Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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The district court dismissed Aarica Romero’s minimum-wage claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the relying on a single, undisputed fact: Romero never alleged that she earned less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, taking into account both: (1) the cash wage that her employer paid her; and (2) all of the tips that she received each week. An employer doesn’t comply with its federal minimum-wage obligations just because its employees receive at least $7.25 an hour in tips. Instead, an employer complies with its minimum-wage obligations if it "pay[s]" its employees at least $7.25 an hour in "wages." And while an employer can treat tips as wages under certain circumstances, Romero argued that her employer impermissibly did so here. The district court declined to address this argument. The Tenth Circuit found that without first resolving whether Romero’s employer was entitled to treat her tips as wages, the district court couldn’t have determined whether that employer "pa[id]" Romero "wages" of at least $7.25 an hour. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded this case back to the district court to make this threshold determination in the first instance. View "Romero v. Top-Tier Colorado" on Justia Law

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued a subpoena to TriCore Reference Laboratories (“TriCore”) seeking information relating to an individual’s charge of disability and pregnancy discrimination. After TriCore refused to comply, the EEOC asked the New Mexico federal district court to enforce the subpoena. The court denied the request, and the EEOC appealed. Although the Tenth Circuit disagreed with some of the district court’s analysis, it could not say it abused its discretion. View "EEOC v. TriCore Reference Laboratories" on Justia Law

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Steven Williams alleged that his former employer, FedEx Corporate Services, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against him based on his actual and perceived disabilities, and by requiring his enrollment in the company’s substance abuse and drug testing program. Williams further alleges that Aetna Life Insurance Company, the administrator of FedEx’s short-term disability plan, breached its fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income and Security Act (ERISA) when it reported to FedEx that Williams filed a disability claim for substance abuse. Both FedEx and Aetna filed motions for summary judgment, which the district court granted. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, and reversed and remanded. An employer is liable for an improper medical examination or inquiry, “unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.” FedEx argued that it satisfied the business necessity exception because its employee testing program “ensure[] that employees who seek assistance for drug abuse or dependencies are no longer abusing the drug if they return to FedEx.” The Tenth Circuit found that the district court did not address this argument. As a result, the Court did not have an adequate record from which it could decide this issue on appeal. The Court reversed for the district court to decide that issue, and affirmed in all other respects. View "Williams v. FedEx Corporate" on Justia Law

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Defendants-Appellants El Tequila, LLC, and Carlos Aguirre (collectively, “El Tequila”) appealed a $2,137,627.44 judgment in favor of Plaintiff- Appellee, Secretary of the Department of Labor (Secretary). El Tequila was a restaurant with four locations (Harvard, Broken Arrow, Owasso, and Memorial) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In December 2010, an employee from the Harvard location complained to the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD). The complaint prompted the WHD to investigate the Harvard location (First Harvard Investigation). The First Harvard Investigation consisted of interviews with employees and El Tequila’s owner, Aguirre; examining payroll documents; and touring the restaurant. The payroll records showed employees were paid $7.25 per hour (the minimum wage), worked about forty hours a week, and received overtime when required. Interviews with Aguirre and his employees confirmed this information.The WHD investigator only found recordkeeping violations, and closed the First Harvard Investigation. Additional employee complaints prompted the WHD to investigate the Harvard location a second time. This time, the WHD investigator arrived at the Harvard location unannounced, and discovered several violations. The records Mr. Aguirre provided during the First Harvard Investigation, known as middle sheets, were based on his false summaries of how many hours employees worked, rather than actual clock-in and clock-out times. During the Second Investigation, Aguirre provided the WHD investigator with time sheets that contained actual clock-in and clock-out times. Aguirre withheld these time sheets during the First Harvard Investigation, and many time entries had been “whited-out” and edited to conform with the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Second Investigation would reveal that Aguirre instructed employees to lie during their interviews. Time sheets and middle sheets were found to have been falsified. In September 2011, the WHD investigated El Tequila’s Memorial, Owasso, and Broken Arrow locations because Aguirre admitted the same impermissible payment practices were occurring there. In October 2012, the Secretary filed suit because El Tequila refused to pay its employees at the Broken Arrow, Owasso, and Memorial locations for wages from October 2009 to August 2011. On appeal, El Tequila challenged aspects of the investigations and subsequent trial, including the amount of damages ordered against it. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the judgment. View "Perez v. El Tequila, LLC" on Justia Law

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Roberick Washington was employed as a lieutenant at the Wyandotte County Juvenile Detention Center in Kansas City, Kansas. After a random drug test, he was fired for testing positive for cocaine. Washington filed a civil rights action against the County and several of his co-workers, alleging that the drug test was an illegal search that violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as breached his employment contract. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding that County’s random drug test did not violate the Fourth Amendment, since the test furthered the County’s need to ensure the safety and welfare of the juvenile residents. Nor did the termination violate any other constitutional or statutory right. View "Washington v. Unified Gov't of Wyandotte Co." on Justia Law

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Janna DeWitt appealed a district court’s order granting summary judgment to her former employer, Southwestern Bell Telephone Company (SWBTC) on her claims of disability discrimination and failure to accommodate her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). In 2009 and early 2010, DeWitt used FMLA leave intermittently for health issues related to her diabetes. DeWitt only took FMLA leave when vacation days were not available because DeWitt believed that SWBTC “frowned upon” employees taking FMLA leave. DwWitt's employment was terminated in 2010 when she allegedly hung up on two customers during a low blood sugar episode. DeWitt explained that she did not remember taking the calls due to a severe drop in her blood sugar. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that SWBTC was entitled to summary judgment because: (1) it advanced a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for taking adverse employment action against DeWitt (i.e., DeWitt’s hanging up on customers while on a Last Chance Agreement); and (2) DeWitt failed to demonstrate that SWBTC’s stated reason for its disciplinary action was pretextual. Finding that DeWitt failed to otherwise meet her burden to overcome summary judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "DeWitt v. Southwestern Bell Telephone" on Justia Law

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Firma Helget worked for the City of Hays, Kansas, as the administrative secretary for the Hays Police Department. In 2012, the City terminated Helget, and she initiated this 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against the City, City Manager Toby Dougherty, and Police Chief Donald Scheibler, alleging they violated her First Amendment rights. Helget claims they terminated her in retaliation for her voluntarily providing an affidavit in support of a former police officer's wrongful-termination litigation against the City. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on Helget's First Amendment retaliation claims, concluding the City's interest as a public employer outweighed Helget's interest in her speech regarding a former employee's litigation. The court also granted qualified immunity to Dougherty and Scheibler. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Helget v. City of Hays" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Matthew Vogt was employed as a police officer with the City of Hays. In late 2013, Vogt applied for a position with the City of Haysville's police department. During Haysville's hiring process, Vogt disclosed that he had kept a knife obtained in the course of his work as a Hays police officer. Notwithstanding this disclosure, Haysville conditionally offered Vogt the job only if he reported his acquisition of the knife and returned it to the Hays police department. Vogt satisfied the condition, reporting to the Hays police department that he had kept the knife. The Hays police chief ordered Vogt to submit a written report concerning his possession of the knife. Vogt complied, submitting a vague one sentence report. He then provided Hays with a two-week notice of resignation, intending to accept the new job with Haysville. In the meantime, the Hays police chief began an internal investigation into Vogt's possession of the knife, including requiring a more detailed statement to supplement the report. Vogt complied, and the Hays police used the additional statement to locate additional evidence. Based on Vogt's statements and the additional evidence, the Hays police chief asked the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to start a criminal investigation, supplying Vogt's statements and the additional evidence. The criminal investigation led the Haysville police department to withdraw its job offer. Vogt was ultimately charged in Kansas state court with two felony counts related to his possession of the knife. Following a probable cause hearing, the state district court determined that probable cause was lacking and dismissed the charges. This suit followed, with Vogt alleging his constitutional rights were violated because his statements were used: (1) to start an investigation leading to the discovery of additional evidence concerning the knife; (2) to initiate a criminal investigation; (3) to bring criminal charges; and (4) to support the prosecution during the probable cause hearing. Vogt argued that these uses of compelled statements violated his right against self-incrimination. Based on the alleged Fifth Amendment violation, Vogt also invoked 42 U.S.C. 1983, suing: (1) the City of Hays; (2) the City of Haysville; and (3) four police officers. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, reasoning that: the right against self-incrimination was only a trial right, and Vogt's statements were used in pretrial proceedings, not in a trial. The Tenth Circuit, after review, concluded: (1) the Fifth Amendment is violated when criminal defendants are compelled to incriminate themselves and the incriminating statement is used in a probable cause hearing; (2) the individual officers were entitled to qualified immunity; (3) the City of Haysville did not compel Vogt to incriminate himself; (4) Vogt stated a plausible claim for relief against the City of Hays. The Court therefore affirmed dismissal of claims against the four officers and Haysville, and reversed dismissal against the City of Hays. View "Vogt v. City of Hays" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff David Hansen filed suit against his former employer, Defendant SkyWest Airlines, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. sections 2000e–2000e–17, for sex-based hostile work environment, disparate treatment, quid pro quo harassment, coworker harassment, retaliation, and for intentional infliction of emotional distress under state law. The district court granted summary judgment for SkyWest with respect to all of his claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed in part, affirmed in part and remanded. The Court found that viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Tenth Circuit found that reasonable persons could differ with respect to Plaintiff's claims for sexual harassment, retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. View "Hansen v. Skywest Airlines" on Justia Law

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Danijela and Aleksandar Mojsilovic appealed the dismissal of their damages claim under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). The Mojsilovics are Serbian scientists recruited and hired by the University of Oklahoma to serve as research assistants at the University’s Health Sciences Center. In that capacity, Aleksandar was hired to conduct DNA sequencing and tissue typing for research and clinical studies; Danijela was hired to make transfectants and tissue cultures. The Mojsilovics were retained by the University through the H-1B visa program, and they were supervised by Dr. William Hildebrand, the director of the medical research laboratory at the Health Sciences Center. Dr. Hildebrand also owned a biotechnology company called Pure Protein, which, through a contractual arrangement, shares the University’s facilities to perform similar work. According to the Mojsilovics, shortly after they were hired, Dr. Hildebrand demanded that they also work for Pure Protein. He allegedly required them to work longer hours than permitted by their visa applications, without pay, and threatened to have their visas revoked if they objected. Dr. Hildebrand became verbally abusive at times, and because he was authorized to make hiring and firing decisions, the Mojsilovics claimed they feared he would take action against their immigration status if they did not comply with his demands. The Mojsilovics eventually filed suit, naming the University, Dr. Hildebrand, and Pure Protein as defendants. With respect to claims against the University, the district court dismissed the Mojsilovic’s claims as barred by sovereign immunity. Finding no error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Mojsilovic v. Board of Regents University of Oklahoma" on Justia Law