Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Anjela Greer, an employee for the City of Wichita who worked at the Wichita Art Museum, contended her employer denied her a promotion because of her military service in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. She applied for a promotion but didn’t get an interview. Greer simultaneously served in the Navy Reserves and worked as a security guard at the Wichita Art Museum. After about five years as a security guard Greer learned of a vacancy for the museum’s “Operations Supervisor.” She and one other person applied. A city employee screened the applications and decided not to advance Greer to the next stage, where she would have been interviewed. The Museum attributed the denial of an interview to Greer’s lack of qualifications: the new job required at least one year of prior supervisory work in particular fields. The application called for Greer to state how many people she supervised. She answered “2,” but identified her job title only as “Security” and didn’t list any supervisory duties. Based on the job title and the absence of any listed supervisory duties, the Museum maintained Greer’s application had shown a lack of supervisory experience. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on two grounds: (1) any reasonable factfinder would determine that the defendants had declined to advance Greer to the interview stage because her application showed a lack of supervisory experience; and (2) the defendants had proven that they wouldn’t have advanced Greer to an interview regardless of her military status. The Tenth Circuit rejected both grounds. The first was invalid because a factfinder could reasonably infer that Greer’s military status was a motivating factor in defendants’ denial of an interview. The second ground was also invalid because a factfinder could have reasonably found Greer would have obtained an interview if she had not been serving in the military. The Court thus reversed the grant of summary judgment to the defendants. View "Greer v. City of Wichita, Kansas" on Justia Law

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Jonella Tesone claimed that Empire Marketing Strategies (“EMS”) discriminated against her under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) when it terminated her employment. The district court granted summary judgment to EMS. EMS hired Tesone as a Product Retail Sales Merchandiser. Her job duties included changing or “resetting” retail displays in grocery stores. When she was hired, Tesone informed EMS that she had back problems and could not lift more than 15 pounds. On appeal, Tesone alleged the district court erred when it denIed her motions: (1) to amend the scheduling order to extend the time for her to designate an expert; and (2) amend her complaint. She also contended the district court erred in granting summary judgment to EMS. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not err with respect to denying Tesone’s motions, but did err in granting summary judgment in favor of EMS. “Whether Ms. Tesone can make a prima facile case of a disability, and whether her doctor’s note can be considered at summary judgment, is open to the district court’s further consideration.” View "Tesone v. Empire Marketing Strategies" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Robert Kenney was a former employee of Defendant Helix TCS, Inc. (“Helix”), which provided security services for businesses in Colorado’s state-sanctioned marijuana industry. Kenney filed this lawsuit against Helix under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), alleging that Helix misclassified him and similarly situated workers as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime obligations. Helix moved to dismiss Kenney’s claim based on the Controlled Substance Act (“CSA”), arguing that Kenney’s employment activities were in violation of the CSA and are thus not entitled to FLSA protections. The Tenth Circuit concluded Helix wanted it to interpret the CSA in a manner implicitly repealing the FLSA’s overtime mandate for employers in the marijuana industry. The Tenth Circuit determined the “case law is clear that employers are not excused from complying with federal laws” because of their other federal violations. “Moreover, the purposes of the FLSA do not conflict with the CSA quite as directly as Helix implies. Helix cherry-picks among the enumerated purposes of the FLSA, citing only those most favorable to its arguments.” The Tenth Circuit did not draw conclusions about the merits of Kenney’s FLSA claims. Rather, the Court held only that Kenney and similarly situated individuals were not categorically excluded from FLSA protections. It therefore affirmed the denial of Helix’s motion to dismiss. View "Kenney v. Helix TCS" on Justia Law

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Beginning in 2009, Plaintiff Rajesh Singh worked as an untenured professor in the School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) at Emporia State University (ESU). He was informed in February 2014 that his annual contract would not be renewed. He sued ESU and various administrators in their individual capacities, asserting several retaliation and discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Kansas Act Against Discrimination (KAAD); and the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants on every claim except one: a First Amendment retaliation claim under section 1983 against Provost David Cordle. Provost Cordle appealed the denial of summary judgment on the ground that he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court then certified as final under Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b) its order granting summary judgment on all other claims, and Plaintiff filed a cross-appeal, challenging the grant of summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims: (1) ESU and the individual Defendants discriminated against him by not renewing his contract; and (2) ESU and the individual Defendants retaliated against him for filing discrimination complaints with ESU’s human resources department and the Kansas Human Rights Commission (KHRC). The Tenth Circuit found the claims against ESU were brought under Title VII and the KAAD, and the claims against the individual Defendants were brought under section 1983. The Court reversed the district court’s denial of summary judgment for Provost Cordle and affirmed grants of summary judgment on the remaining claims. Cordle was entitled to qualified immunity because he could have reasonably believed that the speech for which he allegedly punished Plaintiff was not on a matter of public concern. As for the discrimination claims, the district court properly granted summary judgment because Plaintiff did not establish a genuine issue of fact that ESU’s given reason for his nonrenewal, that he was noncollegial, was pretextual. “Although Plaintiff contends that these discrimination claims survive under the cat’s-paw theory of liability, he does not provide adequate evidence that the allegedly biased supervisor - his school’s dean - proximately caused the ultimate nonrenewal decision.” The Court affirmed summary judgment on Plaintiff’s retaliation claims because he failed to present adequate evidence that the ESU employees who allegedly retaliated against him knew that he had filed formal discrimination complaints. View "Singh v. Cordle" on Justia Law

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Bonni Genzer, an Uber driver, contended James River Insurance Company, Uber’s insurer, breached its contractual obligations by declining coverage for injuries she sustained in an accident on the return leg of a lengthy fare. Genzer also contended that, under Oklahoma law, the “mend the hold” doctrine limited James River to the grounds it gave for declining coverage before she sued. The district court granted summary judgment in James River’s favor, first ruling that Oklahoma had not adopted the mend-the-hold doctrine, and next holding that Genzer’s claim falls outside the scope of the governing insurance policy. The Tenth Circuit agreed as to both issues. View "Genzer v. James River Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The EEOC was authorized to obtain evidence by issuing a subpoena and seeking a court order enforcing it. The EEOC exercised those powers when it sought information from Centura Health ("Centura"), a multi-facility healthcare organization operating primarily in Colorado. Between February 2011 and October 2014, eleven current or former Centura employees, working across eight Colorado locations, filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC. They alleged Centura violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by terminating their employment or refusing to allow them to return to work after medical leave. These employment decisions were allegedly made because of their disabilities or their requests for accommodations. Centura petitioned the EEOC to revoke or modify the subpoena. The EEOC denied the petition and directed Centura to provide the requested information. Centura refused, so the EEOC filed a subpoena-enforcement action in the district court. Centura challenged only parts of the subpoena, including items 9 and 18(e), arguing that compliance would be unduly burdensome and that the information sought was not relevant to the eleven individual charges within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. 2000e-8(a). It alleged the information would only be relevant to a pattern-or-practice investigation, but the EEOC had not filed a pattern-or-practice charge. While the Tenth Circuit determined Centura’s representations of the disparate factual nature of the eleven charges was largely accurate, and agreed with the distinctions it drew regarding the EEOC’s cases, the Court concluded Centura failed to persuade the Court that eleven charges of disability discrimination, most alleging a failure to accommodate across a handful of an employer’s facilities, were insufficient to warrant finding information regarding an employer’s pattern-or-practice relevant. The Court affirmed the district court's enforcement of the EEOC's subpoena. View "EEOC v. Centura Health" on Justia Law

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Five Peruvian shepherds who worked in the Western United States pursuant to H-2A agricultural visas brought antitrust claims, on behalf of themselves and similarly situated classes of shepherds, against several sheep ranchers (the “Rancher Defendants”), two associations (the “Association Defendants”), and Dennis Richins (referred to collectively as the “Defendants”). The Shepherds alleged the Defendants “conspired and agreed to fix wages offered and paid to shepherds at the minimum DOL wage floor.” The Shepherds also brought class action RICO claims against Richins and the Association Defendants. The RICO claims focused on allegedly false assurances made by the Association Defendants to the federal government that H-2A shepherds were being properly reimbursed for various expenses. The district court dismissed as to both claims, finding the complaint did not plausibly allege an agreement to fix wages, and did not allege the existence of enterprises distinct from the persons alleged to have engaged in those enterprises. The trial court denied the Shepherds' request to amend their complaint. On appeal, the Shepherds argued there were valid antitrust and RICO claims, and that the district court abused its discretion in denying their motion to amend their complaint. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred in dismissing the RICO claim naming Richins as a defendant. But in all other regards, the district court was affirmed. View "Llacua v. Western Range Association" on Justia Law

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James Lyle worked as a coal miner for roughly 28 years. After retiring, he sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act. An administrative law judge concluded that Lyle was entitled to benefits, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board affirmed. Energy West Mining Company, Lyle's former employer, filed a petition for review of the Board’s decision, arguing primarily the administrative law judge lacked authority to award benefits, and the Review Board couldn’t have remedied the problem by appointing an administrative law judge. The Tenth Circuit rejected most of Energy West’s arguments but agreed with its challenge to the administrative law judge’s analysis of an opinion by Dr. Joseph Tomashefski, Jr. Because Energy West did not invoke the Appointments Clause in proceedings before the Benefits Review Board, the Court determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider the validity of the administrative law judge’s appointment. However, in its analysis, the administrative law judge discounted Dr. Tomashefski’s medical opinion for a reason unsupported by the record. The Court thus vacated the award of benefits and remanded to the Board for reconsideration of Dr. Tomashefski’s opinion. View "Energy West Mining Company v. Lyle" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerns the propriety of the timing of deductions by a Subchapter S corporation for expenses paid to employees who participate in the corporation’s employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). Taxpayers Stephen and Pauline Petersen and John and Larue Johnstun were majority shareholders in Petersen Inc. (the Corporation), a Subchapter S corporation. The disputed liabilities arose from Taxpayers’ income-tax returns for 2009 (offset in small part by corrections in their favor for their 2010 returns). Because the Corporation was a Subchapter S corporation, it was a pass-through entity for income-tax purposes; taxable income, deductions, and losses were passed through to its shareholders. Taxpayers appealed the United States Tax Court’s decision holding them liable for past-due taxes arising out of errors in their income-tax returns caused by premature deductions for expenses paid to their Corporation’s ESOP. Taxpayers contended the Tax Court misinterpreted the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and, even if its interpretation was correct, miscalculated the amounts of alleged deficiencies. The Commissioner agreed a recalculation was necessary. The Tenth Circuit affirmed Taxpayers’ liability but remanded for recalculation of the deficiencies. View "Petersen v. CIR" on Justia Law

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Julie Reed sued her former employer, KeyPoint Government Solutions, LLC (“KeyPoint”), for violating the federal False Claims Act. Her qui tam claims alleged KeyPoint violated the Act by knowingly and fraudulently billing the government for work that was inadequately or improperly completed. Reed also claimed that KeyPoint fired her in retaliation for her efforts to stop KeyPoint’s fraud. The issues this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether: (1) the district court erred in granting summary judgment in KeyPoint's favor on Reed's qui tam claims; and (2) whether the district court erred in dismissing Reed's retaliation claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). According to Reed, KeyPoint’s management not only knew of systemic violations but also encouraged them by pressuring investigators to rush investigations to maximize revenue. Alarmed by the abuses, Reed voiced her concerns within the company. Reed’s efforts to curb the violations failed. Eventually, KeyPoint fired Reed. About a month later, Reed and her counsel contacted the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and discussed the abuses she claimed to have witnessed while at KeyPoint. At the government’s urging, Reed sued KeyPoint in January 2014. Her operative complaint raised three qui tam claims and a retaliation claim. The qui tam claims alleged that KeyPoint violated the False Claims Act by: (1) falsely certifying that it performed complete and accurate investigations, (2) falsely certifying that it did proper case reviews and quality-control checks, and (3) falsifying corrective action reports. Reed’s retaliation claim alleged that KeyPoint fired her for trying to stop it from violating the False Claims Act. The Tenth Circuit determined Reed pled sufficient facts to survive a motion for summary judgment with respect to the False Claims Act, but not enough to survive dismissal of her retaliation claim. The Tenth Circuit concluded Reed failed to show KeyPoint knew of her protected activities such that the company was on notice of her efforts to stop its alleged violations. View "United States ex rel. Reed v. Keypoint Government Solutions" on Justia Law