Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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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

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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

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In a case of first impression for the Georgia Supreme Court, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia certified a question of Georgia law to the Georgia Supreme Court. The matter at the federal court turned on the interpretation of the 2016 amendment to Chapter 4 of Title 18 relating to garnishment proceedings. Specifically, the federal court asked whether an insurance company is a “financial institution” under the Georgia garnishment statute when the insurance company is garnished based on earnings that it owes the defendant as the defendant’s employer. Harold Blach filed a garnishment action against AFLAC to collect a $158,343.40 judgment that he obtained against Sal Diaz-Verson.He sought to garnish funds that AFLAC periodically pays to Diaz-Verson based on Diaz-Verson’s former employment with the company. Since December 2015, Blach has regularly filed summonses of garnishment against AFLAC, and AFLAC has deposited more than $140,000 into the court’s registry. Diaz-Verson filed motions to dismiss all garnishments filed after May 12, 2016, arguing that because Blach used the general form instead of the form for financial institutions, a portion of the funds in the court’s registry had to be released back to Diaz-Verson. The Georgia Supreme Court answered the federal court’s question in the negative: “viewing the garnishment statutory scheme as a whole, it is clear that ‘financial institution’ in OCGA 18-4-1 (4),for purposes of garnishments served on a financial institution subject to the five-day garnishment period, is limited to entities that are “held out to the public as a place of deposit of funds or medium of savings or collective investment’ and are garnished in that capacity. . . . therefore, an insurance company is not a ‘financial institution’ for purposes of OCGA 18-4-4 (c) (2) when the insurance company is garnished based on earnings that it owes the defendant as the defendant’s employer.” View "Blach v. Diaz-Verson" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Georgia Supreme Court in this case was whether an employer has to show the availability of suitable employment to justify suspension of workers’ compensation benefits after already establishing that an employee’s work-related aggravation to a preexisting condition has ceased to be the cause of the employee’s disability. The Court of Appeals held the answer was yes; the Supreme Court disagreed, finding the Court of Appeals erred in remanding this case for the ALJ court to determine if the employer demonstrated suitable employment for the injured employee. View "Ocmulgee EMC v. McDuffie" on Justia Law

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Appellant Patrick O’Connor appealed the grant of summary judgment to Appellees Fulton County and its County Manager, Richard Anderson, on his claims for breach of contract, mandamus relief, and attorney fees. O’Connor was hired in 1996 as the CFO/Finance Director for Fulton County. O’Connor was an unclassified, at-will employee, and, though the Finance Director position was originally an “on-range position” (i.e., one that is on a pay scale), it was later changed to a set-rate position, which has a salary specifically approved by either the County Manager or the Fulton County Board of Commissioners (“the Board”). In October 2014, the Board appointed O’Connor as Interim County Manager. Just a few months later, however, O’Connor was removed from that position and given the option to resign as Finance Director or be fired; O’Connor refused to resign, and the Board terminated his employment. The trial court granted summary judgment to Appellees, concluding that the personnel regulations did not create an employment contract and that, even if they had, Personnel Regulation 300-4 (7) did not apply to O’Connor. The trial court also concluded that, because O’Connor could not prevail on his underlying breach-of-contract claim, he was not entitled to mandamus relief or attorney fees. Finding no reversible error in the trial court’s judgment, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "O'Connor v. Fulton County" on Justia Law

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Searless West was a former employee of the City of Albany who filed a complaint in federal court against the City and two individuals setting forth, among other things, a claim under the Georgia Whistleblower Act (“GWA”). With respect to West’s claims under the GWA, she sought economic and non-economic damages resulting from alleged retaliation for disclosing what she deemed to be certain financial irregularities in the City’s utility department. The City filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings with regard to the whistleblower claim, asserting it failed as a matter of law because West did not provide ante litem notice prior to filing the complaint. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, in an order finding no controlling precedent from the Georgia Supreme Court that addressed the legal issue raised by the City, certified a question of Georgia law to the Georgia Supreme Court: "is a plaintiff required to provide a municipal corporation with ante litem notice pursuant to OCGA 36-33-5 in order to pursue a claim against it for money damages under the [GWA]?" The Supreme Court answered this question in the negative. View "West v. City of Albany" on Justia Law

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Adrian Burdette was seriously injured when he fell while attempting a controlled descent from a cell-phone tower in contravention of instructions by his employer, Chandler Telecom, LLC (“Chandler”), that technicians must climb down from towers. This case presented the question of whether an employee could, in deliberate disobedience of his employer’s explicit prohibition, act in a knowingly dangerous fashion with disregard for the probable consequences of that act, and still recover workers’ compensation when injured by that disobedient act. The Supreme Court concluded that OCGA 34-9-17(a) could bar recovery in such cases. View "Chandler Telecom, LLC v. Burdette" on Justia Law