Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
by
Claimant John West appealed a Vermont Department of Labor decision concluding that the 2014 amendment to 21 V.S.A. 644(a)(6) did not apply retroactively. In March 2013, West fell fifteen to twenty feet while working in the course of his employment for North Branch Fire District. He was transported to the hospital and treated for extensive injuries. In September 2014, West relocated to Florida, and at some point thereafter, began working at the Freedom Boat Club. Between 2014 and 2016, several different physicians provided conflicting opinions on the level of West’s permanent impairment. In February 2016, Dr. Joseph Kandel conducted an independent medical examination (IME) at North Branch’s request. At a deposition in September 2018, Dr. Kandel testified that it would be accurate to say that “West suffered an injury to the skull resulting in [a] severe traumatic brain injury causing permanent and severe cognitive, physical, or psychiatric disabilities.” West filed a request for a formal hearing, asserting that he was permanently and totally disabled under section 644(a)(6). Between the date of West’s injury and his request for a formal hearing, the Vermont Legislature amended section 644(a)(6). In January 2019, North Branch filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the pre-amendment version of 644(a)(6), which defined total and permanent disability as “an injury to the skull resulting in incurable imbecility or insanity,” applied to West’s claim because that was the law on the date of his injury in March 2013. Further, North Branch argued that the 2014 amendment did not apply retroactively because despite the Legislature’s stated purpose, the amendment created a substantive change in the law. In any event, because West was employed, North Branch maintained that he was not totally and permanently disabled under either version of 644(a)(6). West argued that, contrary to the Commissioner’s conclusion, the 2014 amendment to 644(a)(6) applied retroactively because it did not create any new substantive rights. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the 2014 amendment applied retroactively and therefore reversed and remanded. View "West v. North Branch Fire District #1" on Justia Law

by
Claimant Sadeta Zebic appealed the Commissioner of Labor’s decision not to certify a question for review to the superior court, arguing that the Commissioner had no discretion not to certify her proposed question. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded it did not have jurisdiction to hear this appeal because claimant previously appealed to the superior court, and the statutory scheme provided that a workers’ compensation claimant could appeal either to the superior court or directly to the Supreme Court. View "Zebic v. Rhino Foods, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff William Pettersen appealed a trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment to his former law firm, defendant Monaghan Safar Ducham PLLC. He argued that sufficient evidence existed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to his claims for promissory estoppel, unjust enrichment, intentional misrepresentation, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy, thus contending that summary judgment was inappropriate. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly granted summary judgment, and affirmed. View "Pettersen v. Monaghan Safar Ducham PLLC" on Justia Law

by
Both the Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA) and the State of Vermont appealed a Labor Relations Board decision sustaining and dismissing in part a grievance filed by the VSEA on behalf of grievant Michael Welch, an employee of the Vermont Department of Liquor Control (DLC). Between 2007 and 2015, grievant worked as a state transport deputy sheriff with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD). In 2015, he was hired by the DLC as a liquor-control investigator. The State determined that while working as a transport deputy, grievant had been a county employee, and therefore he was not eligible for salary and leave benefits available under the CBA to certain prior State employees beginning another State job. The VSEA then filed the instant grievance alleging that the State violated the CBA by failing to pay grievant at the contractually required step and failing to calculate his leave accrual at the contractually required rate. After considering the parties’ positions, the Board concluded that, for purposes of compensation and benefits, transport deputies are State employees exempt from the classified service. As a result, it found that the State violated Articles 30, 31, and 62 of the CBA in denying grievant compensation and leave benefits to which he was entitled. However, the Board determined that the State did not violate Article 45 because the promotional pay rate available thereunder applied only to those transferring between positions in the State classified service. The grievance alleged ongoing violations by the State of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA). After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed as to Articles 30, 31 and 62, but reversed as to Article 45. The matter was remanded for calculation fo the amount that grievant was owed under Article 45 of the CBA. View "In re Grievance of Michael Welch" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Clay Knight appealed the civil division’s affirming a small-claims award to the Town of Bennington for reimbursement of defendant’s salary and benefits pursuant to a contract between defendant and the Town. Defendant signed an “employment agreement” with the Bennington Police Department under which, in exchange for receiving full-time training, he agreed to repay the Town a portion of his salary if he was unable or unwilling to remain employed by the Town for three years. The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court’s review was whether this agreement conflicted with the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that set defendant’s rate of pay during training. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the employment agreement indeed conflicted with the CBA, and therefore reversed. View "Town of Bennington v. Knight" on Justia Law

by
The State appealed a Labor Relations Board decision that grievant Jacob Carnelli, a former correctional officer who was eligible for mandatory reemployment pursuant to the applicable collective bargaining agreement (CBA), met the minimum qualifications for a position at the Department of Motor Vehicles requiring at least two years of “office clerical experience.” The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the Board overstepped its authority by failing to apply the minimum qualifications as established by the DMV, and therefore reversed. View "In re Grievance of Jacob Carnelli" on Justia Law

by
The Chittenden County, Vermont Sheriff’s Department (CCSD) appealed the Vermont Employment Security Board’s ruling that the CCSD was not entitled to relief from several weeks of unemployment compensation benefits which it paid to a former CCSD employee, Michael Major, due to an alleged erroneous determination by a Board claims adjudicator. The CCSD and the State both appealed a claims adjudicator’s decision to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who, following a hearing, reversed the claims adjudicator’s determination and found that Major had voluntarily quit and was therefore not entitled to unemployment benefits. As part of that determination, the ALJ waived any requirement that Major repay the benefits he had received because the ordered payments were not a result of any nondisclosure or material misrepresentation on his part. The ALJ also refused to allow the CCSD or the State relief from benefits already paid to Major as a result of the claims adjudicator’s determination. Although the ALJ concluded the State was Major’s last employing unit, the ALJ further determined that neither Major nor the sheriff made any distinction between Major’s employment by the State or the CCSD and that, in practice, Major’s position as a State transport deputy and his duties from the CCSD were one and the same. The ALJ refused to allow the CCSD and the State to be relieved of benefits they had paid to Major because both employers had chosen not to pay quarterly unemployment insurance tax, but instead elected to make reimbursement payments to the unemployment compensation fund for benefits they were ordered to pay. As a result of being a reimbursing employer, rather than a contributing one, the CCSD was liable to reimburse the unemployment fund, and could not be relieved of those charges. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed, finding the plain language of 21 V.S.A. 1321(f) made it “abundantly clear to all eligible employers” that, should they select reimbursing status, they would assume responsibility for benefits paid but denied on appeal. “Having availed itself of this advantage, the CCSD cannot now avoid the financial obligations, including the risk of liability for benefits paid in error, it accepted in exchange.” View "Chittenden County Sheriff's Department v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Adam Provost appealed a civil division determination that plaintiff Burlington School District could disclose, in response to a newspaper’s public records request, an unredacted copy of a Resignation Agreement reached by the District and Provost concerning his employment with the District. Provost argued the civil division: (1) lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the District’s request for declaratory relief regarding a matter within the exclusive purview of the Public Records Act (PRA); and (2) erred by granting the District’s request for declaratory relief based on its conclusion that Provost had waived any objection to release of the agreement, even assuming it had jurisdiction to consider the request. The Vermont Supreme Court determined the District and Provost entered into a contract acknowledging the obligation of the District, as a public entity subject to the PRA, to release the Resignation Agreement "under the provisions of applicable law." The District and Provost had reached a legal stalemate over whether release of an unredacted copy of the Agreement would violate not only the PRA, but also their Agreement, which would expose the District to a breach-of-contract claim. Under these circumstances, it was entirely appropriate for the superior court to exercise its general jurisdiction to adjudicate the District’s request for declaratory relief. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Burlington School District v. Provost" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Dawn Boynton appealed the trial court’s dismissal of her wrongful termination complaint against her former employer. In her amended complaint, plaintiff alleges that she was terminated from her employment as a medical assistant at defendants’ medical office in Rutland, Vermont in September 2017 in violation of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and contrary to whistleblower protections. The trial court found that the employee handbook was unambiguous and established an at-will employment relationship that was fatal to plaintiff’s claim of a violation of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The court also rejected plaintiff’s assertion that defendants violated public policy by terminating her because she qualified as a “whistleblower” under the terms of the handbook, concluding that neither the handbook nor the whistleblower statute covered the conduct she reported. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded plaintiff failed to state a claim for violation of a clear and compelling public policy. Furthermore, she did not state a claim under the handbook’s whistleblower policy. Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly dismissed plaintiff’s case. View "Boynton v. ClearChoice MD, MSO, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Vermont Labor Relations Board (Board) dismissed a petition for the election of a collective-bargaining representative filed by appellant-petitioner, Vermont State Colleges Faculty Federation (Federation). The petition sought to include part-time faculty teaching for the Vermont State Colleges (VSC) distance-learning program (DLP) in the existing part-time faculty collective bargaining unit represented by the Federation. The Federation filed an initial and amended petition, in response to which the Board issued three orders: an original and two amended orders. The order at issue here was the second amended order: the Board dismissed the petition for failing to propose an appropriate bargaining unit. On appeal, the Federation asked the Vermont Supreme Court to reverse the Board’s dismissal and order the Board to reinstate the petition and conduct an election among the proposed unit members. VSC argued the Supreme Court should affirm the Board’s original decision and order an election or, in the alternative, affirm the Board’s second amended order dismissing the petition. The Supreme Court found the Board’s factual findings demonstrated that DLP faculty and on-campus faculty had different student populations, geographic locations, faculty experiences and teaching platforms, and hiring practices, and compensation considerations. The Board found that the two groups had minimal interactions, because, due to the increase in distance learning, they were inherent competitors, and that new issues for online educators not shared by traditional faculty would arise in the near future. All of these findings supported the Board’s conclusion that there were sufficient differences in the interests between these two groups that combining them would result in an inappropriate collective-bargaining unit. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the Board’s dismissal. View "In re Vermont State Colleges Faculty Federation, AFT Local 3180" on Justia Law