Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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While reading a daily report aloud to his colleagues, Sigiefredo Sanchez mixed up the order of words and numbers, skipped over sections, and gave briefing points out of order. Sanchez was unaware he had a reading disorder. Because his job required him to provide transportation information to nuclear convoys, his reading disorder presented a potential threat to national safety. Once diagnosed, Sanchez lost his safety-and-security clearance. Then, after unsuccessfully requesting accommodations, Sanchez was fired. Sanchez sued his former employer for due-process and Rehabilitation Act violations. The district court granted judgment on the pleadings and dismissed Sanchez’s claims, relying in part on the Supreme Court’s decision in Department of the Navy v. Egan, 484 U.S. 518 (1988). District courts lack jurisdiction to review the merits or motives of a decision to revoke or deny a security clearance. Egan applies when an agency has made (1) a security-clearance decision that (2) a plaintiff attempts to challenge. Sanchez argued the district court: (1) abused its discretion by denying Sanchez’s Motion to Supplement; (2) failed to accept Sanchez’s well-pleaded allegations and made findings of fact contrary to the complaint’s allegations; (3) erred in holding that Egan prohibited the court from reviewing Claim 1, the failure-to-accommodate claim; (4) erred in holding that the Department isn’t required to reassign disabled employees; and (5) improperly dismissed Claim 4, Sanchez’s procedural-due-process claim. The Tenth Circuit reversed in part, affirmed in part the district court's order, vacating the district court's judgment on the pleadings as to Claim 1 (failure-to-accommodate), but affirmed with respect to dismissal of claims 2-4 (the retaliation, disparate treatment, and procedural-due- process claims) as well as the district court’s order denying Sanchez’s Motion to Supplement. View "Sanchez v. Moniz" on Justia Law

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This appeal grew out of a dispute between a company and its former employee: CollegeAmerica Denver, Inc., and Debbi Potts. CollegeAmerica and Potts resolved a dispute by entering into a settlement agreement. But CollegeAmerica later came to believe that Potts breached the settlement agreement. This belief led CollegeAmerica to sue Potts in state court. That suit sparked the interest of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which believed CollegeAmerica’s interpretation and enforcement of the settlement agreement was unlawfully interfering with Potts’ and the EEOC’s statutory rights. Based on this belief, the EEOC sued CollegeAmerica in federal court. In response, CollegeAmerica disavowed the legal positions known to concern the agency. The company’s disavowal of these legal positions led the district court to dismiss the agency’s unlawful-interference claim as moot. CollegeAmerica then asserted a new theory against the former employee, which the agency regarded as a continuation of the unlawful interference with statutory rights. That change presented the question to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals of whether the EEOC’s unlawful-interference claim remained moot after the parties disputed if the company could lawfully assert its new theory against the former employee. The Tenth Circuit thought not and reversed the dismissal. View "EEOC v. CollegeAmerica Denver" on Justia Law

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The contract at issue in this appeal was an Independent Contractor Agreement (the Contract) between the Ute Indian Tribe and Lynn Becker, a former manager in the Tribe’s Energy and Minerals Department. Becker claimed the Tribe breached the Contract by failing to pay him 2% of net revenue distributed to Ute Energy Holdings, LLC from Ute Energy, LLC. After Becker filed suit in Utah state court, the Tribe filed this suit against him and Judge Barry Lawrence, the state judge presiding over Becker’s suit, seeking declarations that: (1) the state court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the dispute; (2) the Contract was void under federal and tribal law; and (3) there was no valid waiver of the Tribe’s sovereign immunity for the claims asserted in state court. The Tribe also sought a preliminary injunction ordering defendants to refrain from further action in the state court proceedings. The federal district court held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the Tribe’s challenge to the jurisdiction of the state court. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court, and reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The Court held that the Tribe’s claim that federal law precluded state-court jurisdiction over a claim against Indians arising on the reservation presented a federal question that sustained federal jurisdiction. View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah v. Lawrence" on Justia Law

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The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation appealed a preliminary injunction ordering it not to proceed with litigation in tribal court against a nonmember former contractor, Lynn Becker. The district court ruled that although the parties’ dispute would ordinarily come within the tribal court’s jurisdiction, their Independent Contractor Agreement (the Contract) waived the Tribe’s right to litigate in that forum. The Tribe argued: (1) the tribal-exhaustion rule, which ordinarily requires a federal court to abstain from determining the jurisdiction of a tribal court until the tribal court has ruled on its own jurisdiction, deprived the district court of jurisdiction to determine the tribal court’s jurisdiction; and (2) even if exhaustion was not required, the preliminary injunction was improper because the Contract did not waive the Tribe’s right to litigate this dispute in tribal court. In addition, the Tribe challenged the district court’s dismissal of its claims under the federal civil-rights act, 42 U.S.C. 1983, seeking to halt state-court litigation between it and Becker. The Tenth Circuit did not agree the tribal-exhaustion rule was jurisdictional, but agreed the district court should have abstained on the issue. Although the Contract contained a waiver of the tribal-exhaustion rule, Becker could not show a likelihood of success based on the validity of the waiver; he failed to adequately counter the Tribe’s contention that the entire Contract, including the waiver, was void because it did not receive federal-government approval, as was required for contracts transferring property held in trust for the Tribe by the federal government. With respect to the Tribe’s claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Tenth Circuit found the Tribe has not stated a claim because it is not a “person” entitled to relief under that statute when it is seeking, as here, to vindicate only a sovereign interest. To resolve the remaining issues raised in this case, the Court adopted its decision in the companion case of Ute Indian Tribe v. Lawrence, No. 16-4154 (August 25, 2017). View "Becker v. Ute Indian Tribe" on Justia Law

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This case involved claims brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) by a temporary employee whose assignment by a staffing agency to work as the receptionist for another business was terminated after she missed a significant amount of work while being tested for breast cancer and informed the agency that, due to her cancer, she needed to take a full week plus an additional unknown amount of time off for more tests, appointments, and radiation treatments. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the staffing agency and the business on both of these claims. The employee appealed that ruling, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Punt v. Kelly Services" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Bridgette Marlow sued her employer The New Food Guy, Inc., d/b/a Relish Catering, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA required employers to pay a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, plus time and a half for overtime. Relish paid Ms. Marlow $12 an hour and $18 an hour for overtime. Despite this, Marlow claimed Relish was obligated to turn over to her a share of all tips paid by catering customers. She relied on the tip-credit provision of the FLSA, which was directed to employers who satisfy their minimum-wage obligations in part with tips retained by their employees, and on a regulation promulgated by the Department of Labor (DOL) purportedly interpreting that provision. The Tenth Circuit was not persuaded by this argument, finding the tip-credit provision does not apply in this case and that the regulation was beyond the DOL’s authority. The law’s “silence” about employers who decline the tip credit was no “gap” for an agency to fill. Instead, the text limits the tip restrictions in the statute to those employers who take the tip credit, leaving the DOL without authority to regulate to the contrary. View "Marlow v. The New Food Guy, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of an employer whose employee sued for discrimination. The employer showed at trial that it fired the employee due to financial issues and the employee's performance issues. The employee could not rebut these reasons or otherwise show they were pretextual. View "DePaula v. Easter Seals El Mirador" on Justia Law

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The Pioneer Centres Holding Company Employee Stock Ownership Plan and Trust and its trustees sued Alerus Financial, N.A. for breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the failure of a proposed employee stock purchase. The district court granted summary judgment to Alerus after determining the evidence of causation did not rise above speculation. The Plan appealed, claiming the district court erred in placing the burden to prove causation on the Plan rather than shifting the burden to Alerus to disprove causation once the Plan made out its prima facie case. In the alternative, the Plan argued that even if the district court correctly assigned the burden of proof, the Plan established, or at the very least raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding, causation. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Pioneer Centres Holding Co v. Alerus Financial, N.A." on Justia Law

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The district court did not err in its grant of summary judgment in favor of an employee's former employer and supervisors in her Title IX discrimination and retaliation suit. Dr. Tawny Hiatt was hired by Colorado Seminary, which owned and operated the University of Denver ("DU"). DU hired Dr. Hiatt to be a Staff Psychologist and Training Director for the Health and Counseling Center ("HCC"). Dr. Hiatt was responsible for supervising psychology students seeking their professional licensure. Dr. Hiatt was, in turn, supervised by Dr. Alan Kent, the Executive Director of the HCC, and Dr. Jacaranda Palmateer, the HHC’s Director of Counseling Services. Dr. Hiatt developed a romantic relationship with one of the fellows she supervised, and it came to the attention of her supervisors. Dr. Hiatt met with Dr. Kent and Dr. Palmateer. Dr. Kent presented Dr. Hiatt with three options: (1) resign; (2) be demoted and undergo six months of outside counseling about her supervisory style; or (3) remain in her position and allow Human Resources (“HR”) to handle the matter. Dr. Kent and Dr. Palmateer explained they were presenting these options because: (1) a “majority” of trainees refused to be supervised by Dr. Hiatt and she had lost “credibility and authority in their view”; (2) her conduct posed a “grey ethical issue,” and a Training Director needed to display “exemplary ethics, boundaries, and professionalism”; and (3) her “approach to therapy and supervision required a strict adherence to boundaries which weren’t demonstrated in this situation” and her response to the students’ reactions showed a “lack of personal responsibility.” Before Dr. Hiatt chose an option, her attorney sent DU a letter claiming DU’s request for Dr. Hiatt to leave her position as Training Director amounted to sex discrimination. Dr. Hiatt accepted the second option, demotion, with the attendant reduction in pay. The district court held Dr. Hiatt failed to show she was treated less favorably than similarly situated employees not in her protected class, which the court believed was “required” for Dr. Hiatt to state a prima facie case of sex discrimination. On the retaliation claims, the court reasoned that, even if she could state a prima facie case, the claims failed because she did not show DU’s reasons for any adverse employment actions were pretextual for retaliation. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed summary judgment. View "Hiatt v. Colorado Seminary" on Justia Law

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Morris Blackburn worked as a coal miner for twenty years, exposed to dust in an Energy West coal mine. He also smoked cigarettes, and eventually developed a respiratory disease. Based on this disease, Blackburn claimed benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act. Energy West challenged the award of benefits, arguing Blackburn caused his disease by smoking cigarettes. The Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board affirmed an award of compensation, and Energy West appealed. The Tenth Circuit found no reversible error in the award of benefits, and affirmed. View "Energy West v. Blackburn" on Justia Law