Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Ed Davis sued the City of Montevallo ("the City") claiming that the City was in breach of contract because, in terminating his employment with the City, it failed to follow certain discharge procedures set out in an employee handbook it had issued to him. The City responded by arguing it was not required to follow the handbook's procedures because Davis was an at-will employee. After entertaining motions for summary judgment from both sides, the trial court ruled in favor of the City. Davis appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court's summary judgment in favor of the City. "The Handbook was an offer for a unilateral contract, which Davis accepted by continuing his employment with the City. Because the Handbook constitutes a unilateral contract, we reverse the trial court's denial of Davis's motion for partial summary judgment and direct the trial court on remand to determine whether, in fact, the City violated the Handbook's terms." View "Davis v. Montevallo" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court that affirmed the decision of the Nebraska State Personnel Board upholding the termination of Scott Mollring's employment as a teacher for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, holding that there was no error.On appeal, Mollring argued that the district court erroneously determined that because he had not completed two calendar years of employment at the time of his dismissal, he was a probationary employee who could be terminated without cause. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in concluding that "two years" under Neb. Rev. Stat. 79-845 means two calendar years, and cause was not required; and (2) the court correctly determined that Mollring was still in the probationary period and that his employment could be terminated without cause. View "Mollring v. Neb. Dep't of Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission affirming and adopting the ALJ's final award denying Appellant's claim for benefits from the Second Injury Fund, holding that the Commission did not abuse its discretion in affirming the ALJ's denial of Appellant's post-hearing motions to reopen the record and submit additional evidence.Before the ALJ issued her final award, the Supreme Court decided Cosby v. Treasurer of Missouri, 579 S.W.3d 202 (Mo. banc 2019), which reached a different interpretation of Mo. Rev. Stat. 287.220.3 than that reached by the court of appeals in Gattenby v. Treasurer of Missouri, 516 S.W.3d 859 (Mo. App. 2017). Before the ALJ's final award, Appellant filed a motion to reopen the record for a supplemental hearing based on Cosby. The ALJ overruled the motion and issued her award. The Commission affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission did not abuse its discretion in overruling Appellant's motions to reopen the record and submit additional evidence. View "Weibrecht v. Treasurer of Mo. as Custodian of Second Injury Fund" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court affirming the decision of the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation approving Claimant's request for benefits, holding that there was no error.Claimant injured her shoulder and necker while working for Employer. While Employer and Insurer initially paid Claimant benefits, her claim for surgery and additional benefits was subsequently denied. Claimant filed a petition seeking a hearing on her claims. Thereafter, the Department approved Claimant's request for benefits. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Claimant's work injury was a major contributing cause of her impairment and need for treatment; and (2) there was no error in the Department's findings concerning medical opinion testimony or causation. View "News America Marketing v. Schoon" on Justia Law

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An elementary school nurse who unsuccessfully attempted to save the life of a choking child sought workers’ compensation benefits for mental health problems she attributed to the incident. She argued that she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to exposure to the child’s bodily fluids and resulting risk of disease and to the mental stress of the incident. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board denied her claims, concluding that her exposure to bodily fluids was not a sufficient physical injury to trigger a presumption of compensability and that the mental stress of the incident was not sufficiently extraordinary or unusual to merit compensation. The Board was most persuaded by the opinion of the employer’s medical expert that the nurse’s mental health problems were the result of a pre-existing mental health condition and were not caused by the incident. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court found: (1) the Board failed to recognize the link between exposure to bodily fluids and mental distress over the risk of serious disease, which under Alaska precedent was enough to establish a presumption that the mental distress is compensable; and (2) the Board failed to consider the particular details of the child’s death and the nurse’s involvement when it concluded as a general matter that the stress of responding to a choking incident at school was not sufficiently extraordinary to merit compensation for mental injury. However, because the Board found in the alternative that the incident was not the cause of the nurse’s mental health problems, and because both the Commission and the Alaska Supreme Court had to respect the Board’s credibility determinations and the weight it gave conflicting evidence, the denial of benefits was affirmed. View "Patterson v. Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of court of appeals denying a writ of mandamus sought by Waste Management of Ohio, Inc. ordering the Industrial Commission of Ohio to reverse its decision granting T.A.'s application for benefits, holding that the Commission did not abuse its discretion.Travis Gelhausen died shortly after getting into an accident while driving a truck for Waste Management of Ohio, Inc. T.A. applied for benefits on behalf of her and Gelhausen's minor daughter, S.G., for Gelhausen's loss of the use of his arms and legs before his death. The Commission granted the application. Waste Management sought a writ of mandamus ordering the Commission either to vacate its award or to limit the award. The court of appeals denied the writ. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission's award was proper. View "State ex rel. Waste Management of Ohio, Inc. v. Industrial Commission" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs, firefighters and their union, alleged retaliation for protected First Amendment activity. Mayor Copeland, a former firefighter of 26 years, had implemented cost-cutting measures, including freezing the firefighters' salaries and benefits. During Copeland’s reelection campaign, the firefighter’s political action committee endorsed Copeland’s opponent and other candidates who opposed Copeland’s policies. Copeland was reelected. Several firefighters protested at Copeland’s inauguration. Copeland vetoed an ordinance to restore some of the benefits and directed Fire Chief Serna to develop a new schedule. An 8/24 schedule, whereby a firefighter would work eight hours and then be off 24 hours was proposed. No other fire department in the country has adopted that schedule, which assigns firefighters to different shifts every day. In a secretly-recorded conversation, Serna said: “You can call it retaliation.” The defendants proposed to give up the schedule in exchange for the Union giving up its right to lobby the Common Council. The Union rejected the proposal; the city implemented the 8/24 schedule. The Council later returned the firefighters’ to a 24/48 schedule. Copeland sued the Council, alleging that the ordinance violated his executive power. The state court agreed with Copeland and struck the ordinance—leaving the 8/24 schedule in effect.The Seventh Circuit affirmed a preliminary injunction, ordering the city to immediately begin reinstating the old work schedule. There was no evidence that the 8/24 schedule would result in cost savings; the firefighters would suffer irreparable harm without an injunction. View "International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 365 v. City of East Chicago, Indiana" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the orders entered by the district court on review of the Human Rights Commission's (HRC) final agency decision regarding Plaintiff's sexual discrimination claims against Defendant, her former employer, holding that the district court erred in part.The hearing officer found discrimination and awarded Plaintiff $415,786. The HRC affirmed the finding of discrimination and slightly altered the hearing officer's damages calculations, resulting in an increase in the overall award. The district court upheld the finding of discrimination but concluded that the HRC's use of a four-year cap for front pay damages was arbitrary and capricious, thus increasing Plaintiff's front-pay damage award. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the district court (1) did not err in affirming the determination that Plaintiff was exposed to a hostile and abusive work environment and was subjected to sexual harassment and retaliation; (2) erred in reversing the HRC's front-pay damage award; and (3) did not abuse its discretion in its determination of Plaintiff's attorney fee award. View "Norval Electric Cooperative, Inc. v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals upholding the opinion and order of the Workers' Compensation Board denying Officer Tracy Toler's petition for reconsideration of the decision of the administrative law judge (ALJ) declining to award Toler an additional two percent impairment rating for pain, holding that a physician that is not licensed in Kentucky does not meet the definition of "physician" under Ky. Rev. Stat. 342.0011(32).Dr. Craig Roberts conducted an independent medical examination on Toler and assessed a six percent whole person impairment rating. To contest the rating, Toler's employer filed a report by Dr. Christopher Brigham believing a four percent impairment rating was more appropriate. The ALJ found Dr. Brigham's opinion to be more credible than Dr. Roberts' and did not award Toler an additional two percent impairment rating for pain. On appeal, Toler argued that Brigham did not qualify as a "physician" under section 342.0011(32). The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the ALJ's opinion and order, holding that Dr. Brigham did not meet the statutory definition of "physician" under the statute, and therefore, his report was inadmissible. View "Toler v. Fiscal Court" on Justia Law

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The collective bargaining contract between the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, AFSCME Council 2 (Union) and the City of Spokane expired on December 31, 2020. Prior to its expiration, the Union wrote to the City’s labor relations manager that it desired to engage in traditional labor negotiations for renewal of the contract and included proposed ground rules for negotiations. The rules included a condition that the negotiating meetings be closed to the public. In response, the City informed the Union it intended to conduct the bargaining negotiations open to the public, consistent with the 2019 revision of section 40 of the city charter. Through counsel, the Union drafted an opinion letter pointing out that the City’s open bargaining rule was a violation of state law to which the City responded that it had not implemented open bargaining and were willing to negotiate in good faith. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review was whether the municipal ordinance, requiring all collective bargaining between the city and union representatives be conducted in a manner open to the public, was preempted by state law and unconstitutional under the Washington State Constitution. The trial court ruled that section 40 of the city charter was preempted by state law; to this, the Supreme Court concurred and affirmed judgment. View "Wash. State Council of County & City Emps. v. City of Spokane" on Justia Law