Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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John Buckley started working for Labor Ready, Inc., a temporary employment service, in 2009. He was injured on assignment for a shipping company. At the time of injury he was performing a task prohibited by the contract between the temporary employment service and the shipping company. The injury resulted in loss of the worker’s hand and part of his arm. After getting workers’ compensation benefits from the temporary employment service, the worker brought a negligence action against the shipping company and one shipping company employee. The superior court decided on cross-motions for summary judgment that the exclusive liability provision of the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act (Act) barred the action. The Alaska Supreme Court reverse, finding material issues of fact precluded disposition by summary judgment. View "Buckley v. American Fast Freight, Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Theodore Morrison had surgery on his right knee in 2004 after injuring it at work. He returned to work after the surgery and did not consult a doctor about that knee for almost ten years, until he again injured it in 2014 while working for a different employer. Following the 2014 injury he sought to have arthroscopic surgery as his doctor recommended. His 2014 employer disputed its liability for continued medical care, and the worker filed a written claim against the 2014 employer. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board joined the earlier employer to the claim and decided, after a hearing, that the 2014 work injury was the substantial cause of the worker’s current need for medical care, requiring the 2014 employer to pay the cost of treatment for the right knee. The 2014 employer appealed to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission, which decided the Board misapplied the new compensability standard and remanded the case to the Board for further proceedings. Morrison petitioned the Alaska Supreme Court for review of the Commission’s decision, and the Supreme Court reversed the Commission’s decision and reinstated the Board’s award. Based on the medical testimony, the Court found the Board identified two possible causes of Morrison’s need for medical treatment at the time of the hearing. It then considered the extent to which the two causes contributed to that need and decided the 2014 injury was the more important cause of the need for treatment then. "The legislature gave the Board discretion to assign a cause based on the evidence before it. The Board did here what the statute directs." View "Morrison v. Alaska Interstate Construction Inc." on Justia Law

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The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board denied a Bryce Warnke-Green's request that his employer pay for a van modified to accommodate his work-related disability. On appeal, the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission decided that a modifiable van was a compensable medical benefit. Warnke-Green moved for attorney’s fees. The Commission reduced the attorney’s hourly rate, deducted a few time entries, and awarded him less than half of what was requested. Warnke-Green asked the Commission to reconsider its award, but the Commission declined to do so because of its view that the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) allowed it to reconsider only the final decision on the merits of an appeal. The Alaska Supreme Court granted Warnke-Green's petition for review, and held that the Commission had the necessarily incidental authority to reconsider its non-final decisions. The Court also reversed the Commission’s award of attorney’s fees and remanded for an award that was fully compensable and reasonable. View "Warnke-Green v. Pro-West Contractors, LLC" on Justia Law

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A former employee of the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), Terri Reynolds-Rogers, brought a wrongful discharge suit against the State. At the time of her termination she had four union grievances pending against DHSS, and her union filed another based on the termination. The union settled all five grievances in exchange for a payment to the employee. She later sued DHSS for wrongful termination, alleging both breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and several torts, including retaliatory discharge and failure to accommodate her disabilities. The superior court granted DHSS’s motion for summary judgment and entered final judgment against the employee. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court was correct in deciding that the employee’s claims were resolved by the settlement of her grievances, were barred by the statute of limitations, or were legally insufficient in light of the undisputed facts. View "Reynolds-Rogers v. Alaska, Dept. of Health & Social Services" on Justia Law

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An employer asked medical specialists to evaluate a worker with injuries to different body systems arising out of one work-related accident. The doctors gave two separate opinions, almost a year apart, about final medical stability and relevant permanent impairment ratings in their separate specialities. The employer paid no compensation based on the impairment ratings until almost three months after the second impairment rating. The worker asked the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board to order a penalty for late payment of impairment-related compensation benefits, but the Board agreed with the employer that no impairment-related compensation was payable until the employer obtained a combined impairment rating. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission reversed the Board’s decision, concluding that initial impairment-related compensation was payable upon notice of the first impairment rating and further impairment-related compensation was payable upon notice of the second impairment rating. The employer appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed. View "Unisea, Inc. v. Morales" on Justia Law

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After a bench trial, the superior court determined that a pilot who flew seasonally for a remote wilderness lodge, was a professional employee and therefore subject to an exemption from the overtime requirements of the Alaska Wage and Hour Act. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed that decision on appeal, holding that the pilot was not exempt, and remanded the case for a determination of the overtime hours actually worked. On remand the superior court framed the issue as whether the pilot, during his time at the lodge, was “engaged to wait or waiting to be engaged.” The superior court applied a multi-factor test and found that the pilot was “waiting to be engaged” and therefore was not entitled to overtime compensation for hours other than those he spent actually performing duties for his employer. The court found that the pilot had worked 6.4 hours of unpaid overtime but declined to award liquidated damages, finding that an exception to the liquidated damages statute applied because the lodge had acted reasonably and in good faith. The court also declined to award attorney’s fees to the lodge despite the fact that it had bettered the terms of several offers of judgment. Both parties appealed. The Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err in its legal analysis when determining whether the pilot was entitled to overtime compensation. Furthermore, the Court affirmed the superior court’s decision not to award attorney’s fees to the employer. But because the superior court made no findings about the lodge’s subjective good faith, the case was remanded for further consideration of liquidated damages and whether the good-faith exception applied. View "Moody v. Royal Wolf Lodge" on Justia Law

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Steven Levi appealed a superior court decision affirming a Department of Labor and Workforce Development order requiring him to repay several months of unemployment insurance benefits plus interest and penalties because he under-reported his weekly income while receiving benefits. Based on a Department handbook, Levi argued he was not required to report his wages unless he earned more than $50 per day. The Alaska Supreme Court determined Levi’s reading of the handbook was unreasonable. Nonetheless, the governing statute required a reduction in benefits whenever a claimant’s wages were more than $50 per week. Levi made other arguments, but the Court found no merit to any of them. The Court affirmed the superior court’s decision. View "Levi v. State, Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development" on Justia Law

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A taxi driver injured in an accident while working filed a report with the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board. The nature of the relationship between the taxi company and the driver was disputed. The driver retained an attorney for a lawsuit against the other driver, and settled that claim with the other driver's insurance company without his taxi company's approval. Because the taxi company did not have workers' compensation insurance, the Alaska Workers' Compensation Benefits Guaranty Fund assumed responsibility for adjusting the workers' compensation claim. The Fund asked the Board to dismiss the taxi driver's claim because of the unapproved settlement. The Board dismissed the claim, and the Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission ultimately affirmed the Board's decision. The taxi driver appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the Commission's decision. View "Atkins v. Inlet Transportation & Taxi Service, Inc." on Justia 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