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10th Circuit Says 'So, What?' to Whistleblowing Doctor

When Dr. Mark Troxler sued the clinic where he worked for fraud on behalf of the United States, it's doubtful his lawyers anticipated the speed at which his claims would be dismissed.

When the case got to the doorstep of the district court, defendants filed the legal world's equivalent of a "yeah, so?": 12(b)(6). Upon appeal, here's what the Circuit Court had to say: "I second that motion!" Who knew that whistleblowing would be so thankless?

Obamacare's contraception mandate has been upheld, once again. The Affordable Care Act, which allows religious nonprofits to opt out of directly covering contraceptive services, does not substantially burden religious non-profits, the Tenth Circuit ruled on Tuesday.

Under the Affordable Care Act, if a religious non-profit objects to providing contraception coverage to their employees, they must notify their plan administrator of this objection, who then covers the contraception costs.

Colorado's Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns devoted to serving the elderly, objected to this opt out process. Even sending in a letter triggered their participation in birth control in violation of their religious beliefs, the nuns argued. The Tenth Circuit, like all others to hear the argument, rejected the nuns' claims.

When we think of free speech in schools, it's often student speech that comes to mind. However, plenty of free speech disputes arise from school employees' public disagreements with their administration. Those cases often involve the balancing of a state employee's interest in participating in public debate against a government employer's interest in an efficient work force.

Last week, the Tenth Circuit ruled that the government's interest outweighs a principal's right to speak out against the closing of a school. In that case, Joyce Rock, a principal in New Mexico, sued after she was fired for publicly opposing the closing of her alternative high school. Her termination was justified, the Tenth said, given the school district's need to speak in a uniform voice on the closing.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, a Republican, didn't violate anyone's civil rights when she cleaned house after taking office, demanding the resignation of employees appointed by her Democratic predecessor. Glenn Smith, the former director of the state Workers' Compensation Administration sued after he was terminated, arguing that he had a right to finish out his five year term.

Unfortunately for Smith, the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding that he served at the will of the Governor and could be let go before his term concluded. Martinez is considered by some to be a likely contender for the GOP's VP pick in 2016.

Everyone makes mistakes. Some folks have one too many drinks before getting behind the wheel. Others fail, allegedly, to follow proper procedure when testing DUI blood draws, leading to retesting 1,700 samples. When Colorado's state toxicology lab had to do just that, they laid the blame publicly on one young lab tech, Mitchell Fox-Rivera.

After he was fired, Fox-Rivera claimed that the government lab improperly impugned his reputation, denying him due process. The Tenth Circuit was less sympathetic to his claims of scapegoating, finding that the comments made, which accused Fox-Rivera of not doing his job properly, did not rise to the level needed to implicate his due process liberty interests.

Jury instructions regarding the "direct threat" affirmative defense in an employment discrimination case required an employer to prove more than legally necessary, the Tenth Circuit ruled on Monday. An employer must only show that he had a reasonable belief that an impaired worker's job performance would pose a significant risk of substantial harm in order to avoid liability. Contrary to the district court instructions, a jury need not determine if such a threat actually existed.

The case involved a legally blind employee of Beverage Distributors Company in Colorado. The company rescinded the worker's job offer in the company's warehouse, believing that he would need reasonable accommodations under the ADA.

Teacher's Firing for Masturbating in Car Not Racially Motivated

Is it "retaliation" to be fired from your job as a student teacher if another school employee sees you masturbating in your car in a parking lot?

No, it's not a rhetorical question. And this time, it's not from Florida. Carlos Bassatt was a student teacher at a Denver high school, and another employee did catch him masturbating in his car in the high school parking lot. Bassatt died during the district court proceedings, but his estate pressed on. After losing there, the estate appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

Lots of Amici Join EEOC in Abercrombie Religious Discrimination Case

In October 2013, the Tenth Circuit determined that Abercrombie & Fitch, the nation's No. 1 purveyor of that weird cologne smell in the mall, didn't violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when it refused to hire a Muslim job applicant for wearing a hijab in contravention of Abercrombie's dress code.

The EEOC has since been granted a cert. petition, and filed its opening brief earlier this month. The case has garnered a whole heck of a lot of amici including religious organizations, the Lambda Legal foundation, and the State of Arizona, for some reason.

10th Cir. Refuses to Go Further than NLRB in Teamsters Lock-Out Claim

When the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated President Obama's NLRB "recess" appointments in NLRB v. Noel Canning, the question arose: what happens to all the decisions these now-unlawfully-appointed NLRB members made?

That's the first issue the Tenth Circuit had to grapple with in Teamsters Local Union No. 455 v. NLRB (Harborlite). When the union and management at Harborlite couldn't agree on a new contract, the union members wanted to keep working. The law lets them, but is also allows the employer to conduct a "lock out" and hire temporary replacements until an agreement is reached. Harborlite did more than that, though: it threatened to hire permanent replacements if the union didn't agree with management. The NLRB found this was not OK, but in light of Noel Canning, does that determination mean anything?

Oh, the good ol' Tenth Circuit. For a circuit that covers a geographically large portion of the United States, the case law coming out of there can sometimes not be as compelling as circuits with cities like New York or San Francisco. But, that doesn't mean all Tenth Circuit cases are folly. In fact, when they mean business, they get the whole country's attention.

Tenth Circuit in the News

With Utah's large Mormon population, we suppose it was just a matter of time before a polygamy case was heard. And just in time for the end of 2013, Judge Waddoups of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah struck down Utah's bigamy statutes' cohabitation provision as unconstitutional.