Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Defendant-Appellee Southwest Airlines graded its new hires based on two overarching categories of criteria: Attitude and Aptitude. By all accounts, Plaintiff-appellant Krista Edmonds-Radford had the necessary Attitude for her position as a Southwest Customer Service Agent. Unfortunately, she failed to exhibit the necessary Aptitude, and Southwest terminated her for failing to meet expectations. That termination led to this disability-based lawsuit, in which Edmonds-Radford sued Southwest for disparate treatment, failure to accommodate, and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Southwest on all claims, and Edmonds-Radford appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined: (1) Edmonds-Radford failed to establish her prima facie case or that Southwest’s proffered reason for her termination was pretextual; (2) Edmonds-Radford failed to present evidence she requested any accommodations in connection with her disability (in any event, Southwest provided all requested accommodations); and (3) because there was no proof she made any disability-based accommodation requests, Edmonds-Radford's retaliation claim based on such requests was doomed. "But even if Edmonds-Radford had made disability-based accommodation requests, her retaliation claim would still fail in light of our conclusions that Edmonds-Radford failed to establish that her disability was a determining factor in her termination, or that Southwest’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the termination was pretextual. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Southwest on all claims. View "Edmonds-Radford v. Southwest Airlines" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from Alfred Brown’s lawsuit under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. secs. 701–796l, against his former employer, the Defense Health Agency. In April 2010, the Agency hired Brown as a healthcare fraud specialist (HCFS) assigned to the Program Integrity Office (PIO) in Aurora, Colorado. Shortly after joining the Agency, Brown told his supervisors that he had been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder and other panic and anxiety disorders related to his military service. When Brown’s symptoms worsened in September 2011, he was hospitalized and received in-patient treatment for one week. The Agency approved Brown’s request for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The district court granted summary judgment for the Agency, determining that there were no triable issues on Brown’s claims that the Agency failed to accommodate his mental-health disabilities and discriminated against him based on those disabilities. Brown appealed, challenging the district court’s rulings that: (1) his requests for telework, weekend work, and a supervisor reassignment were not reasonable accommodations; and (2) he failed to establish material elements of his various discrimination claims. The Tenth Circuit found no reversible error: (1) granting Brown’s telework and weekend-work requests would have eliminated essential functions of his job, making those requests unreasonable as a matter of law; (2) Brown did not allege the limited circumstances in which the Agency would need to consider reassigning him despite the fact that he performed the essential functions of his position with other accommodations; (3) the Court declined Brown’s invitation to expand those limited circumstances to include reassignments that allow an employee to live a “normal life;” and (4) Brown did not allege a prima facie case of retaliation, disparate treatment, or constructive discharge. Summary judgment for the Agency was affirmed. View "Brown v. Austin, et al." on Justia Law

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Dr. Rachel Tudor sued her former employer, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, under Title VII, claiming discrimination on the basis of sex, retaliation, and a hostile work environment after Southeastern denied her tenure, denied her the opportunity to reapply for tenure, and ultimately terminated her from the university. A jury found in favor of Dr. Tudor on her discrimination and retaliation claims and awarded her damages. The district court then applied the Title VII statutory cap to reduce the jury’s award, denied Dr. Tudor reinstatement, and awarded front pay. Both Dr. Tudor and the University appealed: Southeastern challenged certain evidentiary rulings and the jury verdict; Dr. Tudor challenged several of the court’s post-verdict rulings, the district court’s denial of reinstatement, the calculation of front pay, and the application of the statutory damages cap. After review, the Tenth Circuit rejected Southeastern’s challenges. Regarding Dr. Tudor’s appeal however, the Court held that there was error both in denying reinstatement and in calculating front pay, although there was no error in applying the Title VII damages cap. Affirming in part and reversing in part, the Court remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings. View "Tudor, et al. v. Southeastern OK St. University, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff John Hayes prosecuted his employment discrimination case to a favorable verdict and judgment. During trial, two instances of misconduct prompted Defendant SkyWest Airlines, Inc. to request a mistrial. But it was Defendant’s own misconduct. Thus, the district court tried to remedy the misconduct and preserve the integrity of the proceedings, but did not grant Defendant’s request. After the trial, exercising its equitable powers, the district court granted Plaintiff’s request for a front pay award. Following final judgment, Defendant moved for a new trial based, in part, on the district court’s handling of the misconduct incidents and on newly discovered evidence. The district court denied that motion. Defendant appealed, asking the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse and remand for a new trial or, at the very least, to vacate (or reduce) the front pay award. Finding the district court did not abuse its discretion or authority in this case, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the front pay award. View "Hayes v. Skywest Airlines" on Justia Law

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T & H Services performed operation and maintenance services at Fort Carson Army base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, under a contract with the United States Army (the Army Contract) that was governed by several federal labor-standards statutes, including the Service Contract Act, and the Davis-Bacon Act. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 113 (the Union) represented some T&H employees under a collective-bargaining agreement (the CBA) that included a provision for binding arbitration of disputes “limited to matters of interpretation or application of express provisions of [the CBA].” Several Union members who repaired weather-damaged roofs at Fort Carson in the summer of 2018 were paid the hourly rate for general maintenance workers under Schedule A of the CBA. The Union, believing that the workers should have been classified as roofers under the Davis-Bacon Act and paid the corresponding hourly rate under the schedule, filed a grievance and sought arbitration of the dispute. When T&H refused, claiming that the dispute was not arbitrable under the CBA, the Union filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado to compel arbitration under section 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The district court agreed with T&H that the dispute was not arbitrable and granted summary judgment to the company. The Union appeals. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 113 v. T&H Services" on Justia Law

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The elected Sheriff of El Paso County, Colorado, and head of the Paso County Sheriff’s Office (“EPSO”), fired Keith Duda, a patrol sergeant. Duda believed he was fired for supporting candidate Mike Angley, who challenged Sheriff Elder's reelection bid, and for giving an interview to a local newspaper about sexual harassment and other misconduct at the EPSO. Duda brought First Amendment retaliation claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. At summary judgment, the district court denied qualified immunity to Sheriff Elder. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to Sheriff Elder on Duda’s Angley speech claim. The district court did not err in finding a constitutional violation. On the reporting claim, Sheriff Elder did not contest there was a constitutional violation. Instead, he argued no law clearly established it was unconstitutional to terminate Duda for the reporting speech, contending the district court incorrectly relied on Wulf v. City of Wichita, 883 F.2d 842 (10th Cir. 1989). To this, the Tenth Circuit affirmed because Wulf was substantially similar to the facts of this case. "Under Wulf, it was 'sufficiently clear that every reasonable official [in Sheriff Elder’s position] would have understood' that firing Mr. Duda based on his speech reporting misconduct at EPSO to The Independent was unconstitutional." View "Duda, et al. v. Elder" on Justia Law

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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