Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Plaintiff was seriously injured during the course of his employment with Defendant. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Defendant’s negligence caused his injuries. Defendant moved for summary judgment asserting that it was immune from suit under the exclusive remedy provision of the Utah Workers’ Compensation Act. The district court granted the motion, determining that Defendant qualified for immunity under the “eligible employer” statute. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Defendant did not “secure the payment” of workers’ compensation benefits for Plaintiff as required by the statute. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendant qualified as an “eligible employer” under the workers’ compensation statutes and fulfilled all of the statutory requirements. View "Nichols v. Jacobsen" on Justia Law

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Brian Wade, in the course of servicing a well situated under a high voltage line owned by Flowell Electric Association and Dixie Escalante Rural Electric Association, Inc. (collectively, Flowell), came into contact with the line, resulting in serious injuries to Wade. Wade was acting on behalf of Rhodes Pump II, LLC, his employer, at the time of the accident. Wade received workers’ compensation benefits from Rhodes and also filed a tort action against Flowell. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Wade and awarded both compensatory and punitive damages. Flowell subsequently brought this action for High Voltage Overhead Lines Act (HVOLA) indemnification against Rhodes. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Flowell, concluding that Rhodes had failed to give Flowell adequate notice of its “intended activity.” The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Flowell timely filed its HVOLA indemnification action; (2) the Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusive remedy provision does not preclude liability under the HVOLA; (3) HVOLA does not violate due process or equal protection as applied to Rhodes; and (4) a genuine issue of material fact remains regarding whether Rhodes adequately notified Flowell of its intended activity. View "Flowell Elec. Ass’n v. Rhodes Pump, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, several employees of Wal-Mart, were involved in physical confrontations with shoplifting customers and were ultimately fired for violating company policy. Plaintiffs filed this action against Wal-Mart in federal district court for wrongful termination, alleging that terminating a person’s employment for exercising self-defense in the workplace violates Utah public policy. The federal district court certified to the Supreme Court the question of whether self-defense is a substantial public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine, thus providing a basis for a wrongful termination action. The Supreme Court held that the policy favoring the right of self-defense is a public policy of sufficient clarity and weight to qualify as an exception to the at-will employment doctrine, but the exception is limited to situations where an employee reasonably believed that force was necessary to defend against an imminent threat of serious bodily harm under circumstances where he or she was unable safely to withdraw. View "Ray v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellant, who worked at an oil refinery operated by Chevron U.S.A., Inc., was instructed by her immediate supervisor to add sulfuric acid to an open-air pit containing waste products from the refinery. When Appellant did so, she was injured by a poisonous gas produced by the resulting chemical reaction. Appellant received workers’ compensation benefits for her injuries. Thereafter, Appellant sued Chevron, alleging that it was liable for an intentional tort because her supervisors knew she would be injured when she was instructed to add sulfuric acid to the pit. The district court granted summary judgment for Chevron, concluding that Appellant failed to produce evidence that would support a conclusion that one of Chevron’s managers had the requisite knowledge or intent to support an intentional tort claim. The Supreme Court ruled, holding (1) there was a dispute of material fact precluding summary judgment because a reasonable jury could conclude that at least one of Chevron’s managers knew that Appellant would be injured when her supervisor instructed her to add sulfuric acid to the pit; and (2) the district court correctly ruled that the election of remedies doctrine did not bar Appellant’s suit. View "Helf v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant worked for Plaintiff, a technology company, as an engineer. During and after her employment with Plaintiff, Defendant forwarded confidential emails to her private Gmail account, copied a confidential business plan to a thumb drive, and placed protected information on the record in an administrative proceeding. Plaintiff filed suit, alleging that Defendant had violated a non-disclosure agreement and misappropriated company trade secrets. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendant, determining that Plaintiff had failed to make an adequate showing of harm. The court further entered Utah R. Civ. P. 11 sanctions against Plaintiff and awarded attorney fees to Defendant. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) there was sufficient evidence of threatened harm - or at least genuine issues of material fact concerning such harm - to defeat Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment; and (2) because Plaintiff prevailed on Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, Defendant could not be entitled to sanctions or fees. View "Innosys v. Mercer" on Justia Law

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Steven Brown suffered a back injury while working as a school bus driver for the Washington County School District. Brown received workers’ compensation for this injury. In 2007, Brown was reinjured while attending a local festival. The School District denied workers’ compensation liability. An administrative law judge with the Labor Commission concluded that the prior industrial injury was a contributing cause to the second injury and awarded benefits. The Commission and court of appeals affirmed. After clarifying the causation standard under the direct and natural results test for interpreting the Workers’ Compensation Act, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Commission to determine whether Brown’s injury met this standard. View "Washington County Sch. Dist. v. Labor Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Employer, a steel mill, fired Employee on suspicion that Employee had misappropriated steel from the company. In firing him, Employer refused to pay Employee the commissions he claimed to have earned, asserting that it could withhold the commissions as an offset against the value of the misappropriated steel. Employee filed this action claiming that Employer had violated the Utah Payment of Wages Act (UPWA). The district court granted summary judgment for Employee, concluding that the UPWA did not permit a preemptive withholding of Employee’s commissions. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the statute allows an employer in a case such as this one to seek a post-withholding opinion of a court or administrative law judge that an offset was warranted. Remanded for a determination whether Employer had presented evidence that in the opinion of the district court would warrant an offset sufficient to justify Employer’s withholding of Employee’s unpaid commission. View "Utley v. Mill Man Steel, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an attorney, filed a complaint against his employer, alleging that he was terminated for refusing to violate the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that he was fired for refusing to break the law by complying the company’s ongoing violation of usury laws in numerous states. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that Plaintiff was an at-will employee and that his termination did not violate a clear and substantial public policy of the state. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court properly dismissed Plaintiff’s wrongful termination claim, where Plaintiff failed to invoke a clear and substantial public policy that would have prohibited his employer from terminating him, and where rule 1.13(b) of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct does not reflect the type of public policy that prevents the termination of an at-will employee; and (2) the district court erred when it denied Plaintiff’s request for a hearing, but the error was harmless. View "Pang v. Int’l Document Servs." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an attorney, filed a complaint against his employer, alleging that he was terminated for refusing to violate the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that he was fired for refusing to break the law by complying the company’s ongoing violation of usury laws in numerous states. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that Plaintiff was an at-will employee and that his termination did not violate a clear and substantial public policy of the state. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court properly dismissed Plaintiff’s wrongful termination claim, where Plaintiff failed to invoke a clear and substantial public policy that would have prohibited his employer from terminating him, and where rule 1.13(b) of the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct does not reflect the type of public policy that prevents the termination of an at-will employee; and (2) the district court erred when it denied Plaintiff’s request for a hearing, but the error was harmless. View "Pang v. Int’l Document Servs." on Justia Law

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Law Firm represented an employee in a workers’ compensation claim. Under a settlement agreement, the employee received a disability payment, part of which was earmarked as attorney fees. Defendant also agreed to pay the employee’s medical bills, which included bills from the University of Utah Health Care (Hospital). Law Firm sought to secure additional attorney fees from Hospital and filed an action alleging that it was entitled under a “common fund” theory to recover a percentage of the payments Hospital had received as a result of Law Firm’s efforts in pursuing the employee’s claim. The district court dismissed the action, concluding that the issue was a matter for the Labor Commission. The court of appeals affirmed. Law Firm subsequently asserted a claim before the Labor Commission against Hospital, again arguing for a right to recover fees on a common fund theory. An administrative law judge (ALJ) dismissed the claim, concluding that Law Firm had received all the fees it was statutorily due. Thereafter, Law Firm filed a further attempt at a common fund claim in the district court. The district court dismissed the claim, concluding that further litigation of the matter was barred by the doctrine of issue preclusion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the elements of the doctrine of issue preclusion were amply satisfied in this case. View "Davis & Sanchez, PLLC v. Univ. of Utah Health Care" on Justia Law