Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
Worrall v. Department of Labor (Snowfire Ltd., Employer)
Claimant Joseph Worrall challenged an Employment Security Board decision finding him ineligible for unemployment compensation and liable to the Vermont Department of Labor for an overpayment. In November 2020, a claims adjudicator found that claimant was disqualified from receiving benefits as of the week ending May 2, 2020, because he left his employment voluntarily without good cause attributable to his employer. The claims adjudicator determined that claimant was obligated to repay $15,028 in overpaid benefits. Claimant argues on appeal that the Board erred in finding him disqualified for benefits. According to claimant, the Board accepted that he undertook efforts to relocate out of state before receiving a return-to-work notice. Based on this premise, claimant asserts that he was “unavailable for work” at the time his employer offered him the opportunity to return and that he was therefore entitled to benefits. Finding no error in the Board's decision, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Worrall v. Department of Labor (Snowfire Ltd., Employer)" on Justia Law
Kelly v. University of Vermont Medical Center
Plaintiff Sean Kelly appealed the grant of summary judgment to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) on employment discrimination and breach-of-contract claims arising from UVMMC’s decision not to extend his one-year medical fellowship. UVMMC selected plaintiff for the 2017-18 fellowship. UVMMC was aware that plaintiff suffered from an adrenal deficiency that had delayed the completion of his residency. In the first five months of the fellowship, plaintiff missed nineteen full days and parts of nine more days for various reasons. By February 2018, after missing several more days and expressing that he felt “frustrated with [his] absences” and “overall inadequate as a fellow,” program personnel became concerned that plaintiff was falling behind in his training. In a March 30 meeting, the program director told plaintiff his performance had “deficiencies and these need[ed] to be addressed.” At some point during this period, the director also told plaintiff he “should plan on extending [his] fellowship due to [his] time out and some minor deficits through August.” Plaintiff emailed other program personnel expressing frustration at the prospect of staying through August to complete his training. On April 14, 2018, plaintiff suffered a stroke, and on April 19th he attempted suicide. He was hospitalized from April 14 through May 3 and was not cleared to return to work until June 1, 2018. In all, plaintiff missed approximately six more weeks of the fellowship. On or about May 31, the director called plaintiff and told him that while UVMMC had determined he needed six more months of training to finish the fellowship, it could not accommodate additional training for that length of time. UVMMC paid plaintiff his remaining salary. Plaintiff filed a grievance under the Graduate Medical Education rules; the grievance committee affirmed UVMMC's decision. Because the decision not to extend his fellowship was an academic decision, there was no employment action and consequently no adverse employment action. The Vermont Supreme Court did not find plaintiff's arguments on appeal persuasive, and affirmed the grant of summary judgment in UVMMC's favor. View "Kelly v. University of Vermont Medical Center" on Justia Law
Gates v. Mack Molding Company, Inc.
Plaintiff Angela Gates appealed a trial court’s decision granting summary judgment to defendant, her former employer, on plaintiff’s claims for disability discrimination under the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA) and retaliation under both the Vermont Parental Family Leave Act (PFLA) and Vermont’s workers’ compensation law. Defendant hired plaintiff as a “molder” in 1996. In May 2015, plaintiff reported to defendant that she injured her left knee outside of work. She subsequently took approximately twelve weeks of leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the PFLA, which ran concurrently. Plaintiff returned to work full-time as a "molder" in August 2015 after exhausting her FMLA/PFLA leave. She returned to molder work, but it caused pain in her knee. Plaintiff was reassigned to work as a "finisher," which again aggravated her knee. After a third period of recovery and return to work, plaintiff testified that when she returned, she was told there was no work she could do that was a light-duty task. "Ultimately, plaintiff had the burden to present some admissible material by which a reasonable jury could infer that defendant’s stated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her - that she was indefinitely incapable of performing the essential functions of her job - was a lie. She failed to do so." The trial court correctly granted summary judgment to defendant on plaintiff’s retaliation claims. View "Gates v. Mack Molding Company, Inc." on Justia Law
Mitchell v. NBT Bank, N.A.
Employee Christie Mitchell appealed a summary judgment order in favor of NBT Bank, N.A. regarding its policy of deducting her overtime compensation from her commissions so that she was never paid more than gross commissions regardless of how many hours she worked in a week. She contended the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) required the bank to pay her entire gross commissions plus overtime wages. Because the FLSA contained no such requirement, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Mitchell v. NBT Bank, N.A." on Justia Law
In re Grievance of Patrick Ryan
The State of Vermont appealed a Vermont Labor Relations Board decision concluding the State, as employer, lacked just cause to terminate grievant Patrick Ryan on account of actions he took as a member of the State workforce, and reducing grievant’s discipline to a fifteen-day suspension. Grievant cross-appealed, contending the Board erred in imposing the fifteen-day suspension. After its review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the Board’s findings were inadequate to enable informed appellate review. For that reason, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the Board for further factfinding. View "In re Grievance of Patrick Ryan" on Justia Law
West v. North Branch Fire District #1
Claimant John West appealed a Vermont Department of Labor decision concluding that the 2014 amendment to 21 V.S.A. 644(a)(6) did not apply retroactively. In March 2013, West fell fifteen to twenty feet while working in the course of his employment for North Branch Fire District. He was transported to the hospital and treated for extensive injuries. In September 2014, West relocated to Florida, and at some point thereafter, began working at the Freedom Boat Club. Between 2014 and 2016, several different physicians provided conflicting opinions on the level of West’s permanent impairment. In February 2016, Dr. Joseph Kandel conducted an independent medical examination (IME) at North Branch’s request. At a deposition in September 2018, Dr. Kandel testified that it would be accurate to say that “West suffered an injury to the skull resulting in [a] severe traumatic brain injury causing permanent and severe cognitive, physical, or psychiatric disabilities.” West filed a request for a formal hearing, asserting that he was permanently and totally disabled under section 644(a)(6). Between the date of West’s injury and his request for a formal hearing, the Vermont Legislature amended section 644(a)(6). In January 2019, North Branch filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the pre-amendment version of 644(a)(6), which defined total and permanent disability as “an injury to the skull resulting in incurable imbecility or insanity,” applied to West’s claim because that was the law on the date of his injury in March 2013. Further, North Branch argued that the 2014 amendment did not apply retroactively because despite the Legislature’s stated purpose, the amendment created a substantive change in the law. In any event, because West was employed, North Branch maintained that he was not totally and permanently disabled under either version of 644(a)(6). West argued that, contrary to the Commissioner’s conclusion, the 2014 amendment to 644(a)(6) applied retroactively because it did not create any new substantive rights. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the 2014 amendment applied retroactively and therefore reversed and remanded. View "West v. North Branch Fire District #1" on Justia Law
Zebic v. Rhino Foods, Inc.
Claimant Sadeta Zebic appealed the Commissioner of Labor’s decision not to certify a question for review to the superior court, arguing that the Commissioner had no discretion not to certify her proposed question. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded it did not have jurisdiction to hear this appeal because claimant previously appealed to the superior court, and the statutory scheme provided that a workers’ compensation claimant could appeal either to the superior court or directly to the Supreme Court. View "Zebic v. Rhino Foods, Inc." on Justia Law
Pettersen v. Monaghan Safar Ducham PLLC
Plaintiff William Pettersen appealed a trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment to his former law firm, defendant Monaghan Safar Ducham PLLC. He argued that sufficient evidence existed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to his claims for promissory estoppel, unjust enrichment, intentional misrepresentation, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy, thus contending that summary judgment was inappropriate. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly granted summary judgment, and affirmed. View "Pettersen v. Monaghan Safar Ducham PLLC" on Justia Law
In re Grievance of Michael Welch
Both the Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA) and the State of Vermont appealed a Labor Relations Board decision sustaining and dismissing in part a grievance filed by the VSEA on behalf of grievant Michael Welch, an employee of the Vermont Department of Liquor Control (DLC). Between 2007 and 2015, grievant worked as a state transport deputy sheriff with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD). In 2015, he was hired by the DLC as a liquor-control investigator. The State determined that while working as a transport deputy, grievant had been a county employee, and therefore he was not eligible for salary and leave benefits available under the CBA to certain prior State employees beginning another State job. The VSEA then filed the instant grievance alleging that the State violated the CBA by failing to pay grievant at the contractually required step and failing to calculate his leave accrual at the contractually required rate. After considering the parties’ positions, the Board concluded that, for purposes of compensation and benefits, transport deputies are State employees exempt from the classified service. As a result, it found that the State violated Articles 30, 31, and 62 of the CBA in denying grievant compensation and leave benefits to which he was entitled. However, the Board determined that the State did not violate Article 45 because the promotional pay rate available thereunder applied only to those transferring between positions in the State classified service. The grievance alleged ongoing violations by the State of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA). After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed as to Articles 30, 31 and 62, but reversed as to Article 45. The matter was remanded for calculation fo the amount that grievant was owed under Article 45 of the CBA. View "In re Grievance of Michael Welch" on Justia Law
Town of Bennington v. Knight
Defendant Clay Knight appealed the civil division’s affirming a small-claims award to the Town of Bennington for reimbursement of defendant’s salary and benefits pursuant to a contract between defendant and the Town. Defendant signed an “employment agreement” with the Bennington Police Department under which, in exchange for receiving full-time training, he agreed to repay the Town a portion of his salary if he was unable or unwilling to remain employed by the Town for three years. The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court’s review was whether this agreement conflicted with the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that set defendant’s rate of pay during training. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the employment agreement indeed conflicted with the CBA, and therefore reversed. View "Town of Bennington v. Knight" on Justia Law