Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court

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The dispute in this workers’ compensation case arises out of a question relating to overlapping statutory provisions that control the determination of permanent partial disability. ORS 656.214 obligated employers to provide compensation for a worker’s permanent impairment, meaning “loss of use or function” that is “due to the compensable industrial injury.” But ORS 656.005(7)(a)(B) limited the employer’s liability when the compensable injury combines with a qualifying “preexisting condition” to “cause or prolong” the injured worker’s’ disability or need for medical treatment, unless the compensable injury is the “major contributing cause” of the “combined condition.” The question presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review centered on whether the legislature intended an employer would obtain the same limited liability when the employer did not follow the process that the legislature created for estimating a reduced amount of permanent impairment following the denial of a “combined condition.” The Supreme Court concluded the legislature intended that injured workers would be fully compensated for new impairment if it was due in material part to the compensable injury, except where an employer has made use of the statutory process for reducing liability after issuing a combined condition denial. View "Caren v. Providence Health System Oregon" on Justia Law

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Claimant Mark Pilling filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits which insurer Travelers Insurance denied. An administrative law judge (ALJ) reversed insurer’s denial, but the Workers’ Compensation Board reversed the ALJ’s order and reinstated insurer’s denial on the ground that claimant was a nonsubject worker because he was a partner in the business for which he worked and he had not applied for coverage as a nonsubject worker. The Court of Appeals affirmed the board’s order. On claimant’s petition, the Oregon Supreme Court granted certiorari review and concluded that, even assuming claimant was a nonsubject worker, he was entitled to coverage because the business for which he worked made a specific written application for workers’ compensation coverage for him, which insurer accepted. Therefore, the Court reversed the decisions of the Court of Appeals and the Workers’ Compensation Board and remanded to the board for further proceedings. View "Pilling v. Travelers Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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After being terminated by defendant Nike, Inc., plaintiff Douglas Ossanna sued his former employer. Plaintiff alleged, among other things, that Nike had unlawfully fired him in retaliation for his safety complaints and for whistleblowing. Based on his theory that his supervisors held a retaliatory bias against him, plaintiff requested a “cat’s paw” jury instruction informing the jury that, in considering his claims, it could impute a subordinate supervisor’s biased retaliatory motive to Nike’s formal decision-maker, an upper manager with firing authority, if the biased subordinate supervisor influenced, affected, or was involved in the decision to fire plaintiff. The trial court declined to give the instruction, and the jury returned a verdict for Nike. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the trial court’s refusal to give the requested “cat’s paw” instruction was an instructional error that prejudiced plaintiff. The Oregon Supreme Court held the “cat’s paw” doctrine was a viable theory in Oregon. For an employer to be liable, however, a plaintiff relying on the imputed-bias theory also must establish a causal connection between the supervisor’s bias and the adverse employment action; the causation requirement for the claim at issue controls the degree of causation required to impose liability. The Court also concluded the trial court erred in declining to give plaintiff’s “cat’s paw” jury instruction, because the instruction was a correct and applicable statement of the law, and that the instructional error prejudiced plaintiff. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, reversed the trial court as to plaintiff’s retaliation claims, and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Ossanna v. Nike, Inc." on Justia Law

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Initially, respondent John Wigle worked for petitioner Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) as a temporary worker through a temporary staffing agency. EWEB later hired Wigle as a regular employee. When Wigle retired from EWEB, a disputed ensued over when Wigle had become eligible for retirement benefits from the Public Employees Retirement System. The Public Employees Retirement Board concluded that even though Wigle worked through the temp agency, he was eligible for retirement benefits because he had worked for EWEB for six months. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Board’s order, rejecting EWEB’s contention that Wigle only because eligible for benefits once he became an regular employee. The Oregon Supreme Court determined the Oregon Legislature did not intend for employees who was placed on the government’s payroll would be eligible for benefits, “not someone who, in hindsight, was determined to have a common-law employment relationship with the public employer.” The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s order and remanded to the Board for further proceedings. View "Eugene Water and Electric Board v. PERB" on Justia Law

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Claimant Elvia Garcia-Solis was injured in a work-related accident. Farmers Insurance Company and Yeaun Corporation (collectively, “Insurer”) accepted a workers’ compensation claim and certain specified medical conditions associated with the accident. Because claimant also showed psychological symptoms, her doctor recommended a psychological referral to diagnose her for possible post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Insurer argued, and the Court of Appeals agreed, that the cost of the psychological referral was not covered by workers’ compensation because claimant had failed to prove that it was related to any of the medical conditions that insurer had accepted. The Oregon Supreme Court reversed both the Court of Appeals and the Workers’ Compensation Board: “’injury’ means work accident is context-specific to exactly two uses in the first and second sentences of ORS 656.245(1)(a). It does not apply to the second use in the first sentence of ORS 656.245(1)(a). We do not decide or suggest that it applies to any other statute in the workers’ compensation system.” View "Garcia-Solis v. Farmers Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Claimant Catherine Sheldon injured her shoulder after falling in the lobby of the office building where she worked. Claimant contended she suffered a compensable injury that arose out of employment because her fall was unexplained and occurred at work. Employer, US Bank, contended the injury was not unexplained because claimant failed to eliminate idiopathic factors related to her personal medical conditions that might have caused her fall. The Workers’ Compensation Board (the board) concluded claimant failed to establish that her fall was unexplained. The Court of Appeals held that the board applied the wrong standard, vacated the board’s decision, and remanded the case to the board to apply the standard in the manner directed by that court. Although the Oregon Supreme Court disagreed with the standard expressed by the Court of Appeals, it nevertheless reached the same result, therefore affirming the Court of Appeals, vacating the board’s decision, and remanding the case to the board. View "Sheldon v. US Bank" on Justia Law

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Claimant Cozmin Gadalean, a commercial truck driver, was sent on a supervised delivery by and for employer as a pre-employment drive test. He was injured when he fell from employer’s truck. The Workers’ Compensation Board denied claimant coverage, concluding that he did not qualify as a worker at the time of the injury. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Oregon’s minimum wage laws would have entitled claimant to be paid for the delivery and that, therefore, he was a worker within the meaning of the workers’ compensation statute. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred, and affirmed the board’s denial of coverage. View "Gadalean v. SAIF" on Justia Law

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In the three months plaintiff Ashley Schutz worked for Defendant O’Brien Constructors and project manager Keely O’Brien, she had declined multiple invitations by Keely O’Brien to join him and other coworkers for drinks after work. Plaintiff nevertheless felt pressured to accept an invitation so that she would advance in the firm. Plaintiff sued her employer and its agent, alleging that she had been seriously injured in an auto accident after she was pressured to attend a work-related event where she had become intoxicated. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants, concluding that they were entitled to statutory immunity under ORS 471.565(1) and that that grant of immunity did not violate the remedy clause of Article I, section 10, of the Oregon Constitution. The Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court’s remedy clause analysis and reversed. On review, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded defendants were not entitled to statutory immunity under ORS 471.565(1). The Court of Appeals’ judgment was vacated, the trial court reversed, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Schutz v. La Costita III, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, former Starbucks baristas, sued the company claiming it improperly calculated state and federal tax withholding, and as a result, improperly deducted those withholdings from plaintiffs’ paychecks. As a result, plaintiffs claimed they were not paid the full wages they had earned, violating state wage-and-hour laws. After the case was removed to federal court and then remanded back to state court, the trial court ruled on numerous issues. Starbucks moved the trial court to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims. Starbucks petitioned the Oregon Supreme Court for an alternative writ of mandamus, raising questions of whether plaintiffs’ claims were prohibited by the AIA, and whether they were prohibited by the statutory immunity provisions. The trial court issued an alternative writ of mandamus. After the trial court declined to vacate its order, the matter returned to the Supreme Court. To determine whether direct appeal provided Starbucks with an adequate remedy, the Supreme Court would have had to resolve numerous complex issues of both state and federal law, not all of which had been briefed adequately. The Court therefore dismissed the alternative writ of mandamus as improvidently allowed, and remanded the case for further development of the record. View "Fredrickson v. Starbucks Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jeff Gist worked as a driver for defendant Driver Resources, LLC. The other two defendants were related companies. In November 2013, plaintiff filed a class-action complaint against defendants, on behalf of himself and other similarly situated drivers. At issue was defendants’ compliance with Oregon’s wage and hour laws. In January 2014, defendants filed a petition to compel arbitration, on the basis of an agreement that plaintiff had signed with one defendant. Plaintiff responded to the petition by arguing that the agreement was unconscionable, and therefore that arbitration should not be compelled. The trial court granted defendants’ petition, requiring plaintiff to proceed to arbitration. Plaintiff made several attempts to obtain appellate review of the trial court’s order compelling arbitration. This case required the Oregon Supreme Court to determine whether the Court of Appeals correctly dismissed plaintiff’s appeal of a judgment dismissing his complaint with prejudice on the grounds that the appeal was barred by the Supreme Court’s decision in Steenson v. Robinson, 385 P2d 738 (1963). That decision set out the common-law rule that a party may not appeal from a voluntarily-requested judgment. The Court concluded the judgment was appealable and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals. View "Gist v. Zoan Management, Inc." on Justia Law