Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Jason Lillie appeals the Employment Security Board’s denial of his claim for unemployment benefits. In July 2014, Lillie was an employee of Amerigas Propane, Inc. and suffered an injury while working. He reported the injury to his employer, which in turn reported it to its worker’s compensation insurer. He sought medical attention for his injury shortly after being hurt but was able to continue working for several weeks, most of it on modified or light duty. In October, Amerigas fired Lillie for an alleged safety violation. A few days later, Lillie’s doctor indicated he was medically unable to work. Lillie expressed concern that he was ineligible for unemployment benefits because he was not able to work but was told he must apply in order to receive economic benefits. Lillie then sought workers’ compensation temporary disability benefits, which were initially denied by the insurer. Without any income or compensation disability benefits for several weeks, Lillie sought economic assistance from the Vermont Economic Services Division of the Department for Children and Families. Lillie was told by Economic Services that in order to be eligible for economic assistance he would have to file for unemployment benefits, even if he felt he would not qualify for them. With his workers’ compensation claim still in dispute, and based upon the information he had received from Economic Services, Lillie filed a claim for unemployment benefits. The Unemployment Division found him to be monetarily eligible for unemployment benefits when he sought them in December 2014. While he had the necessary base period wages to make him monetarily eligible for benefits, Lillie was not able to work and available for work, as required by 21 V.S.A. 1343(a)(3), because he was medically unable to work. He was, therefore, denied unemployment compensation. "At a minimum, coordination of the important information between the Unemployment Division and Economic Services concerning monetary eligibility, the establishment of a benefit year, and the use of wages and the use of wages prior to disability in connection therewith in the case of a worker injured on the job may have avoided this quagmire. Following the advice given by Economic Services, which we do not doubt was provided in good faith to Lillie, resulted in the unintended consequence of his loss of unemployment benefits once he regained his ability to work in 2017." The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the denial of unemployment benefits; the Unemployment Division applied the law properly, and the Court was "not at liberty to rewrite the applicable statutes to obtain a different outcome." View "Lillie v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Claimant Joanne Perrault appealed the Commissioner of Labor’s decision on summary judgment denying her workers’ compensation benefits. On appeal, claimant argued she was an employee of defendant Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA) for the purposes of workers’ compensation and, therefore, was entitled to benefits. Claimant applied to be a driver in CCTA’s volunteer program in 2014. Once through the application process, a volunteer driver was governed by CCTA’s volunteer manual. This manual, in addition to explaining certain restrictions and requirements, also stated that the manual should not be understood to mean that any employment contract existed between CCTA and the volunteer driver. Drivers received money from CCTA based on the miles driven in a given period and calculated at the federal mileage rate. The CCTA manual referred to this monetary payment as reimbursement, and stated that CCTA would perform random checks to verify the accuracy of mileage submissions. This was the only monetary or other exchange between CCTA and drivers in the volunteer program. CCTA provided insurance on drivers’ vehicles on a secondary basis and encouraged drivers to carry more than the minimum required insurance and to name CCTA as an additional insured on their personal vehicle insurance policies. Drivers in the program were required to meet standards set by CCTA and were subject to certain restrictions, which were similar to the restrictions governing CCTA’s regular drivers. On December 1, 2015, claimant had an automobile accident. At the time of the accident, she was driving a CCTA rider to an appointment. Claimant sustained significant injuries in the accident, including a broken neck at the third and fourth vertebrae, a fractured spine, and broken ribs. She subsequently sought workers’ compensation benefits. The Vermont Supreme Court held that, because claimant did not receive wages, she could not be considered a statutory employee as that term was defined for the application of workers’ compensation. View "Perrault v. Chittenden County Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

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Claimant Joanne Perrault appealed the Commissioner of Labor’s decision on summary judgment denying her workers’ compensation benefits. On appeal, claimant argued she was an employee of defendant Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA) for the purposes of workers’ compensation and, therefore, was entitled to benefits. Claimant applied to be a driver in CCTA’s volunteer program in 2014. Once through the application process, a volunteer driver was governed by CCTA’s volunteer manual. This manual, in addition to explaining certain restrictions and requirements, also stated that the manual should not be understood to mean that any employment contract existed between CCTA and the volunteer driver. Drivers received money from CCTA based on the miles driven in a given period and calculated at the federal mileage rate. The CCTA manual referred to this monetary payment as reimbursement, and stated that CCTA would perform random checks to verify the accuracy of mileage submissions. This was the only monetary or other exchange between CCTA and drivers in the volunteer program. CCTA provided insurance on drivers’ vehicles on a secondary basis and encouraged drivers to carry more than the minimum required insurance and to name CCTA as an additional insured on their personal vehicle insurance policies. Drivers in the program were required to meet standards set by CCTA and were subject to certain restrictions, which were similar to the restrictions governing CCTA’s regular drivers. On December 1, 2015, claimant had an automobile accident. At the time of the accident, she was driving a CCTA rider to an appointment. Claimant sustained significant injuries in the accident, including a broken neck at the third and fourth vertebrae, a fractured spine, and broken ribs. She subsequently sought workers’ compensation benefits. The Vermont Supreme Court held that, because claimant did not receive wages, she could not be considered a statutory employee as that term was defined for the application of workers’ compensation. View "Perrault v. Chittenden County Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

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Katherine Heffernan appealed the trial court’s decision dismissing her complaint, which sought indemnification from the State on a default judgment she obtained against a state employee and which claimed that the State was vicariously liable for the employee’s conduct. The State determined that the acts alleged by Heffernan were outside the scope of the employee’s official duties and that, therefore, the State did not have a duty to defend the employee against Heffernan’s action. Heffernan, unable to locate the employee to make service of process, eventually served him through process by publication. Heffernan notified the State that she had served the employee, and the State again declined to take any action. The employee did not appear or offer any defense in Heffernan’s suit, and the trial court eventually issued a default judgment against him. The court subsequently held a hearing on damages and awarded Heffernan both punitive and compensatory damages. The Vermont Supreme Court found that while Heffernan presented complex arguments, its decision regarding both of her theories of State liability was controlled by the plain language of Vermont’s statutory scheme concerning each issue. Pursuant to the clear limitations on liability in Vermont’s Tort Claims Act, the State retains sovereign immunity relative to the actions alleged in Heffernan’s complaint. As such, the trial court did not err in dismissing her case. View "Heffernan v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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The Village of Waterbury terminated Adam Hubacz as one of its police officers. The Village appealed when the trial court granted Hubacz's Rule of Civil Procedure 75 petition overturning its employment action. On interlocutory appeal, the superior court certified a question of law to the Supreme Court: whether a State’s Attorney’s unilateral decision to refuse to prosecute any cases investigated by a particular municipal police officer, alone, a sufficient basis for termination of the officer pursuant to 24 V.S.A. 1931? The Supreme Court answered this question generally in the affirmative, but with the limitations. "[C]onsideration requires a finding that the officer in question cannot fulfill the duties associated with his employment and cannot be reassigned in such a way as to accommodate the nonprosecution decision." View "Hubacz v. Village of Waterbury" on Justia Law

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Claimant Louis LaFountain appealed pro se the Employment Security Board’s denial of his claim for unemployment benefits. Claimant was employed as a store manager at the Eden General Store for three-and-a-half years. Claimant sought unemployment compensation benefits, and a claims adjudicator denied his request. The claims adjudicator found that claimant left his employment due to a certified health condition, which precluded the discharge of duties inherent in such employment. She further found that claimant was currently unable to work and that he therefore was ineligible for unemployment compensation. Claimant appealed this decision to an administrative law judge (ALJ). Following a hearing, the ALJ found claimant had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which worsened during his last year of employment to the point that he had to reduce his hours to part-time and eventually stop working. Claimant needed a well-ventilated or purified-air environment to prevent exacerbation of his COPD. Claimant has been working with Vocational Rehabilitation (VocRehab) to explore part-time employment. Several months earlier, in late February 2017, claimant had applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The ALJ concluded that claimant was not able to work, and thus, he was ineligible for unemployment benefits. The Vermont Supreme Court found the purpose of the unemployment compensation law was not “to provide sick benefits nor to compensate those who cease working because of illness.” Instead, the law was designed “to assist members of the working force who are made jobless by operations of the economy over which they have no individual control.” The Court determined the Board’s findings did not adequately support its conclusion: Claimant testified that he wanted to work and that he could work part-time. Claimant stated that he had not been applying for any work but that he had been going to VocRehab every week and that his counselor was trying to match him up with a job that fit his needs. Claimant believed that he could continue to do retail work as long as he was sitting down. He also stated that he could perform computer work, preferably from home. Claimant testified that he had experience working on his computer from home and that he was exploring this type of work with his VocRehab counselor. Claimant’s VocRehab counselor did not testify at the hearing. View "LaFountain v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Claimant Catherine Lyons appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the Department of Labor Commissioner (the Commissioner), which found she did not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits for an injury sustained while student teaching at a school in the defendant supervisory union. Because the Vermont Supreme Court held claimant fell within the statutory definition of an employee for purposes of workers’ compensation, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings in accord with this opinion. View "Lyons v. Chittenden Central Supervisory Union" on Justia Law

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Claimant Catherine Lyons appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the Department of Labor Commissioner (the Commissioner), which found she did not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits for an injury sustained while student teaching at a school in the defendant supervisory union. Because the Vermont Supreme Court held claimant fell within the statutory definition of an employee for purposes of workers’ compensation, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings in accord with this opinion. View "Lyons v. Chittenden Central Supervisory Union" on Justia Law

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Negotiations Committee of Caledonia Central Supervisory Union (Committee) and Caledonia Central Education Association (Association) disputed whether collective bargaining negotiations between a school board negotiation committee and a teachers’ association constituted “meetings” under the Open Meeting Law and, if so, whether those meetings may be held in executive session. The Caledonia Superior Court dismissed Committee’s complaint seeking declaratory relief for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed the dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and held Vermont’s Open Meeting Law did not apply to labor negotiations between a school district negotiating committee and a labor union. View "Negotiations Committee of Caledonia Central Supervisory Union v. Caledonia Central Education Assn." on Justia Law

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This case was the second arising from the near-fatal assault of Michael Kuligoski by Evan Rapoza, who had previously been diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder. Here, members of the Kuligoski family(plaintiffs) brought suit against Evan’s grandparents, claiming that they were liable for Evan’s assault of Mr. Kuligoski while Mr. Kuligoski was repairing the furnace at their rental property. Plaintiffs claimed, among other things, that the grandparents were vicariously liable for Evan’s father’s negligent hiring or supervision of Evan, who was there to help his father repaint an apartment. On appeal, plaintiffs sought to reverse the grant of summary judgment in favor of the grandparents. Plaintiffs argued the trial court erred by determining that grandparents could not be held vicariously liable for the attack because it was not reasonably foreseeable. In granting the grandparents' motion, the trial court concluded: (1) to the extent plaintiffs were alleging direct liability on the part of grandparents based on a claim of negligent supervision, that claim failed as a matter of law because it was undisputed that on the day of the assault grandparents were unaware of Evan’s mental-health issues; and (2) notwithstanding the ambiguity as to whether father was grandparents’ employee, grandparents owed no duty to Mr. Kuligoski because Evan’s parents did not undertake to render services by monitoring Evan’s treatment after his release from the Brattleboro Retreat and because, even assuming that father was grandparents’ employee, Evan’s assault against Mr. Kuligoski was not foreseeable. Given the Vermont Supreme Court's determination that, as a matter of law, no employer-employee relationship existed between grandparents and father that would subject grandparents to vicarious liability for any negligence on father’s part in bringing Evan to the workplace on the day he assaulted Mr. Kuligsoki, plaintiffs’ remaining claim in this lawsuit was unsustainable. The Court therefore affirmed, but on grounds different than those used by the trial court. View "Kuligoski v. Rapoza" on Justia Law