Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit asked the Louisiana Supreme Court: “What is the meaning of ‘good faith’ as that term is used in the Louisiana Environmental Quality Act, Louisiana Revised Statutes 30:2027?” Eric Borcik was employed by Crosby Tugs, L.L.C. (Crosby) as a deckhand. In July 2010, he was transferred to the M/V NELDA FAYE. Borcik claims that the lead captain of the NELDA FAYE ordered him to dump waste oil into navigable waters and otherwise violate environmental laws over a period of three years. He further claims that he followed these orders. In May 2013, Borcik emailed Crosby’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). His email communicated that he had “concerns” that he stated “have all fallen on deaf ears” and expressed “fear [of] some form of retaliation.” He later met with the CAO in person. Borcik was transferred to another boat and later fired. Borcik contends he was fired in retaliation for his complaints; Crosby contends that Borcik was fired for insubordination. Borcik sued Crosby in October 2013, alleging retaliatory termination in violation of Louisiana Environmental Quality Act (“LEQA”), specifically claiming that Crosby violated the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Act. The Supreme Court answered the certified question: the term “good faith,” as used in R.S. 30:2027, means an employee is acting with an honest belief that a violation of an environmental law, rule, or regulation occurred. View "Borcik v. Crosby Tugs, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Todd Huval and Chad Boyer were former Louisiana State Troopers employed by the State of Louisiana, Department of Public Safety and Corrections, Office of State Police. In 2007, they were terminated based on an investigation which exposed alleged violations of employment policy and state law. Both were accused of providing confidential information to a third party. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction over tort claims stemming from the disciplinary action over which the State Police Commission presided. The lower courts concluded that subject matter jurisdiction was proper in district court. The Supreme Court agreed. View "Huval v. Louisiana" on Justia Law

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A workers’ compensation claimant sought review of a judgment from the Office of Workers’ Compensation affirming the decision of the Medical Director denying his physician’s request for trial of a spinal cord stimulator. The court of appeal affirmed the ruling of the Office of Workers’ Compensation that the claimant had failed to show the Medical Director’s decision was not in accordance with the Medical Treatment Guidelines. Because the Supreme Court found the Medical Director and the Office of Workers’ Compensation misinterpreted the language of Louisiana Administrative Code, and thus misapplied the Medical Treatment Guidelines on neurostimulation to the claimant’s case, it reversed the lower court’s ruling and found the Office of Workers’ Compensation erred in affirming the decision of the Medical Director. View "Gulley v. Hope Youth Ranch" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Gerald Castille worked as a school bus driver for the St. Martin Parish School Board. During his first few years, plaintiff drove two "undesirable" routes, as they "required the assigned bus driver to travel very long distances while trying to maintain a safe and orderly bus populated with children from families that were known to have little or no respect for the bus operators. . . ." In 1980, plaintiff was assigned to the "Highway 31 Route," which was initially considered undesirable, plaintiff asserted it changed over time and became more desirable as the route became less populated. While driving that route for nearly thirty years, plaintiff claimed to have developed relationships with the students and their parents, noting the route gave him "a sense of purpose and dignity." In the spring of 2008, the costs of diesel fuel began to rise, and the School Board was forced to take steps to save money by redrawing and reassigning bus routes. Prior to the start of the 2008-2009 school year, the bus drivers received their new route assignments. The School Board assigned plaintiff a combined "Levee-Portage Route," two of his old routes, with no change in his salary, health benefits, or retirement. Plaintiff objected to this new route, but claimed the bus manager told him to try the route for a few weeks and come back if he was still unhappy. After two weeks, plaintiff requested to be returned to the Highway 31 route, but was told to deal with the current situation. He alerted his supervisors to the problems, but claim they took no action. According to plaintiff, he began experiencing anxiety and depression problems during this time. His problems continued until 2011, when a more desirable vacant route became available. Plaintiff filed the instant suit against the School Board, alleging the School Board violated La. R.S. 17:493.14 in assigning the bus routes in 2008. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this matter to consider whether the court of appeal erred in awarding plaintiff damages for bad faith breach of contract. The Court found the court of appeal erred in awarding bad faith damages and therefore reversed that portion of the court of appeal's judgment, and affirmed in all other respects. View "Castille v. St. Martin Parish Sch. Bd." on Justia Law

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Both of the injured employees in these cases, Charles Morris and Charles Poole, were treated at the Lafayette Bone & Joint Clinic (“LB&J”); Morris was treated by Dr. Louis Blanda and Poole by Dr. John Cobb. Louisiana United Business SIF (“LUBA”), sent letters to LB&J and its doctors stating that LUBA would no longer pay for prescription medications directly dispensed by LB&J and directing LB&J doctors to issue future prescriptions for the instant injured employees that could be filled at local retail pharmacies. Despite these notices and subsequent denials of requests for reimbursement of dispensed prescription medications, LB&J doctors continued to dispense prescription medications to these injured employee patients throughout 2008 and to submit requests for reimbursement to LUBA. LUBA declined payment for these requests, citing its prior notice. LB&J and the treating physicians thereafter filed disputed claim forms with the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC), seeking to recover the cost of the medications dispensed, along with penalties and attorney fees. Following a joint trial in these two cases, the OWC judge ruled that the plaintiff/health care providers’ recovery for medications dispensed after the 2008 notice were nonemergency treatment dispensed without consent of the payor. Further, the OWC judge found that no penalties or attorney fees were warranted because LUBA had clearly advised the plaintiff/health care providers that no further reimbursement would be made for prescription medications dispensed by LB&J doctors after the date of the notice. The plaintiff/health care providers appealed, seeking an increase in the amount awarded and an award of penalties and attorney fees. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted writs to review the appellate court decisions, which awarded unreimbursed prescription medication costs beyond the $750 limitation set forth in LSA-R.S. 23:1142(B) and awarded penalties and attorney fees. The Court reversed the appellate court's modification of the amount awarded by the OWC, and affirmed in part, the decision to award penalties and attorney fees. View "LaFayette Bone & Joint Clinic v. Louisiana United Business SIF" on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the Alexandria Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board properly excluded a firefighter’s alleged failed breath alcohol test results, resulting in the firefighter’s reinstatement to employment after the City of Alexandria had terminated him. The trial court reversed the Board’s decision, finding the Board should have considered the breath alcohol test results. The court of appeal overturned the trial court, reinstating the firefighter’s employment. After its review, the Supreme Court found the Board’s exclusion of the breath test results was incorrect and further, the court of appeal was in error in reversing the trial court’s ruling that the breath alcohol test results were admissible. Therefore, the trial court’s judgment reversing the Board’s decision was reinstated, and the case was remanded back to the Board for proper consideration of the breath alcohol test results. View "City of Alexandria v. Dixon" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from a dispute between the City of Kenner and Kenner’s firefighters concerning the computation of retirement benefits under La. R.S. 11:233 and 11:2252. The dispute centered around four types of compensation: educational incentive pay, seniority incentive pay, holiday pay, and acting pay. The primary question presented to the Supreme Court was whether these types of compensation should be considered “earnable compensation” for purposes of calculating the firefighters’ pension contributions. After review, the Court affirmed the court of appeal's holding that no genuine issues of material fact remained as to whether each of the four types of pay constituted “earnable compensation” under the requirements of the statutes. View "Dunn v. City of Kenner" on Justia Law

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The issue in this appeal centered on whether a statutory prescriptive period could be shortened by an administrative rule. This issue arose in a workers’ compensation case where the hearing officer refused to consider the worker’s request to have medically recommended magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of his lumbar spine because the worker failed to appeal the Office of Workers’ Compensation Administration medical director’s decision denying his request for medical treatment within the 15-day time period required by an administrative rule. In so doing, the hearing officer sustained defendants’ peremptory exception of prescription. After review, the Supreme Court found the hearing officer erred as a matter of law. The Court therefore reversed and vacated in part that portion of the judgment sustaining the defendants’ peremptory exception of prescription, and the case was remanded for the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC) to consider the merits of the worker’s claim that the medical director failed to appropriately apply the medical treatment guidelines in denying the lumbar spine MRI requested by the worker’s orthopedic surgeon. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Arrant v. Wayne Acree PLS, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2009, plaintiff Dr. Ralph Slaughter retired as president of Southern University System (“Southern”) after thirty-five years of service. Upon retirement, the Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System (“LASERS”) began paying plaintiff retirement benefits. Plaintiff filed suit against Southern for past due wages. The district court ruled that Southern had miscalculated plaintiff’s income base by including supplemental pay plaintiff had received from the Southern University Foundation, and determined plaintiff’s terminal pay (500 hours of unused leave) and retirement should have been calculated only on his annual base salary due from Southern. The court of appeal affirmed on appeal, noting plaintiff “manipulated the system and used his position for his own benefit.” Southern sent a letter to LASERS advising it had committed an error in including supplemental funds in plaintiff’s earnings. Because plaintiff's lawsuit was ongoing at the time, LASERS filed a concursus proceeding seeking to deposit the disputed amount of plaintiff’s benefit in the registry of court pending resolution of the litigation. Plaintiff filed an exception of no cause of action. The district court granted the exception and dismissed the second suit with prejudice. LASERS did not appeal this judgment. After the first suit became final, LASERS sent correspondence to plaintiff advising it intended to retroactively reduce his retirement benefit starting June 1, 2012 “due to an error made by Southern University in the reporting of your earnings.” Relying on La. R.S. 11:192, LASERS maintained it could adjust benefits and further reduce the corrected benefit to recover overpayment within a reasonable number of months. Plaintiff then filed the instant suit against LASERS, seeking a writ of mandamus, injunctive relief, and a declaratory judgment confirming LASERS had no authority or ability to reduce his retirement benefits. The petition alleged plaintiff’s retirement benefits should have been calculated based on the entirety of his earnings over thirty-five years of employment, including salary supplements. The Supreme Court was called on to determine whether the lower courts erred in finding the defendant retirement system failed to prove that it followed the proper procedure before initiating action to reduce and recoup plaintiff’s retirement benefits. The Court found the lower courts did not apply the proper statutory analysis and reached an erroneous result. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Slaughter v. Louisiana State Employees' Retirement System" on Justia Law

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According to her Petition for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, plaintiff Kasha LaPointe was employed as a tenured public school teacher by defendant Vermilion Parish School Board (“VPSB or the Board”). Jerome Puyau, the Superintendent of Schools for VPSB advised LaPointe that a “due process hearing” would be held in his office to address charges of alleged “willful neglect of duty” and “dishonesty.” According to the Petition for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, this letter, also called the “charge letter” by the parties, advised LaPointe that she would be “afforded an opportunity to respond” to the allegations but that “[n]o witnesses [would] be heard….” However, LaPointe did appear with her counsel in the office of the superintendent and did present, with counsel's assistance, her explanations and responses to the allegations in the “charge letter.” After that hearing, the Board elected to terminate LaPointe's employment. LaPointe challenged the termination, asking for a Tenure Hearing Panel. The Tenure Hearing Panel was convened. The hearing officer and the panel proceeded to take evidence and hear testimony, all of which was preserved. Thereafter, the panel made its recommendation, voting 2-1 to concur with the superintendent‟s action to terminate LaPointe's employment. LaPointe timely filed a Petition for Judicial Review Pursuant to LSA-R.S. 17:443(B)(2), requesting judicial review of her termination. No judicial review of the termination itself had been conducted at this point, owing to a constitutional challenge. As to the constitutional challenge, LaPointe requested a judicial declaration that Act 1 of 2012 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature was unconstitutional in its entirety and further declaring Act 1 to be null, void, and of no legal effect whatsoever. She alleged the hearing provisions of Act 1 deprived her of her vested property right to continued employment without due process of law as required by Amendment XIV of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 2, and of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974. Because the constitutionality of Act 1 was challenged, the Attorney General later intervened as a defendant in the matter. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether the lower court erred in declaring unconstitutional on its face Act 1 of the 2012 Legislative Session as codified in La. Rev. Stat. 17:443(B)(1) and (2). Upon de novo review, the Court found the court of appeal erred in declaring La. Rev. Stat. 17:443 as amended by Act 1 of 2012 unconstitutional on its face because it did not afford a full evidentiary hearing before a neutral adjudicator prior to termination. Instead, the Court found La. Rev. Stat. 17:443 as amended by Act 1 of 2012 provided sufficient due process to protect the tenured teacher's vested employment rights. View "LaPointe v. Vermilion Parish Sch. Bd." on Justia Law