a supervisor, plaintiff was responsible for supervising approximately fifteen employees, including three interns, two of whom were children of two named defendants. Plaintiff became concerned about issues relating to her interns’ hours and responsibilities and their behavior in the workplace. Notwithstanding receiving positive performance evaluations, after voicing concerns, plaintiff became concerned her supervisors altered a review she had prepared for an employee under her supervision because the employee had complained about the interns and Timmons’ management. A second evaluation was negative, and she did not receive a promised promotion. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff received a letter from a DES Human Resources Administrator, informing her that she would be laid off pursuant to a mandatory reduction in force. Prior to her layoff date, plaintiff accepted a demotion to the position of Program Assistant I in lieu of a layoff. Thereafter, plaintiff appealed her demotion to the New Hampshire Personnel Appeals Board (PAB) through a grievance representative from her union. In her appeal, she alleged that she was unlawfully demoted in response to raising concerns about the hours and behavior of the interns. In this case before the New Hampshire Supreme Court, plaintiff alleged she experienced various forms of harassment in retaliation for voicing her concerns while she was supervisor: her car was “egged” in the DES parking lot, her home mailbox was smashed, and she received anonymous phone calls and mail at home and at work. As a result of distress from these incidents, plaintiff went on medical leave from December 2011 to February 2012. In addition to her PAB appeal, plaintiff communicated with other state agencies about the intern issues and the harassment she was experiencing: in May 2012, she filed a complaint with the New Hampshire Executive Branch Ethics Committee against Reardon for failing to address misuse of the hiring system, nepotism, and harassment; in June 2012, she filed a whistleblower complaint with the New Hampshire Department of Labor against DES on similar grounds; and, at some point, she participated in an investigation of DES by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's order relating to plaintiff's ongoing-retaliation claim, and remanded the whistleblower protection claim. Plaintiff’s claim under RSA 98- E:4, I, expressly entitled her to injunctive relief as part of her freedom of expression claim, which was also remanded to the trial court. The Court affirmed as to all other respects of the trial court's order. View "Clark v. New Hampshire Dept. of Employment Security" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Kyle Guillemette challenged a determination by the Administrative Appeals Unit (AAU) of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that the notice requirements set forth in RSA 171-A:8, III (2014) and New Hampshire Administrative Rules, He-M 310.07 did not apply when Monadnock Worksource notified Monadnock Developmental Services of its intent to discontinue providing services to petitioner because that act did not constitute a “termination” of services within the meaning of the applicable rules. Petitioner received developmental disability services funded by the developmental disability Medicaid waiver program. MDS was the “area agency,” which coordinated and developed petitioner’s individual service plan. Worksource provides services to disabled individuals pursuant to a “Master Agreement” with MDS. Worksource began providing day services to the petitioner in August 2012. On March 31, 2017, Worksource notified MDS, in writing, that Worksource was terminating services to petitioner “as of midnight on April 30.” The letter to MDS stated that “[t]he Board of Directors and administration of . . . Worksource feel this action is in the best interest of [the petitioner] and of [Worksource].” Petitioner’s mother, who served as his guardian, was informed by MDS of Worksource’s decision on April 3. The mother asked for reconsideration, but the Board declined, writing that because the mother “repeatedly and recently expressed such deep dissatisfaction with our services to your son, the Board and I feel that you and [petitioner] would be better served by another agency . . . .” Thereafter, petitioner filed a complaint with the Office of Client and Legal Services alleging that his services had been terminated improperly and requesting that they remain in place pending the outcome of the investigation of his complaint. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the AAU’s ruling was not erroneous, it affirmed. View "Petition of Kyle Guillemette" on Justia Law

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Petitioners the New England Police Benevolent Association, Inc. (NEPBA) and the State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire, Inc., SEIU, Local 1984 (SEA), appealed a decision of the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) dismissing their unfair labor practice complaints filed against respondent State of New Hampshire. After several bargaining sessions, the State rejected all wage proposals, explaining that “the Governor was not offering any wage increases . . . given anticipated increases in prescription drug costs in the healthcare market.” As a result, the Teamsters and the NHTA declared an impasse. Although no other unions declared an impasse, the State took the position that all five unions must proceed to impasse mediation. The SEA challenged the State on this position, and subsequently, petitioners each filed complaints with the PELRB. During the pendency of these complaints, the State advised all five unions that it would select a mediator and continued to assert that all of the unions must participate in impasse mediation “because the issues to be resolved affected all bargaining units.” The PELRB consolidated the petitioners’ complaints and found in a 2-1 vote that RSA 273-A:9, I, “requires all five unions to utilize the Union Committee format at the bargaining table and during impasse resolution proceedings until such time as the common terms and condition[s] of employment are settled.” The PELRB, therefore, dismissed the complaints and ordered the petitioners to coordinate with the other unions “to determine the forum in which negotiations will go forward.” Petitioners unsuccessfully moved for rehearing, and this appeal followed. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's dismissal of petitioners' complaints, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the PELRB. View "Appeal of New England Police Benevolent Association, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case arose out of the termination of petitioner James Cole by the New Hampshire Department of Information Technology (DOIT). One of Cole’s initial assignments was overhauling an Account Security Form (ASF). This was intended to be a short-term project. Although some aspects of Cole’s work on this project were satisfactory, his incorrect processing of other aspects of the overhaul resulted in audits being conducted on the forms to ensure accuracy. Cole was also initially assigned a “Wireless Access Point” Project (WAP). This project required communication with customers who were requesting installation of a WAP, and coordination with the persons who were to install the WAPs. However, Cole’s communications were inadequate. This resulted in customers not knowing how to use the WAPs after they were installed, or even that the WAPs had been installed. Cole was given three warnings over the course of his employment. The New Hampshire Personnel Appeals Board (PAB) upheld Cole’s termination. On appeal, Cole argued his termination did not comply with New Hampshire Administrative Rules, Per 1002.08 because he did not receive the three letters in accordance with New Hampshire Administrative Rules, Per 1002.04 for the same or substantially similar conduct or offense. DOIT argued the New Hampshire Supreme Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to decide this case, and, in the alternative, that Cole’s termination complied with Per 1002.08 and Per 1002.04. Finding that it had jurisdiction, the Supreme Court affirmed the PAB’s decision. View "Appeal of James Cole" on Justia Law