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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Defendants-Appellants Paragon Contractors Corporation and Brian Jessop (Paragon) appealed a district court’s order, findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding the calculation of back wages. Plaintiff-Appellee United States Secretary of Labor (Secretary) sought to compel Paragon to replenish a fund established to compensate children employed without pay in violation of both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and an injunction. Paragon had previously been held in contempt for violating the injunction. On appeal, Paragon contended the district court failed to adhere to the elements of a back wage reconstruction case under Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680 (1946). Specifically, Paragon argued the district court erred in: (1) concluding that the Secretary established a prima facie case; (2) imposing an improperly high burden for rebutting the inferences arising from that case and holding that Paragon failed to rebut certain inferences; and (3) declining to apply a statutory exemption. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Scalia v. Paragon Contractors" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants United Government Security Officers of America International Union and its local, United Government Security Officers of America, Local 320 (collectively, the Unions) sued American Eagle Protective Services Corporation and Paragon Systems, Inc. (collectively, the Employers) under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), seeking declaratory relief under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and to compel arbitration of a terminated employee’s grievance. The Employers terminated Michael Reid, a Salt Lake City union member. The Unions grieved the termination, alleging the member was terminated without just cause. The Employers denied the grievance, alleging the member was terminated with just cause, thus not subject to arbitration under the exceptions listed in the CBA. The member was terminated in 2014; the Unions filed this action in 2018, seeking to compel arbitration of the grievance of the alleged wrongful discharge. The district court granted summary judgment to the Employers, ruling that the action was time-barred. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United Government Security v. American Eagle Protective" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Steven Kientz spent many years as a "dual status" technician with the Kansas Army National Guard, where he worked as a mechanic on electronic measurement equipment. Plaintiff’s position required him to simultaneously serve as a member of the National Guard, a second job with separate pay and separate responsibilities. In retirement, Plaintiff receives a monthly pension payment under the Civil Service Retirement System based on his service as a dual status technician. Plaintiff also receives Social Security retirement benefits based on contributions he made to the Social Security system from his separate pay as a National Guard member. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether a dual status service technician’s civil service pension was “based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service” under 42 U.S.C. 415(a)(7)(A). After review, the Court concluded Plaintiff's civil service pension is not “wholly” based on service as a member of a uniformed service, and his pension payments were therefore subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision ("WEP"). Plaintiff’s dual status technician work was at least partially distinct from the performance of his military duties. And Plaintiff received separate compensation and separate pensions for his performance of those distinct roles. The Court concurred with the district court and Social Security Administration that Plaintiff's Social Security retirement benefits were subject to the WEP. View "Kientz v. Commissioner, SSA" on Justia Law

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Dr. Dennis Rivero appealed the grant of summary judgment awarded in favor of the University of New Mexico Board of Regents (Defendant). Dr. Rivero was employed full-time by the University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH) from 1992 until early 2007, when he voluntarily decreased his workload to one day per month while he worked full-time in Oklahoma. After several months on this schedule, Rivero asked the chair of the UNMH orthopedics department, Dr. Robert Schenck, if he could return to full-time or three-quarter-time employment. For several years nothing came of this request, and Rivero continued to work in Oklahoma while spending only one day per month performing surgeries at UNMH. In December 2010, Schenck and Rivero agreed that Rivero could gradually reach a three-quarter-time position if he complied with certain conditions, namely that Rivero “attend four counseling sessions” before his workload would be increased. UNMH sent Rivero an addendum to his employment contract (the Addendum) to formalize the terms of the agreement. Rivero was “shocked by the requirements of the Addendum” and sought access to his personnel files. The University refused to turn over his files and withdrew the Addendum about two weeks later. Rivero continued to work one day a month at UNMH. After UNMH refused to let his see his personnel files, Rivero petitioned for a writ of mandamus in New Mexico state court seeking an order that UNMH provide him access to the files. The court ordered production of the files, and by January 2014 Rivero had received his complete files. He resigned from his position with UNMH a few months later, and pursued relief with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After receiving a right-to-sue letter from the Agency, Rivero filed the underlying suit, alleging UNMH violated the Rehabilitation Act by requiring psychiatric evaluations and constructively discharging him on the basis of a perceived disability. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded summary judgment was appropriate: (1) Rivero’s claim relating to the Rehabilitation Act was untimely; and (2) his claim that he was constructively discharged was not supported by the evidence presented. View "Rivero v. Univ. N.M. Board of Regents" on Justia Law

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Under Colorado law, employers must pay all employees time-and-a-half wages for overtime hours, with certain exemptions. Employers need not pay overtime wages to “companions, casual babysitters, and domestic employees employed by households or family members to perform duties in private residences.” The question this case presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review was whether “companions” working for third-party employers (rather than for households or family members) fell within the companionship exemption. The Court determined they do. Accordingly, it reversed the district court’s judgment concluding otherwise. View "Jordan v. Maxim Healthcare Services" on Justia Law

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A group of 122 detention officers who work or worked at Otero County Prison near Chaparral, New Mexico, alleged that their employer, Management & Training Corporation (MTC), failed to pay them for certain activities that they engaged in before they arrived at, when they arrived at, and after they left their posts within the prison. According to the officers, these activities constituted compensable work, so MTC’s failure to pay violated both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, and the New Mexico Minimum Wage Act. The Tenth Circuit concurred that in the context presented, the officers' activities constituted compensable work. The Court rejected MTC's arguments that : (1) the time the officers devoted to these activities was de minimis; and (2) it need not pay the officers for these activities because it did not know the officers were engaging in them. Additionally, the Court concluded that the officers’ rounding claim survived summary judgment. As such, the district court's order awarding summary judgment to MTC, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Aguilar v. Management & Training" on Justia Law

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Katherine Morgan, as wrongful death representative of her husband, David Morgan, brought direct negligence liability claims against Baker Hughes Incorporated (“Baker Hughes”) for the acts of its subsidiary, Baker Petrolite Incorporated (“Baker Petrolite”). In 2012, David Morgan was crushed to death by a heavy chemical tote while operating a forklift at his place of employment, a warehouse in Casper, Wyoming. There have been two trials in this case. At the close of Morgan’s evidence in the first trial, Baker Hughes moved for judgment as a matter of law. The district court granted Baker Hughes’ motion. We reversed on appeal, holding that Morgan had presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that Baker Hughes was liable for David Morgan’s death In so doing, we interpreted Wyoming law on the liability of parent corporations for the acts of their subsidiaries. After the second trial, Morgan moved for judgment as a matter of law. The district court denied the motion, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Baker Hughes. However, before submitting the case to the jury, the court rejected Morgan’s proposed jury instructions and overruled her objections to the court’s instructions. Morgan timely appealed these decisions and moved to certify the controlling question to the Wyoming Supreme Court. The Tenth Circuit concluded that Wyoming law on this issue was consistent with the Restatement (Second) of Torts section 414 and its commentary. Accordingly, the Court held that the district court correctly instructed the jury with respect to the relevant legal standard and did not err in making various decisions Morgan challenges on appeal. View "Morgan v. Baker Hughes" on Justia Law

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Anjela Greer, an employee for the City of Wichita who worked at the Wichita Art Museum, contended her employer denied her a promotion because of her military service in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. She applied for a promotion but didn’t get an interview. Greer simultaneously served in the Navy Reserves and worked as a security guard at the Wichita Art Museum. After about five years as a security guard Greer learned of a vacancy for the museum’s “Operations Supervisor.” She and one other person applied. A city employee screened the applications and decided not to advance Greer to the next stage, where she would have been interviewed. The Museum attributed the denial of an interview to Greer’s lack of qualifications: the new job required at least one year of prior supervisory work in particular fields. The application called for Greer to state how many people she supervised. She answered “2,” but identified her job title only as “Security” and didn’t list any supervisory duties. Based on the job title and the absence of any listed supervisory duties, the Museum maintained Greer’s application had shown a lack of supervisory experience. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on two grounds: (1) any reasonable factfinder would determine that the defendants had declined to advance Greer to the interview stage because her application showed a lack of supervisory experience; and (2) the defendants had proven that they wouldn’t have advanced Greer to an interview regardless of her military status. The Tenth Circuit rejected both grounds. The first was invalid because a factfinder could reasonably infer that Greer’s military status was a motivating factor in defendants’ denial of an interview. The second ground was also invalid because a factfinder could have reasonably found Greer would have obtained an interview if she had not been serving in the military. The Court thus reversed the grant of summary judgment to the defendants. View "Greer v. City of Wichita, Kansas" on Justia Law

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Jonella Tesone claimed that Empire Marketing Strategies (“EMS”) discriminated against her under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) when it terminated her employment. The district court granted summary judgment to EMS. EMS hired Tesone as a Product Retail Sales Merchandiser. Her job duties included changing or “resetting” retail displays in grocery stores. When she was hired, Tesone informed EMS that she had back problems and could not lift more than 15 pounds. On appeal, Tesone alleged the district court erred when it denIed her motions: (1) to amend the scheduling order to extend the time for her to designate an expert; and (2) amend her complaint. She also contended the district court erred in granting summary judgment to EMS. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not err with respect to denying Tesone’s motions, but did err in granting summary judgment in favor of EMS. “Whether Ms. Tesone can make a prima facile case of a disability, and whether her doctor’s note can be considered at summary judgment, is open to the district court’s further consideration.” View "Tesone v. Empire Marketing Strategies" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Robert Kenney was a former employee of Defendant Helix TCS, Inc. (“Helix”), which provided security services for businesses in Colorado’s state-sanctioned marijuana industry. Kenney filed this lawsuit against Helix under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), alleging that Helix misclassified him and similarly situated workers as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime obligations. Helix moved to dismiss Kenney’s claim based on the Controlled Substance Act (“CSA”), arguing that Kenney’s employment activities were in violation of the CSA and are thus not entitled to FLSA protections. The Tenth Circuit concluded Helix wanted it to interpret the CSA in a manner implicitly repealing the FLSA’s overtime mandate for employers in the marijuana industry. The Tenth Circuit determined the “case law is clear that employers are not excused from complying with federal laws” because of their other federal violations. “Moreover, the purposes of the FLSA do not conflict with the CSA quite as directly as Helix implies. Helix cherry-picks among the enumerated purposes of the FLSA, citing only those most favorable to its arguments.” The Tenth Circuit did not draw conclusions about the merits of Kenney’s FLSA claims. Rather, the Court held only that Kenney and similarly situated individuals were not categorically excluded from FLSA protections. It therefore affirmed the denial of Helix’s motion to dismiss. View "Kenney v. Helix TCS" on Justia Law