Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
by
The case revolves around an incident involving Michael Miller, a white Correctional Security Operations Supervisor at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF), and a black coworker. Miller asked the coworker if the food he was heating in the microwave was fried chicken, a comment the coworker perceived as racially discriminatory. Following an investigation, the State of Vermont terminated Miller's employment, citing violations of several personnel policies and work rules, including allegations of racial discrimination and harassment.The Vermont Labor Relations Board, however, reversed the State's decision. It found that while Miller's comments were inappropriate and unprofessional, they did not constitute racial discrimination or harassment as defined by the applicable personnel policies. The Board also found that the State failed to prove that Miller was untruthful during the investigation. Consequently, the Board reduced Miller's penalty to a twenty-day suspension.The State appealed the Board's decision to the Vermont Supreme Court, arguing that the Board misinterpreted the meaning of racial discrimination and harassment in the personnel policies. The Supreme Court affirmed the Board's decision, stating that the Board's interpretation of the policies was within its discretion and was supported by analogous definitions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Court also noted that the State could amend the language of the policies to more clearly define what constitutes racial discrimination or harassment. View "In re Grievance of Miller" on Justia Law

by
The case involves an appeal by the Department of Corrections (DOC) against a jury verdict in favor of plaintiff P. Mark Potanas under the State Employee Whistleblower Act. Potanas, a former superintendent of Southern State Correctional Facility (SSCF), claimed that the DOC fired him in retaliation for his whistleblowing activities. These activities included notifying the state about potential savings on a building renovation project and advocating for more mental health staff at SSCF. The DOC argued that Potanas did not engage in any "protected activity" under the Act, and thus, the trial court should have granted its request for judgment as a matter of law.The trial court denied the DOC's motion, finding that Potanas's report of potential waste and his complaints about mental health staffing were sufficient to meet the definition of "protected activity" under the Act. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Potanas, leading to the DOC's appeal.The Vermont Supreme Court reversed the trial court's ruling, agreeing with the DOC that Potanas did not engage in protected activity under the Whistleblower Act. The court held that the Act does not encompass reports about the possibility of future waste and that reporting on a known problem or disagreeing about how to resolve a known problem is not protected activity. The court remanded the case to the trial court to vacate the jury’s verdict and enter judgment for the DOC. View "Potanas v. Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
Claimant Semir Mahmutovic appealed a Vermont Department of Labor decision concluding that claimant’s prior employer was not obligated to reimburse claimant for lost wages under 21 V.S.A. § 640(c), and that the statute was not unconstitutional as applied to claimant. The Vermont Supreme Court determined that claimant conceded that the Commissioner properly interpreted § 640(c), and further concluded that claimant did not have standing to challenge the constitutionality of § 640(c). View "Mahmutovic v. Washington County Mental Health Services, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Zephryn Hammond appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant University of Vermont Medical Center on plaintiff’s claims of employment discrimination and retaliatory discharge. Defendant terminated plaintiff’s employment in April 2019. In October 2019, plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that defendant had discriminated and retaliated against plaintiff based on plaintiff’s race and disabilities in violation of the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA). The civil division concluded plaintiff had established a prima facie case that plaintiff’s termination was motivated by racial discrimination. However, it ruled that defendant had articulated a legitimate basis for the termination decision, namely, the performance issues identified in plaintiff’s evaluations and during the disciplinary process, and plaintiff had failed to prove that defendant’s proffered reasons were pretextual. The court determined that plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case that plaintiff’s termination was the result of disability discrimination. Finally, the court concluded that the fact that plaintiff was terminated shortly after complaining of possible racial and disability discrimination created a prima facie case of retaliation, but that defendant offered legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for termination and plaintiff had failed to show that the stated reasons were false. It therefore granted summary judgment to defendant on each of plaintiff’s claims. Finding no reversible error in the civil division's judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hammond v. University of Vermont Medical Center" on Justia Law

by
The State of Vermont appealed a decision of the Vermont Labor Relations Board sustaining a grievance filed by the Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA) on behalf of several classified employees. The Board determined that the State violated the employees’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA) when it appointed another employee to a vacant position before the application deadline for that position had expired. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the Board correctly interpreted the CBA and therefore affirmed. View "In re Grievance of Marc Abbey et al." on Justia Law

by
Employer Howard Center appealed a trial court order that confirmed an arbitration award in favor of grievant Daniel Peyser and AFSCME Local 1674. In May 2019, employer expressed concern over grievant’s billing practices, specifically, his submission of billing paperwork in May for services provided in April. Employer told grievant that it was considering disciplining him for “dishonesty and unethical action” concerning the backdated bills. Grievant brought two billing notes from patient records to show that other employees engaged in the same billing practices. Employer did not reprimand grievant for the billing practices. In August 2019, however, employer informed grievant that he breached employer’s confidentiality policy by sharing the billing notes with his union representative at the June meeting. Employer issued a written reprimand to grievant. The reprimand stated that sharing client records without redacting confidential information violated protocols and state and federal regulations, and that grievant knew or should have known of these standards. Employer also explained that it was required to report the breach to state and federal authorities and to those individuals whose records were disclosed. Grievant filed a grievance under the terms of his collective-bargaining agreement, arguing in part that employer lacked just cause to discipline him. In an October 2020 decision, the arbitrator sustained the grievance. Employer then filed an action in the civil division seeking to modify or vacate the arbitrator’s award, arguing in relevant part that the arbitrator manifestly disregarded the law in sustaining the grievance. Employer asked the Vermont Supreme Court to adopt “manifest disregard” of the law as a basis for setting aside the arbitration award and to conclude that the arbitrator violated that standard here. The Supreme Court did not decide whether to adopt the manifest-disregard standard because, assuming arguendo it applied, employer failed to show that its requirements were satisfied. The Court therefore affirmed. View "Howard Center v. AFSCME Local 1674, et al." on Justia Law

by
Claimant Joseph Worrall challenged an Employment Security Board decision finding him ineligible for unemployment compensation and liable to the Vermont Department of Labor for an overpayment. In November 2020, a claims adjudicator found that claimant was disqualified from receiving benefits as of the week ending May 2, 2020, because he left his employment voluntarily without good cause attributable to his employer. The claims adjudicator determined that claimant was obligated to repay $15,028 in overpaid benefits. Claimant argues on appeal that the Board erred in finding him disqualified for benefits. According to claimant, the Board accepted that he undertook efforts to relocate out of state before receiving a return-to-work notice. Based on this premise, claimant asserts that he was “unavailable for work” at the time his employer offered him the opportunity to return and that he was therefore entitled to benefits. Finding no error in the Board's decision, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Worrall v. Department of Labor (Snowfire Ltd., Employer)" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Sean Kelly appealed the grant of summary judgment to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) on employment discrimination and breach-of-contract claims arising from UVMMC’s decision not to extend his one-year medical fellowship. UVMMC selected plaintiff for the 2017-18 fellowship. UVMMC was aware that plaintiff suffered from an adrenal deficiency that had delayed the completion of his residency. In the first five months of the fellowship, plaintiff missed nineteen full days and parts of nine more days for various reasons. By February 2018, after missing several more days and expressing that he felt “frustrated with [his] absences” and “overall inadequate as a fellow,” program personnel became concerned that plaintiff was falling behind in his training. In a March 30 meeting, the program director told plaintiff his performance had “deficiencies and these need[ed] to be addressed.” At some point during this period, the director also told plaintiff he “should plan on extending [his] fellowship due to [his] time out and some minor deficits through August.” Plaintiff emailed other program personnel expressing frustration at the prospect of staying through August to complete his training. On April 14, 2018, plaintiff suffered a stroke, and on April 19th he attempted suicide. He was hospitalized from April 14 through May 3 and was not cleared to return to work until June 1, 2018. In all, plaintiff missed approximately six more weeks of the fellowship. On or about May 31, the director called plaintiff and told him that while UVMMC had determined he needed six more months of training to finish the fellowship, it could not accommodate additional training for that length of time. UVMMC paid plaintiff his remaining salary. Plaintiff filed a grievance under the Graduate Medical Education rules; the grievance committee affirmed UVMMC's decision. Because the decision not to extend his fellowship was an academic decision, there was no employment action and consequently no adverse employment action. The Vermont Supreme Court did not find plaintiff's arguments on appeal persuasive, and affirmed the grant of summary judgment in UVMMC's favor. View "Kelly v. University of Vermont Medical Center" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Angela Gates appealed a trial court’s decision granting summary judgment to defendant, her former employer, on plaintiff’s claims for disability discrimination under the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA) and retaliation under both the Vermont Parental Family Leave Act (PFLA) and Vermont’s workers’ compensation law. Defendant hired plaintiff as a “molder” in 1996. In May 2015, plaintiff reported to defendant that she injured her left knee outside of work. She subsequently took approximately twelve weeks of leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the PFLA, which ran concurrently. Plaintiff returned to work full-time as a "molder" in August 2015 after exhausting her FMLA/PFLA leave. She returned to molder work, but it caused pain in her knee. Plaintiff was reassigned to work as a "finisher," which again aggravated her knee. After a third period of recovery and return to work, plaintiff testified that when she returned, she was told there was no work she could do that was a light-duty task. "Ultimately, plaintiff had the burden to present some admissible material by which a reasonable jury could infer that defendant’s stated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her - that she was indefinitely incapable of performing the essential functions of her job - was a lie. She failed to do so." The trial court correctly granted summary judgment to defendant on plaintiff’s retaliation claims. View "Gates v. Mack Molding Company, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Employee Christie Mitchell appealed a summary judgment order in favor of NBT Bank, N.A. regarding its policy of deducting her overtime compensation from her commissions so that she was never paid more than gross commissions regardless of how many hours she worked in a week. She contended the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) required the bank to pay her entire gross commissions plus overtime wages. Because the FLSA contained no such requirement, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Mitchell v. NBT Bank, N.A." on Justia Law