Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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This appeal stems from a district court’s denial of qualified immunity to the former El Paso County Sheriff, Terry Maketa and undersheriff, Paula Presley. The claims were brought by three categories of subordinates: (1) Lieutenant Cheryl Peck; (2) Sergeant Robert Stone; and (3) Commanders Mitchell Lincoln, Rodney Gehrett, and Robert King. Lt. Peck, Sgt. Stone, and the three Commanders alleged retaliation for protected speech. The district court held that the subordinates’ allegations were sufficient to defeat qualified immunity at the motion-to-dismiss stage. The Tenth Circuit disagreed because the law was not clearly established that: (1) Lt. Peck’s speech fell outside of her duties as a public employee; (2) the investigations of Sgt. Stone and his children constituted adverse employment actions; and (3) the investigation of the Commanders, their placement on paid administrative leave, and their alleged humiliation constituted adverse employment actions. Therefore, Sheriff Maketa and Undersheriff Presley were entitled to qualified immunity and dismissal of the complaint. View "Lincoln v. Maketa" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Richard Tabura and Guadalupe Diaz were Seventh Day Adventists. Their religious practice of not working Saturdays conflicted with their job schedules at a food production plant operated by Defendant Kellogg USA, Inc. (“Kellogg”). Eventually Kellogg terminated each Plaintiff for not working their Saturday shifts. Plaintiffs alleged that in doing so, Kellogg violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by failing to accommodate their Sabbath observance. Both sides moved for summary judgment. The district court denied Plaintiffs’ motion and granted Kellogg summary judgment, concluding as a matter of law both that Kellogg did reasonably accommodate Plaintiffs’ religious practice and, alternatively, that Kellogg could not further accommodate their Sabbath observance without incurring undue hardship. The Tenth Circuit concluded after review of the district court record that the district court erred in granting Kellogg summary judgment; however, on the same record, the district court did not err in denying Plaintiffs summary judgment. View "Tabura v. Kellogg USA" on Justia Law

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Life Insurance Company of North America’s terminated plaintiff-appellant Carl Van Steen’s long-term disability benefits under Lockheed Martin’s ERISA Plan. Life Insurance Company of North America (LINA) appealed the district court’s finding that its decision to terminate Van Steen’s benefits was arbitrary and capricious. Van Steen, in turn, appealed the district court’s denial of his attorney’s fees request. Van Steen was physically assaulted during an altercation while walking his dog. The assault resulted in a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) that impacted Van Steen’s cognitive abilities that prevented him from returning to full time work; Van Steen was eventually allowed to return to part-time work on a daily basis roughly six weeks later. Even on a part-time schedule, Van Steen experienced cognitive fatigue and headaches that required him to frequently rest. Due to his inability to stay organized and keep track of deadlines after the assault, Van Steen received poor feedback on his job performance. Van Steen’s claim for partial long-term disability benefits was approved on March 30, 2012. Roughly a year later, LINA reviewed Van Steen’s file, contacted his doctors, and confirmed that Van Steen’s condition and restrictions were permanent as he was “not likely to improve.” Despite this prognosis, LINA sent Van Steen a letter one week later terminating his long-term disability benefits, explaining that “the medical documentation on file does not continue to support the current restrictions and limitations to preclude you from resuming a full-time work schedule.” Having exhausted his administrative appeals under the Plan, Van Steen next sought relief before the district court. The district court reversed LINA’s decision to terminate Van Steen’s partial long-term disability benefits on the grounds that it was arbitrary and capricious, but denied Van Steen’s request for attorney’s fees. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court’s reversal of LINA’s decision to terminate Van Steen’s coverage. The Court also found that Van Steen was not eligible for attorney fees: “Van Steen’s arguments fail to convince us that the district court’s decision was based on a clear error of judgment or exceeded the bounds of permissible choice.” View "Van Steen v. Life Insurance Company N.A." on Justia Law

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A jury rejected an employment-discrimination claim against JetStream Ground Services, Inc. filed by several Muslim women and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who alleged that JetStream discriminated against the women on religious grounds by refusing to hire them because they wore hijabs. Plaintiffs’ sole argument on appeal was that the district court abused its discretion by refusing to impose a sanction on JetStream (either excluding evidence or instructing the jury that it must draw an adverse inference) because it disposed of records contrary to a federal regulation purportedly requiring their preservation. The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of discretion: plaintiffs’ argument that the exclusion sanction should have been applied was waived in their opening statement at trial. And the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to give an adverse-inference instruction after Plaintiffs conceded that destruction of the records was not in bad faith. View "EEOC v. JetStream Ground Services" on Justia Law

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The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), generally exempts from its requirements “church plans”: employee-benefit plans established and maintained by churches for their employees. ERISA also extends that church-plan exemption to "principal-purpose" organizations. Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), a nonprofit organization created to carry out the Roman Catholic Church’s healing ministry, operates 92 hospitals and numerous other healthcare facilities in 18 states. CHI offers a retirement plan for its employees, with more than 90,000 participants and beneficiaries, and nearly $3 billion in plan assets. Janeen Medina, a CHI employee, filed a class action, alleging that CHI’s retirement plan failed to satisfy the statutory criteria for the church-plan exemption. She contended that, since the plan did not qualify for the exemption, CHI should have complied with the reporting and funding requirements of ERISA. Medina also argued the individual defendants who administered the plan breached their fiduciary duties by failing to comply with ERISA. And, Medina argued, even if the CHI plan did qualify as a church plan, the exemption violated the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. The district court held that CHI’s plan was a church plan that qualified for the ERISA exemption. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit agreed, concluding that CHI’s plan satisfied the statutory requirements for the church-plan exemption as a proper principal-purpose organization. The ERISA exemption, moreover, does not run afoul of the United States Constitution’s Establishment Clause. View "Medina v. Catholic Health Initiatives" on Justia Law

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Defendant James Woods, a detective in the Cottonwood Heights Police Department, was informed by Utah’s Unified Fire Authority (“UFA”) that medications, including opioids and sedatives, were missing from several UFA ambulances. Detective Woods accessed a state database and searched the prescription drug records of 480 UFA employees in an effort to “develop suspect leads of those who have the appearance of Opioid dependencies.” Consistent with Utah law at the time, Woods did not obtain a search warrant before accessing the Database. Based on the information Woods obtained from the Database search, he developed suspicions about Plaintiffs Ryan Pyle and Marlon Jones. Neither Plaintiff, however, was ever prosecuted for the thefts from the ambulances. Plaintiffs brought separate lawsuits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, each challenging Defendants’ conduct as violative of the Fourth Amendment and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). In both suits, the district court dismissed the claims against Defendant Woods, concluding Woods was entitled to qualified immunity because the law governing warrantless access to prescription drug information by law enforcement was not clearly established. The district court also dismissed the FCRA claims because Defendants’ actions fit within an exemption set out in the Act. In Jones’s suit, the district court dismissed the constitutional claims against the city of Cottonwood Heights with prejudice because Jones’s complaint failed to state a claim for municipal liability plausible on its face. In Pyle’s suit, the district court dismissed the constitutional claims against Cottonwood Heights without prejudice, concluding Pyle failed to notify the Utah Attorney General of those claims as required by Rule 5.1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Pyle and Jones each appealed. Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1291, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s judgments. View "Pyle v. Woods" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Greggory Owings sustained an on-the-job injury, for which he received long-term disability benefits by defendant United of Omaha Life Insurance Company (United), under the terms of a group insurance policy issued by United to Owings’ employer. Owings disagreed with, and attempted without success to administratively challenge, the amount of his disability benefits. He then filed suit against United in Kansas state court, but United removed the action to federal district court, asserting that the federal courts had original jurisdiction over the action because the policy was governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The district court ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of United. Owings appealed. The Tenth Circuit concluded after review of this matter that United was arbitrary and capricious in determining the date that Owings became disabled and, in turn, in calculating the amount of his disability benefits. Consequently, the Court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of United and remanded with directions to enter summary judgment in favor of Owings. View "Owings v. United of Omaha Life" on Justia 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