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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Bonni Genzer, an Uber driver, contended James River Insurance Company, Uber’s insurer, breached its contractual obligations by declining coverage for injuries she sustained in an accident on the return leg of a lengthy fare. Genzer also contended that, under Oklahoma law, the “mend the hold” doctrine limited James River to the grounds it gave for declining coverage before she sued. The district court granted summary judgment in James River’s favor, first ruling that Oklahoma had not adopted the mend-the-hold doctrine, and next holding that Genzer’s claim falls outside the scope of the governing insurance policy. The Tenth Circuit agreed as to both issues. View "Genzer v. James River Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The EEOC was authorized to obtain evidence by issuing a subpoena and seeking a court order enforcing it. The EEOC exercised those powers when it sought information from Centura Health ("Centura"), a multi-facility healthcare organization operating primarily in Colorado. Between February 2011 and October 2014, eleven current or former Centura employees, working across eight Colorado locations, filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC. They alleged Centura violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by terminating their employment or refusing to allow them to return to work after medical leave. These employment decisions were allegedly made because of their disabilities or their requests for accommodations. Centura petitioned the EEOC to revoke or modify the subpoena. The EEOC denied the petition and directed Centura to provide the requested information. Centura refused, so the EEOC filed a subpoena-enforcement action in the district court. Centura challenged only parts of the subpoena, including items 9 and 18(e), arguing that compliance would be unduly burdensome and that the information sought was not relevant to the eleven individual charges within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. 2000e-8(a). It alleged the information would only be relevant to a pattern-or-practice investigation, but the EEOC had not filed a pattern-or-practice charge. While the Tenth Circuit determined Centura’s representations of the disparate factual nature of the eleven charges was largely accurate, and agreed with the distinctions it drew regarding the EEOC’s cases, the Court concluded Centura failed to persuade the Court that eleven charges of disability discrimination, most alleging a failure to accommodate across a handful of an employer’s facilities, were insufficient to warrant finding information regarding an employer’s pattern-or-practice relevant. The Court affirmed the district court's enforcement of the EEOC's subpoena. View "EEOC v. Centura Health" on Justia Law

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Five Peruvian shepherds who worked in the Western United States pursuant to H-2A agricultural visas brought antitrust claims, on behalf of themselves and similarly situated classes of shepherds, against several sheep ranchers (the “Rancher Defendants”), two associations (the “Association Defendants”), and Dennis Richins (referred to collectively as the “Defendants”). The Shepherds alleged the Defendants “conspired and agreed to fix wages offered and paid to shepherds at the minimum DOL wage floor.” The Shepherds also brought class action RICO claims against Richins and the Association Defendants. The RICO claims focused on allegedly false assurances made by the Association Defendants to the federal government that H-2A shepherds were being properly reimbursed for various expenses. The district court dismissed as to both claims, finding the complaint did not plausibly allege an agreement to fix wages, and did not allege the existence of enterprises distinct from the persons alleged to have engaged in those enterprises. The trial court denied the Shepherds' request to amend their complaint. On appeal, the Shepherds argued there were valid antitrust and RICO claims, and that the district court abused its discretion in denying their motion to amend their complaint. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred in dismissing the RICO claim naming Richins as a defendant. But in all other regards, the district court was affirmed. View "Llacua v. Western Range Association" on Justia Law

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James Lyle worked as a coal miner for roughly 28 years. After retiring, he sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act. An administrative law judge concluded that Lyle was entitled to benefits, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board affirmed. Energy West Mining Company, Lyle's former employer, filed a petition for review of the Board’s decision, arguing primarily the administrative law judge lacked authority to award benefits, and the Review Board couldn’t have remedied the problem by appointing an administrative law judge. The Tenth Circuit rejected most of Energy West’s arguments but agreed with its challenge to the administrative law judge’s analysis of an opinion by Dr. Joseph Tomashefski, Jr. Because Energy West did not invoke the Appointments Clause in proceedings before the Benefits Review Board, the Court determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider the validity of the administrative law judge’s appointment. However, in its analysis, the administrative law judge discounted Dr. Tomashefski’s medical opinion for a reason unsupported by the record. The Court thus vacated the award of benefits and remanded to the Board for reconsideration of Dr. Tomashefski’s opinion. View "Energy West Mining Company v. Lyle" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerns the propriety of the timing of deductions by a Subchapter S corporation for expenses paid to employees who participate in the corporation’s employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). Taxpayers Stephen and Pauline Petersen and John and Larue Johnstun were majority shareholders in Petersen Inc. (the Corporation), a Subchapter S corporation. The disputed liabilities arose from Taxpayers’ income-tax returns for 2009 (offset in small part by corrections in their favor for their 2010 returns). Because the Corporation was a Subchapter S corporation, it was a pass-through entity for income-tax purposes; taxable income, deductions, and losses were passed through to its shareholders. Taxpayers appealed the United States Tax Court’s decision holding them liable for past-due taxes arising out of errors in their income-tax returns caused by premature deductions for expenses paid to their Corporation’s ESOP. Taxpayers contended the Tax Court misinterpreted the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and, even if its interpretation was correct, miscalculated the amounts of alleged deficiencies. The Commissioner agreed a recalculation was necessary. The Tenth Circuit affirmed Taxpayers’ liability but remanded for recalculation of the deficiencies. View "Petersen v. CIR" on Justia Law

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Julie Reed sued her former employer, KeyPoint Government Solutions, LLC (“KeyPoint”), for violating the federal False Claims Act. Her qui tam claims alleged KeyPoint violated the Act by knowingly and fraudulently billing the government for work that was inadequately or improperly completed. Reed also claimed that KeyPoint fired her in retaliation for her efforts to stop KeyPoint’s fraud. The issues this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether: (1) the district court erred in granting summary judgment in KeyPoint's favor on Reed's qui tam claims; and (2) whether the district court erred in dismissing Reed's retaliation claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). According to Reed, KeyPoint’s management not only knew of systemic violations but also encouraged them by pressuring investigators to rush investigations to maximize revenue. Alarmed by the abuses, Reed voiced her concerns within the company. Reed’s efforts to curb the violations failed. Eventually, KeyPoint fired Reed. About a month later, Reed and her counsel contacted the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and discussed the abuses she claimed to have witnessed while at KeyPoint. At the government’s urging, Reed sued KeyPoint in January 2014. Her operative complaint raised three qui tam claims and a retaliation claim. The qui tam claims alleged that KeyPoint violated the False Claims Act by: (1) falsely certifying that it performed complete and accurate investigations, (2) falsely certifying that it did proper case reviews and quality-control checks, and (3) falsifying corrective action reports. Reed’s retaliation claim alleged that KeyPoint fired her for trying to stop it from violating the False Claims Act. The Tenth Circuit determined Reed pled sufficient facts to survive a motion for summary judgment with respect to the False Claims Act, but not enough to survive dismissal of her retaliation claim. The Tenth Circuit concluded Reed failed to show KeyPoint knew of her protected activities such that the company was on notice of her efforts to stop its alleged violations. View "United States ex rel. Reed v. Keypoint Government Solutions" on Justia Law

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Benjamin Grice suffered severe burns after an oil pump exploded at the refinery where he worked. He and his wife brought suit against the refinery’s two parent corporations, CVR Energy and CVR Refining, alleging the parent companies assumed responsibility for workplace safety at the oil refinery by entering into a services agreement for the benefit of Grice’s employer, Coffeyville Resources. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the parent companies, concluding that the agreement did not obligate them to provide safety services to the oil refinery. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) CVR Refining should have been dismissed as a party under 28 U.S.C. 1332, to preserve complete diversity of citizenship; and (2) the company did not have a duty to Grice to maintain the oil pump since the services agreement was for administrative and legal services and not for safety services that would subject CVR Energy to liability under Kansas law. View "Grice v. CVR Energy" on Justia Law

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Lou Hodges submitted a claim for long-term-disability (LTD) benefits to Life Insurance Company of North America (LINA) through his employer’s group-insurance plan. Although LINA approved his claim, Hodges contended LINA should have classified him as a “sales” employee under the policy, which would have entitled him to more benefits. This led Hodges to sue LINA. The district court remanded for further factfinding, but LINA once again reached the same result. The district court then reversed LINA’s decision, concluding that Hodges qualified as a salesperson under the policy. LINA appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed that ruling. View "Hodges v. Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Jerud Butler was a government employee, a supervisor for the San Miguel County, Colorado, Road and Bridge Department. He alleged his supervisors violated his First Amendment freedom of speech when they demoted him for testifying truthfully in state court as a character witness for his sister-in-law. The state-court proceeding concerned a domestic child custody dispute between Butler’s sister-in-law and her ex-husband, who also worked for the County’s Road and Bridge Department. The district court dismissed Butler’s First Amendment claim with prejudice under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), concluding at step two of the Garcetti/Pickering analysis that Butler’s testimony at the custody hearing, given as a private citizen, was not on a matter of public concern. The Tenth Circuit rejected Butler’s assertion that any truthful sworn testimony given by a government employee in court as a citizen was per se always a matter of public concern. The Tenth Circuit employed a case-by-case approach, considering whether, in this particular case, the content of Butler’s testimony, as well as its form and context, made it speech involving a matter of public concern. After applying such an analysis here, the Court concluded Butler’s testimony during the child custody proceeding was not on a matter of public concern. "Although Butler’s testimony involved a matter of great significance to the private parties involved in the proceeding, it did not relate to any matter of political, social or other concern of the larger community." View "Butler v. Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law

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John Teets, a participant in an employer retirement plan, invested money in Great-West Life Annuity and Insurance Company’s investment fund which guaranteed investors would never lose their principal or the interest they accrued. The investment fund was offered to employers as an investment option for their employees’ retirement savings plans, which were governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). Teets later sued Great-West under ERISA, alleging Great-West breached a fiduciary duty to participants in the fund or that Great-West was a nonfiduciary party in interest that benefitted from prohibited transactions with his plan’s assets. After certifying a class of 270,000 plan participants like Mr. Teets, the district court granted summary judgment for Great-West, holding that: (1) Great-West was not a fiduciary; and (2) Mr. Teets had not adduced sufficient evidence to impose liability on Great-West as a non-fiduciary party in interest. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "Teets v. Great-West Life" on Justia Law