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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Petitioner John Acha worked as a Purchasing Agent for the Forest Service at the White River National Forest in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. In January 2012, a few months into his job, Petitioner submitted a report to his direct supervisor that documented an apartment rental he had helped secure on behalf of the Forest Service. In this report, Petitioner believed another employee violated the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) when he made an unauthorized deposit. Petitioner’s supervisor, however, did not act on Petitioner’s concerns; in fact, his supervisor instructed him to delete the report’s reference to the deposit. Petitioner followed the instructions and deleted the reference. Several months later in April, Petitioner sent an email to the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General in which he again mentioned that the Forest Service employee had violated regulations. Petitioner also indicated in his email that he had previously told his supervisor about this violation; that, in response, his supervisor had instructed him to cover up the violation; and that he was punished afterward and treated poorly for following this instruction. Petitioner was eventually terminated during his probationary period from his position with the Forest Service. He filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), alleging that he was terminated because he was a whistleblower. The OSC eventually closed its inquiry into Petitioner’s complaint and refused to seek any corrective action on his behalf from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The OSC determined that no official involved in Petitioner’s termination knew of his email to the Inspector General and, as such, his email could not have contributed to his termination. Petitioner appealed the OSC’s determination and sought corrective action from the MSPB himself. This time, he also argued that he was fired for disclosing the FAR violation to his direct supervisor earlier in the year. The Department objected to Petitioner’s new allegation that he was terminated for making a whistleblowing disclosure: arguing that because Petitioner had not raised this argument before the OSC, he had not exhausted all of his administrative remedies, and therefore the MSPB lacked jurisdiction to consider whether Petitioner was terminated for the alleged whistleblowing. Before the Tenth Circuit, Petitioner did not challenge the MSPB’s ruling regarding his disclosure to the Inspector General; he appealed only the MSPB’s ruling regarding his disclosure to his supervisor. Petitioner argued that the MSPB erred by making him prove a retaliatory motive as a prerequisite before it would consider his disclosure to his supervisor to be protected. The Tenth Circuit concluded the MSPB lacked jurisdiction to consider whether Petitioner was terminated for disclosing the FAR violation to his supervisor. The Court vacated the MSPB’s decision insofar as it concluded that Petitioner’s disclosure was not a protected disclosure and remanded this case back to the MSPB to dismiss that issue for lack of jurisdiction. The MSPB’s decision regarding disclosure to the Inspector General was affirmed. View "Acha v. Dept. of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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CGG Land (U.S.) Inc.’s employees (Employees) brought this collective action alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employees were former hourly employees of CGG. CGG provided seismic-mapping services at remote locations throughout the United States. To reach the remote locations, CGG required employees to travel away from home and stay in hotels near remote job sites for four-to-eight-week intervals. Employees then returned home for about two-to-four week intervals before traveling again. Employees often worked more than forty hours per week while on location, and CGG paid them overtime based on Employees’ regular rates of pay. When CGG’s employees worked away from home, CGG provided them a $35 per diem for meals, including on days spent traveling to and from the remote locations. In determining Employees’ regular rates of pay, CGG didn’t include the daily $35 payments. Contesting this calculation method, Employees filed a collective action against CGG asserting that CGG violated the FLSA by calculating their overtime pay on undervalued regular rates of pay. After stipulating to material facts in the district court, the Parties each sought summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment for CGG, agreeing with CGG that the $35 payments were exempt from the regular rates of pay under 29 U.S.C. 207(e)(2). On appeal, Employees argued that the district court erred in treating the $35 payments as exempt travel expenses under section 207(e)(2). Finding no reversible error in that determination, the Tenth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of CGG. View "Sharp v. CGG Land (U.S.), Inc." on Justia Law

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Phillips 66 Company appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and order compelling arbitration in its dispute with the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union and its Local 13-857. The Union filed two grievances on behalf of employees of the Company and sought arbitration pursuant to the grievance procedure in the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). The Company refused to arbitrate. The Union sued and the district court issued an order compelling arbitration. The Company argued on appeal that the grievances were not arbitrable under the CBA. Finding no reversible error in the district court's order, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United Steel, Paper & Forestry, Rubber Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial & Svc. Workers Int'l Union v. Phillips 66 Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioner American Federation of Government Employees Local 1592 (Union) appealed a Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) decision made in favor of the Department of the Air Force, Ogden Air Logistics Center, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The FLRA rejected the Union’s claim that Hill committed an unfair labor practice when it denied the request of its then-employee Joseph Ptacek Jr. to have a union representative present during questioning by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) about his misuse of a work computer. The claim rested on a provision of 5 U.S.C. sec. 7101 et seq., that provided federal employees who belonged to a union with the right to the presence of a union representative when questioned about matters that could lead to discipline. The FLRA relied on President Carter’s Executive Order 12,171, which exempted AFOSI from coverage under the Labor-Management Statute. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded section 7103(b)(1) and Executive Order 12,171 extinguished any right to have a union representative present during a proper AFOSI interrogation, and as such, denied the Union’s petition. View "American Fed. of Gov. Employee v. FLRA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants Blake Brown, Dean Biggs, Jacqueline Deherrera, Ruth Ann Head, Marlene Mason, Roxanne McFall, Richard Medlock, and Bernadette Smith appealed a summary judgment order upholding Defendants-Appellees Thomas E. Perez, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor, and the Office of Workers Compensation’s (“OWC”) (collectively, “the agency”) redactions to documents they provided to Plaintiffs pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, (“FOIA”). Plaintiffs were former federal civilian employees eligible to receive federal workers compensation benefits. If there was a disagreement between a worker’s treating physician and the second-opinion physician hired by the OWC, an impartial “referee” physician was selected to resolve the conflict. The referee’s opinion was frequently dispositive of the benefits decision. To ensure impartiality, it is the OWC’s official policy to use a software program to schedule referee appointments on a rotational basis from a list of Board-certified physicians. Plaintiffs suspected that the OWC did not adhere to its official policy, but instead always hired the same “select few” referee physicians, who were financially beholden (and presumably sympathetic) to the agency. To investigate their suspicions, Plaintiffs filed FOIA requests for agency records pertaining to the referee selection process. Because the Tenth Circuit found that the FOIA exemptions invoked by the agency raise genuine disputes of material fact, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Brown v. Perez" on Justia Law

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Kris Olson managed a warehouse for Penske Logistics, but Penske fired him while he was on medical leave. He filed suit under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), alleging Penske had unlawfully interfered with his FMLA rights. Penske moved for summary judgment, arguing that because of his poor job performance, Olson would have been fired even if he had not taken leave. Penske’s motion was granted, and Olson appealed. Olson contended summary judgment was inappropriate because there was enough evidence for a jury to believe his termination was related to his leave. After careful consideration of Olson's arguments on appeal, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error in the grant of summary judgment, and affirmed. View "Olson v. Penske Logistics" on Justia Law

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Alphonse Maddin worked as a truck driver by Petitioner TransAm Trucking (“TransAm”). In January 2009, Maddin was transporting cargo through Illinois when the brakes on his trailer froze because of subzero temperatures. After reporting the problem to TransAm and waiting several hours for a repair truck to arrive, Maddin unhitched his truck from the trailer and drove away, leaving the trailer unattended. He was terminated for abandoning the trailer. Both an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) and Respondent, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) Administrative Review Board (“ARB”), concluded Maddin was terminated in violation of the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (“STAA”). He was ordered reinstated with backpay. TransAm filed a Petition for Review of the ARB’s Final Decision and Order to the Tenth Circuit which concluded that there was no reversible error in the ARB's decision, and affirmed. View "Transam Trucking v. Administrative Review Bd." on Justia Law

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In 2011, city officials of West Valley City terminated Plaintiff Karen Bird from her position as manager of the city’s Animal Shelter. During the latter half of Plaintiff’s employment, the environment of the Animal Shelter was toxic. Plaintiff was one of the biggest contributors to this tumultuous environment. During the high point of what staffers at the shelter dubbed "the little war," the Salt Lake Tribune published an article about a cat that had survived two euthanization attempts in the Animal Shelter’s gas chamber. A reporter called a West Valley City official and informed the official that he (the reporter) had received an anonymous telephone call alleging that the shelter had ordered a mass execution of animals due to overpopulation. Other shelter managers were under the impression that Plaintiff, who was notoriously against using the gas chamber to euthanize animals and who was one of the few individuals privy to the meeting discussing the shelter’s overpopulation, was the source of these leaks. Around the same time as the anonymous phone call to the press, Plaintiff finally decided she "had enough" and filed the formal complaint that belied this lawsuit before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit could not find that Plaintiff had been fired because of her gender, any hostile work environment she experienced, and West Valley City did not form any contract with her that mandated it would protect her from workplace violence or prevent her from being retaliated against. The Court did find, however, that the district court did not determine whether Plaintiff raised a genuine issue of material fact that this belief substantially motivated West Valley City officials’ decision to terminate Plaintiff. Nor did it determine whether the leaks to the press qualified as “constitutionally protected activity.” The case was affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bird v. West Valley City" on Justia Law

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Eugene Foster appeals from a district-court order granting summary judgment in favor of Mountain Coal Company, LLC (Mountain Coal) on his retaliation claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Foster injured his neck while working for Mountain Coal. Mountain Coal terminated Foster several months after the injury, citing that Foster “gave false information as to a credible Return To Work Slip.” After Mountain Coal terminated his employment, Foster filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Colorado Civil Rights Division. Ultimately, the EEOC issued Foster a right-to-sue notice; armed with the notice, Foster filed a complaint against Mountain Coal, seeking relief under the ADA and Colorado law. On the briefs, the district court entered summary judgment for Mountain Coal on Foster’s ADA and state-law discrimination claims and on Foster’s ADA retaliation claims. Foster appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed, finding that the district court erred in granting Mountain Coal’s motion for summary judgment with respect to Foster’s ADA retaliation claims. "We conclude that a reasonable jury could find that Foster established a prima facie case of retaliation with respect to both his April 3 and April 11 purported requests for accommodation." The Court further concluded that a reasonable jury could find that Mountain Coal’s asserted basis for terminating Foster’s employment was pretext. Therefore the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s order granting Mountain Coal’s motion for summary judgment with respect to Foster’s ADA retaliation claims and remanded for further proceedings. View "Foster v. Mountain Coal Company" on Justia Law

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Ronald Maiteki appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to his former employer, Marten Transport Ltd., on his claim that Marten violated the reinvestigation provision of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Marten had a duty under federal regulations to conduct background checks on drivers. It receives information from and provides information to HireRight, a consumer reporting agency (CRA) that publishes "Drive-A-Check" (DAC) reports on truck drivers’ driving records. When describing Maiteki's work record to HireRight after his employment ended, Marten used code 938, which stands for "Unsatisfactory Safety Record," meaning that the driver did not meet the company’s safety standards. Maiteki alleged that other companies declined to employ him after Marten’s information appeared on his DAC report. He disputed the information, telling HireRight that "Unsatisfactory Safety Record" was incorrect because he “has no accidents/incidents listed on the report.” Marten conducted an internal investigation, and stood by its report to HireRight regarding Maiteki's driving record. Maiteki sued, alleging, among other claims, that Marten’s reinvestigation was inadequate and the response was false. Marten moved for summary judgment on the FCRA claim, which the district court granted. After review, the Tenth Circuit found that Maiteki did not carry his burden to show that a reasonable factfinder could conclude that Marten’s reinvestigation was unreasonable. The Court therefore found that the district court appropriately granted summary judgment to Marten on Maiteki's FCRA claim. View "Maiteki v. Marten Transport" on Justia Law