Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

by
Plaintiff Laurie Exby-Stolley sued her former employer, the Board of County Commissioners of Weld County, Colorado (the County), under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She alleged the County had failed to accommodate her disability, resulting in the loss of her job. The jury returned a verdict for the County. Exby-Stolley appealed, arguing: (1) the district court improperly instructed the jury that she needed to prove she had suffered an adverse employment action; (2) the district court refused to instruct the jury on a claim of constructive discharge or allow her to argue constructive discharge in closing argument; and (3) the district court misallocated the burden of proof in its undue-hardship jury instruction. The Tenth Circuit found no errors and affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Exby-Stolley v. Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law

by
Charles Payan appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of United Parcel Service (“UPS”) in relation to his claims for racial discrimination and retaliation arising under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1981, as well as his state law claims for breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Payan identified himself as Hispanic and worked for UPS since 1991. UPS uses the “Ready Now” list to determine candidates for promotions, so Payan’s removal from the list meant that he could no longer be considered for promotions. Charles Martinez, Payan's direct supervisor, continued thereafter to rate Payan’s promotion status as “Retain at Current Level,” meaning he believed Payan needed more time to develop before being promoted. After Payan’s downgrade, two UPS employees with similar credentials were promoted to Security Division Managers, positions that Payan wanted but was not eligible for in light of his promotion status downgrade. In November 2012, and in response to the recommendations of Martinez, UPS put Payan through a Management Performance Improvement Process (“MPIP”), designed to “help employees who are not performing well go through a formalized training with their manager to help them improve their skill sets so they could perform effectively and eliminate whatever those deficiencies are.” At some point, UPS determined Payan was not meeting the plan’s requirements. Shortly thereafter, Payan filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Payan alleged that he had been subjected to harassing and degrading behavior from Martinez and that his non-Hispanic coworkers were not treated in such a way. He also alleged that UPS retaliated against him by placing him on an MPIP. The EEOC ultimately dismissed Payan’s charge of discrimination and issued him a right-to-sue letter. Finding no reversible error in the district court's grant of summary judgment to UPS, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Payan v. United Parcel Service" on Justia Law

by
The district court dismissed with prejudice of the Secretary of Labor’s complaint against Jani-King of Oklahoma, Inc. Jani-King is a janitorial company providing cleaning services in the Oklahoma City area. Following an investigation into Jani-King’s employment practices, the Secretary of Labor filed a complaint alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and seeking an injunction to require Jani-King to keep the requisite FLSA employee records. Specifically, the Secretary asserted that individuals who formed corporate entities and enter franchise agreements as required by Jani-King “nonetheless personally perform the janitorial work on behalf of Jani-King” and, based on the economic realities of this relationship, were Jani-King’s employees under the FLSA. Jani-King successfully moved to dismiss, arguing: (1) under Rule 12(b)(6), the Secretary failed to plausibly suggest that every franchise owner should have been treated as an employee under the FLSA; and (2) under Rule 12(b)(7), the Secretary failed to name the franchisees as necessary parties. The Tenth Circuit found the Secretary’s amended complaint contained sufficient facts to state a facially plausible claim for relief. In so concluding, the Court made no determination as to the merits of the case, only that it survived the initial Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. View "Acosta v. Jani-King of Oklahoma" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Diane Smith, a former employee of the Pointe Frontier assisted living facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming, filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that she was unlawfully terminated by Pointe Frontier in 2014 in retaliation for filing a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) in 2012. Finding that Smith had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, the district court dismissed her claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and, in the alternative, found that there was no genuine issue of material fact and granted summary judgment for Defendant. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision that Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, and remanded this case with instructions to vacate the order and dismiss the suit without prejudice. View "Smith v. Cheyenne Retirement Investors" on Justia Law

by
Jason Williams and Foreclosure Connection, Inc. (“FCI”) appealed the district court’s judgment in favor of the Secretary of Labor. FCI was a Utah company that bought real estate, renovated homes, and rented or resold properties. Williams was the manager and part owner of FCI, responsible for hiring and firing decisions. Jack Erickson was FCI’s foreman. Mychal Barber Sr. and his teenaged son, Mychal Scott Barber Jr., began doing construction work for FCI in the summer of 2015. The Barbers became dissatisfied with working conditions at FCI, and in particular, with the company’s failure to pay overtime wages. On July 7, 2015, they submitted a complaint to the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor (“DOL”), alleging that FCI’s failure to pay overtime wages violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The following morning, Erickson told the Barbers not to report to work because there was not enough work for them to do. Later that day, DOL investigator Sheffield Keith met with Williams at FCI’s offices, requesting certain records, including information on FCI’s employees. Williams responded that FCI did not have any employees, and that all of its workers were independent contractors. Later that night, the Barbers called Erickson, who told them they were terminated. Erickson explained that Williams blamed the Barbers for reporting the company to DOL. On July 15, an employee surreptitiously recorded a meeting Williams held with his workers. Williams instructed the group to refuse to cooperate in DOL’s investigation. He also circulated independent contractor agreements to the workers, requested that they sign the agreements but leave them undated, and told them to claim they could not remember when they signed. FCI submitted contractor agreements to DOL, including an agreement for Barber Sr. with what appeared to be a forged signature. In September 2015, DOL filed a complaint alleging that FCI had obstructed its investigation and retaliated against its employees, including the Barbers. Following a bench trial, the district court ruled in favor of DOL. It imposed a permanent injunction, awarded $3,530.23 in back pay to Barber Jr. plus an equal amount of liquidated damages, and awarded $80,992.55 in back pay to Barber Sr. plus an equal amount of liquidated damages. Defendants timely appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the DOL. View "Acosta v. Foreclosure Connection" on Justia Law

by
Matthew Ray, a former DISH Network L.L.C. employee who signed an arbitration agreement when he was employed, filed an action in the federal district court alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), Colorado’s Wage Claim Act, Colorado’s Minimum Wage Act, and a common law claim for breach of contract. Dish moved to dismiss, demanding that Ray arbitrate his claims pursuant to the Agreement. Ray dismissed the lawsuit and filed with the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”), asserting the same four claims. In addition, and the focus of this case, Ray attempted to pursue his claims as a class action under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 and a collective action under 29 U.S.C. 216(b). The arbitrator determined that the Arbitration Agreement between the two parties permitted classwide arbitration, and then stayed the arbitration to permit DISH to contest the issue in court. DISH filed a Petition to Vacate Clause Construction Arbitration Award, which the district court denied. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined the arbitrator in this case did not manifestly disregard Colorado law when he concluded that he was authorized to conduct class arbitration by the broad language of the Agreement in combination with the requirement that arbitration be conducted pursuant to the AAA’s Employment Dispute Rules. Accordingly, the district court correctly denied DISH’s petition to vacate the arbitration award. View "Dish Network v. Ray" on Justia Law

by
F & H Coatings, LLC (“F&H”), a commercial and industrial painting contractor, contracted with Boardman L.L.C. (“Boardman”), a manufacturer of steel pressure vessels and tanks, to sandblast and paint a number of vessels at Boardman’s manufacturing facility in Wichita, Kansas. During the performance of this contract, a fatal accident at the Boardman facility took the life of Toney Losey, an employee of F & H: Losey and his F & H supervisor, Robert Patrick, were preparing a 12,000 pound vessel for sandblasting when the vessel slipped from its support racks and crushed Losey. F & H characterized this event as a “freakish, unforeseeable, and still-unexplained accident.” The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) learned of the accident the same day, and sent a Compliance Safety and Health Officer to inspect the scene. The OSHA officer also interviewed witnesses and employees of F & H and Boardman. Upon the officer’s recommendation, OSHA issued a citation to F & H for a violation of the General Duty Clause, 29 U.S.C. 654(a)(l), because F & H’s employee was “exposed to struck-by hazards in that the pressure vessel was not placed on a work rack which prevented unintentional movement.” F&H contested the citation. Approximately eight months after the hearing, the ALJ issued a written order, finding that the accident that killed Losey resulted from an obviously hazardous condition of which F & H was aware. F&H appealed OSHA’s final order, asking the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to set aside a $7,000 penalty imposed. Finding that the ALJ’s findings were supported by substantial evidence, the Tenth Circuit affirmed OSHA’s final order and the penalty issued. View "F & H Coatings v. Acosta" on Justia Law

by
Several years after a tank car spill accident, appellants Larry Lincoln and Brad Mosbrucker told their employer BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”) that medical conditions attributable to the accident rendered them partially, permanently disabled and prevented them from working outdoors. BNSF removed appellants from service as Maintenance of Way (“MOW”) workers purportedly due to safety concerns and because MOW work entailed outdoor work. With some assistance from BNSF’s Medical and Environmental Health Department (“MEH”), Appellants each applied for more than twenty jobs within BNSF during the four years following their removal from service. After not being selected for several positions, Appellants filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), accommodation request letters with BNSF, and complaints with the Occupational Safety Health Administration (“OSHA”). Following BNSF’s rejection of their applications for additional positions, Appellants filed a complaint raising claims for: (1) discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”); (2) failure to accommodate under the ADA; (3) retaliation under the ADA; and (4) retaliation under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”). Relying on nearly forty years of Tenth Circuit precedent, the district court concluded that filing an EEOC charge was a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit and it dismissed several parts of Appellants’ ADA claims for lack of jurisdiction. Appellants also challenged the vast majority of the district court’s summary judgment determinations on the merits of their claims that survived the court’s exhaustion rulings. After polling the full court, the Tenth Circuit overturn its precedent that filing an EEOC charge was a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit, thus reversing the district court’s jurisdictional rulings. Appellants’ ADA discrimination and ADA failure to accommodate claims relative to some of the positions over which the district court determined it lacked jurisdiction were remanded for further proceedings. With respect to the district court’s summary judgment determinations on the merits of appellants’ claims that survived the exhaustion rulings, the Tenth Circuit was unable to reach a firm conclusion on the position-based ADA discrimination and failure to accommodate claims. The Court concluded the district court’s dismissal of the FRSA claims were appropriate. Therefore, the Court reversed in part, affirmed in part and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Lincoln v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law

by
Mindy Armstrong was employed by The Arcanum Group, Inc., which served as a placement agency to staff federal-government positions. She was placed with the Real Estate Leasing Services Department of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). After she complained that BLM employees were falsifying lease-related records, the BLM demanded that Arcanum remove her from the placement. Her Arcanum supervisor could not find an alternative placement for Armstrong and accordingly terminated her employment. Armstrong sued Arcanum in federal district court, claiming Arcanum retaliated against her for her falsification complaints, in violation of the antiretaliation provisions of the False Claims Act (FCA) and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The district court granted Arcanum summary judgment, and Armstrong appealed. Finding that Armstrong did not produce sufficient evidence that her supervisor had knowledge of her complaints before he terminated her, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer. View "Armstrong v. The Arcanum Group" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Marcia Eisenhour worked for 24 years as a court administrator for the Weber County Justice Court. In 2008, she complained to the county attorney about sexual harassment by Judge Craig Storey, the only judge of that court. The matter was referred to Utah’s Judicial Conduct Commission, which found no misconduct. Eisenhour then went public in 2009, and the press reported her allegations. Several months later, three Weber County Commissioners, defendants Craig Deardon, Kenneth Bischoff, and Jan Zogmaister, voted to close the Justice Court and merge it with a similar court in another county. This eventually left Eisenhour without a job. Eisenhour sued Storey, Weber County, and the three commissioners who voted to close the Justice Court, raising a variety of claims. The district court granted summary judgment against Eisenhour on all claims, and she appealed. The Tenth Circuit reversed in part. At the trial on the remanded claims, the jury rendered verdicts for Eisenhour on the equal-protection harassment claim against Storey and the whistleblower claim against the County but found against her on the First Amendment retaliation claims against the County and the commissioners. The district court then granted a motion by the County for a new trial on the whistleblower claim, and it sua sponte ordered a new trial on the retaliation claims against the County and the commissioners. At the retrial on those claims the court granted the commissioners’ motion for judgment as a matter of law under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) on the retaliation claim against them, and the jury found for the County on the whistleblower and retaliation claims against it. Storey raised two issues on appeal: (1) the denial of his motion for judgment as a matter of law because the evidence against him was insufficient; and (2) the admission into evidence of a poem he had written concerning Eisenhour. Eisenhour raised three issues: (1) the judge who presided at the first trial should have recused himself after the jury rendered its verdict in that trial; (2) her second trial was unfair because of the district court’s evidentiary rulings; and (3) at the second trial the district court should not have granted the commissioners a judgment as a matter of law but should have let the claim go to the jury. The Tenth Circuit rejected all challenges by both parties except dismissal of a punitive-damages claim. View "Eisenhour v. Weber County" on Justia Law