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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Plaintiff Kimberly Aubrey worked for the Weld County, Colorado, Clerk and Recorder’s office. She became unable to work for a time due to posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (“PRES”), a rare condition characterized by fluctuating blood pressure that causes swelling in the brain, coma and sometimes death. Eventually Aubrey’s PRES resolved and she began to recover. The County allowed her to take several months off but eventually terminated her employment. By that time, Aubrey contended, she recovered sufficiently to be able to return to her job, with reasonable accommodation for her disability. Aubrey sued the County under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and several related statutes. The district court granted the County summary judgment on all claims. The Tenth Circuit reversed in part, finding Aubrey presented sufficient evidence that a jury could have found the County failed to engage in the collaborative interactive process that the ADA called for between an employer and an employee in order to determine whether there was a reasonable accommodation that would have permitted Aubrey to perform the essential functions of her job. In light of that evidence, Aubrey’s failure-to-accommodate and disability discrimination claims were sufficient to survive summary judgment. Summary judgment for the County was affirmed on Aubrey’s retaliation claims because she failed to present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that the County terminated her employment in retaliation for her asking for an accommodation. View "Aubrey v. Koppes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Dana Fedor appealed a district court’s order compelling her to arbitrate employment-related claims she brought against her former employer, UnitedHealthcare, Inc. (UHC), and United Healthcare Services, Inc. Fedor argued the district court impermissibly compelled arbitration before first finding that she and UHC had indeed formed the arbitration agreement underlying the district court’s decision. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed, concluding that the issue of whether an arbitration agreement was formed in the first instance had to be determined by the court, even where there has been a failure to specifically challenge provisions within the agreement delegating certain decisions to an arbitrator. Judgment was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Fedor v. United Healthcare" on Justia Law

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In September 2018, petitioner Larry Baca was removed from his position in the Directorate of Public Works at the U.S. Army White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Baca sought review of this decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), asserting three affirmative defenses to his removal. The MSPB rejected all of Baca’s defenses and affirmed his removal. He appealed only the MSPB’s determination with respect to one of his affirmative defenses, that his firing was unlawful retaliation for whistleblowing in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the MSPB's decision. View "Baca v. Department of Army" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Lynda Hickey, a former employee of the United States Postal Service (“USPS”), filed a discrimination complaint against Defendant Megan Brennan, the Postmaster General of the USPS, in her official capacity. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the basis that Hickey had not properly exhausted her administrative remedies because she did not contact an Equal Employment Office (“EEO”) counselor within forty-five days after her employment was terminated. The magistrate judge, exercising full jurisdiction with the consent of both parties, granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Finding that Hickey indeed, failed to initiate contact with an EEO counselor within forty-five days after the effective date of her termination as required by 29 C.F.R. 1614.105(a), the Tenth Circuit affirmed. Furthermore, the Court found Hickey did not show either that Defendant should have been equitably estopped from raising her lack of timeliness as an affirmative defense or that she was entitled to an extension of time for initiating contact with the EEO. View "Hickey v. Brennan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Aaron Jensen sued defendant-appellees West Jordan City and Robert Shober for Title VII retaliation, First Amendment retaliation, malicious prosecution, and breach of contract. At trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Jensen on all his claims and awarded $2.77 million in damages. The trial court discovered the jury did not properly fill out the verdict form, so the court instructed the jury to correct its error. When the jury returned the corrected verdict, it had apportioned most of the damages to Jensen’s Title VII claim. Because the district court concluded that Title VII’s statutory damages cap applied, the court reduced the total amount of the award to $344,000. Both parties appealed. They raised nine issues on appeal, but the Tenth Circuit concluded none of them warranted reversal and affirmed. View "Jensen v. West Jordan City" on Justia Law

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In January 2011, plaintiff-appellant Virgin Bunn was hired for a one-year probationary period as a human resources assistant at the United States Forest Service’s (“USFS”) Albuquerque Service Center. Ten months into the job, Bunn's supervisor became concerned about Bunn's job performance. After his supervisor asked a colleague to oversee Bunn’s work, Bunn complained to his supervisor about the colleague’s comments to him. Bunn later contacted USFS’s Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) Counselor Office about these comments. On January 6, 2012, Bunn was fired. Bunn thereafter filed an EEO complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging harassment, a hostile work environment, and retaliation. An administrative law judge dismissed the suit, granting summary judgment to the agency on all claims. The USDA’s Office of Adjudication issued a final order implementing the EEOC’s decision. Bunn appealed. The Office of Federal Operations affirmed the USDA’s final decision. After its review of the matter, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found: Bunn's appeal of the summary judgment order was untimely; and (2) there was no reversible error in the district court's order striking Bunn's motion to vacate. View "Bunn v. Perdue" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs alleged defendant Affinity Gaming Black Hawk, LLC (“Affinity”) terminated them on the basis of age and sex. They brought disparate impact and disparate treatment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). The district court dismissed (1) the Title VII disparate impact claim, (2) the Title VII disparate treatment claim, and (3) the ADEA disparate impact claim. It granted summary judgment in favor of Affinity on the ADEA disparate treatment claim. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the Title VII disparate treatment claim. With respect to the other claims, the Court reversed and remanded to the district court, finding that when the evidence was construed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, it sufficed to create a genuine issue of material facts with respect to the other allegations. View "Frappied v. Affinity Gaming Black Hawk" on Justia 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