Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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Plaintiff Melissa Donovan appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), based upon the court’s finding that no public policy considerations supported plaintiff’s wrongful termination claim. From December 2016 until her resignation in November 2018, she served as Associate Dean of Faculty for Mathematics. In this role, her primary focus was oversight of faculty assignments and support for mathematics courses. In March 2018, faculty reviewed a mathematics course, MAT 136, due to concerns about the course’s design. That review revealed that instructors applied different grading schemes for the course, and that those differences were not being communicated to students. Specifically, some sections of MAT 136 employed a grading scheme that SNHU intended to phase out beginning in September 2018. In July 2018, plaintiff's supervisor emailed plaintiff identifying two students from a semester of MAT 136 who received failing grades, but, given the supervisor's assessment of certain irregularities in grading schemes, “had a case for passing.” Plaintiff refused to modify the students' grades, feeling the changes requests violated the school's grading policy and were unethical. In her claim for wrongful termination, plaintiff alleged she was admonished for declining to alter the grades, and subsequently retaliated against by the creation of a hostile work environment. On appeal of the summary judgment motion, plaintiff argued that the question as to whether public policy concerns supported her wrongful termination claim, which alleged that she was constructively discharged as a result of her refusal to alter the students' grades, should have been resolved by a jury and not the trial court, as a matter of law. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the court did not err because complaints about the application of internal grading decisions by a private university do not implicate public policy considerations necessary to support a wrongful termination claim. View "Donovan v. Southern New Hampshire University" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Javier Vasquez and his employer, Matosantos International Corporation (MIC), appealed a New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) determination that it could not order respondent, The Hartford Insurance Company, to pay workers’ compensation benefits to Vasquez. The CAB concluded that the Department of Labor (DOL), and therefore the CAB, lacked jurisdiction under the New Hampshire Workers’ Compensation Law to interpret the workers’ compensation insurance policy that MIC had purchased from The Hartford. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the CAB did have jurisdiction to consider and resolve the coverage dispute between MIC and The Hartford, it vacated the CAB’s decision and remanded for its consideration, in the first instance, of whether the policy purchased by MIC covered Vasquez when he was injured while working in New Hampshire. View "Appeal of Vasquez" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Daniel Barufaldi, appealed a superior court dismissal of his complaint against defendant the City of Dover. Plaintiff was first hired as the Director of Economic Development for the Dover Business and Industry Development Authority (DBIDA) for a fixed term from March 2009 through February 2012. As a condition of his employment with DBIDA, plaintiff was required to waive participation in the New Hampshire Retirement System (NHRS). After his initial term of employment expired in 2012, plaintiff was reappointed for one-year extensions until 2017. In 2017, the City created a new Director of Economic Development position and appointed plaintiff to the position. Prior to executing a new employment agreement, plaintiff asked the Dover City Manager if he would now be eligible to participate in the NHRS. The Dover City Manager informed plaintiff that he was not eligible for enrollment in the NHRS because his employment contract was for “a fixed time period.” Around March 2020, plaintiff contacted the NHRS to inquire about his eligibility for enrollment. In July 2020, the NHRS notified the City that it was obligated to enroll plaintiff in the NHRS. The City subsequently enrolled plaintiff in the NHRS prospectively. Thereafter, the plaintiff submitted a “request for cost calculation to purchase service credit” because of “employer enrollment oversight.” The NHRS administratively reviewed the request and determined, pursuant to RSA 100-A:3, VI(d)(1), plaintiff was partially at fault for the failure to be enrolled in the NHRS following his appointment in 2017 as Director and, therefore, ineligible to purchase service credit. It also determined that DBIDA was not an NHRS participating employer and that plaintiff’s employment contract with DBIDA waived any right to participate in the NHRS. In a letter dated August 4, 2020, the NHRS notified plaintiff of its determination and informed him that he had 45 days in which to appeal the administrative decision by requesting a hearing before the agency. Plaintiff did not request such a hearing but, instead, filed a complaint in superior court. Plaintiff contended to the New Hampshire Supreme Court appealing dismissal of his case that the trial court erred in concluding that: (1) declaratory judgment was not an available theory of relief; and (2) plaintiff was required to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Barufaldi v. City of Dover" on Justia Law

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Claimant Caitlyn Wittenauer, appealed a New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) decision denying her workers’ compensation benefits. In 2019, Claiming injured her left shoulder lifting boxes at her job with Nike, Inc. An MRI disclosed that her “left shoulder was dislocated, with the ball joint out of place.” She received corrective surgery on December 17, 2019, followed by months of physical therapy treatments. On April 21, 2020, the claimant’s treating physician approved her return to full-time work with restrictions on lifting. She returned to work at Nike in May. The claimant received temporary total disability benefits beginning October 16, 2019, and ending May 4, 2020. On September 3, 2020, the claimant reported to her treating physician that her shoulder was feeling stiff and she was experiencing pain “when she tries to do anything overhead.” He limited her work to five hours a day with no other restrictions. On September 25, the claimant complained of pain in the left side of her neck, and her treating physician took her out of work. On November 19, the physician reported that his examination of the claimant did not demonstrate “any overt shoulder instability” and noted that the shoulder was “really significantly better since surgery and really no evidence of any gross instability.” claimant sought temporary partial disability benefits for the period September 4, 2020 to September 25, 2020, and temporary total disability benefits beginning September 26, 2020. The CAB ruled that the claimant did not meet her burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence “that the medical treatments starting on 9/3/2020 and out of work order by [the treating physician] [was] causally related to the work injury on 8/15/2019.” On appeal, the claimant argues that the CAB erred: (1) by placing a burden upon her to demonstrate another work incident occurring between her return to work in May 2020 and her second onset of disability in September 2020; and (2) in failing to analyze and make findings as to whether her disability in September 2020 was due at least in part to the work injury she suffered in August 2019. The New Hampshire Supreme Court's review of the record supported the CABs determination. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Appeal of Wittenauer" on Justia Law

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Petitioner The Lawson Group, the third-party administrator for the self-insured petitioner, Summit Packaging Systems (the employer), appealed a decision of the New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) that upheld a decision by respondent, the State Special Fund for Second Injuries (Second Injury Fund), to decline to reimburse The Lawson Group for benefits paid to the claimant. The employer hired the claimant in 2005 as a laborer and machine operator. The claimant was injured at work in January 2016, when she tried to catch a 65-pound spool of tubing as it fell. The claimant was out of work following the surgery, but returned in December 2016 in a modified duty capacity. In 2017, the CAB found that the claimant’s “surgery and subsequent treatment were and are related to the work injury” she suffered in January 2016. In August 2018, The Lawson Group applied to the Second Injury Fund for reimbursement. In a February 2019 letter, the Second Injury Fund denied The Lawson Group’s application because The Lawson Group had failed to: (1) establish that the claimant’s surgery constituted a subsequent disability by injury; and (2) demonstrate that the employer knew that the claimant had any permanent impairment before her surgery. Following a March 2020 hearing, the CAB upheld the Second Injury Fund’s denial of reimbursement. After a review of the CAB hearing record, the New Hampshire Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the denial of reimbursement. View "Appeal of The Lawson Group, et al." on Justia Law

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The State of New Hampshire appealed a New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) ruling that the State committed unfair labor practices when the Governor: (1) sent an email to all state employees concerning collective bargaining negotiations involving the State; and (2) refused to send the report of a neutral fact finder to the Executive Council for its consideration. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the State did not commit unfair labor practices, and that the PELRB erred by concluding otherwise. View "Appeal of State of New Hampshire" on Justia Law

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Petitioner John Doe appealed a superior court order dismissing his petition for declaratory and injunctive relief for failure to state a claim under either RSA 105:13-b (2013) or the New Hampshire Constitution. In April 2016, while employed as a patrol officer by a town police department, Doe was investigated by that department for denying that he wrote in permanent marker on a department rain jacket. Although Doe “was led to believe” he would only receive a “verbal counseling” for what he understood to be a misunderstanding, he later found that the investigation resulted in a one-page written report. In April 2017, after leaving the department, Doe was informed by a letter from the County Attorney’s Office that, from a review of his personnel file, his name was being placed on the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule (EES). Doe did not contest his inclusion on the EES at that time, but later, Doe submitted two requests to remove his name from the EES to the Attorney General’s Office (AGO). Both requests were denied for lack of an “order or other determination” overturning the original finding of misconduct. Citing RSA 105:13-b and his right to due process under the Federal Constitution, Doe filed a petition for declaratory relief and a request for preliminary and permanent injunctions against the AGO, seeking review of his personnel file, removal from the EES, and attorney’s fees. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded RSA 105:13-b, II did not authorize the trial court to review the contents of an officer’s personnel file outside the scope of a particular criminal case. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's ruling on Doe's state constitutional due process issue, and remanded for further proceedings without prejudice to Doe amending his petition given a statutory change. View "Doe v. N.H. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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The New Hampshire Division of State Police (the Division) appealed a Personnel Appeals Board (PAB) order reversing the Division’s non-disciplinary removal of an employee pursuant to New Hampshire Administrative Rule, Per 1003.03, and ordering him reinstated subject to certain conditions. The Division argued the PAB: (1) erred by reversing the employee’s removal; and (2) exceeded its statutory authority by ordering the employee’s reinstatement subject to certain conditions. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the Division failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the PAB’s decision to reverse the employee’s removal was clearly unreasonable or unlawful. However, the PAB exceeded its statutory authority by imposing certain conditions upon the employee's reinstatement. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed in part, and reversed in part. View "Appeal of New Hampshire Division of State Police" on Justia Law

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Claimant Elba Hawes appealed a decision of the New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) determining that he was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Claimant was employed as a “ground man” for Asplundh Tree Expert, LLC. In November 2019, claimant and his fellow workers were working at a job site that was approximately 10-15 minutes away from a sandpit in Conway, where they punched in and punched out. On November 1, claimant reported to work for his regular 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. shift, punched in, left his personal vehicle at the sandpit, and traveled with his coworkers to the job site in company trucks. Because of an impending storm, the employer told its workers to stop work at noon, punch out, and go home and rest for the afternoon so they could return to the sandpit at 8:00 p.m. for storm cleanup activities through the night. It was not uncommon for the work schedule to change because of weather. As instructed, claimant left the job site with his coworkers, returned to the sandpit, and punched out at noon. Soon after driving away from the sandpit in his personal vehicle, the claimant was severely injured in a vehicular accident that was not his fault. Because of his accident-related injuries, the claimant was disabled from work from November 1, 2019, through February 9, 2020. The employer’s insurance carrier denied benefits on the ground that claimant’s injuries were not causally related to his employment. At claimant’s request, the matter was heard by a New Hampshire Department of Labor hearing officer, who ruled in the carrier’s favor. Claimant argued his injuries were compensable under the “special errand” exception to the coming and going rule. To this, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concurred: although it was not uncommon for the work schedule to change because of weather, the claimant’s trip home at noon was not part of his regular schedule. The claimant would not have left work at noon but for the employer’s direction to do so. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Appeal of Hawes" on Justia Law

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Petitioner State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire, Inc. SEIU, Local 1984 (SEA), and intervenors New Hampshire Troopers Association, New Hampshire Troopers Association-Command Staff, New Hampshire Probation and Parole Officers Association, and New Hampshire Probation and Parole-Command Staff Association, appealed a Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) order denying petitioner’s request for declaratory relief. They argued the PELRB erred by ruling that the state legislature’s vote accepting a fact-finder’s report and recommendations pursuant to RSA 273-A:12, III (2010) was not binding upon respondent State of New Hampshire. In 2018, the unions and the State began negotiating the terms of a multi-year collective bargaining agreement. After the negotiations reached an impasse, the parties proceeded to impasse resolution procedures and engaged a neutral fact finder to assist them with resolving their disputes. The unions accepted the fact-finder’s report, but the Governor did not. In addition, the Governor declined to submit the report to the Executive Council for its consideration. The parties treated the Governor’s actions as a rejection of the report pursuant to RSA 273-A:12, II; from there the matter was submitted to the legislature. The legislature voted to adopt the fact-finder’s report. The unions took the position that the legislature’s vote was binding upon the State with respect to the cost items set forth in the report. The State took the opposite position, asserting that the legislature’s vote was merely advisory and did not result in a binding agreement between the parties. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the legislature’s vote was advisory and did not bind the State. View "Appeal of New Hampshire Troopers Association et al." on Justia Law