Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
Bundy v. NuStar GP LLC, et al.
At issue in this case was whether the Oregon legislature intended to create an exception to ORS 656.018, the so-called “exclusive remedy” provision of the Workers’ Compensation Law, for injured workers whose claims have been deemed noncompensable on “major contributing cause” grounds. While employed by defendant Shore Terminals, LLC as a terminal operator, plaintiff Danny Bundy was assigned to stay and monitor the air quality from malfunctioning machinery without being given safety equipment, and he was exposed to dangerous levels of diesel, gasoline and ethanol fumes. After that incident, defendant initially accepted a workers’ compensation claim for "non-disabling exposure to gasoline vapors." Later, plaintiff asked defendant to accept and pay compensation for additional conditions arising out of the same incident, including "somatization disorder" and "undifferentiated somatoform disorder." Defendant specified that it was treating each of plaintiff’s subsequent requests as a "consequential condition claim" and was denying those claims on the basis that plaintiff’s work exposure was not the major contributing cause of the subsequent conditions. Plaintiff challenged those denials through the workers’ compensation system, but he was unable to establish that the work incident was the major contributing cause of his somatoform disorders. The Workers’ Compensation Board ultimately issued a final order determining that the disorders were not compensable conditions because plaintiff failed to establish that his work-related incident was the major contributing cause. Plaintiff acknowledged that the Workers’ Compensation Law generally immunized covered employers against civil liability for injuries arising out of a worker’s employment. Plaintiff argued, however, that his case fell within a statutory exception to that rule and that the trial court and Court of Appeals, both of which ruled in defendant’s favor on that legal question, erred in concluding otherwise. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that plaintiff’s statutory argument failed, and that the trial court and Court of Appeals therefore did not err. View "Bundy v. NuStar GP LLC, et al." on Justia Law
SAIF v. Coria
Claimant Hipolito Coria sought review of the Court of Appeals’ decision reversing a penalty that the Workers’ Compensation Board imposed on respondent SAIF for unreasonable claims processing. The board imposed the penalty pursuant to ORS 656.262(11)(a), which provides, in part, that, if an “insurer . . . unreasonably refuses to pay compensation,” the insurer “shall be liable for an additional amount up to 25 percent of the amounts then due,” plus penalty-related attorney fees. On review, the parties disagreed about the board’s reason for imposing the penalty. They also disagreed about many of the procedural and substantive legal requirements for imposing penalties pursuant to ORS 656.262(11)(a). The Oregon Supreme Court concluded the board’s imposition of the penalty was not supported by substantial reason because the board’s order failed to “articulate a rational connection between the facts and the legal conclusions it draws from them.” Consequently, the Court reversed and remanded the case to the board to explain its reasoning; necessarily, the Court did not reach the parties’ arguments about the legal requirements for imposing penalties pursuant to ORS 656.262(11)(a). View "SAIF v. Coria" on Justia Law
Buero v. Amazon.com Services, Inc.
Plaintiff Lindsay Buero brought a class action against defendants Amazon.Com Services, Inc. and Amazon.com, Inc. in Oregon state court, alleging, among other things, that defendants had violated Oregon’s wage laws by failing to pay employees for time spent in mandatory security screenings at the end of their work shifts. Defendants removed the case to federal court and moved for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that the time spent in the security screenings was not compensable. In support of that argument, defendants cited Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, (574 US 27), a case involving a similar claim against defendants, in which the United States Supreme Court held that, under federal law, time spent in the security screenings at issue in that case was not compensable. The district court agreed with defendants, noting the similarities between Oregon administrative rules enacted by the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) and federal law. Plaintiff appealed to the Ninth Circuit and filed a motion asking that court to certify a question to the Oregon Supreme Court on whether time spent in security screenings is compensable under Oregon law. The Ninth Circuit granted the motion. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded Oregon law aligned with federal law regarding what activities were compensable. Therefore, under Oregon law, as under federal law, time that employees spend on the employer’s premises waiting for and undergoing mandatory security screenings before or after their work shifts is compensable only if the screenings are either: (1) an integral and indispensable part of the employees’ principal activities or (2) compensable as a matter of contract, custom, or practice. View "Buero v. Amazon.com Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Gist v. Zoan Management, Inc.
After plaintiff filed this class-action complaint against defendants, defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration. The trial court granted the motion. Plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Oregon Supreme Court granted review of the matter, finding that plaintiff and defendants executed a contract—the “Driver Services Agreement” (DSA)—for plaintiff to provide delivery services for defendants. The DSA stated that drivers are independent contractors. The DSA includes a section on dispute resolution. That section provides that any party “may propose mediation as appropriate” as a means for resolving a dispute arising out of or relating to the DSA. It then provided that, if the parties did not pursue mediation or mediation failed, “any dispute, claim or controversy” arising out of or relating to the DSA—including disputes about “the existence, scope, or validity” of the DSA itself—would be resolved through binding arbitration conducted by a panel of three arbitrators. The DSA also included a savings clause, which allowed for the severance of any invalid or unenforceable term or provision of the DSA. On review, plaintiff argued, inter alia, that the arbitration agreement within the DSA was unconscionable because it required him to arbitrate his wage and hour claims but prohibited the arbitrators from granting him relief on those claims. Plaintiff based his argument on a provision of the arbitration agreement that stated that the arbitrators could not “alter, amend or modify” the terms and conditions of the DSA. The Court of Appeals agreed with defendant’s reading of the DSA, as did the Supreme Court: read in the context of the DSA as a whole, the provision that the arbitrators may not “alter, amend or modify” the terms and conditions of the DSA “is not plausibly read as a restriction on their authority to determine what terms are enforceable or what law is controlling.” View "Gist v. Zoan Management, Inc." on Justia Law
Robinette v. SAIF
This case centered on the loss of use or function of claimant’s right knee, specifically, reduced range of motion and decreased stability in that knee, that was determined to be entirely related to causes other than claimant’s compensable workplace injury. In addition, claimant had loss of use or function of that same knee, surgical value and chronic condition loss, that was related to the workplace injury. In claimant’s view, she was entitled to the full measure of impairment for all new findings of loss: the reduced range of motion, the decreased stability, the surgical value, and the chronic condition. On judicial review, the Court of Appeals agreed with claimant, holding that “claimant’s impairment ‘as a whole’ included her whole-person impairment, of which the work injury is a material contributing cause, as well as her impairment due to loss of range of motion and stability.” SAIF disagreed and sought review from the Oregon Supreme Court, arguing that findings of loss due entirely to causes other than the compensable injury did not satisfy the statutory definition of “impairment” and, accordingly, should be excluded from an injured worker’s permanent partial disability award. The Supreme Court agreed with SAIF: claimant was not entitled to compensation for the reduced range of motion and decreased stability findings of loss. Accordingly, the decision of the Court of Appeals was reversed and the order of the Workers’ Compensation Board affirmed. View "Robinette v. SAIF" on Justia Law
Johnson v. SAIF
This case involved the definition of the term "impairment" in the context of Oregon's workers' compensation statutory scheme, and whether claimant Marisela Johnson’s loss of grip strength (that was determined to be caused in material part by an accepted, compensable condition and, in part, by a denied condition. Claimant contended that ORS 656.214 entitled an injured worker to compensation for the full measure of impairment due in material part to, and resulting in material part from, the compensable injury, including any impairment stemming from the denied condition, if applicable. SAIF Corporation disagreed, arguing that the definition of impairment did not include loss caused by a denied condition because it was not “due to” the “compensable industrial injury.” The Oregon Supreme Court concluded claimant was entitled to the full measure of her impairment. View "Johnson v. SAIF" on Justia Law
SAIF v. Ward
The issue this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review centered on whether a truck driver (claimant) who sustained injuries while driving a truck that he leased directly from a trucking company, with restrictions that prohibited him from driving the truck for the use of any other company, was a “subject worker” within the meaning of ORS 656.027 such that the trucking company was required to provide workers’ compensation insurance coverage for claimant’s injuries. SAIF and Robert Murray, the owner of Bob Murray Trucking (BMT), a for-hire carrier, sought review of the Court of Appeals’ opinion affirming the final order of the Workers’ Compensation Board: that claimant was a subject worker of BMT under the workers’ compensation laws and did not qualify for the exemption to “subject worker” status contained in ORS 656.027(15)(c). To this the Supreme Court agreed and affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals and the Workers’ Compensation Board’s final order. View "SAIF v. Ward" on Justia Law
Simi v. LTI Inc. – Lynden Inc.
In a workers’ compensation case, the issue presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review centered on the scope of an employer’s obligation under ORS 656.262(7)(c) to reopen a closed claim for processing if a “condition is found compensable after claim closure.” The closed claim at issue here was claimant Randy Simi's accepted right rotator cuff tear, and the conditions giving rise to the dispute were supraspinatus and infraspinatus tendon tears, which claimant asked employer to accept as “new or omitted” conditions. Employer issued a denial specifying that the conditions were not compensable, but, without withdrawing the denial, employer later took the position that the tendon tears were “encompassed” within the originally accepted rotator cuff tear. That change of position caused an administrative law judge (ALJ) to determine that the tendon conditions were compensable and to set aside employer’s denial. According to claimant, that ALJ order triggered employer’s obligation under ORS 656.262(7)(c) to reopen the claim. Employer contended, however, that the legislature did not require reopening if the compensable condition at issue was “encompassed within” the already-accepted conditions, even if the employer also had denied that the condition was compensable. A majority of the Workers’ Compensation Board and a majority of the Court of Appeals panel agreed with employer, and the Supreme Court allowed review to consider this disputed question of statutory interpretation. Based on its examination of the statutory text and context, the Supreme Court concluded the legislature intended employers to reopen compensable claims for processing when a compensability denial was set aside after claim closure, including under the circumstances of this case. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals' decision was reversed. View "Simi v. LTI Inc. - Lynden Inc." on Justia Law
Zweizig v. Rote
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified a question of law to the Oregon Supreme Court concerning whether a statutory damages cap applied to an award of noneconomic damages in an unlawful employment practice action. Plaintiff Max Zweizig filed suit in the federal district court in Oregon, alleging that corporate defendants had retaliated against him and that defendant Timothy Rote had aided and abetted the corporations in violation of Oregon statutes. The jury found for plaintiff and awarded him $1,000,000 in noneconomic damages. Over plaintiff’s objection, the district court entered a judgment for only half that amount after applying the non- economic damages cap set out in ORS 31.710(1). Defendant appealed, and plaintiff cross-appealed, challenging the reduction of the noneconomic damage award. The Supreme Court determined the damages cap in ORS 31.710(1) did not apply to an award of noneconomic damages for an unlawful employment practice claim under ORS 659A.030 in which the plaintiff did not seek damages that arose out of bodily injury and instead sought damages for emotional injury. View "Zweizig v. Rote" on Justia Law
Walker v. Oregon Travel Information Council
Plaintiff Kyle Walker persuaded a jury that her public employer had wrongfully discharged her from her at-will position for blowing the whistle on what she reasonably believed to be her employer’s violations of law. The trial court had denied her employer’s motions for a directed verdict, and the court entered a judgment that awarded her damages on that claim. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, notwithstanding the jury verdict in her favor, plaintiff’s action had not served an important public policy. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed, finding the appellate court incorrectly concluded that the threshold issue, whether plaintiff had identified an important public policy that permitted her to assert the tort of wrongful discharge, depended on whether she had reasonably believed that her employer had violated the law; instead, the Court found that threshold issue properly turned on sources of law that support the asserted public policy and whether those sources of law were tied to the acts by plaintiff that led her employer to discharge her. The Supreme Court further concluded that whether plaintiff had a reasonable belief that her employer had violated the law - the disputed element of whistleblowing on appeal - was a question of fact for the factfinder and that the record contained evidence that supported the jury’s finding. View "Walker v. Oregon Travel Information Council" on Justia Law