Articles Posted in U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

by
A group of employees filed class and collective actions against Tyson Foods, Inc., seeking unpaid wages for time spent on pre- and post-shift activities. After the employees obtained a sizeable verdict and fee award, Tyson unsuccessfully moved for judgment as a matter of law. On appeal, Tyson: (1) challenged the judgment and denial of the motion for judgment as a matter of law; and (2) argued the fee award was excessive. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded, after review, that plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence of undercompensation and the district court acted within its discretion in setting the fee award. View "Garcia, et al v. Tyson Foods, et al" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Lucrecia Carpio Holmes appealed a district court’s ruling that her claim for disability benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was barred due to her failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Holmes v. Colorado Coalition" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented to the Tenth Circuit on appeal involved involves a dispute concerning the scope of an arbitration clause between Nitro-Lift Technologies, L.L.C. and three of its former employees, plaintiffs Miguel Sanchez, Shane Schneider, and Eddie Howard. Plaintiffs sued Nitro-Lift, claiming it failed to pay overtime wages in violation of both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and the Oklahoma Protection of Labor Act (OPLA). Nitro-Lift appealed two district court orders denying its motions to dismiss and compel arbitration, or in the alternative to stay the proceeding pending arbitration, arguing plaintiffs' wage disputes fell within the scope of the arbitration clause. The Tenth Circuit agreed with Nitro-Lift's argument with respect to the wage disputes and arbitration, and as such, reversed the district court's denial of Nitro-Lift's motion to compel arbitration. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Sanchez, et al v. Nitro Lift Technologies" on Justia Law

by
Marvin Green, a former postmaster, claimed the U.S. Postal Service retaliated against him after he made employment-discrimination claims. He was investigated, threatened with criminal prosecution, and put on unpaid leave. Shortly after being put on leave, he signed a settlement agreement with the Postal Service that provided him paid leave for three and a half months, after which he could choose either to retire or to work in a position that paid much less and was about 300 miles away. Ultimately, he decided to retire. He then filed a complaint against the Postmaster General alleging five retaliatory acts in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: (1) a letter notifying him to attend an investigative interview; (2) the investigative interview; (3) a threat of criminal charges against him; (4) his constructive discharge; and (5) his placement on unpaid leave (also known as emergency placement). The district court dismissed the first three claims for failing to exhaust administrative remedies. On the two remaining claims it granted summary judgment for the Postmaster, holding that the constructive-discharge claim was untimely and that emergency placement was not a materially adverse action. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court in all respects save one: the Court agreed with Green that the emergency placement was a materially adverse action (being put on unpaid leave would dissuade a reasonable employee from engaging in protected activity). The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Green v. Donahoe" on Justia Law

by
In September 2009, Plaintiff Bridget Dalpiaz was terminated from her position as the benefits administrator for Carbon County, Utah. She sued, raising several claims against the county and various county officials, including one claim of "Violation of the [Family and Medical Leave Act] – Interference with FMLA Rights" against the county. The district court granted summary judgment to all Defendants on all claims. On appeal, Plaintiff challenged only the denial of her FMLA claim against Carbon County. Based on all of the evidence in the record, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the evidence, even taken in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, was sufficient to meet the county’s burden of establishing that Plaintiff would have been dismissed regardless of her request for FMLA leave. Plaintiff’s interference claim therefore failed as a matter of law. View "Dalpiaz v. Carbon County, Utah, et al" on Justia Law

by
Lisa Knitter worked as a "handyman" for Lewis General Contracting, Inc. (LGC) from March to October 2010. During this time, LGC's sole client was Picerne Military Housing, LLC (Picerne), now known as Corvias Military Living, LLC. Knitter performed handyman services exclusively on Picerne properties. She sued Picerne under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging: (1) she was paid lower wages than her male counterparts; (2) Picerne effectively fired her in retaliation for her complaints of sexual harassment and wage discrimination; and (3) after she was fired, Picerne denied her application for vendor status in retaliation for her prior complaints of discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment to Picerne, dismissing Knitter's Title VII action because Picerne was not her employer. The district court also dismissed her claim for retaliatory denial of vendor status because Knitter did not apply for employment with Picerne when she applied to be a vendor. Knitter appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Finding no reversible error, however, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Knitter v. Picerne Military Housing" on Justia Law

by
Salt Lake County employee Michael Barrett helped a colleague pursue a sexual harassment complaint against her boss. According to Barrett, his superiors began a campaign to have him discharged or demoted. After he was demoted Barrett filed suit alleging that the county violated Title VII by retaliating against him for helping a coworker vindicate her civil rights. The jury found for Barrett. At trial the county argued that it disciplined Barrett because he was a poor worker. But the evidence showed that Barrett's fourteen years working for the county were marked only by promotions and positive reviews until he helped draw attention to his colleague's plight. On appeal, the county asks the Tenth Circuit to reverse the jury's verdict, but finding no error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court judgment. View "Barrett v. Salt Lake County" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-appellant Grace Hwang signed a written one-year contract to teach classes over three academic terms at Kansas State University. But before the fall term began, plaintiff received news that she had cancer and needed treatment. She sought and the University gave her a six-month (paid) leave of absence. As that period drew to a close and the spring term approached plaintiff's doctor advised her to seek more time off. She asked the University to extend her leave through the end of spring semester, promising to return in time for the summer term. But according to plaintiff's complaint, the University refused, explaining that it had an inflexible policy allowing no more than six months' sick leave. The University did arrange for long-term disability benefits, but plaintiff alleged it effectively terminated her employment. In response, she filed suit contending that by denying her more than six months' sick leave the University violated the Rehabilitation Act. The district court dismissed her complaint. Subsequently, plaintiff appealed to the Tenth Circuit. "When it comes to satisfying her elemental obligations, Ms. Hwang's complaint fails early on. . . . there’s also no question she wasn’t able to perform the essential functions of her job even with a reasonable accommodation. . . .It perhaps goes without saying that an employee who isn't capable of working for so long isn't an employee capable of performing a job's essential functions - and that requiring an employer to keep a job open for so long doesn't qualify as a reasonable accommodation. After all, reasonable accommodations . . . are all about enabling employees to work, not to not work." The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's order. View "Hwang v. Kansas State University" on Justia Law

by
Dr. Collie Trant was the former Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Oklahoma at a time the office was recovering from a series of public scandals. Trant lost the confidence of the Oklahoma Board of Medicolegal Investigations, and was terminated. Trant filed suit in Oklahoma state court alleging a number of claims under federal and state law in connection with his tenure and termination. Oklahoma subsequently consented to removal of the case to federal court. The federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on Trant’s First Amendment retaliation claims brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court dismissed for lack of standing Trant’s claim seeking a declaratory judgment the Board violated the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act. The court also dismissed Trant’s breach of implied contract claim for failure to state a claim under Oklahoma law. Finding no reversible error with respect to the district court's decision on Trant's First Amendment and breach of implied contract claims, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. With regard to Trant's declaratory judgment claim, the Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Trant v. Medicolegal Investigations, et al" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-appellant Captain Paul Fields of the Tulsa, Oklahoma police department filed a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against defendants the City of Tulsa; Charles Jordan, the Chief of Police; and Alvin Daryl Webster, the Deputy Chief of Police. The suit challenged his punishment for objecting to an order requiring him either to attend or to order subordinates to attend a law-enforcement appreciation event hosted by the Islamic Society of Tulsa. He claimed that the punishment violated the First Amendment prohibitions against impairing the rights of free exercise of religion and of association as well as the prohibition against the establishment of religion. He also raised an equal-protection claim. He later sought to amend his complaint to add a claim that his freedom of speech was violated when he suffered retaliation for bringing this lawsuit and a claim that he was denied rights protected by the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act (ORFA). The district court denied leave to amend and ultimately granted summary judgment for Defendants. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed: (1) the Attendance Order did not burden Fields’s religious rights because it did not require him to violate his personal religious beliefs by attending the event; (2) the order did not violate the Establishment Clause because "no informed, reasonable observer would have perceived the order or the event as a government endorsement of Islam;" (3) the Order did not burden Fields’s right of association because it did not interfere with his right to decide what organizations to join as a member; (4) Fields’s equal-protection claim duplicated his free-exercise claim and failed for the same reason; and (5) the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Fields’s motion to amend the complaint to add ORFA and free-speech retaliation claims because the amendment would have been futile. View "Fields v. City of Tulsa, et al" on Justia Law