Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Elfego Marquez illegally immigrated from Mexico to the United States. After entering the United States, Marquez went to southern California, where he purchased a social security card and used it to obtain employment washing dishes at a restaurant. After working in California for approximately seven months, Marquez moved to Emmett, Idaho and soon after began working at Pierce Painting. Marquez’s primary job at Pierce Painting was to prepare buildings to be painted. Pierce Painting knew Marquez was an undocumented immigrant and that his social security card was not legally issued to him. Not long after beginning at Pierce Painting, a supervisor received a notice of garnishment associated with the social security number used by Marquez. Evidently, the individual to whom the social security number had been legally issued had an outstanding child support delinquency. The supervisor instructed Marquez to obtain a different social security card. In 2010, Marquez was standing on two five gallon buckets stacked on top of each other to reach an area above a tall doorway when he fell onto a concrete floor fracturing his right wrist and injuring his right arm and shoulder. His right wrist was put into a cast and he eventually underwent multiple right shoulder surgeries. His doctor recommended permanent restrictions on overhead activities and that Marquez not return to his position at Pierce Painting. Marquez subsequently filed a workers’ compensation complaint. Pierce Painting through its surety, the State Insurance Fund (“SIF”), paid Marquez’s medical bills, total temporary disability benefits, and permanent partial impairment benefits. SIF did not pay Marquez’s permanent disability benefits, claiming that Marquez was not eligible for permanent disability due to his status as an undocumented immigrant. The Industrial Commission (the “Commission”) disagreed and ordered that Marquez was entitled to pursue a claim for permanent disability without reference to his status as an undocumented immigrant. Pierce Painting and SIF appealed the Commission's order. The Idaho Supreme Court found the Commission erred in finding Marquez could pursue a permanent disability claim without reference to his status as an undocumented immigrant. The governing statute stated: “A person, including a minor, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed . . .” shall constitute an employee who is entitled to coverage and benefits under the Act. "If the Idaho Legislature desired to create an absolute bar for permanent disability for those 'unlawfully employed' within the Act, it was free to do so when it amended the Act and removed the agricultural pursuits exemption in 1996 or thereafter. Moreover, if the Legislature wanted to prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving a benefit under the workers’ compensation statutes, it could have created an express prohibition in that regard—just like it did regarding unemployment benefits." View "Marquez v. Pierce Painting" on Justia Law

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On July 11, 2013, the Idaho Department of Labor (“IDOL”) mailed an eligibility determination for unemployment benefits (the “2013 determination”) to William Wittkopf. This determination found Wittkopf underreported his wages for several weeks, which resulted in an overpayment in unemployment benefits. As a result, Wittkopf was: (1) ordered to repay the overpayment; (2) ineligible for any unemployment benefits for a fifty-two week period; and (3) assessed a civil penalty. Additionally, Wittkopf was told that he would remain ineligible for unemployment benefits until all amounts were repaid. Pursuant to Idaho Code section 72– 1368(3) the last day for Wittkopf to file a protest to the 2013 determination was July 25, 2013, which he failed to do. IDOL attempted to collect on the 2013 determination over the next year without success. Subsequently in early 2016, Wittkopf filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The debt he owed to the state of Idaho was included in his bankruptcy and was discharged by order of the Bankruptcy Court. In September 2016, Wittkopf began filing new claims for unemployment benefits with IDOL because he worked a seasonal job and was not receiving any income in the winter months. After not receiving benefits for several weeks, Wittkopf called IDOL which informed him he was ineligible for unemployment benefits because he had failed to pay back his overpayment, civil penalty, and interest he owed IDOL, even though those amounts were discharged in bankruptcy. Wittkopf mailed a letter to IDOL protesting the denial of his unemployment benefits. Wittkopf claimed in this letter that he was eligible for unemployment benefits because his bankruptcy discharged any amount he owed to IDOL. An Appeals Examiner construed Wittkopf’s 2016 letter as a protest of the 2013 determination. Two days later the Appeals Examiner issued a written decision finding there was no jurisdiction to hear Wittkopf’s protest because it was not filed within fourteen days of when it was issued on July 25, 2013, as required by Idaho Code section 72-1368. On November 3, 2016, Wittkopf appealed the Appeals Examiner’s decision to the Industrial Commission. On January 27, 2017, the Industrial Commission affirmed the Appeals Examiner’s decision. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the Industrial Commission erred in affirming the examiner without having determined first whether: (1) the bankruptcy discharge voided IDOL's 2013 determination; (2) whether the discharge operated as an injunction against any effort to collect, recover or offset the 2013 debt; and if yes, (3) why the Department's denial of current benefits on the basis of the 2013 debt wasn't a violation of the injunction. The matter was remanded back to the Industrial Commission for further proceedings. View "Wittkopf v. Idaho Dept of Labor" on Justia Law

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Thomas Lunneborg claimed he was entitled to $60,000 severance because he was terminated without cause. Lunneborg was hired to be Chief Operating Officer (COO) of My Fun Life Corporation (MFL) on April 16, 2014. Lunneborg was terminated on July 29, 2014, ostensibly for cause. Lunneborg brought this action seeking his severance pay pursuant to the employment contract. After a bench trial, the district court found MFL did not have cause to terminate Lunneborg. Therefore, Lunneborg was awarded $60,000 in damages, which was trebled to $180,000 under the Idaho Wage Claims Act. Lunneborg was also awarded attorney fees. The court also pierced MFL’s corporate veil and found that Lunneborg’s judgment could be collected against MFL’s sole shareholder, Dan Edwards (Edwards), and against Edwards’ wife, Carrie Edwards (Carrie), personally. MFL, Edwards, and Carrie appealed, contending that the trial court erred by: (1) failing to uphold Edwards’ determination that Lunneborg was fired for cause; (2) piercing the corporate veil; and (3) abusing its discretion in the amount of attorney fees it awarded to Lunneborg. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Lunneborg v. My Fun Life" on Justia Law

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Karen Savage appealed the dismissal of her Idaho Wage Claim Act (“IWCA”) action by the district court. Savage brought this action against her employer Scandit Inc. (“Scandit”) in November 2016 after Scandit failed to pay her over $400,000 in commissions and bonuses she claims were due by the end of October. The district court granted Scandit’s motion to dismiss finding that Savage had failed to allege that she had earned the commissions as defined in the 2016 Commission Compensation Plan (“CCP”) between Savage and Scandit. The district court also denied Savage’s motion to amend, holding that the amendment would be futile. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court determined Savage alleged sufficient facts in her complaint to preclude dismissal, and that her motion to amend the complaint was not futile. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the district court’s decision granting the motion to dismiss the complaint, and denial of the motion to amend were reversed. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Savage v. Scandit, Inc." on Justia Law

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Charles Hartgrave appealed an Idaho Industrial Commission (the Commission) order. Hartgrave sustained injuries to his left knee while working for the City of Twin Falls (the City) on February 3, 2009, and August 23, 2012. Although Hartgrave’s left knee injuries and corresponding treatments were covered by Idaho’s Workers Compensation Act, Hartgrave argued the left knee injuries aggravated preexisting degenerative joint disease in his right knee and ultimately required a total knee arthroplasty (TKA) in his right knee. The Commission rejected Hartgrave’s position and ruled that Hartgrave’s right TKA was not compensable. Finding no reversible error in the Commission's order, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hartgrave v. City of Twin Falls" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of an oral agreement between David Crossett (“Crossett”) and David Johnson (“Johnson”) to form a limited liability company (“LLC”). After Crossett formed the LLC, Johnson backed out by refusing to sign the written operating agreement. Crossett remained as the sole member of the LLC, which he eventually sold. Johnson and Tessa Cousins (“Cousins”), the LLC’s only employee, filed a complaint against Crossett, wherein they asserted, amongst other things, that: (1) they were members of the LLC since its inception; and (2) Crossett had breached his fiduciary duties. The district court dismissed the case after concluding that Johnson and Cousins were never members of the LLC because they had refused to sign the written operating agreement. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "Johnson v. Crossett" on Justia Law

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An employee brought claims under provisions of the Idaho Human Rights Act, claiming: (1) the employer unlawfully discriminated against him based on race. He also alleged (2) breach of employment contract and the implied covenant of good faith. Furthermore, the employee (3) sought to disqualify the trial judge for cause based upon perceived bias. The district court denied the employee’s disqualification motion and granted summary judgment for the employer on all of the employee’s claims. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed judgment entered in favor of the employer. View "Mendez v. University Health Svcs BSU" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Idaho Supreme Court in this appeal centered on an Industrial Commission order denying that Dr. Richard Jobe’s Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (“MRSA”) constituted a compensable occupational disease. The Commission denied Jobe’s claim because it found he failed to prove that his MRSA colonization and infection were caused by his employment with Dirne Clinic/Heritage Health (“Heritage”). Jobe appealed, arguing the Commission applied the wrong legal standard in requiring him to prove his MRSA colonization and infection were caused by his employment at Heritage. In this case, as in Sundquist v. Precision Steel & Gypsum, Inc., 111 P.3d 135 (2005), Jobe’s MRSA colonization could have been incurred under a series of different employers before it manifested during his employment at Heritage. The Commission determined Jobe had not shown it was more probable than not that Jobe had become colonized with MRSA while employed at Heritage. Furthermore, the Commission did not undertake an analysis as to whether the colonization could have been incurred under a series of different employers prior to Jobe’s employment at Heritage, thereby contravening Sundquist. In fact, the Commission used the possibility of MRSA colonization from a prior employer to Jobe’s detriment. Thus, the Commission applied an erroneous legal standard. View "Jobe v. Dirne Clinic / Heritage Health" on Justia Law

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This case arose from an employment agreement between Allen Nettleton and Canyon Outdoor Media, LLC (“Canyon Outdoor”). The parties disagreed with respect to Nettleton’s entitlement to commission wages following his resignation. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Nettleton and denied Canyon Outdoor’s motion for summary judgment and motion for reconsideration of the rulings on summary judgment. Canyon Outdoor argued the district court erred in granting Nettleton’s motion for summary judgment: (1) because the parties did not agree to a term in the employment agreement that covers post-separation compensation; (2) because the Snake River Dental contract did not establish a “course of dealing”; and (3) because Nettleton was required to service client accounts to be entitled to commission wages. Among these, the third argument was essentially a dispositive issue in the summary judgment rulings at the district court. For these reasons, Canyon Outdoor contended the district court improperly applied the relevant standard of review in reaching its conclusion that a servicing requirement did not exist under the employment agreement. The Idaho Supreme Court agreed with Canyon Outdoor and found the judgment in favor of Nettleton had to be vacated. View "Nettleton v. Canyon Outdoor Media" on Justia Law

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Dennis Current appealed an Idaho Industrial Commission decision that determined he was ineligible for unemployment benefits based on willful underreporting of his earnings to the Idaho Department of Labor (“IDOL”). IDOL discovered wage discrepancies between the amount reported by Current and the amount reported by his employer, Wada Farms Partnership for two weeks in March 2016. On appeal, Current disputed that he “willfully” misrepresented his wages. Finding "substantial and competent evidence" supported the Commission's finding, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the Commission's decision. View "Current v. Dept of Labor" on Justia Law