June 26, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Refusal to Operate Vehicle in Manner Directed by Supervisor Qualifies as Refusal to Operate

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in TransAm Trucking, Inc. v. Administrative Review Board on Monday, August 8, 2016.

Alphonse Maddin was driving a tractor-trailer for TransAm in sub-zero temperatures on I-88 in Illinois. He could not find the TransAm-approved gas station and his truck’s fuel meter was below E, so he pulled to the side of the highway. When he tried to pull back onto the road about 10 minutes later, he discovered his brakes were frozen and had locked up. He radioed TransAm’s road assist department and was advised that a repairperson would be sent to his location. He then discovered that his bunk heater was not working and there was no heat in the cab of the truck. He fell asleep while waiting for the repair person.

Approximately two hours later, Maddin’s cousin called him and woke him up. According to the cousin, Maddin’s speech was slurred and he sounded confused. When Maddin sat up, he realized his torso was numb and he could not feel his feet. He called road assist again to report that his bunk heater was not working, telling the dispatcher about his physical condition. The road assist dispatcher told him to stay where he was. About thirty minutes later, Maddin became concerned about continuing to wait in the freezing temperatures with no heat. He unhitched the trailer from the truck, pulled a few feet away, and called his supervisor, Larry Cluck, telling him he couldn’t feel his feet and was having trouble breathing because of the cold. Cluck told him not to abandon the trailer. Cluck advised Maddin that he could either drive off with the trailer or stay there and wait for the repairperson. Maddin drove off without the trailer. About 15 minutes later, the repairperson showed up and Maddin drove back to the trailer. When the truck was repaired, Maddin called Cluck for directions to the fuel stop. Cluck threatened to write Maddin up for missing his fuel stop or a late load. Later, Cluck informed Maddin that he was being written up for abandoning his trailer. He was terminated less than a week later for violating company policy by abandoning his load.

Maddin filed a complaint with OSHA, asserting TransAm violated the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) when it terminated him. After OSHA dismissed his complaint, Maddin requested a hearing with a Department of Labor ALJ. The ALJ concluded Maddin engaged in protected activity when he reported his defective vehicle to TransAm and again when he refused to obey Cluck’s order to either drive the defective vehicle or stay put. The ALJ found that the protected activity was inextricably intertwined with TransAm’s decision to terminate Maddin, and eventually awarded back pay from the date of discharge to the date of reinstatement, including a per diem allowance provided by TransAm. TransAm appealed the ALJ’s decision to the Administrative Review Board (ARB), which upheld the ALJ’s findings and backpay award. TransAm filed a petition for review in the Tenth Circuit.

TransAm first argued that frozen brakes are not the type of vehicle complaint contemplated by the STAA. The Tenth Circuit declined to resolve the question because the ARB’s decision could be affirmed under another aspect of the STAA also relied on by the ARB. The alternative provision makes it unlawful for an employer to discharge an employee who refuses to operate a vehicle due to safety concerns. TransAm argued that Maddin did not refuse to operate the vehicle since he drove away. The Tenth Circuit applied Chevron deference to the agency’s interpretation of the word “operate,” and found no authority to support that Congress intended to limit the word “operate” solely to driving. The ARB interpreted “operate” to encompass situations in which an employee refused to use a vehicle in the manner directed by the employer, and the Tenth Circuit majority approved of this definition. TransAm argued it would have been impossible for Maddin to drive off while the trailer’s brakes were frozen, so his refusal to drag the trailer could not have contributed to his termination because he could not “defy the laws of physics,” therefore it was not protected activity. The Tenth Circuit majority disagreed. The Tenth Circuit found ample evidence supporting the ARB’s causation finding.

TransAm also raised three challenges to the backpay award. First, it contended that the per diem allowances should not have been included, but the ARB found that because the allowances were paid whenever Maddin drove for TransAm and did not appear to be intended to offset expenses, they were properly included as lost earnings. TransAm argued that the per diems were intended to reimburse Maddin for expenses, but no record evidence supported its assertion. TransAm also challenged the ARB’s refusal to offset the backpay award for earnings from 2010 to 2012, arguing no evidence supported the ALJ’s finding that the income was less than Maddin’s incurred business expenses. The Tenth Circuit, however, noted that the ARB specifically referenced Maddin’s IRS tax records and a personal statement, both of which supported the ALJ’s finding. The Tenth Circuit also rejected TransAm’s argument that Maddin was not entitled to backpay with interest for the entire period between his termination and reinstatement, finding TransAm’s statements conclusory, self-serving, and unsupported.

The Tenth Circuit denied TransAm’s petition for review. Judge Gorsuch dissented; he would not have applied Chevron and instead would have relied on the dictionary definition of “operate” in determining whether Maddin operated the vehicle in defiance of his supervisor’s orders.

Tenth Circuit: Findings of Fact Needed to Determine Whether Termination Caused by Employer’s Belief that Employee Engaged in Protected Activity

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Bird v. West Valley City on Monday, August 8, 2016.

Karen Bird was hired at West Valley City’s animal shelter in 2001, and was promoted to manager by Kelly Davis, her direct supervisor, in 2002. In 2005, West Valley City’s human resources manager, Shirlayne George, investigated the shelter and reported several negative comments about Ms. Bird by fellow employees. Mr. Davis was also the subject of several complaints, especially by women, and Ms. George investigated him in 2009. Most of the women who complained about Mr. Davis were either fired or voluntarily left the animal shelter shortly after complaining. Ms. Bird and Mr. Davis had a disagreement in 2009, and their already strained relationship deteriorated thereafter, to the point where Ms. Bird would not look Mr. Davis in the eye and could not stand to be in the same room as him.

In October 2011, the Salt Lake Tribune published an article about a cat that had endured two failed euthanasia attempts in the shelter’s gas chamber. About a week later, a reporter called the shelter after receiving an anonymous tip about a planned mass-euthanasia due to overpopulation. Both Layne Morris, the Community Preservation Department Director and Mr. Davis’s direct supervisor, and Mr. Davis believed that the anonymous tip had come from Ms. Bird, although she denied it. Ms. Bird was notoriously against using the gas chamber for euthanasia and was one of the few individuals privy to the information about the shelter’s overpopulation. Shortly after this incident, Ms. Bird emailed Ms. George that she could not take any more of Mr. Davis’s harassment. She filed a formal complaint on November 3, 2011.

Less than a week later, Mr. Davis issued two letters of reprimand to Ms. Bird regarding unauthorized use of overtime pay, despite the shelter’s usual practice of issuing less formal warnings before the letters of reprimand. On November 14, in response to Ms. Bird’s complaint, Ms. George undertook an investigation of the entire shelter. She received several complaints regarding both Ms. Bird and Mr. Davis, but more against Ms. Bird. Mr. Morris reviewed the results of the investigation and decided to discipline Ms. Bird for insubordination and failure to be courteous to the public or other shelter employees. He sent Ms. Bird a letter advising of the discipline on November 16, and ultimately terminated her employment on November 29. Mr. Morris testified that his decision to terminate Ms. Bird was not only based on the November 2011 investigation, but rather because of the deterioration of the relationship between Ms. Bird and Mr. Davis. Mr. Morris also testified that he had considered terminating Ms. Bird in December 2010 but Mr. Davis stayed his hand.

Ms. Bird unsuccessfully appealed her termination to Ms. George, then the city’s human resources director, and finally to the West Valley City Appeals Board. When all three appeals were unsuccessful, Ms. Bird filed a complaint in district court, alleging the city terminated her in violation of Title VII as a result of gender discrimination and subjected her to a hostile work environment; the city violated § 1983 because it terminated her as a result of gender discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause; and both the city and Mr. Davis violated § 1983 because they terminated her in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights concerning the anonymous tip to the reporter. Ms. Bird maintained that she did not provide the anonymous tip, but because she was perceived as doing so, the termination in retaliation violated her First Amendment rights. Ms. Bird also brought state law claims for breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants on all claims.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit first considered Ms. Bird’s Title VII gender discrimination and hostile work environment claims. Applying the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, the Tenth Circuit evaluated Ms. Bird’s claim that the shelter had a pattern and practice of discriminating against female employees. However, Mr. Morris provided two legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Ms. Bird: insubordination and failure to be courteous and cooperative with fellow employees. The Tenth Circuit evaluated Ms. Bird’s proffered reasons why Mr. Morris’s explanation was pretextual. She first contended that the reasons he outlined for terminating her differed from those offered in his deposition. The Tenth Circuit disagreed; the Circuit noted that Mr. Morris had offered specific examples in his deposition but his stated reasons for Ms. Bird’s termination were always insubordination and failure to be courteous. Ms. Bird also contended that the individuals to whom she appealed her termination offered different reasons, but the Tenth Circuit found that they merely offered different instances of her conduct. The Tenth Circuit held that no reasonable juror could determine that the city’s reason for terminating her was pretextual.

The Tenth Circuit similarly disposed of Ms. Bird’s hostile work environment claims. Although Mr. Davis’s conduct was deplorable, the Circuit did not find any evidence that his behavior was gender-based. Ms. Bird pointed to several statements, but the statements were generalized and did not point to specific instances. The Tenth Circuit refused to consider vague and conclusory statements as evidence of gender discrimination.

Turning next to the § 1983 Equal Protection claims, the Tenth Circuit found that because Ms. Bird alleged the same facts to prove her Equal Protection claim as she asserted to prove her Title VII claims, the Equal Protection argument failed for the same reasons. The Tenth Circuit also disposed of Ms. Bird’s state law breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty claims. Ms. Bird relied on the employee handbook to argue her claims based on violation of the “Workplace Violence” section and the unwritten anti-retaliation policy. The Tenth Circuit found that the large disclaimer on the handbook eliminated all contractual liability for the city.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit evaluated Ms. Bird’s § 1983 First Amendment retaliation claims. Although Ms. Bird continued to argue that she did not make the anonymous tips to the reporters, she alleged that she was terminated in retaliation because the city believed she had made the tips. The Tenth Circuit found that the Supreme Court’s decision in Heffernan v. City of Paterson, 136 S. Ct. 1412 (2016), controlled its analysis. The lower court did not evaluate Ms. Bird’s First Amendment claims because she could not show that she engaged in protected activity. The Tenth Circuit remanded for a determination of whether Ms. Bird raised a genuine issue of material fact that the city’s belief motivated its decision to terminate her employment.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the Title VII gender discrimination and retaliation claims, the § 1983 Equal Protection Claims, and the state law contractual claims. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded on the § 1983 First Amendment claims.

Tenth Circuit: Garcetti and Lane Require Showing of Whether Speech Within Employee’s Official Duties

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Holub v. Gdowski on Thursday, September 24, 2015.

Gina Holub was employed as an internal auditor for the Adams 12 school district beginning in 2007, and she reported to the district’s Chief Financial Officer. In late 2011, the district hired Shelley Becker as the new CFO, who implemented measures to ensure the accuracy of the district’s budget. At Becker’s request, district employee Tracy Cantrell analyzed the district’s salary expenses. Cantrell determined that the budget included $12 million more in salary funding than required to pay all the full-time employees. Cantrell reported her findings to Becker, and when Becker failed to address the issue, she reported them to Holub. Holub agreed with Cantrell that the salary budget was inflated, but found that it included $17 million more than necessary, thereby affecting the budget’s required 10% reserves. Holub conveyed her concerns to district superintendent Chris Gdowski, who advised her to speak to Becker about the concerns. Holub expressed to Gdowski that speaking to Becker would create a conflict of interest, and Gdowski advised her to research to whom she should be reporting. Holub ultimately concluded she was required to share her concerns with senior management, including Becker, and the school board.

District employees held four separate meetings in July and August 2012 to address Holub’s concerns. Becker explained Holub had erred in her analysis by incorrectly assuming the salary budget only included base salaries of full-time employees. Rather, Becker informed Holub that the salary budget also included many other items, including overtime pay and coaching stipends. This information satisfied Gdowski that Holub’s concerns were unfounded. However, Holub was not satisfied, and a few days later she approached the board president, Mark Clark, and shared her concerns with him. Two days later, Gdowski introduced Holub to the board and indicated that, as internal auditor, she could be a resource for the board. Holub requested that Gdowski allow her to present her findings to the board, but Gdowski replied that he believed her concerns were unfounded and would not recommend that the board hear her concerns in a public meeting. Holub prepared and delivered to Gdowski a memorandum citing state law and accounting standards in which she asserted the district had acted illegally and unethically in concealing excess budget reserves. The district hired an independent expert, Vody Herrmann, to review the budget.

Before Herrmann completed her review, Holub again insisted to Gdowski that even if Herrmann disagreed with her, Holub had a responsibility to present her conclusions to the board. The district’s general counsel responded, advising Holub that the board was aware of her concerns, her responsibility was to raise concerns to management, and the board would determine whether further action was necessary after receiving the independent review. About three weeks later, Herrmann presented her findings to Holub, Gdowski, and Becker. Herrmann explicitly concluded Holub’s concerns were unfounded. Holub then met with two board members, Schaefer and Winsley, at Schaefer’s home office. Both board members then met with Gdowski to discuss Holub’s concerns and left the meeting satisfied that they were unfounded.

In early October 2012, Gdowski, Becker, and the district’s Chief Human Resources Officer met to discuss Holub’s unwillingness and apparent inability to move past her budget concerns. They decided to terminate Holub’s employment, and Becker and the CHRO met with Holub on October 19, 2012, to inform her of their decision, telling her that her inability to move past her discredited budget concerns meant she could no longer be an unbiased and productive employee. In February 2013, a local news station aired a story featuring an interview with Holub in which she accused the district of inflating its salary budget. Before the story aired, Gdowski posted a statement on the district’s website in which he informed the district’s staff, parents, and community that Holub’s concerns were unfounded, and also questioning Holub’s credibility.

Holub eventually filed this action against the school district, Gdowski, and Becker, alleging a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against all defendants for terminating her employment in retaliation for protected First Amendment speech, a breach of contract claim against the district, intentional interference with contract claims against Gdowski and Becker, and a defamation claim against Gdowski. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants on all Holub’s claims, and she appealed.

The Tenth Circuit, applying de novo review, first analyzed Holub’s First Amendment claim using the Garcetti/Pickering test. The Tenth Circuit found Holub’s claims failed at the first prong of the test because she spoke pursuant to her official duties. Holub argued that the Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Lane v. Franks, 134 S. Ct. 2369 (2014) changed the Garcetti test, and that the district court should have focused on whether the speech was “ordinary” in the sense that it was customary or regular. The Tenth Circuit corrected Holub that Lane directed it to focus on whether the speech was within the employee’s usual duties, not whether the speech was frequent or customary. Even if it had accepted Holub’s argument, though, the Tenth Circuit found she still failed the first prong of the Garcetti test because she was acting in her official capacity when she spoke to the board members.

Next, the Tenth Circuit evaluated whether the district court correctly granted summary judgment on Holub’s state law breach of contract claims. Holub argued that the district’s stated reason for her termination, that she was unable to perform her official duties because she could not move past her unfounded budget concerns, was a ruse created by Gdowski and Becker to silence her complaints about the budget. Holub first argued the district lacked cause to terminate her contract. The district contended its reasons for terminating Holub were uncontroverted and provided more than sufficient cause for her termination. Holub failed to point to whether the district had cause to terminate her, instead arguing again that her budget calculations were correct. The district court noted that Holub supplied no indication that the district feigned engagement with her budget concerns just to fabricate an excuse to terminate her, and that indeed the district took several measures to address her concerns before considering termination. The Tenth Circuit found Holub failed to show any indicia of her alleged conspiracy theory.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit addressed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Gdowski and Becker on Holub’s intentional interference with contract and wrongful discharge claims and to Gdowski on Holub’s defamation claim. The district court granted immunity to defendants, basing its decision on its conclusion that there was no evidence either Gdowski or Becker had acted willfully and wantonly in terminating Holub. The Tenth Circuit concluded that, even in the light most favorable to Holub, there was no evidence showing that Gdowski’s or Becker’s actions were unreasonable or reckless.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to defendants on all counts.

Tenth Circuit: Statements in Articles, When Read in Context, Revealed Nasty Employment Dispute but Did Not Constitute Defamation

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Hogan v. Winder on Tuesday, August 5, 2014.

Beginning in 2008, Chris Hogan worked for the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA), a state agency charged with upgrading high-speed internet access, as a consultant under a professional services agreement. In 2011, Hogan suspected that UTOPIA’s executive director unfairly favored a bid for services from a company where the director’s brother worked. Hogan discussed his suspicions with the plant manager overseeing the contractor selection process, the plant manager discussed that conversation with the executive director, and the executive director terminated Hogan’s employment.

The day after the termination, the mayor of West Valley City, Utah, Michael Winder, requested an interview with Hogan. At that meeting, Hogan began to suspect that Winder was associated with UTOPIA. Hogan then hired an attorney who sent UTOPIA a draft complaint, alleging wrongful discharge and several contract claims. The attorney also sent UTOPIA a letter that Hogan would be amenable to settling the dispute. The attorney sent UTOPIA another letter a few days later, raising four demands for settlement and suggesting that the public scrutiny from Hogan’s lawsuit could destroy the company. UTOPIA’s attorney responded with a letter saying that the common terms for Hogan’s attorney’s demands were “extortion” and “blackmail.” Shortly after these exchanges, both parties filed suit. UTOPIA requested the state court to seal the record. Hogan filed suit in federal court and, after the Salt Lake Tribune wrote a story about the lawsuit, UTOPIA moved to seal the record in the federal suit as well. The state court denied the motion to seal, and UTOPIA voluntarily dismissed its case and its motions to seal. Five days later, an online media outlet published a story titled “Former UTOPIA contractor accused of extortion.” It was later revealed that Winder pseudonymously wrote the article. Other news outlets published condensed versions of Winder’s article. Hogan sued UTOPIA, Winder, the city, and a number of other persons he believed to be involved in the publication of the articles, alleging defamation, false invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and § 1983 violations.  The district court dismissed all his claims and Hogan appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal, examining each claim in turn. The Tenth Circuit noted that the potentially defamatory statements were explained by the articles’ context. Examined in context, the Tenth Circuit found that any reasonable reader would realize the parties were embroiled in a nasty employment dispute and would not take the statements at face value. Likewise, Hogan’s arguments that the statements portrayed him in a false light fail, because taken in context, any reasonable reader would recognize that the statements were made during a nasty employment dispute. As to Hogan’s claims regarding intentional infliction of emotional distress, the statements do not meet Utah’s high standard requiring outrageousness, and these claims fail as well. Finally, the Tenth Circuit addressed Hogan’s § 1983 civil rights claims. The district court concluded that Hogan failed to show the officials were acting under the color of state law while publishing the articles, and the Tenth Circuit agreed.

The judgment of the district court was affirmed.

Tenth Circuit: Arbitration Award in Favor of Helicopter Pilot Affirmed

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Air Methods Corporation v. OPEIU on Tuesday, December 3, 2013.

This case arose out of an arbitration award granted in favor of a helicopter pilot whom plaintiff Air Method Corporation had terminated following an incident in April 2010. The pilot, Jeff Stackpole, is a member of defendant Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 109 (“OPEIU Local 109”). Mr. Stackpole was represented by OPEIU Local 109 throughout the arbitration process. After the arbitration award was granted in Mr. Stackpole’s favor, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants Office and Professional Employees International Union (“OPEIU”) and OPEIU Local 109 in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado seeking to vacate the award. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled in favor of defendants, thereby upholding the arbitration award. Plaintiff appealed.

The standard that courts apply to arbitral awards is among the narrowest known to the law. The Tenth Circuit’s review was extremely deferential, and it is with this deference toward the arbitrator’s award that the court considered plaintiff’s appeal.

The court initially considered whether the arbitrator’s award impermissibly altered or removed language from the parties’ collective bargaining agreement contrary to both a provision in the agreement forbidding arbitrators from modifying terms of the agreement and to Tenth Circuit law. Plaintiff argued there were three primary ways in which the arbitrator’s award impermissibly altered, ignored, or removed language from the collective bargaining agreement. The Tenth Circuit found none of these arguments persuasive. First, plaintiff argued the award failed to consider whether Mr. Stackpole’s actions qualified as “serious misconduct” for which “a Pilot may be immediately removed from the payroll and suspended or discharged without pay.” Second, plaintiff argued the arbitrator’s award impermissibly altered the collective bargaining agreement to require a pilot to engage in “willful and egregious” misconduct before he would be subject to immediate discharge. Third, plaintiff argued the arbitrator impermissibly ignored Section 37.3 and effectively removed it from the collective bargaining agreement, with the result that his award was contrary to the express language of the agreement. The court concluded that none of the alleged alterations or omissions of the collective bargaining agreement rendered the arbitrator’s award contrary to the express language of the agreement, nor did they violate the agreement’s proscription against modifying its terms. Therefore, the arbitration award drew its essence from the collective bargaining agreement and was upheld.

Second, plaintiff argued the arbitrator “intentionally disregarded and thus violated the clear, specific language of the contract, and created an escape hatch through which he could dispense his own brand of industrial justice.” However, the arbitrator found Mr. Stackpole had violated a company policy, which was found in the General Operations Manual and was closely related to Federal Aviation Regulations, and subjected him to a six-month suspension without pay as a result. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that plaintiff’s argument that the arbitrator ignored provisions requiring pilots to comply with company rules and policies and the Federal Aviation Regulations lacked merit.

Finally, the court held that the arbitrator’s award did not violate a clear public policy.

AFFIRMED.

Tenth Circuit: Summary Judgment for Employer Reversed in Workers’ Compensation Retaliation Claim

The Tenth Circuit published its opinion in Barlow v. C.R. England, Inc. on Wednesday, December 26, 2012.

Plaintiff Willie Barlow worked for C.R. England (England) as a security guard. He formed a company to provide janitorial service to England and did that in addition to his security job. He filed a workers’ compensation claim in June 2007 after being struck in the head by a heavy gate. He continued working at England in both capacities while receiving workers’ compensation benefits, but had a lifting restriction of 25 pounds. In November 2007, England terminated Barlow’s janitorial contract and fired him in April 2008 from his security guard job. The district court granted summary judgment for England on Barlow’s Title VII and § 1981 race discrimination claims, FLSA overtime claim, and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy claim based on workers’ compensation retaliation.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed summary judgment on the race discrimination claims, holding Barlow failed to establish a prima facie case. The court also affirmed summary judgment for England on the FLSA claim. Barlow alleged he had the status of employee under the FLSA while performing janitorial work and was thus due overtime pay. The court applied the economic realities test and decided Barlow was not an employee for purposes of FLSA coverage while performing his janitorial work.

The court held Barlow had established a prima facie case of retaliatory discharge from his security guard job. England’s site facility manager, Smith, fired Barlow six days after an email exchange with England’s workers’ compensation manager, who expressed frustration with Barlow’s collection of benefits. The court disagreed with England’s argument that timing did not support Barlow’s case because he had filed for benefits 10 months before termination. “Colorado law protects an employee’s ongoing receipt of workers’ compensation benefits, not just the employee’s initial filing.” The Tenth Circuit reversed summary judgment on the retaliatory discharge claim regarding the security job and remanded on the janitor retaliatory discharge claim as it was not clear if the district court applied state or federal law in determining Barlow was an independent contractor rather than an employee.

 

Tenth Circuit: Damages for Retaliatory Discharge After Workers’ Compensation Claims Reduced; All Other Aspects of Judgment Against Employer Upheld

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Jones v. United Parcel Service, Inc., on March 5, 2012.

Plaintiff Keith Jones (Jones), a United Parcel Service (UPS) package car driver, suffered work-related injuries, filed workers’ compensation claims, and received benefits. Jones’s physician and the UPS physician disagreed about whether Jones was able to return to work without restrictions. Under their collective bargaining agreement, if the UPS doctor and the employee’s doctor disagreed, the parties had to select a third doctor “whose decision [would] be final and binding.” The third doctor, whose review was limited by UPS, concluded Jones could not perform the essential functions of his job. UPS therefore terminated Jones.

Jones filed a state law retaliatory discharge claim and UPS removed the case to federal court. A jury awarded Jones over $2.5 million in actual and punitive damages. UPS appealed. On appeal, UPS alleged that:

(1)    It was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Jones’s retaliation claim. Upon de novo review, the Court found the evidence presented supported a reasonable inference in support of Jones’s retaliation claim. Affirmed.

(2)    The district court erred in giving two improper jury instructions. The Court concluded that, although not a model of clarity, the jury instructions were not improper. Affirmed.

(3)    It was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Jones’s claim for punitive damages. Based on the evidence presented, UPS is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Jones’s claim for punitive damages because enough evidence was presented to establish ratification of UPS’s conduct “by a person expressly empowered to do so on behalf of the . . . employer.” Kan. Stat. Ann. § 60-3702(d)(1). Affirmed.

(4)    The district court erred in allowing the jury to decide the amount of punitive damages. The Court concluded that the district court did not err in instructing the jury to determine the amount of punitive damages, relying on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 38 rather than Kansas law. A federal district court sitting in diversity applies federal procedural law and state substantive law. Gasperini v. Ctr. for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415, 427, 428 n.7 (1996). Affirmed.

(5)    The jury’s award of $2 million in punitive damages violated its federal due process rights. “[T]he Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the imposition of grossly excessive or arbitrary punishments on a tortfeasor.” Hardman v. City of Albuquerque, 377 F.3d 1106, 1121 (10th Cir. 2004). Whether an award is grossly excessive or arbitrary is based on “(1) the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant’s action; (2) the disparity between the actual harm suffered by the plaintiff and the punitive damage award; and (3) the difference between the punitive damage award and the civil penalties authorized or imposed in comparable cases.” Id. The Court concluded that the jury’s $2 million punitive damage award was excessive and violated UPS’s federal due process rights. Reversed and remanded on this limited issue for the district court to enter a punitive damage award equal to the compensatory damage award.