Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court
Bird v. Pruett’s Food, Inc.
Plaintiff Steven Bird, an independent contractor hired to install a new checkout lane at Defendant Pruett's Food store, was injured after falling off a ladder Defendant had supplied to aid Plaintiff in completing the work. Plaintiff initiated a negligence action, seeking damages from his injuries and lost wages. Plaintiff presented his case at trial, after which Defendant demurred to Plaintiff's evidence. The trial court sustained the demurrer. Plaintiff appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that Plaintiff failed to establish that Defendant owed him a duty of care. View "Bird v. Pruett's Food, Inc." on Justia Law
Schlumberger Technology Corp. v. Travelers Indemnity Co. of America
Erasmo Paredes sustained an on-the-job injury in late 2019. He continued working for his employer, Schlumberger Technology Corp., until January 30, 2020. His employer's insurance carrier, Travelers Indemnity Company of America, provided voluntary medical treatment to Paredes from January 3, 2020, through February 14, 2020. Paredes's CC-Form 3 Claim for Compensation was filed on December 3, 2020, alleging an injury date of December 29, 2019. This claim was filed ten months after Paredes's last medical treatment, but within one year from the date of his injury. Travelers's counsel entered an appearance in the Workers' Compensation case on December 22, 2020. On February 18, 2021, the affidavit of Travelers's claims handler was filed with attachments indicating Travelers provided medical treatment to Paredes in the total amount of $1,371.47. No disability benefits were paid. On the same date, counsel for Travelers filed the CC-Form 10 Answer and Notice of Contested Issues on behalf of Schlumberger raising the defense of statute of limitations pursuant to Section 69(A)(1) of Title 85 A. 1 Schlumberger also denied compensable injuries, alleged pre-existing conditions pursuant to 85A O.S. Supp. 2019, § 2(9)(b)(6), and denied benefits. An ALJ issued an order that was filed on May 13, 2021, concluding that Paredes's claim was not barred by Section 69(A)(1). Schlumberger appealed to the Workers' Compensation Commission ("Commission"), and the parties filed written arguments. Oral argument before the Commission was held on January 14, 2022. The Commission, sitting en banc, affirmed the Decision of the ALJ by order filed January 18, 2022. Schlumberger appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court seeking review of the Commission's interpretation of 85A O.S. Supp. 2019, § 69(A)(1). Finding no error in the Commission's interpretation, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Schlumberger Technology Corp. v. Travelers Indemnity Co. of America" on Justia Law
Kpiele-Poda v. Patterson-UTI Energy, et al.
In 2018, Mwande Serge Kpiele-Poda ("Employee") was injured at a wellsite while repairing a conveyor that activated and crushed his legs. While Employee's Workers' Compensation claim was still pending, he filed a petition asserting negligence and products liability against his employers, two wellsite operators, and the manufacturers and distributors of the conveyor. Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. was named in the body of the petition but omitted from the caption. After the statute of limitations period expired, Employee amended his petition to add Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. as a defendant in the petition's caption. A second amended petition added other parties. Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. moved to dismiss arguing the claim was time-barred because the amended petition did not relate back to the first petition. Employee's employers also moved to dismiss arguing the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act and Oklahoma precedent precluded employees from simultaneously maintaining an action before the Workers' Compensation Commission and in the district court. The district court granted each dismissal motion and certified each order as appealable. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained and consolidated Employee's separate appeals, holding: (1) the district court erred when it dismissed Employee's action against Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. as time-barred; and (2) the district court properly dismissed Employee's intentional tort action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Kpiele-Poda v. Patterson-UTI Energy, et al." on Justia Law
Patel v. Tulsa Pain Consultants
Plaintiff-appellant Jayen Patel, M.D. brought a tort claim for wrongful termination against defendant-appellee Tulsa Pain Consultants, Inc. (TPC). The trial court found Patel was not an at-will employee and entered a directed verdict in favor of TPC. Patel appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. TPC moved for appeal-related attorney fees, which the Court of Civil Appeals denied. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether TPC had a contractual right to recover attorney fees as the prevailing party in Patel's wrongful termination claim. After review, the Supreme Court found that the specific language in the parties' employment agreement authorized attorney fees in this case. View "Patel v. Tulsa Pain Consultants" on Justia Law
Harwood v. Ardagh Group
An automobile driven by defendant Patrick McLaughlan, struck plaintiff Jerry Harwood while Harwood was leaving his work shift and crossing the street to an employer provided parking lot. After an unsuccessful attempt to recover workers compensation benefits for his injuries, Harwood filed a lawsuit against the driver and his employer. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit against the employer for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Harwood appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that because an employer may have assumed the duty to provide a safer crosswalk for access to an employer designated parking lot, the employee pled a claim for relief which is legally possible. The trial court's dismissal was premature. View "Harwood v. Ardagh Group" on Justia Law
Booth v. Home Depot, U.S.A.
Appellant Jeffrey Booth, then an installation service manager for Appellee Home Depot, U.S.A., noticed at a job site that a customer was being charged for window wraps that were not needed. Booth phoned and emailed his supervisor about the perceived overcharge. The next day, Appellee began an investigation of Booth for an email he sent ten days earlier critiquing a colleague's work performance. After a one-day investigation of the allegation in the email, and two days after the overcharge report, Appellant Booth was terminated. Booth sued Home Depot in Oklahoma state court claiming wrongful termination under Burk v. K-Mart Corp., 770 P.2d 24 (1989), alleging his job performance was good and that the email investigation was only a pretext for the real reason for termination -- his reporting of the overcharging of customers to his supervisor. Home Depot removed the Oklahoma County case to the federal district court under diversity jurisdiction. In his amended federal complaint, Booth claimed that the overcharging of customers violated the Oklahoma Home Repair Fraud Act and/or the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act. Home Depot did not dispute that, if overcharging occurred, it would violate those acts. Home Depot argued that the violation of the statutes did not articulate a clear mandate of Oklahoma public policy sufficient to support a Burk tort. The federal district court agreed with Home Depot that the statutes did not articulate a clear public policy and dismissed the petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Booth then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which then certified a question about the statutes to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Supreme Court responded: the OHRFA and the OCPA protect specific individual consumers against fraud with criminal and civil remedies for those individual victims. "The Court will not expand our public policy exceptions to include protection from economic harm. Without a clear mandate from the Legislature, the Acts do not qualify as an established public policy." View "Booth v. Home Depot, U.S.A." on Justia Law
Ho v. Tulsa Spine & Specialty Hospital
Appellant Kristi Ho, a nurse, sued her employer, appellee Tulsa Spine & Specialty Hosptial, L.L.C., alleging that the Hospital fired her because she would not come to work. She refused to go to work because of concern for her health and safety. She alleged the Hospital violated the Governor's directive to discontinue elective surgeries for a short time during a COVID-19 pandemic, and it did so without providing her proper personal protective equipment. The Hospital filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the nurse was an employee-at-will, and that she failed to state a claim for wrongful discharge under Oklahoma law. The trial court agreed, and dismissed the lawsuit. The nurse appealed, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court retained the case to address a matter of first impression: whether the Governor's temporary emergency COVID orders expressed public policy necessary to apply an exception to at-will employment which would support an action for wrongful discharge. After review, the Court held that because the Legislature expressly granted the Governor authority to issue temporary emergency orders, and the orders expressed the established public policy of curtailing an infectious disease, the exception to at-will employment as articulated by Burk v. K-Mart Corp., 770 P.2d 24 and its progeny, was applicable from March 24, 2020, until April 30, 2020. View "Ho v. Tulsa Spine & Specialty Hospital" on Justia Law
Johnson v. Midwest City Del City Public Schools
In 2017, Appellant Darlene Johnson, a school cafeteria worker for the Midwest City Del City Public Schools, fell in the school parking lot sustaining injuries. Immediately prior to this fall, Johnson had walked off the employer's facility onto an adjacent city street to take an authorized work break to smoke a cigarette. It is undisputed that (1) no injury occurred to Johnson while she was outside of the employer's facility premises, (2) Johnson was "clocked in" when she fell in the parking lot, and (3) her supervisor authorized her work break. It is further undisputed that the location where Johnson smoked her cigarette complied with the employer/school policy with regard to tobacco products. Appellant’s employer denied her claims for workers’ compensation, arguing Johnson was not in the course and scope of employment because her injuries did not occur "inside the employer's facility" within the meaning of 85A O.S.Supp.2013, section 2(13)(d). The administrative law judge awarded benefits to Johnson, finding that her accidental personal injuries occurred inside the employer's facility and arose in the course and scope of employment as defined by Section 2(13)(d). The Workers' Compensation Commission reversed this decision finding the administrative law judge misapplied the law and determined that Johnson was not in the course and scope of employment at the time of her injuries because the parking lot was not "inside the employer's facility." The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the Commission. After its review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court vacated the Court of Civil Appeals’ opinion, holding that the decision of the administrative law judge was neither against the clear weight of the evidence nor contrary to law and further that the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commission was in excess of statutory authority or jurisdiction and affected by other errors of law. View "Johnson v. Midwest City Del City Public Schools" on Justia Law
Harrison v. Oklahoma Police Pension & Retirement System
Appellant, police officer Randy Harrison, joined the Del City Police Department in 1995. He joined the Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System. Both he and his employer made the statutorily required contributions to this plan until he resigned from the police force in 2014. At the time he left employment he had almost nineteen years of service. On January 28, 2014 he notified the pension system of his resignation and he applied to receive a full pension benefit, claiming he had the required twenty years of credited service. On February 5, 2014, Harrison was convicted of manslaughter for the on-duty shooting and killing of a suspect who tried to shoot him. In a July 2014 letter to Harrison, his request for a full service pension was denied on the basis that he had less than twenty (20) years of credited service at the time his employment ended. In December, 2014, Harrison filed an application and requested to receive a "vested benefit" instead of the return of his accumulated contributions. This application was denied by OPPRS finding that officer's "retirement benefits were forfeited in accordance with the provisions of 11 O.S. section 1-110." Following the filing of a Petition for Judicial Review of a Final Agency Determination, the district court affirmed the order of the OPPRS. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed, finding that as a matter of law, Harrison had a retirement benefit that was vested within the meaning of section 1-110(A) and 11 O.S. section 50.111.1, which was not subject to forfeiture. View "Harrison v. Oklahoma Police Pension & Retirement System" on Justia Law
Whipple v. Phillips & Sons Trucking
Petitioner Sharla Whipple's twenty-three year old, unmarried son lost his life in a work related accident. Under the Workers Compensation Act, only a spouse, child, or legal guardian could file a Workers Compensation death benefit claim when a work related death occurs. Whipple's son had no spouse, child or legal guardian. Consequently, Whipple's only remedy was to file a wrongful death action. However, the trial court granted partial summary judgment against Whipple, determining that her only remedy was limited to the Workers Compensation system, rather than the district court. Whipple appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the right of a parent as the next of kin to bring a wrongful death action when the decedent was an adult, unmarried, and childless, was established in the law pursuant to 12 O.S. 2011 section1053 and by art. 23 section 7 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Therefore, the Legislative attempt to limit recovery for wrongful death pursuant to 85A O.S. Supp. 2014 section 47 to a spouse, child or legal guardian dependent on the decedent was a nullity. "The Okla. Const ... prohibits the abrogation of the right to recover for injuries resulting in death. The Legislature may limit the recovery, but may not eliminate the right to recover." View "Whipple v. Phillips & Sons Trucking" on Justia Law