Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Plaintiff-appellant Joan Unrein became legally blind and could no longer drive herself to work, a 120 mile round trip. She asked her employer, Colorado Plains Medical Center, to allow her to work a flexible schedule dependent on her ability to secure rides. The Medical Center permitted this arrangement for a while, but it became a problem because Unrein’s physical presence at the hospital was unpredictable. The flexible schedule arrangement ended in 2016, and was never reinstated. After Unrein was terminated, she sued the Medical Center for failure to accommodate her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. After a bench trial, the district court entered judgment in favor of the Medical Center because it concluded Unrein’s accommodation request was unreasonable since a physical presence at the hospital on a set and predictable schedule was an essential job function of her position. Unrein appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, agreeing that Unrein’s physical presence at the hospital on a set and predictable schedule was essential to her job, and the ADA did not require an employer to accommodate employees’ non-work related barriers created by personal lifestyle choices. View "Unrein v. PHC-Fort Morgan" on Justia Law

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Brett Hendrickson worked for the New Mexico Human Services Department (“HSD”) and was a dues-paying member of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 18 (“AFSCME” or “Union”). He resigned his membership in 2018 after the Supreme Court decided Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018). His dues deductions stopped shortly thereafter. Despite correspondence stating his wish to withdraw, dues continued to be deducted from Hendrickson’s paycheck. On January 7, 2019, he emailed the State Personnel Office (SPO) to request the deductions be stopped, attaching the Union’s December 6 letter. The SPO responded that because it had not received his request during an opt-out window in the first two weeks of December, it would not stop deductions. Hendrickson then sent a request to the HSD to cease dues deductions. Thereafter, he filed suit to get monies returned when he originally asked for the deductions to stop. Hendrickson contended that, under Janus, the Union could not: (1) retain dues that had been deducted from his paycheck; or (2) serve as his exclusive bargaining representative. The district court dismissed these claims. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, but remanded for the district court to amend its judgment to reflect that: (1) the dismissal of Hendrickson’s request for prospective relief on Count 1 as moot; and (2) the dismissal of Count 2 against the New Mexico Defendants based on Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity, were both “without prejudice.” View "Hendrickson v. AFSCME Council 18" on Justia Law

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Ronald Throupe, a Professor of Real Estate at the University of Denver ("DU"), brought an employment discrimination claim under Title IX against DU as well as several faculty and staff members. In 2013, Throupe was a candidate to serve as director of the Real Estate and Construction Management department. DU ultimately hired outside of the school, bringing in Barbara Jackson to lead the department. According to Throupe, upon Jackon’s arrival, she made clear in conversations with professors, she would force some of the tenured real estate faculty members to leave. In 2014, the University Title IX office was contacted multiple times about Throupe's relationship with a foreign graduate student. In an email to University officials, Jackson concluded "Ron believes he has done nothing but help this girl, but his behaviors have been totally unprofessional and inappropriate, his father/daughter views perverted, and his obsession out of control." The Title IX investigator and DU’s Manager of Equal Employment had a follow-up meeting with Throupe. Afterward, he sent an email to the Manager of Equal Employment formally reporting a hostile work environment. When Throupe later asked whether any actions had been taken in response to his report, the investigator told Throupe his claim “did not result in any formal investigation by the Office of Equal Employment.” However, the school issued him a written warning, admonishing him from further contact with the student. Throupe maintained that Jackson continued to harass him even after the written warning. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. Although Throupe had dedicated little space in his briefing to arguing any theory of sex discrimination, the district court identified two theories of sex discrimination in Throupe’s argument: that defendants created a hostile work environment and engaged in disparate treatment against him. But the court determined that Throupe had failed to establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination under either of these theories. Having dismissed Throupe’s sole federal claim, the district court declined to consider the remaining state law claims due to lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment, specifically concluding the district court did not err in concluding that Throupe failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether he was discriminated against on the basis of his sex. View "Throupe v. University of Denver" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs–Appellants were United States citizens or lawful permanent residents who worked as farm laborers. Defendants–Appellees Cervantes Agribusiness and Cervantes Enterprises, Inc. (collectively, Cervantes) were agricultural businesses owned and managed by members of the Cervantes family in southern New Mexico. Plaintiffs brought claims against Cervantes for breach of contract, civil conspiracy, and violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA), based on Cervantes’s failure to employ them after a labor contractor, allegedly acting on Cervantes’s behalf, recruited them under the H-2A work-visa program of the United States Department of Labor (DOL). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Cervantes on all claims. After review of the trial court record, the Tenth Circuit reversed the trial court’s ruling on the breach-of-contract and AWPA claims because the evidence, taken in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, was sufficient to support a finding that the contractor was acting as Cervantes’s agent when it recruited them. But the Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of Cervantes on the conspiracy claim because of the lack of evidence of an agreement between Cervantes and the contractor to engage in unlawful acts. View "Alfaro-Huitron v. WKI Outsourcing Solutions" on Justia Law

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After a boiler exploded at a refinery, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the refinery’s owner, Wynnewood Refining Co., LLC, for violating 29 C.F.R. section 1910.119, which set forth requirements for the management of highly hazardous chemicals. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (the Commission) upheld the violations, noting that the refinery had previously violated section 1910.119, but the prior violations occurred before Wynnewood LLC owned the refinery, and therefore occurred under a different employer. Accordingly, the Commission did not classify the violations as “repeat[] violations” under 29 U.S.C. 666(a), which permitted increased penalties for “employer[s] who willfully or repeatedly violate[]” the regulation. Wynnewood appealed the Commission’s order, arguing that section 1910.119 did not apply to the boiler that exploded. The Tenth Circuit found section 1910.119’s plain text unambiguously applied to the boiler, and affirmed that portion of the Commission’s order upholding the violations. The U.S. Secretary of Labor also appealed the Commission's order, arguing the Commission erred by failing to characterize the violations as repeat violations. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed Wynnewood was not the same employer as the refinery's previous owner, thus affirming that portion of the Commission's order relating to the repeat violations. View "Scalia v. Wynnewood Refining" on Justia Law

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Delsa Brooke Sanderson brought three claims against her employer, Wyoming Highway Patrol (“WHP”), under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two of those claims were brought before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for review: retaliation and hostile work environment based on sex. WHP moved for summary judgment on all claims. In ruling on WHP’s motion, the district court dismissed Sanderson’s retaliation claim without prejudice because Sanderson had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. The district court then granted WHP’s motion for summary judgment on Sanderson’s hostile work environment claim, concluding that Sanderson had not carried her burden of showing discrimination that was “sufficiently severe or pervasive.” Further, the court affirmed a magistrate's decision excluding Sanderson's designated expert witness, finding the witness' testimony was neither reliable nor relevant. Sanderson appealed both of those rulings, and the district court's order excluding her expert witness. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the retaliation claim and the order excluding Sanderson's designated expert witness. The Court reversed summary judgment as to the hostile work environment claim, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sanderson v. Wyoming Highway Patrol" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kimberly Aubrey worked for the Weld County, Colorado, Clerk and Recorder’s office. She became unable to work for a time due to posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (“PRES”), a rare condition characterized by fluctuating blood pressure that causes swelling in the brain, coma and sometimes death. Eventually Aubrey’s PRES resolved and she began to recover. The County allowed her to take several months off but eventually terminated her employment. By that time, Aubrey contended, she recovered sufficiently to be able to return to her job, with reasonable accommodation for her disability. Aubrey sued the County under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and several related statutes. The district court granted the County summary judgment on all claims. The Tenth Circuit reversed in part, finding Aubrey presented sufficient evidence that a jury could have found the County failed to engage in the collaborative interactive process that the ADA called for between an employer and an employee in order to determine whether there was a reasonable accommodation that would have permitted Aubrey to perform the essential functions of her job. In light of that evidence, Aubrey’s failure-to-accommodate and disability discrimination claims were sufficient to survive summary judgment. Summary judgment for the County was affirmed on Aubrey’s retaliation claims because she failed to present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that the County terminated her employment in retaliation for her asking for an accommodation. View "Aubrey v. Koppes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Dana Fedor appealed a district court’s order compelling her to arbitrate employment-related claims she brought against her former employer, UnitedHealthcare, Inc. (UHC), and United Healthcare Services, Inc. Fedor argued the district court impermissibly compelled arbitration before first finding that she and UHC had indeed formed the arbitration agreement underlying the district court’s decision. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed, concluding that the issue of whether an arbitration agreement was formed in the first instance had to be determined by the court, even where there has been a failure to specifically challenge provisions within the agreement delegating certain decisions to an arbitrator. Judgment was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Fedor v. United Healthcare" on Justia Law

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In September 2018, petitioner Larry Baca was removed from his position in the Directorate of Public Works at the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Baca sought review of this decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), asserting three affirmative defenses to his removal. The MSPB rejected all of Baca’s defenses and affirmed his removal. He appealed only the MSPB’s determination with respect to one of his affirmative defenses, that his firing was unlawful retaliation for whistleblowing in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the MSPB's decision. View "Baca v. Department of Army" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Lynda Hickey, a former employee of the United States Postal Service (“USPS”), filed a discrimination complaint against Defendant Megan Brennan, the Postmaster General of the USPS, in her official capacity. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the basis that Hickey had not properly exhausted her administrative remedies because she did not contact an Equal Employment Office (“EEO”) counselor within forty-five days after her employment was terminated. The magistrate judge, exercising full jurisdiction with the consent of both parties, granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Finding that Hickey indeed, failed to initiate contact with an EEO counselor within forty-five days after the effective date of her termination as required by 29 C.F.R. 1614.105(a), the Tenth Circuit affirmed. Furthermore, the Court found Hickey did not show either that Defendant should have been equitably estopped from raising her lack of timeliness as an affirmative defense or that she was entitled to an extension of time for initiating contact with the EEO. View "Hickey v. Brennan" on Justia Law