November 24, 2015

Tenth Circuit: After Employee Proposes ADA Accommodations, Burden Shifts to Employer to Show Undue Hardship

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Osborne v. Baxter Healthcare Corp. on Monday, August 24, 2015.

Kelly Osborne, who is deaf, applied for a job as a plasma center technician (PCT) at BioLife Plasma Services. After two interviews, she was conditionally offered the job pending final tests and paperwork. BioLife’s human resources division reviewed her paperwork and determined she could not perform essential functions of the PCT job because she was deaf and would not be able to hear the alarm on the plasmaphoresis machine or hear clients calling for help. When Ms. Osborne showed up for work on her first day, Joe Elder, the manager, told her BioLife had rescinded her offer of employment. Ms. Osborne filed suit, arguing that BioLife’s revocation of the job offer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court granted summary judgment to BioLife and ordered each side to pay its own fees and costs. Both parties appealed.

The Tenth Circuit found material disputes of fact as to whether the accommodations Ms. Osborne proposed would be reasonable for BioLife and concluded summary judgment was inappropriate. The Tenth Circuit evaluated the three factors to present a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA: (1) whether the employee is disabled within the meaning of the ADA, (2) whether the employee is qualified, with or without reasonable accommodation, to perform the essential functions of the job, and (3) whether the employee was discriminated against because of his or her disability. Because there was no dispute that Ms. Osborne met the first and third factors, the Tenth Circuit evaluated only the second—whether she would be able to perform essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. Ms. Osborne proposed adding lights to the plasmaphoresis machine in addition to the alarm sound and giving clients call buttons. Ms. Osborne argued her proposed accommodations were reasonable on their face and the burden should have shifted to BioLife to show that it was unable to provide the accommodations without undue hardship. The Tenth Circuit agreed, finding that summary judgment was precluded because genuine issues of material fact existed regarding whether BioLife could provide the accommodations. Because the Tenth Circuit found that summary judgment was inappropriate, BioLife’s appeal of the cost determination was moot.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: Exception to Open and Obvious Doctrine Applies Where Employees Must Confront Danger for Work

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Martinez v. Angel Exploration, LLC on Tuesday, August 4, 2015.

Jesus Martinez was employed Smith Contract Pumping (SCP) to conduct routine inspections on oil wells in Oklahoma. While inspecting a well owned by Angel Exploration, LLC, Martinez dropped a tool. As he bent to retrieve it, the sleeve of his sweatshirt was caught in Angel’s unguarded pump jack and his hand was pulled into the well, severing his thumb. Martinez received workers’ compensation benefits from SCP but also filed tort claims against Angel, alleging that the lack of guarding was an unreasonably dangerous condition and Angel was negligent in failing to inspect its wells and to warn or take other precautions to protect Martinez. During discovery, SCP admitted Angel relied on SCP to report any needed repairs or adjustments to Angel, but also said that SCP’s employees were not trained on what guards were needed on a pump jack. And although Angel’s managing member admitted that the lack of a guard would be obvious to anyone who saw the well, he also said Angel never confirmed that SCP knew what was required by safety regulations, including a relevant OSHA regulation. Martinez testified that although he was aware the well was not guarded, he did not know he was supposed to report that, and another person testified that the well had not been guarded since 2003.

Martinez brought additional claims against Angel, averring that his claims fell within the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Act’s intentional tort exception. He sought actual and punitive damages and his wife brought derivative claims for loss of consortium and household services. Angel moved for summary judgment. The district court found the danger imposed by the unguarded well was open and obvious and therefore Angel had no duty to warn or otherwise remedy the condition. The court also found that the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Act’s intentional tort exception did not apply because there was no evidence Angel intentionally caused the tort. The district court also entered summary judgment on Martinez’ wife’s claims since they were derivative.

Martinez appealed, arguing (1) Angel’s failure to comply with the OSHA regulation constituted negligence per se; (2) because Martinez’ attention was distracted, fact issues exist as to whether the danger was open and obvious; (3) there were competing inferences as to whether Martinez fully appreciated the danger of the unguarded belt and whether it had a deceptively innocent appearance; and (4) even if the danger was open and obvious, Angel should have anticipated harm. The Tenth Circuit summarily dismissed the first two arguments as forfeited because they were not raised in district court. The Tenth Circuit also rejected the third argument, finding reasonable minds could not differ as to the open and obvious nature of the unguarded belt. As to the fourth argument, however, the Tenth Circuit reluctantly reversed due to an intervening Oklahoma Supreme Court decision that greatly changed application of the open and obvious doctrine.

The Tenth Circuit analyzed Wood v. Mercedes-Benz, 336 P.3d 457 (Okla. 2014), and found that it dramatically changed Oklahoma’s law regarding open and obvious dangers to invitees. Wood recognized an exception to the open and obvious doctrine where the invitee was required to confront the open and obvious danger as a condition of employment. The Tenth Circuit found Martinez’ case indistinguishable from Wood, and remanded for the parties to brief and argue the scope of Wood and how Oklahoma courts might resolve the question of whether Angel had notice that its well was unguarded.

The Tenth Circuit next turned to Martinez’ claim that Angel’s failure to guard the well constituted an intentional tort. The Tenth Circuit rejected this argument, finding that the district court correctly rejected this alternative theory of liability. Martinez resisted Angel’s argument that at the time of the accident he was a statutory employee of Angel and therefore the Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusive remedy provision applied. The Tenth Circuit rejected Martinez’ argument.

The district court’s grant of summary judgment to Angel on the intentional tort claim was affirmed. The district court’s grant of summary judgment to Angel on the open and obvious claim was reversed and remanded for reconsideration in light of Wood.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Talent Agency Not Employer for Unemployment Insurance Tax Purposes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Division of Unemployment Insurance Employer Services/Integrity v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on Thursday, October 8, 2015.

Employees of a Talent Agency for Unemployment Insurance Tax Purposes.

Marbles Kids, Inc. (Marbles) is a talent agency that represents individuals seeking acting and modeling work, most of whom are children. Marbles provides possible candidates for auditions, and the artists are free to turn down the auditions. The artists have contracts with Marbles stating that Marbles will receive a percentage commission on any assignments booked through them. The clients pay Marbles, and Marbles deducts its commission and pays the artist the remaining amount.

The Division of Unemployment Insurance Employer Services—Integrity/Employer Audits (Division) issued a liability determination that the artists were in covered employment with Marbles and thus Marbles was required to pay unemployment insurance tax premiums on amounts paid to artists. Marbles appealed, and the hearing officer affirmed. The Industrial Claim Appeals Office (Panel) reversed.

On appeal, the Division argued that the Panel erred in concluding that no employment relationship existed. Under the Colorado Employment Security Act, employment requires a showing that a “service [has been] performed by an individual for another.” Service has been defined as “an act done for the benefit or at the command of another.” The Division argued that the artists performed their acting and modeling services “at the command” of Marbles. The Court of Appeals disagreed. The artists were free to reject auditions or assignments from Marbles’ clients and were not “at the command” of Marbles. The Court also rejected the Division’s argument that the artists performed services “for the benefit of” Marbles. The artists did not provide a benefit for Marbles; rather, Marbles worked for the artists in finding them work with third parties. The artists worked for clients, not for Marbles.

Because the artists did not perform acting or modeling services for Marbles, Marbles was not an employer of the artists and they were not Marbles’ employees. Accordingly, Marbles was not required to pay unemployment insurance tax premiums on the amounts it paid the artists after deducting its agent commissions. The Panel’s order was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Employee’s Onerous Commute Does Not Constitute Discriminatory Intent by Employer

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Bennett v. Windstream Communications, Inc. on Thursday, July 9, 2015.

Susan Bennett was employed for 12 years by Paetec Communications, Inc. as a Fiber Optic Tech III, where she performed work on fiber optic cables in various areas of Oklahoma and Arkansas. In 2011, Windstream acquired Paetec and implemented new policies requiring the Fiber Optic Techs to check in at regional offices every day at 8 a.m. The closest regional office to Ms. Bennett was in Tulsa, which required her to commute more than four hours every day. However, she never requested an accommodation due to her onerous commute. Frequently, Ms. Bennett arrived at the Tulsa office several hours late, and many days she did not check in at all. Ms. Bennett missed cross-training opportunities because of her failure to report to the Tulsa office.

On May 22, 2012, Ms. Bennett was subject to a disciplinary action for her tardiness and absences, and that day she reported chest and shoulder pain due to work-related stress. Windstream completed a workers’ compensation claim and Ms. Bennett initiated a short-term disability claim with MetLife, Windstream’s disability insurance carrier. MetLife paid benefits to Ms. Bennett through June 27, 2012, and Windstream paid out Ms. Bennett’s remaining vacation and paid leave days through July 27, 2012. Windstream retrieved a company vehicle and tools from Ms. Bennett in June 2012. On July 26, 2012, Windstream sent a letter to Ms. Bennett requiring her to elect one of three options by August 3, 2012: (1) return to work, (2) provide medical documentation supporting continued disability leave, or (3) resign, and advising her that a failure to respond would be considered job abandonment. Ms. Bennett emailed her supervisors on the deadline, advising that the discriminatory conditions Windstream placed on her left her no choice but to petition for severance pay. Windstream sent Ms. Bennett a letter on August 8 informing her that her employment was “separated” due to her failure to return from disability leave.

Ms. Bennett filed suit in district court, alleging gender discrimination in violation of Title VII and age discrimination in violation of the ADEA. The district court granted summary judgment to Windstream and Ms. Bennett appealed. The Tenth Circuit applied the McDonnell Douglas test to evaluate Ms. Bennett’s discrimination claims. Ms. Bennett asserted that her termination was the adverse employment action resulting from discrimination. The Tenth Circuit found that Ms. Bennett failed to articulate discriminatory animus. Although Ms. Bennett claims that she was denied training opportunities given to younger, male technicians, the Tenth Circuit found record support that Ms. Bennett’s failure to report to work was the reason she did not receive training. Ms. Bennett also claims that no other techs were required to check in, but Windstream presented evidence that all the techs were required to check in. The Tenth Circuit found Ms. Bennett failed to establish a prima facie case of gender or age discrimination. Further, Windstream articulated several legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for the practices about which Ms. Bennett complained.

Ms. Bennett also asserted a Title VII retaliation claim, which the Tenth Circuit quickly dismissed based on its analysis of her gender and age discrimination claims. Similarly, the Tenth Circuit dismissed Ms. Bennett’s claims under the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act. The Tenth Circuit also rejected her constructive discharge claim, finding she neither showed Windstream engaged in any discriminatory conduct, nor that such conduct was so egregious that she had no choice but to resign.

The district court’s grant of summary judgment to Windstream was affirmed.

Dignity to All Persons: CBA-CLE to Host LGBT Law Institute

LGBTOn June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court decided in the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In reaching this conclusion, the majority relied on four principles and traditions that demonstrate marriage is a fundamental right under the Constitution, and applies with equal force to same-sex couples.

The first premise is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy. The second principle in the Court’s jurisprudence is that the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals. The third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation and education. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court’s cases and our Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of the Nation’s social order. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy stated:

The right to marry is fundamental as a matter of history and tradition, but rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era. Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it disparages their choices and diminishes their personhood to deny them this right.

What is the case law, legislation and culture surrounding the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender journey to this holding? Attend the Colorado Bar Association CLE’s Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Law Institute on September 24-25, 2015, and hear not only from Colorado Supreme Court Justice Monica Marquez, but also from Colorado Senator Pat Steadman on the LGBT legal history and landscape in our State and our Nation. Learn about changes in government programs after the Windsor case, and about LGBT issues in both the employment law and immigration contexts. Also find out about how to reach out to the LGBT community and the logistics of navigating through such legal issues as changing one’s name and Social Security if you are a transgender person.

The Institute will showcase many points of view. On August 13, 2015, the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed a finding from May 2014 from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that the Masterpiece Cakeshop’s policy of turning away a same-sex couple’s request for a cake violates Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act. The speaker at the Institute will address the topic from the perspective of Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs. Learned legal scholars will also discuss the salient points from both the majority and dissenting opinions in the Obergefell case. Religious freedoms in connection with LGBT issues will also be discussed.

There are many more topics to be found when you register here. We’ll see you in the front row on September 24-25.

CLE Program: Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Law Institute

This CLE presentation will take place Thursday, September 24, and Friday, September 25, 2015 at the CLE offices. Click here to register for the live program or click here to register for the webcast.

Can’t make the live program? Order the homestudy here – CD • Video OnDemand • MP3

Tenth Circuit: First Amendment Does Not Require Government Employer to Tolerate Disloyalty

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rock v. Levinski on Monday, June 29, 2015.

Joyce Rock was the principal of Career Prep High School in New Mexico, an alternative high school for kids who are parents, have been suspended from another school, or do not feel comfortable at other schools. In May 2013, Phil Kasper, the District’s Director of Administration and Rock’s immediate supervisor, informed Rock that the district was planning to close Career Prep at the end of the school year. Two days later, Kasper and Don Levinski, the superintendent, held a meeting with the staff to explain the closing, at which meeting several staff members raised questions and concerns. Later that day, a meeting for parents, students, and staff was held in the school cafeteria. Rock was present at the meeting, and although the parties dispute when she first spoke, at some point Rock stood up, introduced herself as principal, expressed support for her students, and expressed concern that many of her students would not succeed at the larger high school they would be placed in after Career Prep closed. The next day, the Board of Education announced that Career Prep would remain open. A few days later, Kasper gave Rock a “growth plan” indicating Rock had performed unsatisfactorily in working with supervisors, administrators, staff, parents, and students. Kasper explained the negative evaluation was based on Rock’s failure to support the superintendent and speak with him privately about her concerns. Kasper also suggested Rock’s lack of confidence in her students’ ability to perform at another school “deeply disappointed” the superintendent. Levinski disagreed with Kasper’s decision to put Rock on a growth plan and terminated her employment. She was placed on administrative leave through the end of her contract. Levinski testified that the primary reason for Rock’s termination was the parent meeting, where he felt she behaved in an unprofessional manner. Shortly after her contract expired, Rock was named Principal of the Year by the New Mexico Association of Secondary School Principals.

Rock brought a First Amendment § 1983 retaliation claim against Levinski and the district, alleging defendants unconstitutionally retaliated against her for speaking in opposition to the closing of Career Prep at the parent meeting. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants on three grounds: (1) Rock’s speech was not protected because it was made pursuant to her official duties; (2) even if Rock did not speak in her official capacity, the district’s interest in efficient public service outweighed Rock’s interest in free speech; and (3) Levinski was entitled to qualified immunity because he did not violate a clearly established First Amendment right. The Tenth Circuit affirmed on the second ground.

The Tenth Circuit applied the Garcetti/Pickering test to evaluate Rock’s claim that she suffered retaliation for exercising her right to speak. The Tenth Circuit evaluated the third prong of the test, whether the government had adequate justification for treating the employee differently than any member of the public, and found adequate justification. The Tenth Circuit noted that Rock’s high-ranking position within the district restricted her right to speak freely in opposition to her employer’s policies. The Tenth Circuit found it well established that the First Amendment does not require a government employer to tolerate disloyalty from the upper echelons of administration.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment to defendants.

Comment Period Open for Proposed Changes to 10th Circuit Local Rules

On August 14, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals announced that changes to its local rules will take effect January 1, 2016. From August 14, 2015 to October 22, 2015, all interested parties are encouraged to review the changes and make comments to the clerk of the court. The changes are outlined in a memorandum explaining the proposals, and are excerpted here:

10th Cir. R. 8.3(A) (addressing applications for stay made to a single judge) This proposed change removes the language at the end of the current rule which states applications for stay made to single judges are disfavored “except in an emergency.” Given technical advancements, all emergency motions can be processed centrally.

10th Cir. R. 9.1(C) (regarding application of the Rule 46.3(B) motion requirement to bail appeals) This proposed change modifies the rule to make clear that the new motion practice announced in R. 46.3(B) does not apply to bail appeals.

10th Cir. R. 17.3 (regarding filing an appendix in agency cases) This proposed change modifies the rule to make clear that when an agency record is filed, the parties need not submit a separate appendix.

10th Cir. R. 25.6 (addressing CM technical failures) This new rule addresses procedures in the event of a CM/ECF system failure.

10th Cir. R. 27.1 (location of the “confer and consent” provision of the local rule on motions) The court’s “confer and consent” rule has been moved to the beginning of local rule 27 for greater visibility. In addition, the rule now makes clear that CJA counsel need not confer on motions filed to withdraw or for continued appointment.

10th Cir. R. 30.1(D)(6) (addressing motions to seal documents) This local rule addresses the submission of sealed materials. The proposed change to the rule requires parties submitting materials under seal (except for presentence reports, which are exempt) to file a motion to do so. The proposed change is made in accord with circuit case law emphasizing the presumption in favor of providing access to judicial records. See Eugene S. v. Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, 663 F.3d 1124, 1135-1136 (10th Cir. 2011).

10th Cir. R. 31.5 (addressing the number of hard copies required for briefs) This modification adds a specific clause regarding the court’s already existing requirement that 7 hard copies of briefs must be received in the clerk’s office within 2 business days of the electronic filing.

10th Cir. R. 33.2 (removal of the requirement to have a private settlement discussion) This modification deletes this local rule.

10th Cir. R. 46.3(B) and R. 46.4(B)(1) (incorporating the new motion requirement from the amended CJA Plan adopted effective July 8, 2015) This proposal includes a section memorializing the new motion requirement created by virtue of the court’s amendment of the circuit Criminal Justice Act Plan in July 2015. In addition, please note the language added to Rule 46.4(B)(1), which makes clear the new requirement is not a substitute for filing a motion to withdraw, as appropriate, in Anders cases. In addition, the court’s decision in United States v. Cervantes, ___F.3d___, 2015 WL 4636640 (10th Cir. May 22, 2015) has been incorporated into the rule. Finally, Addendum I of the rules, which is a copy of the CJA Plan, has been updated.

Addendum IV (removal of the Rules for Judicial Misconduct and Judicial Disability Proceedings) Because they are now available on the court’s website, the Rules on Judicial Misconduct have been deleted as an attachment to the Rules.

The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure will not be updated January 1, 2016. A redline of the Tenth Circuit Local Rules including the proposed changes is available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Default Judgment Must Be Set Aside When Defendants Not Served

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Burton v. Colorado Access on Thursday, August 13, 2015.

Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974—Process Service.

Burton was formerly employed by a company known as Colorado Access. Colorado Access sponsored the Colorado Access Long Term Disability Plan (plan), which was issued and administered by Unum Life Insurance Company of America (Unum). Burton sought benefits from Unum under the plan, and Unum paid her benefits for approximately two years before terminating them. Burton filed a complaint against the plan, claiming entitlement to additional benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Instead of serving the complaint on the plan, she served the complaint on the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor. Burton sought a default judgment against the plan, which the district court entered but later set aside. The district court also entered summary judgment in favor of the plan.

On appeal, Burton argued that the trial court erred in finding that she did not properly serve the plan administrator when she served the Secretary of Labor. A party intending to sue a plan must serve the plan administrator where it is designated as the agent for service of process. It is only where the summary plan description designates neither the plan administrator nor some other person as the agent for service of process that service on the Secretary of Labor is allowed. Given that Colorado Access was the plan administrator, and the plan designated Colorado Access as its agent for service of process, Burton could not properly serve process on the plan by serving the Secretary of Labor under § 1132(d)(1) of ERISA. Therefore, the district court did not err in determining that Burton failed to properly serve the plan.

Burton also argued that the district court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of the plan. The only proper defendants in an ERISA claim to recover plan benefits are those entities that make eligibility or payment decisions or are obligated to pay benefits. In this case, Unum (the insurer) made all decisions regarding eligibility for and payment of benefits, and made all such decisions with respect to Burton. Further, only Unum was obligated to pay any benefits owed to Burton under the plan. Therefore, the plan was not a proper defendant as to Burton’s ERISA benefits claim, and the trial court properly entered summary judgment in the plan’s favor.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

5 Components of a Great Business Plan

HYS2015Have you ever wanted to start your own law firm? It can be a great way to practice in the areas you’re especially interested in while controlling your time and caseload. However, many lawyers are unsure about the business side of running a law business. Accounting, personnel issues, technology—there is a lot more to think about than simply your preferred practice area.

Our three-day institute, “Hanging Your Shingle,” can help. Learn about the ins and outs of running a law practice from successful solo and small firm attorneys. Some of the topics to be covered at this year’s institute include “Writing Your Business Plan,” “Trust Account Management and Fee Agreements,” “Marketing and Business Development,” “Technology: Your First Partner,” and more.

Qusair Mohamedbhai and Siddhartha Rathod of Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC will present “Writing Your Business Plan.” These partners know first-hand the keys to succeeding at a small practice, and appreciate the opportunity to share their experience with attorneys just beginning their own firms. Among other topics, they will discuss these five components of a great business plan:

  1. Executive Summary – explains what the firm does, establishes goals, creates a mission statement, and elucidates milestones
  2. General Company Overview – provides a glimpse into what makes your firm unique and offers detailed attorney biographies
  3. Industry Analysis – this is an important part of the business plan that examines area demand and crucial details such as price, location, experience, and competition
  4. Financial Plan – also a very important part of a great business plan, the financial plan sets expense and revenue projections and determines profit margins
  5. Marketing Strategies – marketing is key to continuing your successful business, including referrals, traditional marketing, word of mouth, and more

Listen to Mohamedbhai and Rathod speak at “Hanging Your Shingle” this week. Call us at (303) 860-0608 or click the links below to register.

CLE Program: Hanging Your Shingle

This CLE presentation will take place from Thursday, August 20, 2015 through Saturday, August 22, 2015 at the CLE offices. Click here to register for the live program and click here to register for the webcast..

Can’t make the live program? Order the homestudy here – Video OnDemand – MP3


Tenth Circuit: Waiver of 11th Amendment Immunity Applies to All Divisions of State Department of Labor

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Arbogast v. State of Kansas Department of Labor on Friday, June 19, 2015.

Kathleen Arbogast worked for the Kansas Department of Labor (KDOL) in the Workers’ Compensation Division and suffers from asthma. She complained that her co-workers’ perfumes were triggering asthma attacks, so the Division moved her to an office in the basement in September 2010, but she continued to have asthma attacks when co-workers would visit her office. In August 2011, Ms. Arbogast was terminated by her supervisor, Karin Brownlee. Ms. Arbogast filed suit in January 2013, asserting claims of discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, and named as defendants KDOL and Brownlee in her individual capacity. KDOL sought to dismiss the Rehabilitation Act claims, arguing KDOL lacks the capacity to sue or be sued and Kansas has not waived its judicial immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The district court denied KDOL’s motion to dismiss and KDOL brought an interlocutory appeal.

The Tenth Circuit first examined its appellate jurisdiction to consider KDOL’s claim that it lacked capacity to be sued. KDOL argued that under state law, as a mere agency of the state, it lacked capacity to sue or be sued, and the collateral order doctrine conferred immediate jurisdiction on the Tenth Circuit to hear the issue. However, at oral argument, KDOL’s counsel conceded that the collateral order doctrine may not permit interlocutory review of the capacity argument. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the concession. Citing three requirements to invoke jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine, i.e., (1) the district court’s order conclusively resolved the disputed issue, (2) the order resolved an issue separate from the merits of the case, and (3) the order is effectively unreviewable on order from final judgment, the Tenth Circuit found KDOL’s argument failed at the first prong because the district court did not conclusively determine KDOL’s capacity to sue or be sued. The Tenth Circuit dismissed the issue on appeal.

Next, the Tenth Circuit evaluated whether KDOL waived Eleventh Amendment immunity by accepting funds for the Unemployment Insurance Division housed within the Department of Labor. KDOL contended that because Ms. Arbogast worked for the Workers’ Compensation Division, not the Unemployment Insurance Division, there was no waiver of immunity. Looking at the Rehabilitation Act, the Tenth Circuit found the plain language included in the waiver of immunity “all the operations of . . . a department . . . of a State.” Since the Workers’ Compensation Division and Unemployment Insurance Division were both housed in the Kansas Department of Labor, the acceptance of funds for the Unemployment Insurance Division constituted a waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity for the entire Department of Labor. Kansas argued that extending the waiver of immunity to the Workers’ Compensation Division when it received no federal funds would violate the Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Tenth Circuit found the first Dole factor was satisfied because allowing those who suffer discrimination to bring private causes of action is “reasonably calculated” to achieve Congress’s goal of combating discrimination. KDOL also argued it did not have notice of its waiver, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding the plain language of the Rehabilitation Act provided sufficient notice that the waiver extended to all the operations of the department. KDOL also argued that the waiver of immunity is unrelated to the federal interest justifying expenditure of the funds, but the Tenth Circuit again disagreed, finding that Congress’s intent to eliminate discrimination based on disability was reasonably related to its distribution of federal funds.

The Tenth Circuit dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction KDOL’s argument that it lacked capacity to be sued. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding of a waiver of Eleventh Amendment immunity.

Tenth Circuit: State Does Not Waive Sovereign Immunity Under ADA by Accepting Federal Funds

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Levy v. Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services on Tuesday, June 16, 2015.

Paul Levy was a rehabilitation counselor for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS). In December 2008, he agreed to serve as a counselor for a blind co-worker, Tina Bruce, who was concerned she was not being properly accommodated. He ordered an assessment from a contractor, Brenda Umholtz, who had done extensive work for both Levy and Bruce at SRS. Umholtz’s report stated that Bruce was not receiving adequate accommodations and could not compete on a level playing field with her co-workers. In February 2009, Levy’s supervisor, Michael Donnelly, sent Levy a letter proposing Levy’s termination due to a violation of SRS’s conflict of interest policy based on Umholtz’s report. The letter provided Levy an opportunity to appear in person and respond to the allegations on February 24, 2009. Levy reported in his interrogatories that he met with Donnelly prior to receiving the termination letter, and in that meeting he told Donnelly that other counselors in the division had served as counselors for co-workers without being punished. He also stated that he informed his supervisor about Bruce’s case in January 2009 and transferred the case to his supervisor immediately when asked to do so. Levy tendered his resignation on February 25, 2009, noting that it became clear to him in the February 24 meeting that Donnelly intended to terminate him regardless of the outcome of the meeting.

Umholtz filed suit against SRS on February 11, 2011. Levy joined the suit on March 2, 2011, and Bruce joined shortly after. In the Second Amended Complaint, Levy alleged SRS retaliated against him in violation of the ADA and requested reinstatement, compensatory damages, attorney fees, and other litigation expenses. Plaintiffs subsequently amended their complaint to include Rehabilitation Act claims for Bruce and Levy, and SRS agreed not to oppose the amendment in exchange for plaintiffs’ agreement that SRS had not waived sovereign immunity. SRS filed for summary judgment on all Levy’s claims on March 23, 2012, arguing Levy’s ADA claim was barred by the Eleventh Amendment and his Rehabilitation Act claim was barred by Kansas’ two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. Levy countered that SRS waived its Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity claim by accepting federal funds and the Rehabilitation Act claims were more appropriately characterized as statutorily created rights subject to Kansas’ three-year statute of limitations. The district court granted summary judgment to SRS on the ADA claim based on sovereign immunity and on the Rehabilitation Act claims due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. Levy appealed.

The Tenth Circuit found Levy’s arguments that the state waived sovereign immunity by accepting federal funds cogent, but ultimately disagreed. Levy contended the waiver provisions of the Rehabilitation Act similarly apply to the ADA because the two acts are closely linked. The Tenth Circuit agreed that the two acts were closely linked, but instead found it appropriate to apply a stringent test to determine whether the state waived its sovereign immunity. The Tenth Circuit decided that, since “Congress does not hide elephants in mouseholes,” the waiver of sovereign immunity under the ADA must be explicitly stated and not “hidden in another statute and only applied to the ADA by implication.” Particularly because the ADA was passed after the Rehabilitation Act’s waiver provisions, the Tenth Circuit found merit in its determination.

Turning next to the statute of limitations issue, the Tenth Circuit agreed that Kansas’ two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions applied to the analogous Rehabilitation Act claims. Levy argued that the case on which the district court relied was confusing because it made several references to a Kansas statute detailing when a three-year statute of limitations applies, and argued Kansas case law supported the determination that Rehabilitation Act claims should be subject to the three-year statute of limitations because they involved statutorily created rights. The Tenth Circuit found that although the case incorrectly cited the wrong statute twice, the holding of the case was clear that the personal injury analogy should apply to Rehabilitation Act claims. The Tenth Circuit found Levy’s second argument more persuasive, since Kansas courts expressly characterized employment discrimination claims as statutorily based and subject to the three-year statute of limitations. However, the Tenth Circuit was not bound by the Kansas Supreme Court decisions, and chose to uphold its own precedent in finding Rehabilitation Act claims analogous to personal injury claims. The Tenth Circuit determined Levy’s Rehabilitation Act claims were time-barred.

The judgment of the district court was affirmed.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Day-to-Day Oversight of Personnel Exempted from Disclosure Under Open Meetings Law

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Arkansas Valley Publishing Co. v. Lake County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, July 16, 2015.

Executive Session—Colorado Open Meetings Law—Personnel Discussions.

On February 19, 2013, the Lake County Board of County Commissioners (Board) convened an executive session to discuss a disciplinary matter involving the director of the Lake County Building and Land Use Department. An employee in the department had accused the director of criminal conduct. Plaintiff sought an order from the trial court for the Board to disclose the audio recording of its executive session after the Board had denied its request. The trial court granted the order.

On appeal, the Board contended that the district court erred by ordering the executive session recordings to be disclosed. The executive session was a meeting subject to the Colorado Open Meetings Law (OML). However, meetings involving the “day-to-day oversight of property or supervision of employees by county commissioners” are exempt from the notice requirement. Because the executive session here falls within this exception, the Board was not required to provide full and timely notice before convening the executive session to discuss the director’s employment status and record of that meeting was not subject to disclosure under the OML. Accordingly, the district court erred by granting plaintiff’s request for the Board to disclose the records of the executive session. The order was reversed and the case was remanded with directions for the district court to address plaintiff’s alternative grounds for disclosure under the Colorado Open Records Act.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.