Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Jason Williams and Foreclosure Connection, Inc. (“FCI”) appealed the district court’s judgment in favor of the Secretary of Labor. FCI was a Utah company that bought real estate, renovated homes, and rented or resold properties. Williams was the manager and part owner of FCI, responsible for hiring and firing decisions. Jack Erickson was FCI’s foreman. Mychal Barber Sr. and his teenaged son, Mychal Scott Barber Jr., began doing construction work for FCI in the summer of 2015. The Barbers became dissatisfied with working conditions at FCI, and in particular, with the company’s failure to pay overtime wages. On July 7, 2015, they submitted a complaint to the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor (“DOL”), alleging that FCI’s failure to pay overtime wages violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The following morning, Erickson told the Barbers not to report to work because there was not enough work for them to do. Later that day, DOL investigator Sheffield Keith met with Williams at FCI’s offices, requesting certain records, including information on FCI’s employees. Williams responded that FCI did not have any employees, and that all of its workers were independent contractors. Later that night, the Barbers called Erickson, who told them they were terminated. Erickson explained that Williams blamed the Barbers for reporting the company to DOL. On July 15, an employee surreptitiously recorded a meeting Williams held with his workers. Williams instructed the group to refuse to cooperate in DOL’s investigation. He also circulated independent contractor agreements to the workers, requested that they sign the agreements but leave them undated, and told them to claim they could not remember when they signed. FCI submitted contractor agreements to DOL, including an agreement for Barber Sr. with what appeared to be a forged signature. In September 2015, DOL filed a complaint alleging that FCI had obstructed its investigation and retaliated against its employees, including the Barbers. Following a bench trial, the district court ruled in favor of DOL. It imposed a permanent injunction, awarded $3,530.23 in back pay to Barber Jr. plus an equal amount of liquidated damages, and awarded $80,992.55 in back pay to Barber Sr. plus an equal amount of liquidated damages. Defendants timely appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the DOL. View "Acosta v. Foreclosure Connection" on Justia Law

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Matthew Ray, a former DISH Network L.L.C. employee who signed an arbitration agreement when he was employed, filed an action in the federal district court alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), Colorado’s Wage Claim Act, Colorado’s Minimum Wage Act, and a common law claim for breach of contract. Dish moved to dismiss, demanding that Ray arbitrate his claims pursuant to the Agreement. Ray dismissed the lawsuit and filed with the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”), asserting the same four claims. In addition, and the focus of this case, Ray attempted to pursue his claims as a class action under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 and a collective action under 29 U.S.C. 216(b). The arbitrator determined that the Arbitration Agreement between the two parties permitted classwide arbitration, and then stayed the arbitration to permit DISH to contest the issue in court. DISH filed a Petition to Vacate Clause Construction Arbitration Award, which the district court denied. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined the arbitrator in this case did not manifestly disregard Colorado law when he concluded that he was authorized to conduct class arbitration by the broad language of the Agreement in combination with the requirement that arbitration be conducted pursuant to the AAA’s Employment Dispute Rules. Accordingly, the district court correctly denied DISH’s petition to vacate the arbitration award. View "Dish Network v. Ray" on Justia Law

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F & H Coatings, LLC (“F&H”), a commercial and industrial painting contractor, contracted with Boardman L.L.C. (“Boardman”), a manufacturer of steel pressure vessels and tanks, to sandblast and paint a number of vessels at Boardman’s manufacturing facility in Wichita, Kansas. During the performance of this contract, a fatal accident at the Boardman facility took the life of Toney Losey, an employee of F & H: Losey and his F & H supervisor, Robert Patrick, were preparing a 12,000 pound vessel for sandblasting when the vessel slipped from its support racks and crushed Losey. F & H characterized this event as a “freakish, unforeseeable, and still-unexplained accident.” The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) learned of the accident the same day, and sent a Compliance Safety and Health Officer to inspect the scene. The OSHA officer also interviewed witnesses and employees of F & H and Boardman. Upon the officer’s recommendation, OSHA issued a citation to F & H for a violation of the General Duty Clause, 29 U.S.C. 654(a)(l), because F & H’s employee was “exposed to struck-by hazards in that the pressure vessel was not placed on a work rack which prevented unintentional movement.” F&H contested the citation. Approximately eight months after the hearing, the ALJ issued a written order, finding that the accident that killed Losey resulted from an obviously hazardous condition of which F & H was aware. F&H appealed OSHA’s final order, asking the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to set aside a $7,000 penalty imposed. Finding that the ALJ’s findings were supported by substantial evidence, the Tenth Circuit affirmed OSHA’s final order and the penalty issued. View "F & H Coatings v. Acosta" on Justia Law

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Several years after a tank car spill accident, appellants Larry Lincoln and Brad Mosbrucker told their employer BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”) that medical conditions attributable to the accident rendered them partially, permanently disabled and prevented them from working outdoors. BNSF removed appellants from service as Maintenance of Way (“MOW”) workers purportedly due to safety concerns and because MOW work entailed outdoor work. With some assistance from BNSF’s Medical and Environmental Health Department (“MEH”), Appellants each applied for more than twenty jobs within BNSF during the four years following their removal from service. After not being selected for several positions, Appellants filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), accommodation request letters with BNSF, and complaints with the Occupational Safety Health Administration (“OSHA”). Following BNSF’s rejection of their applications for additional positions, Appellants filed a complaint raising claims for: (1) discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”); (2) failure to accommodate under the ADA; (3) retaliation under the ADA; and (4) retaliation under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”). Relying on nearly forty years of Tenth Circuit precedent, the district court concluded that filing an EEOC charge was a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit and it dismissed several parts of Appellants’ ADA claims for lack of jurisdiction. Appellants also challenged the vast majority of the district court’s summary judgment determinations on the merits of their claims that survived the court’s exhaustion rulings. After polling the full court, the Tenth Circuit overturn its precedent that filing an EEOC charge was a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit, thus reversing the district court’s jurisdictional rulings. Appellants’ ADA discrimination and ADA failure to accommodate claims relative to some of the positions over which the district court determined it lacked jurisdiction were remanded for further proceedings. With respect to the district court’s summary judgment determinations on the merits of appellants’ claims that survived the exhaustion rulings, the Tenth Circuit was unable to reach a firm conclusion on the position-based ADA discrimination and failure to accommodate claims. The Court concluded the district court’s dismissal of the FRSA claims were appropriate. Therefore, the Court reversed in part, affirmed in part and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Lincoln v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law

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Mindy Armstrong was employed by The Arcanum Group, Inc., which served as a placement agency to staff federal-government positions. She was placed with the Real Estate Leasing Services Department of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). After she complained that BLM employees were falsifying lease-related records, the BLM demanded that Arcanum remove her from the placement. Her Arcanum supervisor could not find an alternative placement for Armstrong and accordingly terminated her employment. Armstrong sued Arcanum in federal district court, claiming Arcanum retaliated against her for her falsification complaints, in violation of the antiretaliation provisions of the False Claims Act (FCA) and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The district court granted Arcanum summary judgment, and Armstrong appealed. Finding that Armstrong did not produce sufficient evidence that her supervisor had knowledge of her complaints before he terminated her, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer. View "Armstrong v. The Arcanum Group" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Marcia Eisenhour worked for 24 years as a court administrator for the Weber County Justice Court. In 2008, she complained to the county attorney about sexual harassment by Judge Craig Storey, the only judge of that court. The matter was referred to Utah’s Judicial Conduct Commission, which found no misconduct. Eisenhour then went public in 2009, and the press reported her allegations. Several months later, three Weber County Commissioners, defendants Craig Deardon, Kenneth Bischoff, and Jan Zogmaister, voted to close the Justice Court and merge it with a similar court in another county. This eventually left Eisenhour without a job. Eisenhour sued Storey, Weber County, and the three commissioners who voted to close the Justice Court, raising a variety of claims. The district court granted summary judgment against Eisenhour on all claims, and she appealed. The Tenth Circuit reversed in part. At the trial on the remanded claims, the jury rendered verdicts for Eisenhour on the equal-protection harassment claim against Storey and the whistleblower claim against the County but found against her on the First Amendment retaliation claims against the County and the commissioners. The district court then granted a motion by the County for a new trial on the whistleblower claim, and it sua sponte ordered a new trial on the retaliation claims against the County and the commissioners. At the retrial on those claims the court granted the commissioners’ motion for judgment as a matter of law under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) on the retaliation claim against them, and the jury found for the County on the whistleblower and retaliation claims against it. Storey raised two issues on appeal: (1) the denial of his motion for judgment as a matter of law because the evidence against him was insufficient; and (2) the admission into evidence of a poem he had written concerning Eisenhour. Eisenhour raised three issues: (1) the judge who presided at the first trial should have recused himself after the jury rendered its verdict in that trial; (2) her second trial was unfair because of the district court’s evidentiary rulings; and (3) at the second trial the district court should not have granted the commissioners a judgment as a matter of law but should have let the claim go to the jury. The Tenth Circuit rejected all challenges by both parties except dismissal of a punitive-damages claim. View "Eisenhour v. Weber County" on Justia Law

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Jake’s Fireworks, Inc. (“Jake’s”), a fireworks importer and distributor, assigned two employees to clean out its old facility. A fire broke out, injuring one employee and killing the other. After an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) inspection, the Secretary of Labor (the “Secretary”) cited Jake’s for violating OSHA safety and health standards. Jake’s contested the citation before an Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (“OSHRC”) Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who affirmed in full. Jake’s sought review from the OSHRC’s discretionary review panel (the “Commission”), but it declined, finalizing the ALJ’s decision. Jake’s then filed a petition to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, contesting violations of: (1) 29 C.F.R. 1910.109(b)(1), improper storage and handling of explosives; (2) 29 C.F.R. 1910.178(c)(2)(vii), improper use of a liquidpropane (“LP”) forklift around combustible dust; and (3) 29 C.F.R. 1910.1200(e)(1), lack of a written hazard communication program. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit denied the petition for review. View "Jake's Fireworks v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Correct Care Solutions, LLC (CCS) terminated Alena Fassbender’s employment for violating CCS policy. Fassbender, who was pregnant at the time of her termination, argued she was terminated because CCS had one too many pregnant workers in Fassbender’s unit, which posed a problem for her supervisor. After review of the district court record, the Tenth Circuit concluded a reasonable jury could believe Fassbender’s version of events. Accordingly, the Court reversed the portion of the district court’s order granting CCS summary judgment on Fassbender’s pregnancy discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. secs. 2000e–2000e-17. However, the Court affirmed in part, finding no reasonable jury could believe Fassbender’s alternative claim that CCS terminated her in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. View "Fassbender v. Correct Care Solutions" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Market Synergy Group appeals from the district court’s judgment in favor of Defendant-Appellee United States Department of Labor. This case stemmed from the Department of Labor’s (DOL) final regulatory action on April 8, 2016, as it applied to fixed indexed annuity (FIA) sales. Plaintiff-Appellant Market Synergy Group (MSG) was a licensed insurance agency that works with insurers to develop specialized, proprietary FIAs and other insurance products for exclusive distribution. It partnered with independent marketing organizations (IMOs) to distribute these products. MSG did not directly sell FIAs but conducted market research and provided training and products for IMO member networks and the independent insurance agents that IMOs recruit. In April 2015, the DOL issued a proposed rule redefining who is a “fiduciary” of an employee benefit plan under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, which would “update existing rules to distinguish more appropriately between the sorts of advice relationships that should be treated as fiduciary in nature and those that should not.” The final rule contained two changes important to this case: (1) it created a new exemption, with added regulatory requirements, the Best Interest Contract Exemption (BICE), which imposed a more stringent set of requirements on prohibited transactions than those required under PTE 84-24; and (2) the DOL removed FIAs (as well as variable annuities) from the PTE 84- 24 exemption and placed them in the newly created BICE. MSG filed this suit under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) claiming the DOL violated the APA: (1) by failing to provide adequate notice of its intention to exclude transactions involving FIAs from PTE 84-24; (2) arbitrarily treated FIAs differently from other fixed annuities by excluding FIAs from PTE 84-24; and (3) by not adequately considering the detrimental economic impact of its exclusion of FIAs from PTE 84-24. MSG alleged that it would lose 80% of its revenue if the new regulation were to be enforced and sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the DOL from implementing the new regulation. The district court denied the preliminary injunction. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled in favor of the DOL, finding that there was adequate notice, no arbitrary treatment of FIAs as compared to other fixed annuities, and an adequate economic impact analysis. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Market Synergy Group v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a 2007 injunction, which prohibited Paragon Contractors Corporation and its president, Brian Jessop, from engaging in oppressive child labor. The Department of Labor procured a contempt citation, with the district court finding that Paragon and Jessop had violated the injunction by employing children to harvest pecans. For this violation, the district court sanctioned Paragon and Jessop by: (1) appointing a special master to monitor Paragon’s ongoing compliance with the injunction; and (2) ordering Paragon and Jessop to pay $200,000 into a fund to compensate the children. Paragon and Jessop appealed the contempt finding and the sanctions. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not err in (1) finding that Paragon and Jessop had violated the injunction by oppressively employing children; and (2) ordering Paragon and Jessop to pay $200,000. But the Court reversed the district court’s appointment of a special master. View "Acosta v. Paragon Contractors" on Justia Law