Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

by
Plaintiff Anupama Bekkem filed suit against her employer, the Department of Veterans Affairs, based on numerous instances of discrimination and retaliation she allegedly experienced while working as a primary care physician for the VA in the Oklahoma City area. The district court dismissed some of her claims under Rule 12(b)(6) and granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant on the remaining claims. Plaintiff appealed. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's grant of summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims of discrimination based on unequal pay and retaliation based on her non-selection for the position as North May clinic medical director, and dismissal of her claim of discrimination based on a reprimand she received, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. However, the Court reversed summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claim of retaliation relating to the reprimand, and remanded that claim for further proceedings at the district court. View "Bekkem v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

by
Jason Dean, director of the Labor Relations Division of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions (“DWS”), appealed a district court's denial of qualified immunity against the claim that he violated Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to substantive due process by failing to issue prevailing rates for wages and fringe benefits as required by New Mexico law. Plaintiffs were individuals who worked on public works projects in New Mexico, who filed claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated. As a result of this failure, from 2009 to 2015 plaintiffs alleged they did not receive the rates to which they were entitled under the Act. Defendants moved to dismiss, claiming qualified immunity. The district court granted it in part and denied it in part. Specifically, the district court granted the motion in its entirety as to Secretary Bussey, and as to Plaintiffs’ procedural due-process claim against Director Dean. However, the court denied the motion with respect to Director Dean on Plaintiffs’ substantive due-process claim. The Tenth Circuit dismissed plaintiffs' cross-appeal for lack of jurisdiction, and reversed and remanded the denial of qualified immunity as to Director Dean. View "Cummings v. Dean" on Justia Law

by
Dennis Woolman, former president of The Clemens Coal Company, challenged a district court’s determination that Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company didn’t breach a duty to him by failing to procure for Clemens Coal an insurance policy with a black-lung disease endorsement. Clemens Coal operated a surface coal mine until it filed for bankruptcy in 1997. Woolman served as Clemens Coal’s last president before it went bankrupt. Federal law required Clemens Coal to maintain worker’s compensation insurance with a special endorsement covering miners’ black-lung disease benefits. Woolman didn’t personally procure insurance for Clemens Coal but instead delegated that responsibility to an outside consultant. The policy the consultant ultimately purchased for the company did not contain a black-lung-claim endorsement, and it expressly excluded coverage for federal occupational disease claims, such as those arising under the Black Lung Benefits Act (the Act). In 2012, a former Clemens Coal employee, Clayton Spencer, filed a claim with the United States Department of Labor (DOL) against Clemens Coal for benefits under the Act. After some investigation, the DOL advised Woolman that Clemens Coal was uninsured for black-lung-benefits claims as of July 25, 1997 (the last date of Spencer’s employment) and that, without such coverage, Woolman, as Clemens Coal’s president, could be held personally liable. Woolman promptly tendered the claim to Liberty Mutual for a legal defense. Liberty Mutual responded with a reservation-of-rights letter, stating that it hadn’t yet determined coverage for Spencer’s claim but that it would provide a defense during its investigation. Then in a follow-up letter, Liberty Mutual clarified that it would defend Clemens Coal as a company (not Woolman personally) and advised Woolman to retain his own counsel. Liberty Mutual eventually concluded that the insurance policy didn’t cover the black-lung claim, and sued Clemens Coal and Woolman for a declaration to that effect. In his suit, Woolman also challenged the district court’s rejection of his argument that Liberty Mutual should have been estopped from denying black-lung-disease coverage, insisting that he relied on Liberty Mutual to provide such coverage. Having considered the totality of the circumstances, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court didn’t err in declining Woolman’s extraordinary request to expand the coverages in the Liberty Mutual policy. “Liberty Mutual never represented it would procure the coverage that Woolman now seeks, and the policy itself clearly excludes such coverage. No other compelling consideration justifies rewriting the agreement— twenty years later—to Woolman’s liking.” View "Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance v. Woolman" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-Appellant DTC Energy Group, Inc., sued two of its former employees, Adam Hirschfeld and Joseph Galban, as well as one of its industry competitors, Ally Consulting, LLC, for using DTC’s trade secrets to divert business from DTC to Ally. DTC moved for a preliminary injunction based on its claims for breach of contract, breach of the duty of loyalty, misappropriation of trade secrets, and unfair competition. The district court denied the motion, finding DTC had shown a probability of irreparable harm from Hirschfeld’s ongoing solicitation of DTC clients, but that DTC could not show the ongoing solicitation violated Hirschfeld’s employment agreement. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not abuse its discretion when denying DTC's motion for a preliminary injunction, and affirmed. View "DTC Energy Group v. Hirschfeld" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-Appellant Rhonda Nesbitt was a former massage therapy student who attended a for-profit vocational school operated by Defendants-Appellees (“Steiner”).On behalf of a class of former students, Nesbitt brought suit claiming the students qualified as employees of Steiner under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and alleging Steiner violated the FLSA by failing to pay minimum wage. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Steiner, holding that the students were not employees of the schools under the FLSA. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Nesbitt v. FCNH" on Justia Law

by
From 2009 until 2012, Debbi Potts worked as the campus director of the Cheyenne, Wyoming campus of CollegeAmerica Denver, Inc. (CollegeAmerica), a predecessor of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, Inc. (the Center). Potts alleged she resigned because CollegeAmerica’s business practices were unethical. In particular, she alleges that CollegeAmerica violated its accreditation standards and “actively deceiv[ed]” its accreditor to maintain accreditation. In September 2012, Potts and CollegeAmerica entered a written agreement by which CollegeAmerica agreed to pay Potts $7,000 and support her unemployment claim, and Potts agreed to (1) “refrain from personally (or through the use of any third party) contacting any governmental or regulatory agency with the purpose of filing any complaint or grievance,” (2) “direct any complaints or issues against CollegeAmerica . . . to CollegeAmerica’s toll free compliant [sic] number,” and (3) “not intentionally with malicious intent (publicly or privately) disparage the reputation of CollegeAmerica.” Despite the agreement, Potts disparaged the Center in an e-mail she sent to another former employee. After learning of this, the Center sued Potts in Colorado state court for violating the agreement, seeking the $7,000 it had paid to Potts under the agreement. In February 2013, Potts sent a written complaint to the Center’s accreditor, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), concerning the Center’s alleged deceptions in maintaining its accreditation. After learning this, the Center amended its state-court complaint to add breach of contract. In response, Potts sued the Center in federal district court, alleging that the Center’s state claim violated the False Claims Act’s anti-retaliation provision. The Tenth Circuit considered whether this anti-retaliation statute applied when no retaliatory discrimination occurred until after employment ends. The Court concluded that it did not, and affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Potts’s retaliation claim. View "Potts v. Center for Excellence" on Justia Law

by
Au pairs and former au pairs filed a class action lawsuit against AuPairCare, Inc. (“APC”) and other au pair sponsoring companies alleging violations of antitrust laws, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), federal and state minimum wage laws, and other state laws. Eventually, the au pairs amended their complaint and added two former au pairs, Juliane Harning and Laura Mejia Jimenez, who were sponsored by APC. In response, APC filed a motion to compel arbitration, which the district court denied. The district court found the arbitration provision between the parties both procedurally and substantively unconscionable and declined to enforce it. Because the arbitration provision contained only one substantively unconscionable clause, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court abused its discretion by refusing to sever the offending clause and otherwise enforce the agreement to arbitrate. The Court therefore reversed the district court’s ruling and remanded for further proceedings. View "Beltran v. Interexchange, Inc." on Justia Law

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