Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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The issue before the Oregon Supreme Court in this matter was whether the Court of Appeals correctly construed the scope of ORS 656.019 in a case arising out of plaintiff’s attempt to allege civil negligence claims against his employer, defendant NuStar GP, LLC, for harm arising out of plaintiff’s exposure to gasoline vapors at work. The trial court denied plaintiff Danny Bundy’s motion to amend his complaint to allege those claims after concluding that the claims were barred by the so-called “exclusive remedy” provision of the Workers’ Compensation Law, ORS 656.018, a provision that generally immunizes employers from civil liability for injuries to a worker arising out of the worker’s employment. Plaintiff argued his negligence claims were not barred because they were allowed by ORS 656.019, a statute that governed negligence actions for an injury “that has been determined to be not compensable [under the Workers’ Compensation Law] because the worker has failed to establish that a work-related incident was the major contributing cause of the worker’s injury.” Although plaintiff alleged that he suffered from medical conditions that were determined to be “not compensable” under that major contributing cause standard, the trial court and Court of Appeals concluded that ORS 656.019 did not apply to plaintiff’s negligence action because the conditions on which plaintiff relied were denied after defendant accepted a compensable workers’ compensation claim for plaintiff’s initial condition arising out of the same workplace incident. The Oregon Supreme Court expressly reserved the comprehensive statutory analysis needed to resolve whether the legislature intended ORS 656.019 to function as a substantive exception to the exclusive remedy provision, and resolved only the single issue of statutory construction that was raised by the petition for review and argued by the parties. Because the parties assumed that ORS 656.019 would allow plaintiff to file his Fourth Amended Complaint if the statute applied to plaintiff’s negligence claims, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s denial of plaintiff’s motion to amend. “That limited holding is not intended to preclude these or future parties from properly presenting an argument that the legislature did not intend ORS 656.019 to function as a substantive exception to the exclusive remedy provision.” The decision of the Court of Appeals and the circuit court was reversed, and the case was remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Bundy v. NuStar GP, LLC" on Justia Law

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Delta Logistics, Inc. was a "for-hire carrier" licensed by the federal government to transport goods interstate. Delta did not own any trucks; rather, it leased trucks from owner-operators, who operated, furnished, and maintained the trucks. The Oregon Employment Department assessed Delta unemployment insurance taxes on the funds that Delta paid the owner-operators, on grounds the owner-operators did not come within the exemption in ORS 657.047(1)(b) because the leases that the owner-operators entered into with Delta were not "leases" within the meaning of the statute: to come within the exemption, the owner must be the only person operating the truck. An administrative law judge (ALJ) agreed and issued a final order upholding the assessment. Delta appealed. The Court of Appeals was not persuaded by the Department's arguments and overturned the ALJ's decision, finding ORS 657.047(2) made clear that the exemption included owners who hire employees to help operate their trucks. Considering the text, context, and legislative history of ORS 657.047(1)(b), the Oregon Supreme Court did not agree with the department that Delta owed unemployment taxes on owner-operators who hired employees to help them operate the motor-vehicles they leased to Delta. The Court of Appeals was affirmed that the final of the ALJ was reversed. View "Delta Logistics, Inc. v. Employment Dept. Tax Section" on Justia Law

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The issue in this case is whether the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (county) complied with the requirements of ORS 408.230(2)(c) to “devise and apply methods” of giving veterans and disabled veterans “special consideration” in the hiring process, or as here, when it failed to promote a disabled veteran. The Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) concluded that the county did fail to comply with the statute, as well as administrative rules that implement it. BOLI ordered the county to comply with the law, to train its staff, and to pay the disabled veteran $50,000 in damages for his emotional distress. The county appealed, but the Oregon Supreme Court concluded BOLI correctly construed ORS 408.230(2)(c) and that, given the unchallenged findings in the agency’s final order, there was no basis for the county’s contention that BOLI erred in finding a violation of that statute. With regard to BOLI’s authority to award damages for emotional distress, the county failed to preserve that argument. The Court therefore affirmed the Court of Appeals and the final order of BOLI. View "Multnomah County Sheriff's Office v. Edwards" on Justia Law

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The issue in this workers’ compensation case was whether claimant was entitled to benefits for his “combined condition” claim. Claimant filed- and his employer’s insurer, SAIF Corporation, initially accepted-a claim for a lumbar strain combined with preexisting lumbar disc disease and related conditions. SAIF later denied the combined condition claim on the ground that the lumbar strain had ceased to be the major contributing cause of the combined condition. Claimant objected. He did not contest that his lumbar strain had ceased to be the major contributing cause of his combined condition. Instead, he argued that the otherwise compensable injury was not limited to the lumbar strain that SAIF had accepted as part of his combined condition claim. In claimant’s view, an “otherwise compensable injury” within the meaning of ORS 656.005(7)(a)(B) referred not just to the condition that SAIF accepted, but also includes any other conditions not accepted that might have resulted from the same work-related accident that caused the lumbar strain, and that larger group of work-related conditions continued to be the major contributing cause of his combined condition. As a result, claimant contended that an employer could not close a combined condition claim if any of those non accepted conditions remained the major cause of the combined condition claim. The Workers’ Compensation Board rejected claimant’s argument and upheld SAIF’s denial of claimant’s combined condition claim, concluding that existing precedent defined the “otherwise compensable injury” component of combined conditions to consist of the condition or conditions that the employer has accepted as compensable. The Court of Appeals reversed, acknowledging that its holding was “potentially at odds” with existing precedents from both that court and the Oregon Supreme Court. It nevertheless concluded that those precedents were either distinguishable or should be reconsidered. The Supreme Court concluded that the Court of Appeals erred and that the Workers’ Compensation Board was correct. View "Brown v. SAIF Corp." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the City of Lebanon (city) committed an unfair labor practice under Oregon’s Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA) when one of its council members, Campbell, wrote a letter to a local newspaper disparaging labor unions in general and calling for city employees to decertify their existing union. The Employment Relations Board (ERB or board) concluded that the city had engaged in an unfair labor practice based on Campbell’s conduct. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the city was not liable because Campbell had not acted as a “public employer or its designated representative” within the meaning of PECBA. The Supreme Court disagreed, reversed and remanded the matter back to the ERB for further proceedings. View "AFSCME Council 75 v. City of Lebanon" on Justia Law

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In the underlying litigation to this appeal, claimants were petitioners or represented petitioners who challenged legislation passed in 2013 that changed the pension benefits paid to certain members of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) by limiting the statutory cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and eliminating a PERS income-tax offset for out-of-state retirees. In "Moro v. Oregon," (351 P.3d 1 (2015) (Moro I)), the Oregon Supreme Court largely agreed with petitioners’ argument that modifications to the COLA formula impaired petitioners’ contractual rights, thus violating Article I, section 21, of the Oregon Constitution. But the Court rejected petitioners’ similar challenge to the elimination of the income-tax offset. Petitioners, who were active and retired members of PERS, were the prevailing parties. Following the decision in Moro I, claimants petitioned for attorney fees and costs. State respondents and county/school district respondents filed objections. The Supreme Court referred those petitions to a special master for recommended findings of fact and conclusions of law. The special master reported his recommendations, and the parties subsequently filed objections and responses to those recommendations. The issues raised in those filings included which legal doctrines justified an award of attorney fees in this case; whether self-represented attorneys were eligible to receive an award of attorney fees; whether the fees sought by claimants were reasonable; and how to pay for an award of fees and costs. After review, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded that fees should be awarded based on the common-fund and substantial-benefit doctrines; that the self-represented attorneys were eligible to receive a fee award under those doctrines; that a reasonable fee award under the lodestar approach had to be based on reasonable hourly rates and reflect reductions to account for duplicative work and work on unsuccessful claims; and that an award in this case should be paid for as determined by the Public Employees Retirement Board (PERB) in a manner that was consistent with its statutory authority and fiduciary obligations. View "Moro v. Oregon" on Justia Law

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This consolidated appeal concerned six civil actions against an ambulance company for permitting a paramedic in its employ to sexually abuse women while they were patients. The claims were alleged under ORS 124.100(5), which authorized a vulnerable person to bring an action against a person who “permit[s]” another person to engage in physical or financial abuse “if the person knowingly acts or fails to act under circumstances in which a reasonable person should have known” of the abuse. The ambulance company moved for summary judgment on the ground that there was no evidence that it actually knew of its para-medic’s abuse against plaintiffs and then acted in a way that permitted that abuse to occur. The trial court agreed and granted the motion. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the statute does not require actual knowledge of a plaintiff’s abuse. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and reversed the trial court. View "Wyers v. American Medical Response Northwest, Inc." on Justia Law

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After considering SAIF Corporation's medical evidence, the Workers’ Compensation Board (board) found that the evidence did not satisfy SAIF’s burden of persuasion and entered an order finding that claimant Roger Thompson's heart attack was a compensable occupational disease. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the board erred in concluding that only one type of medical evidence (evidence of risk factors unique to the claimant and unrelated to his work) would rebut the presumption. After review, the Oregon Supreme Court concluded that the Court of Appeals misperceived the basis for the board’s order. Furthermore, the Court concluded the board reasonably found, on the evidence before it, that SAIF had failed to satisfy its burden of persuasion. The Supreme Court accordingly reversed the Court of Appeals decision and affirmed the board’s order. View "SAIF v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was an employee of a subcontractor working on a construction jobsite. Plaintiff fell while framing the third floor of a townhome that was under construction. In this action, plaintiff brought claims for relief against the general contractor under Oregon’s Employer Liability Law (ELL), and for common-law negligence, in which he sought damages for injuries that he suffered in the fall. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the general contractor, Polygon Northwest Company (Polygon), on both of plaintiff’s claims, after concluding that there were no genuine issues of material fact and that Polygon was entitled to prevail as a matter of law. Plaintiff appealed. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to withstand a motion for summary judgment on the specification of his ELL claim that Polygon retained a right to control the method or manner in which the risk-producing activity was performed. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision affirming the dismissal of the retained right of control specification of plaintiff’s ELL claim, and remanded that claim to the trial court for further proceedings. The Court affirmed the lower courts with respect to plaintiff’s negligence claim and the remaining specifications of his ELL claim. View "Yeatts v. Polygon Northwest Co." on Justia Law

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The question in this case was whether an injured worker had to provide actual notice of secondary employment in connection with a workers' compensation claims process or whether the employer’s preexisting knowledge of that employment could be imputed to the insurer to satisfy the notice requirement of ORS 656.210(2)(b)(A). The Oregon Supreme Court held that the correct interpretation of ORS 656.210(2)(b)(A) required a claimant to prove that the insurer received actual notice of the claimant’s secondary employment within 30 days of the insurer’s receipt of the initial claim. View "DCBS v. Muliro" on Justia Law