Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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A “preferred service” state employee does not have a protected property interest in his or her employment, and the State did not bear the ultimate burden of proof in a post-termination administrative appeal under section 8-30-318 of the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability, and Management Act of 2012 (TEAM), Tenn Code. Ann. 8-39-101 through -407. After the Tennessee Department of Correction (Petitioner) dismissed David Pressley from his employment as a correctional officer, Pressley challenged his termination under the TEAM Act’s appeals process. The Board of Appeals reinstated Pressley at Step III of the appeals process. The chancery court reversed, concluding that the Board erred in determining that the State bore the ultimate burden of proof in the Step III appeal. The court of appeals, in turn, reversed, determining that preferred service state employees have a protected property interest in their employment and that the Board correctly assigned the ultimate burden of proof. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the Board, holding (1) preferred service employees do not possess a property interest in their continued employment with the State; and (2) the Board erred when it assigned the ultimate burden of proof to the State to sustain Pressley’s termination for cause. View "Tennessee Department of Correction v. Pressley" on Justia Law

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Charles Kilburn was injured in a motor vehicle accident and underwent surgery to resolve his neck injury complaints. Charles took oxycodone to alleviate his back pain. Several months after his surgery, Charles died due to an overdose of oxycodone combined with alcohol. The chancery court found that the death was compensable and awarded workers’ compensation death benefits to Judy Kilburn, Charles’s wife. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the chancery court, holding that Charles’s failure to take his medication in accordance with his doctor’s instructions ultimately caused his demise, and therefore, his death was no longer causally related to his work-related injury, and his overdose was an independent intervening cause. View "Kilburn v. Granite State Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Employee asserted a private right of action against Employer under the Tennessee Tip Statute, Tenn. Code Ann. 50-2-107, for Employer’s failure properly to pay tips, gratuities, and service charges. The trial court granted Employer’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on the ground that there was no private right of action under the statute. The court of appeals reversed based in part on a 1998 court of appeals opinion, Owens v. University Club of Memphis, recognizing a private cause of action under the Tip Statute. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and affirmed the trial court’s judgment, holding (1) Owens is inconsistent in part with subsequent Supreme Court jurisprudence on implying a private right of action under a statute, and therefore, this Court declines to apply the doctrine of legislative inaction to presume that the legislature knew of the holding in Owens and acquiesced in it; and (2) Owens is overruled to the extent that it is inconsistent with the Court’s holding here that an employee has no private right of action under section 50-2-107. View "Hardy v. Tournament Players Club at Southwind, Inc." on Justia Law

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Rogelynn Emory, a full-time tenured teacher in the Memphis City School System, was terminated after the Memphis City Schools Board of Education concluded after a hearing that there was ample evidence of Emory’s unsatisfactory job performance. Emory subsequently filed a petition for judicial review. The trial court affirmed the Board’s decision. The Court of Appeals declined to reinstate Emory based on the untimeliness of the school board hearing but awarded her partial back pay. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision to upheld the termination of Emory’s employment and clarified the standard of judicial review for the termination of a tenured teacher under the Tenure Act, holding (1) the Court of Appeals’ award of partial back pay was without basis in the Teachers’ Tenure Act; and (2) because Emory failed to raise before the school board any objection as to the timeliness of her hearing, that issue was not properly before the Supreme Court. View "Emory v. Memphis City Schools Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Employee was terminated because of an altercation with an employee of a contractor at Employer’s wellness center. After his termination, Employee sought reconsideration of his three workers’ compensation claims. The trial court determined that Employee was entitled to reconsideration and awarded additional permanent disability benefits, concluding that Employer had not sustained its burden of proof that Employee’s misconduct was connected with his employment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Employee was entitled to reconsideration of his previous award and settlements because the conduct that resulted in his termination was not connected with his employment; (2) the trial court’s erroneous evidentiary rulings constituted harmless error; and (3) the evidence did not preponderate against the trial court’s finding that Employee was entitled to additional permanent disability benefits. View "Stacey v. Nissan N.A., Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought a statutory retaliatory discharge claim in the circuit court against the City of LaFollette pursuant to the Tennessee Public Protection Act (TPPA). Plaintiff requested a trial by jury. The trial court determined that Plaintiff was entitled to a jury trial on his TPPA claim. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA) applies to claims brought against a municipality pursuant to the TPPA, thus requiring the claim to be tried without a jury. The Supreme Court affirmed on different grounds, holding (1) the GTLA does not apply to TPPA claims against governmental entities; but (2) there is no constitutional or statutory right to trial by jury for TPPA claims filed in the circuit court. View "Young v. City of Lafollette" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued Hospital Housekeeping Systems (the Company) in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee after the Company refused to hire her because she had filed a workers’ compensation claim incurred while working for a previous employer. The federal district court certified a question of law to determine whether Plaintiff had a cause of action under the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act against the Company for failure to hire under the circumstances of this case. The Supreme Court held that a job applicant does not have a cause of action under the Act against a prospective employer for failure to hire if the prospective employer refused to hire the applicant because he or she had filed, or was likely to file, a workers’ compensation claim against a previous employer. View "Yardley v. Hosp. Housekeeping Sys., LLC" on Justia Law

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The chief of police for the City of Burns had Plaintiff, a police officer, “fix” a traffic ticket for a relative. When Plaintiff complained to the mayor that the police chief had pressured him into illegal ticket fixing, Plaintiff was discharged. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against the City of Burns, asserting a claim of retaliatory discharge pursuant to the Tennessee Public Protection Act (TPPA). The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the City. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the City’s assertion that it discharged Plaintiff because he violated the chain of command by reporting the ticket fixing to the mayor amounted to an admission that it retaliated against Plaintiff for refusing to remain silent about illegal activities, conduct that is protected under the TPPA; (2) the second reason proffered by the City for Plaintiff’s discharge, that he undermined the police chief’s authority with the other officers in the police department, is pretext for retaliation; and (3) thus, Plaintiff was discharged solely in retaliation for conduct protected under the TPPA. View "Williams v. City of Burns" on Justia Law

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A railroad employee with lung cancer brought this action against the railroad under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, alleging that the railroad (1) had negligently exposed him to toxic materials that were contributing causes to his illness, and (2) was negligent per se by violating pertinent safety statutes or regulations. The jury rendered a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, concluding that the employee’s cancer and death were caused by the railroad’s negligence and by its negligence per se. The jury awarded $8.6 million in damages but then entered an amended verdict awarding the plaintiff $3.2 million. The trial court granted a new trial based on evidentiary and instructional issues and later entered an order of recusal. A substitute judge granted summary judgment for the railroad after excluding the plaintiff’s expert proof on the issue of causation. The court of appeals reversed and remanded for the original trial judge to enter judgment on either the original verdict or the amended verdict. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the plaintiff’s expert proof was properly admitted at trial; but (2) the original judge erred by granting the railroad’s motion for a new trial and committed prejudicial error in assessing the amount of damages to be awarded. Remanded for a new trial as to damages only. View "Payne v. CSX Transp., Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff worked as a horse groom for Employer. After Employer terminated Plaintiff’s employment, Plaintiff filed a complaint for retaliatory discharge pursuant to both the common law and the Tennessee Public Protection Act, alleging that Employer’s owner had illegally terminated his employment when Plaintiff complained to the owner about the owner’s illegal conduct. The trial court granted Employer’s motion to dismiss, concluding that Plaintiff had failed to state a valid claim for retaliatory discharge because he had not reported the illegal activity to anyone other than the owner. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff’s claim was properly dismissed for failure to state a claim where the allegations in the complaint established that Plaintiff did not expose Employer’s illegal conduct by reporting it to anyone aside from the person responsible for the conduct. View "Haynes v. Formac Stables, Inc." on Justia Law