Articles Posted in Labor & Employment 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

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Plaintiff-Appellant Bryan “Shane” Jones appealed the dismissal of his Title VII sex discrimination claim against Defendant-Appellee Needham Trucking, LLC and his state law tort claim for wrongful interference with a contractual relationship against Defendant-Appellee Julie Needham. Jones completed an intake questionnaire with the EEOC. In response to questions seeking more detailed explanations, Jones wrote “[s]ee attached.” The attachment never made it to the EEOC, nor did the EEOC alert Jones that it was missing. Nevertheless, the EEOC prepared a charge form on his behalf, and issued a right-to-sue letter. Jones then filed his lawsuit, alleging sexual harassment, negligence, negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress, wrongful interference with a contractual or business relationship, and violation of the Oklahoma Employment Security Act of 1980 (“OESA”). The district court held that Jones failed to exhaust his administrative remedies for his quid pro quo sexual harassment claim, that his state law tort claim was precluded by the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act (“OADA”), and that his OESA claim failed for want of a private right of action. Needham Trucking argued that the facts alleged were insufficient to put it on notice of the quid pro quo harassment claim made in Jones’s amended complaint because the facts from the attachment were not reflected in the EEOC charge form or right-to-sue letter. The Tenth Circuit concluded that though the complaint Jones filed was more detailed than his charge form, the form only needed to “describe generally” the alleged discrimination. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court with respect to the discrimination claim, but affirmed on the state law tort claims. View "Jones v. Needham" on Justia Law

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Kent Duty filed suit against BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”), after he applied to work there as a locomotive electrician. Duty had an impairment that limits his grip strength in his right hand. Fearing that Duty would fall from ladders, BNSF revoked his offer for employment. Duty and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “Commission”) sued BNSF for employment discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”). The ADA limits its protection by recognizing that not all impairments are disabilities. Applying the ADA’s definition of “disability,” the district court found that Kent Duty was not disabled and granted summary judgment to BNSF. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "EEOC v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The district court dismissed Aarica Romero’s minimum-wage claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the relying on a single, undisputed fact: Romero never alleged that she earned less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, taking into account both: (1) the cash wage that her employer paid her; and (2) all of the tips that she received each week. An employer doesn’t comply with its federal minimum-wage obligations just because its employees receive at least $7.25 an hour in tips. Instead, an employer complies with its minimum-wage obligations if it "pay[s]" its employees at least $7.25 an hour in "wages." And while an employer can treat tips as wages under certain circumstances, Romero argued that her employer impermissibly did so here. The district court declined to address this argument. The Tenth Circuit found that without first resolving whether Romero’s employer was entitled to treat her tips as wages, the district court couldn’t have determined whether that employer "pa[id]" Romero "wages" of at least $7.25 an hour. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded this case back to the district court to make this threshold determination in the first instance. View "Romero v. Top-Tier Colorado" on Justia Law

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued a subpoena to TriCore Reference Laboratories (“TriCore”) seeking information relating to an individual’s charge of disability and pregnancy discrimination. After TriCore refused to comply, the EEOC asked the New Mexico federal district court to enforce the subpoena. The court denied the request, and the EEOC appealed. Although the Tenth Circuit disagreed with some of the district court’s analysis, it could not say it abused its discretion. View "EEOC v. TriCore Reference Laboratories" on Justia Law

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Steven Williams alleged that his former employer, FedEx Corporate Services, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against him based on his actual and perceived disabilities, and by requiring his enrollment in the company’s substance abuse and drug testing program. Williams further alleges that Aetna Life Insurance Company, the administrator of FedEx’s short-term disability plan, breached its fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income and Security Act (ERISA) when it reported to FedEx that Williams filed a disability claim for substance abuse. Both FedEx and Aetna filed motions for summary judgment, which the district court granted. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, and reversed and remanded. An employer is liable for an improper medical examination or inquiry, “unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.” FedEx argued that it satisfied the business necessity exception because its employee testing program “ensure[] that employees who seek assistance for drug abuse or dependencies are no longer abusing the drug if they return to FedEx.” The Tenth Circuit found that the district court did not address this argument. As a result, the Court did not have an adequate record from which it could decide this issue on appeal. The Court reversed for the district court to decide that issue, and affirmed in all other respects. View "Williams v. FedEx Corporate" on Justia Law

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Defendants-Appellants El Tequila, LLC, and Carlos Aguirre (collectively, “El Tequila”) appealed a $2,137,627.44 judgment in favor of Plaintiff- Appellee, Secretary of the Department of Labor (Secretary). El Tequila was a restaurant with four locations (Harvard, Broken Arrow, Owasso, and Memorial) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In December 2010, an employee from the Harvard location complained to the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD). The complaint prompted the WHD to investigate the Harvard location (First Harvard Investigation). The First Harvard Investigation consisted of interviews with employees and El Tequila’s owner, Aguirre; examining payroll documents; and touring the restaurant. The payroll records showed employees were paid $7.25 per hour (the minimum wage), worked about forty hours a week, and received overtime when required. Interviews with Aguirre and his employees confirmed this information.The WHD investigator only found recordkeeping violations, and closed the First Harvard Investigation. Additional employee complaints prompted the WHD to investigate the Harvard location a second time. This time, the WHD investigator arrived at the Harvard location unannounced, and discovered several violations. The records Mr. Aguirre provided during the First Harvard Investigation, known as middle sheets, were based on his false summaries of how many hours employees worked, rather than actual clock-in and clock-out times. During the Second Investigation, Aguirre provided the WHD investigator with time sheets that contained actual clock-in and clock-out times. Aguirre withheld these time sheets during the First Harvard Investigation, and many time entries had been “whited-out” and edited to conform with the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Second Investigation would reveal that Aguirre instructed employees to lie during their interviews. Time sheets and middle sheets were found to have been falsified. In September 2011, the WHD investigated El Tequila’s Memorial, Owasso, and Broken Arrow locations because Aguirre admitted the same impermissible payment practices were occurring there. In October 2012, the Secretary filed suit because El Tequila refused to pay its employees at the Broken Arrow, Owasso, and Memorial locations for wages from October 2009 to August 2011. On appeal, El Tequila challenged aspects of the investigations and subsequent trial, including the amount of damages ordered against it. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the judgment. View "Perez v. El Tequila, LLC" on Justia Law

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Roberick Washington was employed as a lieutenant at the Wyandotte County Juvenile Detention Center in Kansas City, Kansas. After a random drug test, he was fired for testing positive for cocaine. Washington filed a civil rights action against the County and several of his co-workers, alleging that the drug test was an illegal search that violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as breached his employment contract. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed, finding that County’s random drug test did not violate the Fourth Amendment, since the test furthered the County’s need to ensure the safety and welfare of the juvenile residents. Nor did the termination violate any other constitutional or statutory right. View "Washington v. Unified Gov't of Wyandotte Co." on Justia Law

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Janna DeWitt appealed a district court’s order granting summary judgment to her former employer, Southwestern Bell Telephone Company (SWBTC) on her claims of disability discrimination and failure to accommodate her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). In 2009 and early 2010, DeWitt used FMLA leave intermittently for health issues related to her diabetes. DeWitt only took FMLA leave when vacation days were not available because DeWitt believed that SWBTC “frowned upon” employees taking FMLA leave. DwWitt's employment was terminated in 2010 when she allegedly hung up on two customers during a low blood sugar episode. DeWitt explained that she did not remember taking the calls due to a severe drop in her blood sugar. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that SWBTC was entitled to summary judgment because: (1) it advanced a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for taking adverse employment action against DeWitt (i.e., DeWitt’s hanging up on customers while on a Last Chance Agreement); and (2) DeWitt failed to demonstrate that SWBTC’s stated reason for its disciplinary action was pretextual. Finding that DeWitt failed to otherwise meet her burden to overcome summary judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "DeWitt v. Southwestern Bell Telephone" on Justia Law