Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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In this case, a hearing officer found that claimant Laurie Gomez, who was terminated from her position as public services manager with the Mesa County Public Library District (the “Library”), suffered from acute stress disorder and depression and was mentally unable to perform the work required of her. The hearing officer nevertheless disqualified Gomez from receiving unemployment benefits under section 8-73-108(5)(e)(XX), C.R.S. (2016) because the officer determined that Gomez’s mental condition was caused by her own poor job performance, and therefore, Gomez was ultimately at fault for her separation from employment. Gomez appealed the hearing officer’s decision to the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (“ICAO”), which reversed. The panel adopted the hearing officer’s finding that Gomez was mentally unable to perform her job duties, but concluded that the hearing officer’s findings regarding the etiology of Gomez’s medical condition were too remote from the proximate cause of her separation, and that scant evidence supported the conclusion that Gomez committed a volitional act to cause her mental incapacity. The court of appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed: neither the text of section 8-73-108(4)(j) nor related case law contemplated further inquiry into the origin or root cause of a claimant’s mental condition, and such an inquiry is beyond the scope of the simplified administrative proceedings to determine a claimant’s eligibility for benefits. View "Mesa Cty. Public Library Dist. v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office" on Justia Law

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Norma Hoff owned a home she rented through a property management agency. The roof sustained hail damage, and she contracted with Alliance Construction & Restoration, Inc. (Alliance) to make the repairs. Alliance subcontracted the roof repairs to MDR Roofing, Inc. (MDR). MDR employed Hernan Hernandes as a roofer. While working on Hoff's roof, Hernandez fell from a ladder and suffered serious injuries. He filed a workers' compensation claim against MDR, but MDR's insurer, Pinnacol Assurance, denied the claim because MDR's insurance coverage had lapsed. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether Pinnacol had a legal obligation to notify MDR of a certificate of insurance when the policy evidenced by the certificate was cancelled. Based on the certificate at issue in this case and the applicable statute, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the insurer had no such obligation. Therefore, the Court reversed the appellate court's judgment to the contrary. View "Pinnacol Assurance v. Hoff" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court accepted this case from the court of appeals because it had granted certiorari in two other cases involving similar issues ("City of Littleton v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office," 2016 CO 25, ___ P.3d ___, and "Industrial Claim Appeals Office v. Town of Castle Rock," 2016 CO 26, ___ P.3d ___). In these cases, the Court interpreted section 8-41-209, C.R.S. (2015), of the Workers’ Compensation Act of Colorado, which provided workers’ compensation overage, under certain conditions, for occupational diseases affecting firefighters. An employer can show, by a preponderance of the medical evidence, either: (1) that a firefighter’s known or typical occupational exposures are not capable of causing the type of cancer at issue, or (2) that the firefighter’s employment did not cause the firefighter’s particular cancer where, for example, the claimant firefighter was not exposed to the cancer-causing agent, or where the medical evidence renders it more probable that the cause of the claimant’s cancer was not job-related. Englewood firefighter Delvin Harrell was diagnosed with melanoma, underwent surgery to remove it, and sought workers' compensation benefits. Englewood sought to overcome the statutory presumption. Because the ALJ and the Panel in this case did not have the benefit of the Supreme Court's analysis in City of Littleton and Town of Castle Rock, it set aside the Panel’s order affirming the ALJ and remanded this case to the Panel with directions to return the matter to the ALJ for reconsideration in light of the "Littleton" and "Castle Rock" decisions. View "City of Englewood v. Harrell" on Justia Law

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Littleton firefighter Jeffrey Christ was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (“GBM,” a type of brain cancer). After undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, he returned to work, but ultimately died as a result of the disease. He (and later his widow and child) sought workers’ compensation benefits to cover his cancer treatment, asserting that his brain cancer qualified as a compensable occupational disease under the “firefighter statute” of the Workers’ Compensation Act of Colorado. .At issue here was whether Christ’s employer, the City of Littleton, and Littleton’s insurer, Cannon Cochran Management Services, Inc. (collectively “Littleton”), successfully overcame a statutory presumption that Christ’s condition resulted from his employment as a firefighter. After review, the Supreme Court held that the employer, through a preponderance of the evidence, could meet its burden to show the firefighter's cancer "did not occur on the job" by establishing the absence of specific causation. Here, the ALJ applied the statutory presumption and found that Littleton established by a preponderance that Christ's GBM condition was not caused by his occupational exposures. A panel of the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (“Panel”) reversed, concluding that Littleton’s medical evidence was insufficient to overcome the presumption. In a split decision, a division of the court of appeals affirmed the Panel. Because the Supreme Court disagreed with the court of appeals’ interpretation of the breadth of the statutory presumption and of the employer’s burden to overcome the presumption, the Court concluded that the court of appeals erroneously evaluated the medical evidence presented by Littleton and erroneously failed to defer to the ALJ’s findings of fact, which are supported by substantial evidence. The court of appeals' judgment was therefore reversed and the case remanded back to the Panel for reinstatement of the ALJ’s original findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order. View "City of Littleton v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office" on Justia Law

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Castle Rock firefighter Mike Zukowski was diagnosed with melanoma. He had three surgeries to remove the melanoma and was then released to return to work on full duty. He sought both medical benefits and temporary total disability benefits under the "firefighter statute" of the Workers’ Compensation Act of Colorado, asserting that his melanoma qualified as a compensable occupational disease. At issue here was whether Zukowski’s employer, the Town of Castle Rock, and Castle Rock’s insurer, the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (collectively, “Castle Rock”), could overcome a statutory presumption that Zukowski’s condition resulted from his employment as a firefighter by presenting evidence indicating that Zukowski’s risk of melanoma from other sources was greater than his risk of melanoma from firefighting. After review, the Supreme Court held that the employer, through a preponderance of the evidence, could meet its burden to show the firefighter's cancer "did not occur on the job" by establishing the absence of specific causation. Here, Castle Rock sought to establish the absence of specific causation by presenting evidence indicated that Zukowski's particular risk of developing melanoma from other, non-job-related sources outweighed his risk of developing it from on-the-job, and that an employer could rely on such evidence to overcome the statutory presumption. The Court affirmed the court of appeals and remanded this case back to the ALJ for reconsideration. View "Indus. Claim Appeals Office v. Town of Castle Rock" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Cathy Ritzert had worked as a teacher for more than twenty years. She worked for the Air Academy High School, part of the Academy School District No. 20. A student's parents complained about Ritzert, and the District placed her on administrative leave, telling her they would recommend dismissal unless she resigned. Ritzert refused. Several months passed without the District making good on its threat to fire her. Ritzert eventually took a new job teaching special needs students in a neighboring district, claiming she did this to mitigate her damages. She still wanted the District to prove it had a legitimate basis for terminating her, so she again refused to quit. The District responded by ordering Ritzert to report to work as a floating substitute. When Ritzert did not comply, the District initiated formal dismissal proceedings, claiming in part that her refusal to return to work constituted insubordination. A hearing officer recommended that Ritzert be retained, finding in part that the District's insubordination allegation was pretextual and unreasonable under the circumstances. The Board dismissed Ritzert for insubordination anyway, making no comment about the complaint that triggered placing her on leave in the first place. Upon review of this matter, the Colorado Supreme Court held that under the Teacher Employment, Compensation and Dismissal Act of 1990 (TECDA), the School Board's order must be fully warranted by the hearing officer's evidentiary findings of fact. Because the Board here "abdicated" that responsibility here, the Court concluded that its decision to dismiss Ritzert for insubordination on the facts of this case was arbitrary and capricious. The Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded this case to the Board to reinstate Ritzert. View "Ritzert v. Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Brandon Coats claimed respondent Dish Network, LLC violated 24-34-402.5 C.R.s. (2014) by terminating his employment based on his state-licensed use of medical marijuana at home, during non-working hours. He argued that the Medical Marijuana Amendment (Colo. Const. art XVIII sec. 14) made such use "lawful" for purposes of the statute, notwithstanding any federal laws prohibiting medical marijuana use. The trial court dismissed petitioner's complaint for failure to state a claim after finding that medical marijuana use was not "lawful" under Colorado state law. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court, after review, affirmed: "the term 'lawful' as used in section 24-34-402.5, was not restricted in any way, and we decline to engraft a state law limitation onto the term. Therefore, an activity such as medical marijuana use that is unlawful under the federal law is not a 'lawful' activity under section 24-34-402.5." View "Coats v. Dish Network" on Justia Law

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Health Grades, Inc., operated a website providing information to healthcare consumers about hospitals and physicians around the country, filed suit against two of its former employees, Christopher Boyer and Patrick Singson. Its complaint alleged that Boyer and Singson created competing websites during their employment at Health Grades and solicited Health Grades’ clients to advertise on their competing websites, which utilized proprietary methodologies created by Health Grades to increase the probability that consumers would discover their websites. The complaint included claims of breach of the fiduciary duty of loyalty, misappropriation of trade secrets, tortious interference with prospective business advantage, and ultimately, breach of contract and conversion. Defendants Boyer and Singson denied Health Grades’ material allegations and asserted a counterclaim for abuse of process. In support of their counterclaim, they alleged that Health Grades’ claims lacked a reasonable factual basis or cognizable basis in law and were based on allegations Health Grades largely knew to be false. A jury rejected all of Health Grades’ claims and returned a verdict for defendants on their counterclaim. The court subsequently denied Health Grades’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. On appeal, the intermediate appellate court found that the district court erred by allowing the jury to decide the question of whether Health Grades’ claims were devoid of reasonable factual support or lacked any cognizable basis in law such that they were not immune from liability under the Petition Clause of the First Amendment; and it remanded with instructions for the district court to make an independent judicial determination of that question. Shortly after the opinion was released, the Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in "General Steel Domestic Sales, LLC v. Bacheller," (291 P.3d 1), holding that the heightened standard set forth in earlier case law did not apply where the underlying alleged petitioning activity was the filing of an arbitration complaint concerning a purely private dispute. On rehearing, the court of appeals modified its initial opinion, concluding that nothing in "General Steel" required the modification of its remand order. Because the Supreme Court held that the underlying rationale for its judgment in General Steel concerning arbitration proceedings was equally applicable to actions filed in courts of law, and because it was uncontested by the parties that the action filed by Health Grades involved a purely private dispute, the judgment of the court of appeals was reversed, and the matter remanded with directions to affirm the jury’s verdict. View "Boyer v. Health Grades, Inc." on Justia Law

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To address economic conditions and projections demonstrating a severely underfunded plan, the Colorado General Assembly approved measured designed to protect present and future retirees by providing an adequately pension program. This appeal centered on changes made to the annual cost of living (COLA) that applied to increase each retiree's vested base retirement benefit. Plaintiffs in this case were retired public employees who contended that they had a contract with the State entitling each of them, upon retirement, to have their base pension benefit annually adjusted by the specific COLA formula in existence at the time they were eligible to retire, for the rest of their lives without change. The district court ruled they had no such contract right to an unchangeable COLA formula. The court of appeals disagreed, finding the retirees had a contract right to the formula in place at the time of eligibility for retirement or actual retirement based on the so-called "public policy exception," and remanded for further review to determine whether the legislature's act violated the Contract Clauses of the federal and state constitutions. The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed with the court of appeals, and agreed with the district court. The appellate court's judgment was reversed that the district court's judgment reinstated. View "Justus v. Colorado Public Employee's Retirement Association Pension Plan" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Western Logistics, Inc. appealed the court of appeals' decision to affirm the Industrial Claim Appeals Office's decision that certain individuals were employees rather than independent contractors under Colorado law. The appellate court found that the individuals were not simultaneously providing services for others in the field, and were not free from petitioner's control and direction. Upon review of the specific facts of this case, the Supreme Court concluded the appellate court erred in affirming the Appeals Office's decision: because the court felt the independent-trade-or-business issue and the control-and-direction issue may have been related, the Court did not address the control-and-direction issue. The Court reversed and remanded the case to the court of appeals to vacate the portion of its decision that addressed the control-and-direction issue, then to remand the case to the Appeals Office for further proceedings. View "Western Logistics, Inc. v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office" on Justia Law