Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this wrongful death and personal injury case to consider whether the Court of Appeals erred by holding that TriEst Ag Group, Inc., the employer of the driver whose truck struck and killed the decedent, was entitled to summary judgment on the estate’s claims of negligent entrustment, hiring, training, and supervision because TriEst admitted the applicability of respondeat superior and the estate was not entitled to punitive damages. The Supreme Court concluded OCGA 51-12-33 ("the apportionment statute") abrogated the decisional law rule on which the Court of Appeals relied in affirming the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. Accordingly, judgment was reversed. View "Quynn v Hulsey et al." on Justia Law

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Rochelle Frett was injured when she slipped and fell at her place of employment during a scheduled lunch break. She filed a claim for benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act, but the State Board of Workers’ Compensation denied her claim. Frett appealed, and the superior court upheld the denial of her claim. Frett then appealed the decision of the superior court, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Relying on Ocean Acc. & Guar. Corp. v. Farr, 178 SE 728 (1935), the Court of Appeals held that Frett suffered no injury compensable under the Act because she sustained her injury during a scheduled break, and her injury, therefore, did not arise out of her employment. The Georgia Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari to reconsider Farr and reviewed the decision of the Court of Appeals in this case. The Supreme Court overruled Farr, and reversed the decision below. View "Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers Compensation" on Justia Law

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In June 2018, Appellants Mary Jackson and her non-profit organization, Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, Inc. (“ROSE”), filed a complaint against the Secretary of State challenging the constitutionality of the Georgia Lactation Consultant Practice Act (the “Act”), which prohibited the practice of “lactation care and services” for compensation without a license from the Secretary of State. Specifically, Appellants alleged that, under the Act, they were ineligible for a license because they lacked a privately issued credential that the Act required for licensure, even though they had other private credentials that made them equally competent to provide lactation care and services and pose no risk of harm to the public. Accordingly, they argue that the Act violates their rights to due process and equal protection under the Georgia Constitution. The trial court granted the Secretary’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Specifically, the trial court ruled that Appellants failed to state a claim that the Act violated due process, because the Georgia Constitution did not recognize a right to work in one’s chosen profession, and that Appellants failed to state a claim that the Act violated equal protection, because the complaint did not sufficiently allege that Appellants were similarly situated to those who are able to obtain a license. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with Appellants that the trial court erred in both rulings. "We have long interpreted the Georgia Constitution as protecting a right to work in one’s chosen profession free from unreasonable government interference. And the trial court erred in concluding that the Appellants are not similarly situated to lactation consultants who can be licensed because, according to the allegations in the complaint, they do the same work." Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded with direction to the trial court to reconsider the motion to dismiss. View "Jackson v. Raffensperger" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court’s review centered on a claim of abusive litigation that Timothy Coen filed based on a previous contract lawsuit against his former employer that was resolved in his favor. In his abusive litigation case, Coen sought punitive damages. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling that punitive damages were not available for a statutory abusive litigation claim, relying on its prior decisions that in turn relied on dicta in footnote 3 of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Yost v. Torok, 344 SE2d 414 (1986), which was decided three years before the current abusive litigation statutes, OCGA sections 51-7-80 to 51-7-85, were enacted in 1989. The Supreme Court granted Coen’s petition for certiorari to decide whether that statute authorized the recovery of punitive damages. The Court concluded punitive damages generally may be recovered in an abusive litigation lawsuit (as long as the lawsuit is not solely to recover damages for injury to peace, happiness, or feelings), because the text of OCGA 51-7-83 (a) indicated that punitive damages were included, the statute did not change the common law generally allowing punitive damages in abusive litigation cases, and punitive damages in abusive litigation cases did not always constitute an impermissible double recovery. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Coen v. Aptean, Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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In March 2011, Appellees Elaine Gold, Amy Shaye, Heather Hunter, and Roderick Benson sued Appellants, the DeKalb County School District (“the District”) and the DeKalb County Board of Education (“the Board”) for, inter alia, breaching an agreement to provide two-years advance notice prior to suspending contributions to their DeKalb County Tax-Sheltered Annuity Plan (“TSA Plan”) accounts. Finding that Appellees failed to establish the existence of an enforceable contract, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellants, and Appellees appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment on the issue of liability, vacated the remainder of the court’s order and remanded the case with direction. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the outcome of the appellate court’s decision: summary judgment was granted in error, and denying Appellee’s summary judgment on the issue of liability for breach of contract was made in error too. The Court determined that based upon the language of the Board’s own bylaws, the TSA Plan’s provision providing for the termination or suspension of the plan “at any time” could not amend the two-year notice provision embodied in the bylaws by way of a 1982 Amendment. View "Dekalb County School District v. Gold" on Justia Law

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Linda Cowen, a Clayton County State Court judge since December 1995, filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, in which she sought, among other things, over $120,000 in back pay from Clayton County and several of its county commissioners1 for allegedly violating Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. VI, Sec. VII, Par. V. Cowen claimed that the County had been improperly calculating her compensation under County Ordinance 30-4 (the “Supplemental Ordinance”) and Local Law 2006 Ga. Laws 926 passed by the General Assembly (the “Local Law”), which, she alleged, resulted in an illegal reduction in her overall compensation each year between 2007 and 2017. She also alleged that, when the County repealed the Supplemental Ordinance effective December 20, 2016, the County, once again, illegally reduced her compensation in violation of Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. VI, Sec. VII, Par. V. The trial court rejected all of Cowen’s claims, concluding in part that: (1) Cowen’s mandamus action was barred by gross laches; (2) even if the mandamus action was not barred, it was subject to dismissal because mandamus was not an appropriate vehicle through which Cowen could seek her back pay; and (3) even if mandamus were an appropriate vehicle, the mandamus action was without merit. Cowen appealed. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded, after review, that: (1) some, but not all, of Cowen’s claims for back pay were time barred; and (2) the trial court erred in concluding that mandamus was not an appropriate vehicle here; but (3) the trial court properly denied the claim for mandamus. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cowen v. Clayton County" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine: (1) whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the State has waived sovereign immunity under the Georgia Torts Claims Act (“GTCA”), for Thomas McConnell’s tort action; and, (2) whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that McConnell’s complaint failed to state a claim. In September 2012, the Georgia Department of Labor created a spreadsheet containing the name, social security number, home telephone number, email address, and age of 4,757 individuals over the age of 55 in Cherokee, Cobb, and Fulton counties who had applied for unemployment benefits or other services administered by the Department, including McConnell. Almost a year later, a Department employee inadvertently sent an email with the spreadsheet attached to approximately 1,000 recipients without the permission of the individuals whose information was included in the spreadsheet. 2014, McConnell filed a complaint against the Department on behalf of himself and a proposed class of all individuals whose information was contained in the spreadsheet, alleging negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and invasion of privacy by public disclosure of private facts. The complaint alleged that, as a result of the Department’s negligent disclosure of McConnell’s and the other proposed class members’ personal information, they were required to place freezes and alerts with credit reporting agencies, close or modify financial accounts, and closely review and monitor their credit reports and accounts for unauthorized activity. The complaint further alleged that McConnell and others whose information had been disclosed incurred out-of-pocket costs related to credit monitoring and identity protection services and suffered adverse impacts to their credit scores related to the closure of credit accounts. The Department moved to dismiss, ruling that sovereign immunity barred the lawsuit because the GTCA did not waive the State’s immunity for the type of “loss” that McConnell alleged. McConnell appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, pretermitting a decision on sovereign immunity and addressing only the trial court’s ruling that each count of the complaint failed to state a claim. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals and affirmed. View "Georgia Department of Labor v. McConnell" on Justia Law

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After she was terminated from her employment as a firefighter, Appellee Chawanda Martin sued the City of College Park, the city council, and various interim officials, including the two individuals responsible for her dismissal, alleging that the interim appointments were made in violation of the Open Meetings Act, and, thus, the interim officials lacked the authority to take adverse employment action against her. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, concluding that Martin’s claims were untimely and lacked evidentiary support. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed in part, determining that Martin’s challenge to Chess’ appointment was timely and, further, that the undisputed evidence demonstrated that the mayor made the challenged appointment in “consensus” with the city council without ever having taken a vote. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review to consider the Court of Appeals’ application of the Open Meetings Act and concluded the Court of Appeals should have first determined whether the charter for the City of College Park actually required a vote to effectuate such an interim appointment before considering the applicability of the public-vote requirement of the Open Meetings Act. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals in part and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "City of College Park v. Martin" on Justia Law

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Timothy Coen filed suit against CDC Software Corporation, Aptean, Inc. (CDC’s successor in interest), and four individuals acting as either a board member or general counsel for CDC, for defamation, false light and disclosure of private facts, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and attorney fees. The trial court dismissed Coen’s action based on both res judicata and failure to state a claim, referencing an earlier lawsuit filed by Coen for breach of his employment contract with CDC. In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed, finding both actions arose from the underlying circumstances surrounding the termination of Coen’s employment with the CDC. Thereafter, the Georgia Supreme Court granted Coen’s petition for certiorari to review whether the Court of Appeals erred in its formulation and application of the doctrine of res judicata. The Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeals did err in its formulation, and, accordingly, reversed for the Court of Appeals to consider the trial court’s alternative holding. View "Coen v. CDC Software Corp." on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to examine whether the Court of Appeals improperly construed OCGA 16-11-135(e), which was part of the Business Security and Employee Privacy Act, as granting immunity “from firearm-related tort liability” to an employer who was sued for liability for the allegedly negligent acts of its employee under the theory of respondeat superior, and for the employer’s alleged negligent supervision. Appellant Claude Lucas sued appellee Beckman Coulter, Inc. (“BCI”) along with BCI’s employee Jeremy Wilson for injuries Lucas suffered when Wilson accidentally shot Lucas with a handgun. The accident occurred while Wilson was on the premises of BCI’s customer where he had driven his employer-owned vehicle to make a service call. In apparent violation of BCI’s policy prohibiting employees from transporting firearms while on company business, Wilson had taken a firearm with him on this service call. When he learned that a number of vehicles in the customer’s parking lot had been vandalized in recent days, he removed his gun from the vehicle and took it inside, where he accidentally fired it, injuring Lucas. Lucas filed his complaint, and following discovery, BCI filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment on three grounds: (1) that Wilson’s choice to take his firearm onto the client’s property was not within the scope of Wilson’s employment, and therefore BCI is not liable for these actions under a theory of respondeat superior; (2) that Lucas explicitly abandoned his claims for BCI’s negligent supervision; and (3) that OCGA 16-11-135(e) barred Lucas’s claims against BCI. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision. On remand, the Court of Appeals was instructed to address Lucas’s assertion that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to BCI on his claims of liability under respondeat superior and for negligent supervision. View "Lucas v. Beckman Coulter, Inc." on Justia Law