Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Claimant Lydia Diamond appeals the summary judgment decision of the Commissioner of the Department of Labor denying her claim for PPD benefits associated with the C3-4 levels of her spine. In April 2001, claimant was injured in a motor vehicle collision while delivering newspapers for employer. The crash exacerbated claimant’s preexisting right carpal tunnel syndrome. She underwent right carpal tunnel release surgery in February 2002, and had a surgical release of her left carpal tunnel in January 2003. After the surgeries, it became clear that claimant had unresolved neck pain relating to the work accident. Her doctor diagnosed disc herniations in her cervical spine and in September 2003 performed discectomies at the C5-6 and C6-7 levels of her cervical spine and a two-level cervical fusion at C4-C6. The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a workers’ compensation award of permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits based on damage to the C4-6 levels of claimant’s cervical spine precluded a subsequent award of PPD benefits, more than six years later, for damage to the C3-4 levels of claimant’s spine that arose, over time, from the same work injury. Claimant appealed the grant of summary judgment by the Commissioner of the Department of Labor that denied her claim for PPD benefits associated with the C3-4 levels of her spine. The Commissioner determined that claimant’s request for the additional PPD benefits amounted to a request to modify the prior PPD award and was time-barred. The Supreme Court concluded, based on the specific language of the initial PPD award, it did not purport to encompass injury to other levels of claimant’s cervical spine beyond the C4-6 levels. Accordingly, claimant was not seeking to modify the prior PPD award but, rather, sought PPD benefits for physical damage not encompassed within a previous PPD award. Her claim was therefore timely, and accordingly the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Diamond v. Burlington Free Press" on Justia Law

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A former employee of the Vermont Department of Labor (Department) appealed a judgment on the pleadings denying his suit against the Department seeking unpaid overtime pay. Employee argued he was entitled to overtime pay for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week because, through a 1994 revision to 21 V.S.A. 384(b)(7) that refers to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the Vermont Legislature intended to provide state employees not only with minimum wage-and-hour rights, but also with a statutory private right of action to enforce those rights. Employee also argued state employees also had a private right of action to enforce those claimed rights through Article 4 of the Vermont Constitution. Vt. Const. ch. I, art. 4. Finding no error in the dismissal of employee’s claims, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Flint v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Claimant Kimberly Haller was an employee of Champlain College when she suffered a work-related injury. Claimant had taken numerous courses at Champlain College pursuant to its “Tuition Benefits” policy. In the twenty-six weeks prior to her injury, claimant completed over ten credits of classwork at the College. The issue presented to the Department of Labor on cross-motions for summary judgment was whether the value of these tuition benefits should be included in the calculation of claimant’s average weekly wage for the purposes of her permanent partial disability benefit. The Commissioner concluded the tuition benefits was an “other advantage” that constituted part of claimant’s wages. The College argued on appeal the tuition benefit was not an "other advantage," nor did it amount to "remuneration" as defined in the applicable workers' compensation laws. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the Commissioner that where the non-health-insurance benefits at issue had actual monetary value and were actually received by the employee, they fell within the broad “other advantages” language. The Court concluded the Commissioner's determination was not unreasonable and affirmed. View "Haller v. Champlain College" on Justia Law

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J.C. Penney Corporation (employer) sought interlocutory review of the Commissioner of the Department of Labor’s denial of its motion for summary judgment in this workers’ compensation matter. Specifically, employer argued that the Commissioner lacked authority to invalidate an approved settlement agreement that the parties entered into pursuant to a previous claim. Brandy Clayton (claimant) has worked for employer for several years as a hair stylist. In February 2011, she filed a workers’ compensation claim for heel and arch pain in her left foot after suffering a work-related injury in March 2010 described as a result of standing all day on the job. Employer accepted the claim as compensable. Under the terms of the agreement, claimant received a lump sum payment “in full and final settlement of all claims for any and all benefits, injuries, diseases, illnesses, conditions, and/or symptoms and any and all sequelae allegedly sustained as a result of” her March workplace injury. The agreement included a clause stating that it was “intended to be a general release of all claims of the employee against the employer and the insurance carrier arising from employee’s employment with employer.” On March 17, 2015, approximately six months after the settlement was approved, claimant filed a new notice of injury, this time alleging a March 10, 2015 injury to her right foot. Employer filed a form denial on March 26, 2015, stating that claimant’s new, right-foot claim was denied as a preexisting condition and unrelated to employment. Employer also filed a letter with the Department, arguing that the claim should be dismissed for two reasons: first, that it was barred by the prior settlement agreement; and second, because the right-foot claim was reasonably discoverable and apparent at the time the settlement agreement was executed. Claimant appealed employer’s denial of her claim. The sole issue before the Commissioner was whether the parties’ September 2014 settlement agreement barred claimant’s second claim for workers’ compensation benefits. he Commissioner found that the settlement agreement “convey[ed] a clear and unambiguous message” and that the terms in the settlement agreement that released employer from claims related to the March 26, 2010 injuries were valid and enforceable. However, the Commissioner voided the remainder of the settlement agreement on public policy grounds. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed the Commissioner lacked authority to void the parties’ settlement agreement on public policy grounds, and reversed. View "Clayton v. J.C. Penney Corporation" on Justia Law

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Several carpenters, including one single-member LLC, an installer of cement siding, and a painter contended they were employees of Bourbeau Custom Homes, Inc. for the purposes of Vermont’s unemployment compensation system. Bourbeau challenged that classification, contending that it was not liable for unemployment taxes on monies paid to a carpenter operating as a single-member LLC because an LLC was not an “individual” under the unemployment tax statute and therefore not subject to the ABC test established by 21 V.S.A. 1301(6)(B). Second, Bourbeau argued the Employment Security Board erred in applying the ABC test with respect to all of the workers whose remuneration is the subject of this appeal. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with Bourbeau on the first point and held that an LLC was not an “individual” for the purposes of assessing unemployment taxes. However, the Court affirmed the Board’s determination that the remaining four individuals were employees for purposes of Vermont’s unemployment compensation system. View "In re Bourbeau Custom Homes, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant Hector LeClair, plaintiff Joseph LeClair’s grandfather, was experienced in construction and has developed several properties around the Vermont. In 2011, defendant approached his son, Ricky LeClair, who also worked in construction, about replacing the roof on the building in which defendant had his office. Defendant’s son, Ricky, then approached his twenty-seven-year-old son, plaintiff, about working on defendant’s roofing project. Plaintiff had also worked in construction and was an experienced roofer, but was unemployed at the time. Plaintiff’s father told him he would make “good money” for working on defendant’s roof. Plaintiff’s father supplied the tools, equipment, and materials for the roof job. On October 7, 2011, plaintiff arrived at the property with another person to work on the roof. They had already removed the shingles from the roof, leaving only the underlayment, which on that October morning was covered with dew and early frost. Plaintiff claimed that he initially decided not to work on the roof because the frost made it slippery but changed his mind when defendant arrived at the property and ordered him to begin work. Plaintiff climbed a ladder onto the property’s roof; plaintiff fell from the second-story roof and landed on the paved driveway below, sustaining serious and permanent head and spinal injuries. Plaintiff sued defendant for his injuries, and appealed when the trial court granted defendant summary judgment. Plaintiff argued the trial court erred by concluding that defendant owed him no duty and that the court abused its discretion by denying his motion to amend his complaint to add a new liability theory. Given the circumstances of this case, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed that the trial court erred in concluding, as a matter of law on summary judgment, that defendant owed no duty to plaintiff. View "LeClair v. LeClair" on Justia Law

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The Employment Security Board (ESB) affirmed a Department of Labor audit of appellant, Great Northern Construction (GNC). The Department's auditor concluded that GNC had improperly classified two of its workers as independent contractors rather than employees for the purposes of unemployment insurance taxes. In accordance with Vermont's Unemployment Compensation Law, the Department issued GNC an assessment for unpaid taxes from 2011 to 2014 plus interest and a penalty. GNC sought review of the assessment before an administrative law judge, who upheld the Department's tax assessment, and GNC appealed that decision to the ESB. The ESB concluded that the workers in question were not independent contractors but employees according to Vermont's statutory definition of the term. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the ESB concerning one worker, but reversed as to the other. View "Great Northern Construction, Inc. v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a Labor Relations Board decision to reverse its dismissal of grievant John Lepore, instead suspending him for thirty days without pay. The Board agreed with the State that grievant committed serious offenses and demonstrated 'poor judgment and dishonesty related to his fitness for state employment' while serving as a juror in a capital murder trial. It concluded, however, the State could not dismiss grievant given its delay in imposing discipline and its failure to restrict grievant's job duties during the investigation into grievant's misconduct. The State argued that neither ground undermined its conclusion that grievant's serious misconduct warranted dismissal, particularly because grievant suffered no prejudice from the delay. After review, the Supreme Court agreed, and therefore reversed the Board's decision. View "In re Grievance of John Lepore" on Justia Law

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Employer Entergy Corporation challenged the denial of its request for a credit against future workers’ compensation benefits owed to claimant Sharon Conant. Employer argued on appeal that, given the payments it made to claimant under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, as well as the retroactive temporary total disability (TTD) payments it was ordered to make, claimant received more money as wage replacement than she was owed. After review, the Supreme Court agreed, and reversed the Commissioner of the Department of Labor’s decision on this point. View "Conant v. Entergy Corporation" on Justia Law

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This appeal centered on two petitions filed on behalf of sixty-nine sworn law enforcement officers of the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife, Vermont Department of Liquor Control, and Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles. Here, the New England Police Benevolent Association (NEPBA) filed a petition seeking an election of collective bargaining representatives among the sworn officers, currently represented by the Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA) as part of the Non-Management Bargaining Unit. VSEA moved to dismiss the petition. The State agreed, and notified the Board by letter that the proposed bargaining unit would not be an appropriate unit. NEPBA appealed an order of the Vermont Labor Relations Board dismissing the petition. Finding no reversible error in the Board's decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Petition of New England Police Benevolent Association" on Justia Law