October 30, 2011

Decisions of interest concerning Labor and Employment Law

Decisions of interest concerning Labor and Employment Law
Source: Justia October 28, 2011

Court: U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 11-1225
October 27, 2011
Judge: Lynch
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Labor & Employment Law
The union that represents postal workers raised concerns that newly hired non-veteran employees had begun work earlier, and thus received higher seniority rankings, than veteran employees, despite the fact that the veteran employees had applied for their positions earlier than had the non-veterans. Because the post office hiring register includes tests scores and other confidential, USPS keeps the information confidential under the Privacy Act,5 U.S.C. 552a and refused to disclose information requested by the union. In a claim under the NLRA, 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(5), an ALJ ordered USPS to furnish the union with the complete 2007 hiring register. The NLRB narrowed the order to the records of 22 employees at issue. The First Circuit vacated, holding that the employees have a legitimate, substantial privacy interest in the records, so that the Board was required to engage in a balancing of interests that was not part of its original analysis.

Court: U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-1522
October 21, 2011
Judge: Thompson
Areas of Law: Health Law, Labor & Employment Law
Plaintiff, who suffers epilepsy, began working as a part-time kitchen assistant in 1999. His episodes would cause him to leave work three to six times each year, but generally he just stepped back and resumed work after the episode passed. He was denied a full-time position, filed a complaint with the EEOC, and obtained a right-to-sue letter. The court rejected his suit under the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101, Title VII, and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The First Circuit affirmed, concluding that plaintiff was not substantially limited in his ability to work or in other work activities, within the meaning of the ADA,.

Court: U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-50939
October 21, 2011
Judge: Elrod
Areas of Law: Contracts, International Law, Labor & Employment Law
Defendant appealed a jury verdict awarding damages to its former employee for breach of a stock options contract. Defendant argued that the jury instruction misstated the governing Korean law, that the jury's verdict relied on legally insupportable evidence, and that the district court applied the wrong law when determining attorney's fees. The court held that defendant failed to prove that the district court abused its discretion in excluding a requirement of coercion or intimidation from the jury instructions. Moreover, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant's motion for a new trial on damages. Finally, the award of attorney's fees would be permitted under either Texas or Korean law. Therefore, the judgment of the district court was affirmed.

Court: U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-2661
October 24, 2011
Judge: BAUER
Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Communications Law, Labor & Employment Law
During a radio call-in show, plaintiff, a deputy sheriff, called in response to critical comments regarding defendant's (county sheriff) involvement with an African-American community organization dedicated to reducing crime and indicating that defendant was not a good fit for his position. Defendant called in and retorted by describing plaintiff as a "slacker" and mentioning a disciplinary action taken in 2004 against plaintiff for "sexual harassment." In actuality, the disciplinary action was for violation of a department rule that prohibited offensive conduct or language. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff on a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for disclosure of plaintiff's disciplinary history, a claim under Wisconsin's Open Records Law, and a claim under Wisconsin's Right of Privacy statute. The Seventh Circuit reversed. There was no Records Act violation; there was no request to inspect a disciplinary record, no permission granted, and no balancing test undertaken. The information at issue is a matter of public record, so there was no Privacy Act violation. Rejecting a First Amendment retaliation claim, the court noted that there was no threat, coercion, or intimidation.

Court: U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 09-3275
October 24, 2011
Judge: Briscoe
Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Labor & Employment Law
Defendant United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS) appealed a jury verdict that awarded Plaintiff Keith Jones $2.5 million in actual and punitive damages based on UPS's retaliatory discharge in violation of Kansas common law. Plaintiff alleged, and the jury found, that UPS terminated Jones in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim. UPS alleged on appeal that (1) it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Jones's retaliation claim; (2) the district court erred in giving two improper jury instructions; (3) it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Jones's claim for punitive damages; (4) the district court erred in allowing the jury to decide the amount of punitive damages; and (5) the jury's award of $2 million in punitive damages violated its federal due process rights. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court found that the evidence presented supported a reasonable inference in support of Plaintiff's retaliation claim. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court's conclusion that UPS was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff's retaliation claim. The Court also concluded that the jury instructions in this case, "although not a model of clarity," were not improper and that UPS, based on the evidence presented, was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages. The Court ultimately concluded the district court did not err in instructing the jury to determine the proper amount of punitive damages in this case. Finally, the Court concluded that the jury's $2 million punitive damage award was excessive and violated UPS's federal due process rights. The Court reversed and remanded on this limited issue to permit Plaintiff to choose between a new trial solely to determine punitive damages or acceptance of a remittitur to be determined by the district court.

Court: U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 11-10033
October 27, 2011
Judge: Hopkins
Areas of Law: Injury Law, Insurance Law, Labor & Employment Law
This case arose when plaintiff, who was exposed to various chemicals during his employment with defendant and subsequently became legally blind in both eyes, sought workers compensation benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), 33 U.S.C. 901-950. At issue was which date - the date on which disability occurred, or the date one which the injured employee was awarded benefits for such disability - determined the maximum weekly rate of compensation for a permanently totally disabled employee who was "newly awarded compensation." The court applied long-standing principles of statutory construction and found that the maximum weekly rate of compensation was governed by the rate in effect at the time of the award. Therefore, the court reversed the decision of the district court and remanded for calculation of the sum to be paid.

Court: U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-13412
October 27, 2011
Judge: Pryor
Areas of Law: Agriculture Law, Immigration Law, Labor & Employment Law
Migrant workers who worked for defendant appealed a summary judgment in favor of defendant and against their complaint that defendant violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (Act), 29 U.S.C. 203(m). At issue was whether an employer that hired migrant farm workers through the H-2A visa program was entitled to wage credits under the Act for housing and meals that federal law required the employer to provide the workers. The court deferred to the Secretary of Labor's interpretation that defendant could not credit the cost of housing in the wages paid to the workers and agreed with defendant that it was entitled to wage credits for the costs of meals for the workers. The court also concluded that defendant was not liable under principles of agency law for the fees that third parties charged the workers related to their efforts to obtain employment with defendant. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Court: Alaska Supreme Court
Docket: S-13742
October 21, 2011
Judge: Stowers
Areas of Law: Insurance Law, Labor & Employment Law, Public Benefits
A worker was involved in a fight in a logging camp bunkhouse. He did not file a report of injury related to the fight for over a year. When he finally filed a report of injury, he alleged that he had injured his hip, lower back, and ear in the fight. His employer denied the worker benefits because he did not give timely notice of the injury. The worker then alleged that he had verbally informed his supervisor of the injuries. After a hearing, the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board determined that the worker’s claim was barred because he did not give his employer timely notice of the injury. The Board performed an alternative analysis assuming the worker had given timely notice and decided that the claim was not compensable. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision. Because the Commission correctly determined that substantial evidence in the record supports the Board’s decision on the compensability of the claim, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commission’s decision.

Court: Kansas Supreme Court
Docket: 99536
October 21, 2011
Judge: Nuss
Areas of Law: Antitrust & Trade Regulation, Business Law, Contracts, Injury Law, Labor & Employment Law
The case involved a manufacturer of conveyor pizza ovens, Wolfe Electric, its former employee, Terry Duckworth, and the competing business Duckworth helped form, Global Cooking Systems. Wolfe Electric brought suit against Duckworth and Global Cooking for misappropriation of secrets under the Kansas Uniform Trade Secrets Act. Wolfe Electric also separately alleged Duckworth breached his fiduciary duty and his employment contract while Global allegedly tortiously interfered with Duckworth's employment contract. A jury found for Wolfe Electric on all causes of action and awarded damages in a variety of categories. Both parties appealed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that multiple erroneous jury instructions and a verdict that failed to specify which of the innumerable acts alleged actually caused which of the particular damages awarded required reversal. Remanded.

Court: New Hampshire Supreme Court
Docket: 2010-764
October 27, 2011
Judge: Dalianis
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Labor & Employment Law
Respondent Town of Deerfield (Town) appealed a Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) decision that certified Petitioner New England Police Benevolent Association (Association) as the exclusive bargaining representative for a police department bargaining unit. The Town objected to the Association's petition, arguing that the proposed bargaining unit did not include the statutory minimum of ten employees because three of the proposed members were not proper members. After unsuccessful appeals to the PELRB, the Town appealed to the Supreme Court. Upon review, the Supreme Court disagreed with Petitioner's contention that the PELRB could lawfully decide that as long as there were ten employees in a proposed unit, the ten-employee rule was satisfied. Here, the applicable statute plainly stated that the PELRB could not "add to, detract from, or modify the statute which they are intended to implement" by certifying a bargaining unit that contained fewer than ten employees. Accordingly, the Court reversed the PELRB's decision.

Court: South Carolina Supreme Court
Docket: 27059
October 24, 2011
Judge: Pleicones
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law, Insurance Law, Labor & Employment Law
Petitioner Carolyn Holmes began working for linen company Respondent National Service Industries (National). According to Petitioner, the work environment at the facility was "very hot" and "sticky" with "a lot of lint and dust in the air," and was poorly ventilated. Petitioner was exposed to the fumes of bleach and did not wear a protective mask. In 1992, she began experiencing breathing and sinus problems. Petitioner never experienced breathing or sinus problems prior to working for National. In 1995, Petitioner was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a respiratory and pulmonary condition. Petitioner testified that her doctor did not know what caused her sarcoidosis and that, in light of this statement, she took no further steps to determine the cause of her condition. In July 2005, Petitioner got a second opinion. Petitioner's second doctor stated in his report that it was unclear whether Petitioner's work exposure at National caused her sarcoidosis, but that it was more likely that her exposure to the airborne particles and fumes worsened her condition, which had previously developed. Based on this, Petitioner filed a workers' compensation claim alleging a compensable injury by accident to her lungs and respiratory system arising out of and in the scope of her employment with National on July 12, 2005, the date she alleges she first discovered her sarcoidosis was related to her employment. A single commissioner found Petitioner sustained a compensable injury. The full commission reversed the commissioner, finding petitioner's claim was barred by a two-year statute of limitations. Specifically, the full commission found petitioner was aware of her working conditions and, with some diligence on her part, could have discovered she had a claim more than two years before her filing date. Petitioner appealed. The circuit court and Court of Appeals affirmed the full commission's determination that petitioner failed to file her claim within the statute of limitations. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the trial and appellate courts correctly found substantial evidence in the record to support the full commission's findings that Petitioner's claim was barred by the statute of limitations. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the appellate courts' decisions.


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