Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Daniel Blair, a seaman, sued his former employer and the former employer’s liability insurer, claiming that the insurer had failed to pay him amounts due under the terms of a settlement agreement. Blair asserted that the “policy limits” settlement included both the policy’s stated limits and attorney’s fees calculated under Alaska Civil Rule 82. The insurer, relying on the policy’s notice that fees were included in the policy limits, argued that the settlement had been fully satisfied. The parties also disagreed about whether costs from a review of Blair's medical bills were properly counted against the policy limits. After contentious discovery, the superior court granted summary judgment for the insurer, finding that the policy’s Rule 82 notice was valid and that the settlement had been satisfied. The court awarded attorney’s fees to the insurer as the prevailing party. Blair appealed the grant of summary judgment, the denial of some discovery, and the award of attorney’s fees. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s summary judgment and discovery rulings except with regard to whether the costs of the medical review were properly deducted from the policy limits; here, the Court concluded issues of fact precluded summary judgment on this issue. The Court reversed summary judgment only as to that issue, vacated the attorney’s fees award, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Blair v. Federal Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The Commission for Human Rights is responsible for enforcing Alaska’s anti-discrimination laws. The Commission’s staff is authorized by regulation to use a variety of investigative methods. These include witness interviews, “inspection of documents and premises,” and “examination of written submissions of parties and witnesses.” The focus of this appeal was the Commission’s unwritten policy, followed for at least 27 years, barring third parties from investigative interviews with “certain limited exceptions.” As the Commission described its policy, third parties may be present if the interviewee is “the respondent named in the complaint, or is a member of the respondent’s ‘control group’ management, or has managerial responsibility.’ ” The Commission also allowed witnesses to be accompanied by their own attorneys and, if necessary, an interpreter or a guardian. The investigation at issue began when an employee filed two complaints against her employer, the State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), in August 2014 and February 2015. The Commission opened an investigation headed by investigator Patricia Watts. Watts contacted Dori Anderson, the complainant’s supervisor, to schedule an interview. A question was raised over whether Greta Jones, a program manager for the complainant’s agency, was requested to attend Anderson’s interview. The Commission issued a subpoena to interview the complainant’s supervisor, who refused to be interviewed unless an employer representative was also present. On the Commission’s petition, the superior court issued an order to show cause why the supervisor should not be held in contempt. The supervisor moved to vacate the order and dismiss the contempt proceeding; the superior court granted the motion on the ground that the Commission lacked the legal authority to exclude third parties from its investigative interviews. The Commission appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the statutory requirement of a confidential investigation, with its specific limits on a respondent’s access to investigative materials, clearly authorized the Commission to exclude third parties from investigative interviews. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the superior court’s order dismissing the Commission’s petition and remanded for further proceedings. View "Alaska State Commission for Human Rights v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Daniel Shearer alleged Brooks Range Petroleum Corporation (BRPC) promised him a ten-year term of employment, then terminated his employment two and a half years later. Shearer sued in the Alaska Second Judicial District, where he alleged the parties had negotiated and formed their contract. BRPC filed a motion to dismiss the case or to change venue to the Third Judicial District, where the contract was executed and where Shearer had performed most of his job duties. The superior court denied the motion, thus retaining venue in the Second Judicial District. The Alaska Supreme Court accepted review of this case to settle where venue for this case was proper. The Court concluded neither Shearer’s tort claims, nor his contract-based claims arose in the Second Judicial District, and the chosen venue was therefore not proper. The Court reversed the superior court’s order denying a change of venue. View "Brooks Range Petroleum Corporation v. Shearer" on Justia Law

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The North Slope Borough discharged employee Tom Nicolos after he made statements that Borough employees interpreted as threats. Nicolos appealed the superior court’s order approving the Borough Personnel Board’s decision affirming his discharge. He claimed his statements did not constitute threats or other misconduct under the Borough’s personnel rules and that the Borough failed to conduct an adequate investigation into his alleged misconduct before terminating him. Nicolos also claimed that his purportedly threatening statements were manifestations of a disability and that his discharge violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Alaska Human Rights Act (AHRA). We reject Nicolos’s claims of error and affirm the judgment of the superior court approving the Personnel Board’s decision. Th Alaska Supreme Court found substantial evidence supporting the Board’s finding that Nicolos told a counselor that he had a premeditated plan to kill his supervisor, coworker, and others. This finding, combined with the undisputed evidence about Nicolos’s earlier conversation with his supervisor, justified the Board’s conclusion that Nicolos had violated the personnel rules on workplace violence. These violations were the basis for Nicolos’s discharge. The Board found that Nicolos was not terminated on the basis of prejudice: Nicolos did not argue, and has not shown, that he was terminated due to prejudice against him as a disabled person. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's approval of the Personnel Board's discharge decision. View "Nicolos v. North Slope Borough" on Justia Law

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Aurora Landau was a dancer at the Showboat Show Club in Anchorage. She filed a complaint against Showboat Show Club Anchorage, LLC, seeking to recover unpaid wages, overtime compensation, and impermissible deductions from her earnings. Her suit also named the LLC’s two members and managers, Terry Stahlman and James Goard. Stahlman, also the LLC’s registered agent, was personally served a summons and complaint for all three defendants at his Anchorage residence, which was listed in the LLC’s state licensing reports as the entity’s principal office and both Stahlman’s and Goard’s member address. One of the owners died while the suit was pending, and Landau substituted the owner’s estate in the proceedings. Judgment was eventually entered in favor of the former employee. A year later the deceased owner’s widow moved for relief from the judgment as the sole beneficiary of his estate, arguing that neither her husband nor the estate had been properly served with notice of the suit. The former employee responded that service had been proper and that, in any case, the widow did not have authority to file a motion on behalf of the estate. The court denied the motion on the ground that the widow had not shown good cause for relief from the judgment. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed on the alternate ground that the widow did not have authority to act on the estate’s behalf. View "Hester v. Landau" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of disputed collective bargaining negotiations between City of Fairbanks and Public Safety Employees Association, AFSCME Local 803 (PSEA). PSEA was the labor representative for the City’s police and dispatch employees. The issue this appeal presented for the Alaska Supreme Court's review centered on whether the city council’s reconsideration and ultimate rejection of a labor agreement constituted an unfair labor practice under Alaska’s Public Employer Relations Act (the Act). An Alaska Labor Relations Agency (ALRA) panel concluded a violation occurred, and on appeal the superior court affirmed that ruling. The Supreme Court determined the record did not support a finding of bad faith on the city’s part, and because the failure to ratify the agreement alone could not be a violation of the Act, the Court reversed the superior court’s decision affirming the ALRA panel’s ruling. View "Public Safety Employees Association v. City of Fairbanks" on Justia Law

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Yong Kang lived in North Pole and rented a house from her son Benjamin. She once owned the house, but she sold it to Benjamin about nine months before the events underlying this dispute, because, as she explained, she was getting old and did not know how much longer she would be around. Kang lived in the house with her business partner, Chong Sik Kim. The two operated a massage business in the house called Lee’s Massage, and both had business licenses under that name. Kang asked a neighbor for help with major home repairs in exchange for a used pickup truck. The neighbor injured his wrist while working on the house. A few days later the two had a dispute and terminated their arrangement; Kang paid her neighbor $500 for his work. The neighbor later sought medical treatment for his wrist; he also filed a report of injury and a workers’ compensation claim with the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board. Kang denied liability on several grounds, but the Board decided, after a hearing, that Kang was her neighbor’s employer for purposes of the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act. Kang appealed to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission, which affirmed the Board’s decisions. The Alaska Supreme Court held, however, that the evidence did not support a finding that the woman was her neighbor’s employer, and therefore reversed the Commission’s decision. View "Kang v. Mullins" on Justia Law

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Abigail Caudle was a 26-year-old apprentice electrician when she was electrocuted on the job while working for Raven Electric, Inc. Her mother sought workers’ compensation death benefits or other damages related to her daughter’s death. Acting on the advice of attorneys but representing herself, she brought a claim before the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board, arguing in part that the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act was unconstitutional because it inadequately compensated for her daughter’s life, particularly given the circumstances of her daughter’s death, and because it failed to consider her future dependency on her daughter. The Board denied her claim, and the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision. The Commission also ordered the mother to pay the employer’s attorney’s fees and costs. The Alaska Supreme Court held that the mother’s constitutional rights are not violated by the Act. However, the Court reversed the Commission’s award of attorney’s fees. View "Burke v. Raven Electric, Inc." on Justia Law

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An asphalt plant operator threw a can at a driver waiting outside his truck to get his attention, striking him in the back. The driver dropped to his hands and knees after being struck, and went to an emergency room for medical treatment. The driver brought negligence and battery claims against the plant operator and his employer, but was awarded minimal damages after trial. The driver appealed, challenging several of the superior court’s decisions regarding jury instructions, evidentiary rulings, and pre- and post-trial orders. But because the Alaska Supreme Court found no error in the superior court’s decisions, it affirmed. View "Lindbo v. Colaska, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2010, Corrections Officer Nelson Robinson was supervising a prison module of about 50 inmates at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, including Radenko Jovanov and Alando Modeste. Modeste approached Jovanov while he was in line for the telephone, and he told Jovanov that he wanted them to request placement in separate modules because Modeste was related by marriage to the victim of Jovanov’s crime. Modeste then punched Jovanov on the left side of the head and pushed his head into the wall, requiring Jovanov to obtain medical treatment for his injuries. Jovanov sued the Department of Corrections (DOC), Officer Robinson, and Modeste for his injuries, alleging: (1) the assault was foreseeable and therefore DOC should have prevented it; (2) Officer Robinson failed to respond promptly to the argument and prevent further injury to Jovanov; and (3) DOC was negligent in understaffing the prison unit and placing the officer’s desk out of view of the telephone. DOC counterclaimed for the cost of the medical treatment Jovanov received. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of Jovanov against Modeste on the issue of liability, and in favor of DOC’s counterclaim for medical costs. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of DOC on Jovanov’s negligence claims against it; the assault was not foreseeable, and therefore DOC cannot be negligent on these grounds. Further, DOC’s staffing decisions and its placement of the guard’s duty station were immune policy decisions that could not form the basis of a negligence claim. The Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of DOC on its counterclaim against Jovanov for the cost of medical care provided to him and remand for further proceedings. The Court also remanded for further proceedings regarding Jovanov’s negligence claim against Modeste. View "Jovanov v. Dept. of Corrections" on Justia Law