Articles Posted in Civil Rights

by
Plaintiff Frank Hall, a longtime employee of the Agency of Transportation (AOT), sued the agency in 2007, alleging discrimination on the basis of a physical disability and retaliation for his having filed a workers' compensation claim. The jury found no disability discrimination, but awarded Plaintiff damages based upon its finding that the State had retaliated against him as alleged. On appeal, the State argued that: (1) Plaintiff's retaliation claim was precluded by a September 2003 Stipulation and Agreement signed by Plaintiff and AOT releasing the State from liability for any and all claims associated in any way with Plaintiff's reclassification and transfer stemming from hostile work environment allegations against him; (2) Plaintiff's retaliation claim was not supported by any causal connection linking his employment reclassification and transfer with his having filed a workers' compensation claim; (3) evidence of a video surveillance of Plaintiff connected with a second workers' compensation claim was insufficient as a matter of law to support his retaliation claim and the resulting damages award; and (4) even if the record supported his retaliation claim, the State's liability is limited to $250,000, as set forth in Vermont's Tort Claims Act during the relevant time period. Plaintiff cross-appealed, challenging the trial court's denial of his request for post-judgment interest and attorney's fees. Upon review, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment against the State and remanded the matter for the trial court to rule on the potentially determinative issue of the scope of the September 2003 release. View "Hall v. Vermont" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs Vermont Human Rights Commission (HRC) and Ursula Stanley, an employee of the State Agency of Transportation, appealed the Washington Civil Division's decision to grant the State's motion to dismiss her complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Ms. Stanley complained that, under the Vermont Parental and Family Leave Act (VPFLA), 21 V.S.A. 472(c), which requires continuation of certain "employment benefits" during family leave, she was entitled to accrue, but was denied, paid vacation and sick time during the course of an unpaid parental leave. The trial court held that under section 472(c) an employee does not continue earning paid leave during unpaid parental leave. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision to dismiss, finding that sections 472(a) and (b) of the VPFLA point to why the accrual of paid time-off and sick time are not benefits that employers must provide during unpaid leave. Section 472(a) states that an employee is "entitled to take unpaid leave." However, the statute permits employees to use already "accrued paid leave," such as vacation or sick leave, during parental leave. As the trial court noted, if an employee could demand accrual of paid leave from an employer under the VPFLA while on family leave, it must follow that at least a portion of the parental leave would be rendered paid leave, "a result not just inconsistent with, but contrary to, the employer's VPFLA obligation to provide unpaid parental leave only." View "Vermont Human Rights Commission v. Vermont" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs Russell and Mary Ann Rueger and John Moyers appealed a trial courts grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants Natural Resources Board and the District #9 Environmental Commission of Vermont. The matter arose from an Access to Public Records Act request. The court concluded that certain records held by Defendants reflected deliberations of an agency acting in a quasi-judicial role, and those were exempt from disclosure. Plaintiffs argued on appeal that the court erred in interpreting the Act. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the documents in question fell within the plain language of the Act, and were indeed exempt. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants. View "Rueger v. Natural Resources Bd." on Justia Law

by
The question before the Supreme Court was whether, and to what extent, a state's attorney was entitled to official immunity from civil liability for allegedly tortuous conduct concerning a local police officer. The trial court concluded that liability for the acts complained of was precluded by either qualified or absolute immunity, or was otherwise barred. In February 2010 when Plaintiff was employed as a police officer with the South Burlington Police Department, filed a complaint against Defendant, the Chittenden County State's Attorney, stating claims for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and intentional interference with Plaintiff's employment. The complaint alleged that Defendant (formerly a private lawyer and a member of what Plaintiff characterized as the Vermont "Drug Bar") harbored an animus against Plaintiff due to his police work. Plaintiff claimed that as state's attorney Defendant had "maliciously pursued a course of action . . . to undermine Plaintiff's work and credibility in the law enforcement community." As alleged in the complaint and in Plaintiff's later responses to discovery, Defendant's tortious misconduct included meeting with Plaintiff's supervisors to criticize his job performance and falsely accuse him of dishonesty; declining to file charges or seek search warrants based on Plaintiff's affidavits; threatening not to work with Plaintiff and thereby end his career if Plaintiff attempted to bypass the State's Attorney's office and obtain warrants directly from the trial court; criticizing Plaintiff's work when he was being considered by the State Police to serve on its Drug Task Force; impugning Plaintiff's honesty to other prosecutors; encouraging the filing of a civil-rights lawsuit against Plaintiff and testifying falsely in that action; and "leaking" harmful information about Plaintiff to criminal defense attorneys. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded "[t]he trial court's ruling was sound" and affirmed the trial court's ruling that the State's Attorney was entitled to absolute immunity. View "O'Connor v. Donovan" on Justia Law