Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi
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Former Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company employees Regina Thomas and Pam Pilgrim filed suit against the company claiming they were wrongfully discharged. While recognizing Mississippi is an at-will-employment state, the former employees alleged Southern Farm Bureau’s employee handbook altered their at-will status. They insisted the handbook conferred certain substantive and procedural rights, including the right not to be discriminated against based on gender and age, which they suggest they were denied. But upon review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the employee handbook expressly disclaimed the formation of any employment contract. "So under Mississippi law, Thomas and Pilgrim remained at-will employees. This meant they could be fired for good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all, except for reasons independently declared legally impermissible." Rather than having exhausted their administrative remedies, as was required when bringing a gender-discrimination claim, they asked the Supreme Court to create an exception to an already existing exception to the at-will doctrine, which would have allowed them to avoid the express procedural requirements for federal discrimination claims. But the Mississippi Supreme Court has recognized that creating exceptions to the at-will doctrine was a legislative concern, not a judicial task. "Because Congress has already created a discrimination-based exception to the at-will doctrine—which Thomas and Pilgrim failed to pursue - we reject their request." View "Southern Farm Bureau Life Ins. Co. v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Vernon Walters was injured in a work-related incident in October 2006; the vehicle he was driving was struck by an oncoming train. After receiving workers’ compensation benefits, he and his wife, Donyell Walters, filed a third-party claim against the company operating the train involved in the collision, Kansas City Southern Railway Company (KCSR). The Walterses hired the Parsons Law Firm to represent them in their suit, and Tadd Parsons took the case. The Walterses’ lawsuit against KCSR was ultimately dismissed with prejudice in September 2010 for, among other reasons, failure to prosecute, failure to comply with discovery obligations and fraud upon the court. Tadd never told the Walterses that their case had been dismissed and led them to believe their case was ongoing. Three years after the case had been dismissed, Tadd admitted he fabricated a settlement offer from KCSR in the amount of $104,000 and advised the Walterses to accept the offer, which they did. When eight months passed after Tadd informed the Walterses about the fabricated settlement, the Walterses demanded to meet with Jack Parsons, the other general partner at the Parsons Law Firm. Jack offered the Walterses $50,000 to settle any claims they may have had against Tadd based on his conduct in representing them in the KCSR lawsuit. The Walterses refused Jack’s offer and then filed a claim against Tadd, Jack and the Parsons Law Firm, alleging claims of fraud, defamation, negligent representation, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages. The trial court granted partial summary judgment for the Walterses on the matter of liability, finding that Tadd and the Parsons Law Firm were liable for fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court then held a jury trial on damages. The jury verdict awarded the Walterses $2,850,002 in compensatory damages, which exceeded what the Walterses had demanded in compensatory damages in their complaint and in their motion to set damages. Finding the jury’s verdict shocked the conscience, the court remitted the damages to $1,034,666.67 in a second amended final judgment. Parsons appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, and the Walterses cross-appealed. The Supreme Court determined the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding irrelevant evidence about the underlying KCSR lawsuit because the value of the lawsuit had no bearing on the damages the Walterses sustained due to Tadd Parsons’s and the Parsons Law Firm’s fraud and IIED. Further, the Court determined the remitted verdict’s award of damages was excessive and not supported by substantial evidence. The trial court was therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the matter remanded for a new trial on damages. View "Parsons v. Walters" on Justia Law

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Angela Jones alleged she sustained a compensable back injury while working as a registered nurse at Baptist Hospital. A Workers’ Compensation Commission administrative judge determined that Jones sustained a compensable work-related injury. Baptist appealed the administrative judge’s decision to the full Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission, and the Commission reversed, determining Jones did not sustain a compensable work-related injury. Jones appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed the Commission's decision. Baptist then petitioned for the Mississippi Supreme Court's review. Finding the Commission's decision was supported by substantial evidence, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the Commission's decision. View "Jones v. Mississippi Baptist Health Systems Inc." on Justia Law

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Daniel Tewksbury and Bobbie Young were previously married and were the parents of two minor children, Lane and Emma. They divorced in May 2006, and Daniel was ordered to pay child support. Daniel stopped making child-support payments in 2008. Bobbie later married Gerald Young, Jr. Gerald filed a petition to adopt Lane and Emma. In the adoption, Daniel’s parental rights were terminated. As of the termination of his parental rights, Daniel owed Bobbie $34,759 for child support. On April 5, 2015, Daniel died in an automobile accident. The accident occurred while Daniel was in the course and scope of his employment with Air Masters Mechanical, Inc. Bobbie then filed a petition with the Workers’ Compensation Commission on behalf of Lane and Emma, claiming that the children were entitled to Daniel’s workers’ compensation death-benefit proceeds and sought the payment of the $34,759 in outstanding child support. The Workers’ Compensation Commission Administrative Judge (AJ) determined that the child-support lien of $34,759 was valid and payable under Section 71-3-129. Air Masters and Associated General Contractors filed a petition for review with the Commission. The Commission concluded that Lane and Emma were not entitled to Daniel’s death benefits because they were not his statutory dependents under Mississippi Code Section 71-3-25 (Supp. 2019). The Commission reversed the AJ’s order and dismissed Bobbie’s petition. On appeal, a divided Court of Appeals reversed the Commission’s decision, concluding the child-support lien was valid. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed, finding Section 71-3-129 did not authorize a lien on death benefits payable directly to the deceased employee’s statutory dependents. Accordingly, the child-support lien did not apply to Daniel’s death benefits. Further, because Daniel had no statutory dependents, there were simply no benefits to which the lien can attach in this case. As a result, the Commission properly dismissed the claim. The judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed. The judgment of the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission was reinstated and affirmed. View "Young v. Air Masters Mechanical Inc." on Justia Law

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An insurance adjuster was injured while performing the specific task he was hired to do: identify and distinguish preexisting roof damage from storm damage. While the adjuster recovered workers’ compensation benefits, he also filed suit against the homeowner for failing to make the premises safe and for not warning him about the roof’s condition. The homeowner filed two summary judgment motions, arguing the "intimately connected" doctrine barred the adjuster’s suit as a matter of law. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the trial court erred by denying summary judgment. "The homeowner exercised no control over the adjuster. And absent some exercise of control over a contractor, Mississippi law does not impose liability on property owners for injuries suffered by independent contractors arising from or intimately connected to the work they were contracted to perform." The Court therefore reversed the trial court's denial fo summary judgment and rendered judgment I the homeowner's favor. View "Peak v. Cohee" on Justia Law

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Dr. Sandra Leal appealed a circuit court's grant of summary judgment to the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) and the Board of Trustees of the State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL). Leal brought suit against USM and the IHL for breach of contract and disability discrimination. Dr. Sandra Leal was a junior faculty member at USM. After spending several years at USM, Leal applied for tenure and promotion in 2012, but, at the recommendation of faculty members, she deferred her application for one year. In September of 2013, she resubmitted her application and materials. On October 4, 2013, her department voted not to recommend her application. Leal was notified of this on October 7, 2013. Each review of her application cited an insufficient number of publications as the primary reason for not recommending Leal’s application. Following these reviews, in March of 2014, Leal wrote to USM’s then-provost. Leal had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis throughout her time at USM, but, for the first time, she claimed it as a disability. She requested an additional year to remedy her insufficient number of publications. Both the provost and USM’s president recommended that Leal’s application be denied. Leal was notified of these determinations on March 24, 2014, and April 30, 2014, respectively. Leal sought review of her application by the IHL, and the IHL considered her request and ultimately rejected her application too. Because Leal has failed to demonstrate any genuine issue of material fact and failed to demonstrate that USM and the IHL were not entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment. View "Leal v. University of So. Miss." on Justia Law

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Justin Herrington, a law-enforcement officer with the Columbia Police Department, was convicted of violating Mississippi Code Section 97-3-104, which prohibited sexual activity between a law-enforcement employee and an offender on correctional supervision. The trial court ordered Herrington to register as a sex offender under Mississippi Code Sections 45-33-21 through 45-33-51. The trial court then amended its order and removed Herrington’s registration requirement. The Mississippi Department of Public Safety (MDPS) appealed and argued that the trial court erred by removing Herrington’s requirement to register as a sex offender. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed and reversed the trial court’s order dispensing with Herrington’s registration requirement. View "Mississippi Department of Public Safety v. Herrington" on Justia Law

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Robert Sheffield was injured on the job while working for S.J. Louis Construction (S.J. Louis). Sheffield filed a petition to contravert, and the administrative law judge (AJ) awarded Sheffield permanent-partial disability benefits. S.J. Louis appealed the decision to the full Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission (Commission), and the Commission reversed this finding, concluding that Sheffield did not suffer any additional disability from the 2015 injury than that caused by a 2010 injury. Sheffield appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed the Commission’s decision. S.J. Louis filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Mississippi Supreme Court. Because the Supreme Court found, after review, that the Commission’s decision was supported by substantial evidence, it reinstated and affirmed that decision. View "Sheffield v. S.J. Louis Construction Inc." on Justia Law

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Gulfport OB-GYN was a professional association of physicians specializing in obstetrical and gynecological care. In 2008, it hired the law firm Dukes, Dukes, Keating & Faneca, P.A., to assist in negotiating the hiring of Dr. Donielle Daigle and to prepare an employment agreement for her. Five years later, Dr. Daigle and another physician left Gulfport OB-GYN to establish their own practice. They sued Gulfport OB-GYN for unpaid compensation and sought a declaratory judgment that the noncompetition covenant was unenforceable. The departing physicians ultimately prevailed, with the chancery court holding the noncompetition covenant not applicable to Dr. Daigle because she left voluntarily and was not “terminated by the Employer.” The chancery court decision was initially appealed, but the dispute was later settled through mediation when Gulfport OB-GYN agreed to pay Dr. Daigle $425,000. Gulfport OB-GYN then filed this legal-malpractice suit against the attorney who drafted the employment agreement and her firm. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the defendants after finding Gulfport OB-GYN had failed to produce sufficient evidence that it would have received a better deal but for the attorneys’ alleged negligence, i.e., Gulfport OB-GYN failed to prove that the alleged negligence caused it damages. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed and affirmed. View "Gulfport OB-GYN, P.A. v. Dukes, Dukes, Keating & Faneca, P.A." on Justia Law

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Mar-Jac Poultry MS, LLC (Mar-Jac), appealed the denial of its motion for summary judgment on the Plaintiffs’ claims for negligence, negligence per se, and wrongful death under the theory of respondeat superior after a Mar-Jac employee’s vehicle collided with a school bus on the way to work, killing his two passengers, who were also Mar-Jac employees. Based on the evidence presented, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the trial court erred in denying Mar-Jac’s motion for summary judgment, because it was undisputed that the driver was not acting in the course and scope of his employment with Mar-Jac when the accident occurred. Thus, the Court reversed and entered judgment in favor of Mar-Jac. View "Mar-Jac Poultry MS, LLC v. Love" on Justia Law