Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
EEOC v. Roark-Whitten Hospitality, et al.
Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against defendant Roark-Whitten Hospitality 2 (RW2) seeking relief for what the EEOC alleged were unlawful employment practices by RW2 on the basis of race, color, national origin, and retaliation. Those unlawful employment practices allegedly occurred after RW2 purchased and began operating a hotel in Taos, New Mexico in 2009. The aggrieved employees were all employed at the hotel prior to RW2’s purchase, and were all either terminated or constructively discharged at some point after the purchase. After the action was initiated, the EEOC filed amended complaints seeking to add as defendants two additional entities, Jai Hanuman, LLC (Jai), which purchased the hotel from RW2 in 2014, and SGI, LLC (SGI), which purchased the hotel from Jai in 2016. The district court dismissed the EEOC’s claims against SGI on the grounds that the EEOC failed to adequately allege a basis for successor liability against SGI. As for RW2 and Jai, the district court, acting pursuant to a motion for civil contempt filed by the EEOC, entered default judgment against them and then conducted a hearing on the issue of damages. After conducting that hearing, the district court dismissed the EEOC’s claims against Jai on the grounds that the EEOC failed to adequately allege a basis for successor liability against Jai, and it ordered RW2 to pay compensatory damages to the EEOC in the total amount of $35,000. The EEOC appealed, arguing: (1) the district court erred in dismissing its claims against defendants SGI and Jai; and (2) the district court erred in awarding only $35,000 in compensatory damages for the eleven aggrieved individuals. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the EEOC’s claims against defendant SGI, affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the EEOC’s claims against defendant Jai, reversed the district court’s damage award against defendant RW2, and remanded for further proceedings. View "EEOC v. Roark-Whitten Hospitality, et al." on Justia Law
Stroup, et al. v. United Airlines
Defendant-Appellant United Airlines (“United”) appealed a district court’s denial of its motion for judgment as a matter of law (“JMOL”), and its motion for new trial. A jury found that United discriminated against two flight attendants, Plaintiffs-Appellees Jeanne Stroup and Ruben Lee by terminating them because of their ages in willful violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). United filed its motions with the district court, contending, among other things, that the jury’s verdict was based on legally insufficient evidence and the court erred in admitting Plaintiffs’ testimony about their emotional distress. The district court denied the motions. United contended: (1) the district court erred in denying its JMOL motion because (a) there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that United discriminated against Plaintiffs because of their ages in violation of the ADEA, and (b) similarly, there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that United acted willfully in committing any ADEA violation; and (2) the court abused its discretion and committed reversible error when it admitted Plaintiffs’ allegedly irrelevant and highly prejudicial emotional distress testimony. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded there was sufficient evidence for the jury to reasonably find that, not only did United violate the ADEA by discriminating against Plaintiffs, but it did so willfully. Furthermore, the Court determined the district court did not err by admitting the challenged emotional distress testimony. View "Stroup, et al. v. United Airlines" on Justia Law
Litzsinger v. Adams County Coroner’s Office
Plaintiff-appellant Tiffany Litzsinger worked for the Adams County Coroner’s Office from 2013 until she was terminated in 2018. During her time there, Litzsinger suffered from anxiety and depression, both of which worsened in the months leading up to her termination. After an anxiety episode, Adams County granted Litzsinger temporary leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). When Litzsinger returned from her FMLA leave, the Coroner placed Litzsinger on probation for myriad violations of workplace policies. Shortly after Litzsinger’s probation began, the Coroner terminated Litzsinger for violating the terms of her probation. Litzsinger sued the Coroner’s Office under the FMLA and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), claiming the Coroner terminated her in retaliation for exercising her rights under both statutes. The district court granted summary judgment for the Coroner’s Office because Litzsinger failed to demonstrate that the Coroner’s reason for terminating her was pretextual. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding a rational jury could not find that the Coroner’s proffered reason for firing Litzsinger was pretextual. View "Litzsinger v. Adams County Coroner's Office" on Justia Law
Herrmann v. Salt Lake City Corporation
Plaintiff Jamie Herrmann appeals the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Defendant Salt Lake City Corporation (“the City”) on her claims for failure to accommodate her disability, disability discrimination, and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Herrmann began working for the City in 2002 and successfully held different positions in the Salt Lake City Justice courts for nine years. Starting in 2011, Herrmann began working as an in-court clerk, which required her to spend more time in court than her previous positions. Herrmann was diagnosed with PTSD, stemming from a nearly decade-long abusive marriage. Her presence in the courtroom during domestic violence cases frequently triggered her anxiety, causing severe migraines that could last for several days at a time and resulting in a significant downturn in her productivity. Herrmann raised three claims under the ADA: (1) failure to provide reasonable accommodations, (2) disability discrimination, and (3) retaliation. The Tenth Circuit found Herrmann presented some evidence supporting a conclusion that she could not be accommodated within her existing position. Therefore, the district court erred in holding that Herrmann did not meet her prima facie case. As the district court did not address the other elements of Herrmann’s prima facie case the City challenged, judgment was reversed and the case remanded to provide the district court with that opportunity. View "Herrmann v. Salt Lake City Corporation" on Justia Law
Reznik v. inContact
Plaintiff-Appellant Viktorya Reznik appealed the district court’s dismissal of her Title VII retaliation action against her former employer, Defendant-Appellee inContact, Inc. (inContact). From January 2018 to May 2019, Reznik worked as a Director of Project Management for inContact, a Utah-based corporation offering cloud-based services to companies using call centers. In April 2019, Reznik received internal complaints about racial slurs in the workplace from two native Filipino employees who worked in the company’s Manila, Philippines office. They claimed that an inContact manager, Scott Mendenhall, had repeatedly subjected them and other native Filipino employees to racial slurs, calling them “monkeys” and “not human.” Mendenhall worked in the same Salt Lake County facility as Reznik. Weeks after Reznik reported the harassment to company management, she was terminated as "not a good culture fit" and "not a good fit." Following Reznik’s termination and administrative exhaustion, she filed her Title VII complaint in federal district court. inContact moved to dismiss and the district court granted the motion. According to the district court, Reznik failed to state a claim because she did not show an objectively reasonable belief that she opposed conduct unlawful under Title VII. Finding Reznik's belief she was opposing conduct unlawful under Title VII was objectively reasonable, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal. View "Reznik v. inContact" on Justia Law
Reeves, et al. v. Enterprise Products Partners
Plaintiffs-appellees Darrell Reeves and James King worked as welding inspectors for Enterprise Products Partners through third party staffing companies, Cypress Environmental Management and Kestrel Field Services. Reeves brought a collective action claim to recover unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act. King later consented to join the putative collective action and was added as a named plaintiff. Enterprise argued that both Reeves and King signed employment contracts with their respective staffing companies that contained arbitration clauses for disputes. The Tenth Circuit found that indeed both plaintiffs’ respective contracts contained arbitration clauses, and that under the doctrine of equitable estoppel, these agreements require the claims to be resolved in arbitration. “Because Reeves and James’s claims allege substantially interdependent and concerted misconduct by Enterprise and non-defendant signatories, Cypress and Kestrel, arbitration should be compelled for these claims.” The Court reversed the district court’s denial of Enterprise’s motions to compel. View "Reeves, et al. v. Enterprise Products Partners" on Justia Law
Adams v. C3 Pipeline Construction, et al.
Appellant Jessica Adams worked for C3 Pipeline Construction, Inc. (“C3”) on a pipeline construction crew. C3 subcontracted with Alpha Crude Connector, LLC (“Alpha Crude” or “ACC”) on an ACC pipeline system in New Mexico and Texas. Adams alleged that three C3 workers sexually harassed her while they were working on this project in New Mexico. She sued C3 and Plains Defendants, Alpha Crude’s corporate successors, under federal and New Mexico law. When Plains Defendants answered the complaint, they moved for summary judgment, attaching their Master Service Agreement (“MSA”) with C3 and affidavits from managers stating that Plains Defendants did not “employ” C3’s workers. Adams opposed the motion, moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) to take discovery on her alleged “employment” relationship with Plains Defendants, and argued for the first time that Plains Defendants should have been liable for breaching their duty to keep her safe on their premises. The district court granted summary judgment to Plains Defendants, denied Adams’s Rule 56(d) motion, and construed her premises liability argument as a motion to amend her complaint and denied it as futile. That same day, the district court ordered Adams to serve a summons and the complaint on C3, which she did. When C3 did not answer the complaint, the court entered a default judgment against C3 and ordered it to pay Adams $20,050,000. Within 30 days of that order, Adams appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Plains Defendants. After its review, the Tenth Circuit: (1) denied Plains Defendants’ motion to dismiss this appeal as untimely; (2) affirmed the district court’s summary judgment and Rule 56(d) rulings; and (3) vacated its denial of Adams’s motion to amend and remanded for further proceedings. View "Adams v. C3 Pipeline Construction, et al." on Justia Law
Roberts v. Winder, et al.
Plaintiff Nicholas Roberts appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants James Winder, Rosie Rivera (solely in her official capacity as Salt Lake County Sheriff), and the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake (“UPD”) (collectively, “Defendants”) on Roberts’ 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) claims. All of his claims arose from his removal as Range Master-Firearms Instructor (“Range Master”). On March 1, 2017, at Winder’s request, Undersheriff Scott Carver and Chief Deputy Shane Hudson met with Roberts and informed him that the Range Master position was being eliminated. Hudson told Roberts he would be reassigned to patrol duties and his pay would be reduced. On March 9, Roberts, through counsel, sent a letter to Winder objecting to his removal, reassignment, and pay reduction. Winder treated Roberts’ letter as a grievance and rejected the grievance, explaining that the Range Master was subject to transfer under Merit Commission Policy 3140, Range Master was a specialist position, and Roberts’ merit rank was “sergeant.” The UPD Board later ratified Winder’s decision to remove Roberts as Range Master and reassign him to patrol duties as a sergeant. Winder later assigned Todd Griffiths, a merit rank Lieutenant four years younger than Roberts, to oversee the shooting range. Roberts did not appeal his grievance, and instead filed this complaint in the district court. In June 2017, after Roberts initiated this lawsuit, the UPD conducted two investigations of Roberts’ management of the Range. Both investigations described failures in Roberts’ performance as Range Master. The district court granted partial summary judgment to Defendants on Roberts’ declaratory judgment and due process claims, finding that Roberts did not have a property interest in his position as Range Master, and thus his reassignment did not violate due process. Alternatively, the district court held that Roberts waived his due process claims by failing to appeal Winder’s decision to the Merit Commission. After review, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants. View "Roberts v. Winder, et al." on Justia Law
Tompkins v. DOVA, et al.
Plaintiff-appellant John Tompkins worked as a physician at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for thirty years. From 2012 through 2016, he served as Chief of Surgery. In 2017, he was terminated from his position as a physician based on administrative deficiencies during his tenure as Chief of Surgery. After exhausting the VA’s administrative remedies, Tompkins filed suit claiming entitlement to: (1) review under the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”); and (2) relief under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Tompkins appealed a district court order dismissing his complaint without prejudice based on his failure to identify an applicable waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found no error in the district court's dismissal of Tompkins' complaint for lack of jurisdiction, and affirmed. View "Tompkins v. DOVA, et al." on Justia Law
Peterson v. Nelnet Diversified Solutions
Over 300 call-center representatives (CCRs) who worked at call centers operated by Nelnet Diversified Solutions, LLC (Nelnet) alleged Nelnet failed to pay them for time devoted to booting up their work computers and launching certain software before they clock in. The district court concluded these activities were integral and indispensable to the CCRs’ principal activities of servicing student loans by communicating and interacting with borrowers over the phone and by email and therefore constitute compensable work under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. But it nevertheless denied the CCRs’ claim, finding that the de minimis doctrine applied to excuse Nelnet’s obligation to pay the CCRs for this work. After granting summary judgment to Nelnet, the district court awarded costs to Nelnet as the prevailing party. The CCRs appealed the district court’s de minimis ruling, and separately appealed the district court’s order awarding prevailing-party costs to Nelnet. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that the CCRs’ preshift activities were compensable work under the FLSA. But its application of the three-factor de minimis doctrine leads it to a different result: the Tenth Circuit concluded that although the CCRs’ individual and total aggregate claims were relatively small, Nelnet failed to establish the practical administrative difficulty of estimating the time at issue, which occured with "exceeding regularity." Therefore, in Appeal No. 19-1348, the district court’s order awarding summary judgment to Nelnet was reversed. And because the Court reversed on the merits, Nelnet was no longer the prevailing party. Accordingly, in Appeal No. 20-1217, the district court's order awarding costs to Nelnet was reversed, and CCR's costs appeal was dismissed as moot. View "Peterson v. Nelnet Diversified Solutions" on Justia Law