Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Herrmann v. Salt Lake City Corporation
Plaintiff Jamie Herrmann appeals the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Defendant Salt Lake City Corporation (“the City”) on her claims for failure to accommodate her disability, disability discrimination, and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Herrmann began working for the City in 2002 and successfully held different positions in the Salt Lake City Justice courts for nine years. Starting in 2011, Herrmann began working as an in-court clerk, which required her to spend more time in court than her previous positions. Herrmann was diagnosed with PTSD, stemming from a nearly decade-long abusive marriage. Her presence in the courtroom during domestic violence cases frequently triggered her anxiety, causing severe migraines that could last for several days at a time and resulting in a significant downturn in her productivity. Herrmann raised three claims under the ADA: (1) failure to provide reasonable accommodations, (2) disability discrimination, and (3) retaliation. The Tenth Circuit found Herrmann presented some evidence supporting a conclusion that she could not be accommodated within her existing position. Therefore, the district court erred in holding that Herrmann did not meet her prima facie case. As the district court did not address the other elements of Herrmann’s prima facie case the City challenged, judgment was reversed and the case remanded to provide the district court with that opportunity. View "Herrmann v. Salt Lake City Corporation" on Justia Law
Reznik v. inContact
Plaintiff-Appellant Viktorya Reznik appealed the district court’s dismissal of her Title VII retaliation action against her former employer, Defendant-Appellee inContact, Inc. (inContact). From January 2018 to May 2019, Reznik worked as a Director of Project Management for inContact, a Utah-based corporation offering cloud-based services to companies using call centers. In April 2019, Reznik received internal complaints about racial slurs in the workplace from two native Filipino employees who worked in the company’s Manila, Philippines office. They claimed that an inContact manager, Scott Mendenhall, had repeatedly subjected them and other native Filipino employees to racial slurs, calling them “monkeys” and “not human.” Mendenhall worked in the same Salt Lake County facility as Reznik. Weeks after Reznik reported the harassment to company management, she was terminated as "not a good culture fit" and "not a good fit." Following Reznik’s termination and administrative exhaustion, she filed her Title VII complaint in federal district court. inContact moved to dismiss and the district court granted the motion. According to the district court, Reznik failed to state a claim because she did not show an objectively reasonable belief that she opposed conduct unlawful under Title VII. Finding Reznik's belief she was opposing conduct unlawful under Title VII was objectively reasonable, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal. View "Reznik v. inContact" on Justia Law
Reeves, et al. v. Enterprise Products Partners
Plaintiffs-appellees Darrell Reeves and James King worked as welding inspectors for Enterprise Products Partners through third party staffing companies, Cypress Environmental Management and Kestrel Field Services. Reeves brought a collective action claim to recover unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act. King later consented to join the putative collective action and was added as a named plaintiff. Enterprise argued that both Reeves and King signed employment contracts with their respective staffing companies that contained arbitration clauses for disputes. The Tenth Circuit found that indeed both plaintiffs’ respective contracts contained arbitration clauses, and that under the doctrine of equitable estoppel, these agreements require the claims to be resolved in arbitration. “Because Reeves and James’s claims allege substantially interdependent and concerted misconduct by Enterprise and non-defendant signatories, Cypress and Kestrel, arbitration should be compelled for these claims.” The Court reversed the district court’s denial of Enterprise’s motions to compel. View "Reeves, et al. v. Enterprise Products Partners" on Justia Law
Adams v. C3 Pipeline Construction, et al.
Appellant Jessica Adams worked for C3 Pipeline Construction, Inc. (“C3”) on a pipeline construction crew. C3 subcontracted with Alpha Crude Connector, LLC (“Alpha Crude” or “ACC”) on an ACC pipeline system in New Mexico and Texas. Adams alleged that three C3 workers sexually harassed her while they were working on this project in New Mexico. She sued C3 and Plains Defendants, Alpha Crude’s corporate successors, under federal and New Mexico law. When Plains Defendants answered the complaint, they moved for summary judgment, attaching their Master Service Agreement (“MSA”) with C3 and affidavits from managers stating that Plains Defendants did not “employ” C3’s workers. Adams opposed the motion, moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) to take discovery on her alleged “employment” relationship with Plains Defendants, and argued for the first time that Plains Defendants should have been liable for breaching their duty to keep her safe on their premises. The district court granted summary judgment to Plains Defendants, denied Adams’s Rule 56(d) motion, and construed her premises liability argument as a motion to amend her complaint and denied it as futile. That same day, the district court ordered Adams to serve a summons and the complaint on C3, which she did. When C3 did not answer the complaint, the court entered a default judgment against C3 and ordered it to pay Adams $20,050,000. Within 30 days of that order, Adams appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Plains Defendants. After its review, the Tenth Circuit: (1) denied Plains Defendants’ motion to dismiss this appeal as untimely; (2) affirmed the district court’s summary judgment and Rule 56(d) rulings; and (3) vacated its denial of Adams’s motion to amend and remanded for further proceedings. View "Adams v. C3 Pipeline Construction, et al." on Justia Law
Roberts v. Winder, et al.
Plaintiff Nicholas Roberts appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants James Winder, Rosie Rivera (solely in her official capacity as Salt Lake County Sheriff), and the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake (“UPD”) (collectively, “Defendants”) on Roberts’ 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) claims. All of his claims arose from his removal as Range Master-Firearms Instructor (“Range Master”). On March 1, 2017, at Winder’s request, Undersheriff Scott Carver and Chief Deputy Shane Hudson met with Roberts and informed him that the Range Master position was being eliminated. Hudson told Roberts he would be reassigned to patrol duties and his pay would be reduced. On March 9, Roberts, through counsel, sent a letter to Winder objecting to his removal, reassignment, and pay reduction. Winder treated Roberts’ letter as a grievance and rejected the grievance, explaining that the Range Master was subject to transfer under Merit Commission Policy 3140, Range Master was a specialist position, and Roberts’ merit rank was “sergeant.” The UPD Board later ratified Winder’s decision to remove Roberts as Range Master and reassign him to patrol duties as a sergeant. Winder later assigned Todd Griffiths, a merit rank Lieutenant four years younger than Roberts, to oversee the shooting range. Roberts did not appeal his grievance, and instead filed this complaint in the district court. In June 2017, after Roberts initiated this lawsuit, the UPD conducted two investigations of Roberts’ management of the Range. Both investigations described failures in Roberts’ performance as Range Master. The district court granted partial summary judgment to Defendants on Roberts’ declaratory judgment and due process claims, finding that Roberts did not have a property interest in his position as Range Master, and thus his reassignment did not violate due process. Alternatively, the district court held that Roberts waived his due process claims by failing to appeal Winder’s decision to the Merit Commission. After review, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants. View "Roberts v. Winder, et al." on Justia Law
Tompkins v. DOVA, et al.
Plaintiff-appellant John Tompkins worked as a physician at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for thirty years. From 2012 through 2016, he served as Chief of Surgery. In 2017, he was terminated from his position as a physician based on administrative deficiencies during his tenure as Chief of Surgery. After exhausting the VA’s administrative remedies, Tompkins filed suit claiming entitlement to: (1) review under the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”); and (2) relief under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Tompkins appealed a district court order dismissing his complaint without prejudice based on his failure to identify an applicable waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found no error in the district court's dismissal of Tompkins' complaint for lack of jurisdiction, and affirmed. View "Tompkins v. DOVA, et al." on Justia Law
Peterson v. Nelnet Diversified Solutions
Over 300 call-center representatives (CCRs) who worked at call centers operated by Nelnet Diversified Solutions, LLC (Nelnet) alleged Nelnet failed to pay them for time devoted to booting up their work computers and launching certain software before they clock in. The district court concluded these activities were integral and indispensable to the CCRs’ principal activities of servicing student loans by communicating and interacting with borrowers over the phone and by email and therefore constitute compensable work under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. But it nevertheless denied the CCRs’ claim, finding that the de minimis doctrine applied to excuse Nelnet’s obligation to pay the CCRs for this work. After granting summary judgment to Nelnet, the district court awarded costs to Nelnet as the prevailing party. The CCRs appealed the district court’s de minimis ruling, and separately appealed the district court’s order awarding prevailing-party costs to Nelnet. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the CCRs’ preshift activities were compensable work under the FLSA. But its application of the three-factor de minimis doctrine leads it to a different result: the Tenth Circuit concluded that although the CCRs’ individual and total aggregate claims were relatively small, Nelnet failed to establish the practical administrative difficulty of estimating the time at issue, which occured with "exceeding regularity." Therefore, in Appeal No. 19-1348, the district court’s order awarding summary judgment to Nelnet was reversed. And because the Court reversed on the merits, Nelnet was no longer the prevailing party. Accordingly, in Appeal No. 20-1217, the district court's order awarding costs to Nelnet was reversed, and CCR's costs appeal was dismissed as moot. View "Peterson v. Nelnet Diversified Solutions" on Justia Law
Edmonds-Radford v. Southwest Airlines
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
Brown v. Austin, et al.
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
Tudor, et al. v. Southeastern OK St. University, et al.
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