Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Fresquez v. BNSF Railway
Plaintiff Brandon Fresquez filed suit against his former employer, defendant BNSF Railway Company (BNSF), claiming that BNSF violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) by terminating his employment in retaliation for him engaging in certain activities that were expressly protected under the FRSA. A jury found in favor of Fresquez on his claim of retaliation under the FRSA, and awarded him $800,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages. Following the trial, Fresquez moved for an award of back and front pay. The district court granted that motion in part and awarded Fresquez a total of $696,173. BNSF argued on appeal: (1) it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the merits of Fresquez’s claims; (2) alternatively, it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of punitive damages. BNSF further argues that it was entitled to a new trial on the merits of Fresquez’s claims based on the district court’s admission of character and other prejudicial evidence; (3) it was entitled to a new trial on the issue of compensatory damages; and (4) the district court abused its discretion by awarding Fresquez ten years’ worth of front pay. Rejecting these arguments, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed judgment. View "Fresquez v. BNSF Railway" on Justia Law
Wright v. Portercare Adventist
Plaintiff-appellant Stacey Wright worked as the charge nurse in the cardiac catheterization lab at Castle Rock Adventist Hospital (“Castle Rock”), a unit of the Portercare Adventist Health System (“Portercare”). After she was denied a transfer within Portercare and was terminated from her position at Castle Rock, Wright brought Title VII claims for discrimination and retaliation. The district court granted Portercare summary judgment, concluding it advanced legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its employment decisions and Wright failed to adduce evidence supporting a finding of pretext. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court. View "Wright v. Portercare Adventist" on Justia Law
Vincent v. Nelson
Plaintiff-appellant Wesley Vincent and Defendant-appellee Ava Nelson were involved in a collision while working as coal-haul truck drivers at a mine in Campbell County, Wyoming. Vincent filed a personal-injury case in Wyoming federal district court. Following a two-week trial, a jury concluded that Nelson did not act with willful and wanton misconduct, and thus was not liable for Vincent’s damages. Vincent appealed, arguing the trial court erred in its evidentiary rulings during trial, its denial of his pre-trial motion to compel the introduction of evidence regarding the mine’s financial interest in the litigation, and the denial of his motion for a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Vincent v. Nelson" on Justia Law
Energy West v. Bristow
Cecil Bristow suffered from a chronic lung disease, COPD, and attributed it to coal-mine dust from years of working in coal mines. An administrative law judge and the Benefits Review Board agreed with Bristow and awarded him benefits. Bristow's most recent employer, Energy West Mining Company, petitioned the Tenth Circuit for judicial review of the Board's decision, and the Tenth Circuit denied the petition, finding the Board did not err in upholding the administrative law judge's award of benefits. View "Energy West v. Bristow" on Justia Law
Parker v. United Airlines
Plaintiff-appellant Jeannie Parker fielded calls for United Airliines, booking flight reservations. Parker took FMLA leave because she had a vision disorder and her father had cancer. About five months after approving the leave, Parker’s supervisor suspected Parker was avoiding new calls by telling customers that she would get additional information, putting the customers on hold, and chatting with coworkers about personal matters while the customers waited. The supervisor characterized Parker’s conduct as “call avoidance.” This suspicion led to a meeting between the supervisor, Parker, and a union representative. Following the meeting, United suspended Parker while investigating her performance. During this investigation, the supervisor reviewed more of Parker’s phone calls with customers and recommended that United fire Parker. United’s policies prohibited the supervisor from firing Parker; United had to select a manager to conduct a meeting and allow participation by Parker, her supervisor, and a union representative. All of them could present arguments and evidence, and the manager would decide whether to fire Parker. At the second meeting, the union representative asked United to apply its progressive discipline policy rather than terminate Parker's employment, to which United declined. Policy allowed Parker to appeal by filing a grievance; if she were to submit a grievance, another manager would conduct the appeal, wherein Parker could again be represented by the union, and present additional arguments. Parker filed a grievance but declined to participate, relying on her union representative. The union representative admitted in the conference call that Parker had “no excuse for the demonstrated behavior of call avoidance except for being under extreme mental duress.” With this admission, the union representative asked United to give Parker another chance. The senior manager declined and concluded that United hadn’t acted improperly in firing Parker. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether United's termination was made in retaliation for Parker's taking FMLA leave. Specifically, whether FMLA's prohibition against retaliation applied when the employee obtained consideration by independent decisionmakers. "Retaliation entails a causal link between an employee’s use of FMLA leave and the firing. That causal link is broken when an independent decisionmaker conducts her own investigation and decides to fire the employee." The Tenth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment to United. View "Parker v. United Airlines" on Justia Law
Ford v. Jackson National Life, et al.
Plaintiff-appellant La’Tonya Ford worked at Jackson National Life Insurance (“Jackson”) for about four years. During her time there, Ford allegedly suffered sex- and race-based discrimination; faced retaliation for complaining about her treatment; endured a hostile work environment; and was constructively discharged. After she left Jackson for another job, Ford sued the company for (1) discrimination; (2) retaliation; (3) hostile work environment; and (4) constructive discharge. Jackson moved for summary judgment; the district court granted Jackson’s motion and dismissed all of Ford’s claims. Ford now appeals, urging us to reverse the court on each claim. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her discrimination claim. But it reversed in part the dismissal of her retaliation claim; her hostile-work-environment claim; and her constructive-discharge claim. View "Ford v. Jackson National Life, et al." on Justia Law
Cruz v. Farmers Insurance, et al.
Michael Cruz sued defendant insurance companies alleging they terminated his contract, under which he sold defendants’ insurance products, on the basis of race, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. In support, Cruz relied on a statement allegedly made by his district manager, which Cruz argued represented direct evidence of discrimination, as well as circumstantial evidence. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants, ruling that the district manager’s statement was inadmissible hearsay and that Cruz’s circumstantial evidence did not otherwise demonstrate discriminatory intent. Without considering Cruz’s circumstantial evidence, the Tenth Circuit reversed because the district manager’s alleged comment was not inadmissible hearsay; it was admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(D) as a party-opponent admission made by an agent within the scope of the agency relationship. And because that admission constituted direct evidence of discrimination, the grant of summary judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Cruz v. Farmers Insurance, et al." on Justia Law
Dansie v. Union Pacific Railroad
Plaintiff Kelly Dansie sued Defendant Union Pacific Railroad Company for terminating his employment in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant on Plaintiff’s ADA claim but allowed the case to proceed to trial on Plaintiff’s FMLA claim. The jury then returned a verdict in Defendant’s favor. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part, finding plaintiff presented sufficient evidence for a jury to find that defendant failed to engage in the ADA mandated good-faith communications with respect to reasonable accommodations of plaintiff's disability. Given that evidence, summary judgment for Defendant was reversed on plaintiff’s ADA claim, and the issue was remanded to the district court for a trial. But the Tenth Circuit affirmed the verdict for defendant on plaintiff’s FMLA claim. View "Dansie v. Union Pacific Railroad" on Justia Law
EEOC v. Roark-Whitten Hospitality, et al.
Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against defendant Roark-Whitten Hospitality 2 (RW2) seeking relief for what the EEOC alleged were unlawful employment practices by RW2 on the basis of race, color, national origin, and retaliation. Those unlawful employment practices allegedly occurred after RW2 purchased and began operating a hotel in Taos, New Mexico in 2009. The aggrieved employees were all employed at the hotel prior to RW2’s purchase, and were all either terminated or constructively discharged at some point after the purchase. After the action was initiated, the EEOC filed amended complaints seeking to add as defendants two additional entities, Jai Hanuman, LLC (Jai), which purchased the hotel from RW2 in 2014, and SGI, LLC (SGI), which purchased the hotel from Jai in 2016. The district court dismissed the EEOC’s claims against SGI on the grounds that the EEOC failed to adequately allege a basis for successor liability against SGI. As for RW2 and Jai, the district court, acting pursuant to a motion for civil contempt filed by the EEOC, entered default judgment against them and then conducted a hearing on the issue of damages. After conducting that hearing, the district court dismissed the EEOC’s claims against Jai on the grounds that the EEOC failed to adequately allege a basis for successor liability against Jai, and it ordered RW2 to pay compensatory damages to the EEOC in the total amount of $35,000. The EEOC appealed, arguing: (1) the district court erred in dismissing its claims against defendants SGI and Jai; and (2) the district court erred in awarding only $35,000 in compensatory damages for the eleven aggrieved individuals. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the EEOC’s claims against defendant SGI, affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the EEOC’s claims against defendant Jai, reversed the district court’s damage award against defendant RW2, and remanded for further proceedings. View "EEOC v. Roark-Whitten Hospitality, et al." on Justia Law
Stroup, et al. v. United Airlines
Defendant-Appellant United Airlines (“United”) appealed a district court’s denial of its motion for judgment as a matter of law (“JMOL”), and its motion for new trial. A jury found that United discriminated against two flight attendants, Plaintiffs-Appellees Jeanne Stroup and Ruben Lee by terminating them because of their ages in willful violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). United filed its motions with the district court, contending, among other things, that the jury’s verdict was based on legally insufficient evidence and the court erred in admitting Plaintiffs’ testimony about their emotional distress. The district court denied the motions. United contended: (1) the district court erred in denying its JMOL motion because (a) there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that United discriminated against Plaintiffs because of their ages in violation of the ADEA, and (b) similarly, there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that United acted willfully in committing any ADEA violation; and (2) the court abused its discretion and committed reversible error when it admitted Plaintiffs’ allegedly irrelevant and highly prejudicial emotional distress testimony. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded there was sufficient evidence for the jury to reasonably find that, not only did United violate the ADEA by discriminating against Plaintiffs, but it did so willfully. Furthermore, the Court determined the district court did not err by admitting the challenged emotional distress testimony. View "Stroup, et al. v. United Airlines" on Justia Law