U.S. Tenth Circuit - The FindLaw 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Recently in Employment Law Category

A recent Tenth Circuit decision upholding a contempt sanction issued by the lower district court provides some certainty for organizations that use children for unpaid labor. The basic lesson is that if kids are going to pick nuts on a commercial ranch operation, they need to be paid in money, not peanuts or pecans.

The Fundamental Church of Latter-day Saints, perhaps most widely known for their pro-polygamy stance, got mixed up with Paragon Contractors Corporation, which was recently ordered to pay the church's children $200,000 for unpaid wages again. The corporation attempted to argue that the church kids were actually volunteers, and regardless, the corp. claimed that the church controlled the children, not them. Neither of these arguments persuaded the appellate court to reverse the sanction.

A case out of Oklahoma's Supreme Court is making national headlines for holding the oil and gas industry to task and overturning the heavy handed state law that was in its favor.

The 2014 case involves the death of David Chambers, who, while working for a trucking company, was severely burned while working at an oil well site owned by Stephens Production Company. A change to the state's worker compensation laws in 2011 that specifically exempted oil and gas companies from lawsuits, essentially rendered Stephens immune from liability for the injury and death. Seeing no valid reason for oil and gas companies to be exempted in this way, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the law to be unconstitutional.

Court: Religious Accommodation Is a Jury Question

Seventh Day Adventists take their Sabbath very seriously; some will forfeit their jobs over it.

Richard Tabura and Guadalupe Diaz are that serious. When they refused to work on the Seventh Day, their employer fired them.

They responded with a lawsuit, which a federal judge dismissed. But these plaintiffs are very serious, and they appealed in Tabura v. Kellogg USA.

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.