Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Claimant sought permanent total disability benefits from the Multiple Injury Trust Fund. The Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims held that the claimant's combined injuries rendered the claimant permanently totally disabled and awarded benefits. The Multiple Injury Trust Fund appealed. On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed, finding claimant ineligible to claim benefits against the Multiple Injury Trust Fund as the claimant was not a "physically impaired person" at the time of the claimant's second on-the-job injury. The dispositive issue presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s review was whether claimant met the statutory definition of a "physically impaired person" at the time of the claimant's second on-the-job injury for purposes of determining eligibility for Multiple Injury Trust Fund benefits. As a corollary, the Court considered whether a duly-executed settlement agreement (memorialized on a form prescribed by the Workers' Compensation Court) constituted an adjudication of the claimant's disabilities. The Court answered both questions in the affirmative. View "Multiple Injury Trust Fund v. Garrett" on Justia Law

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Shonda Brisco entered into an employment agreement with Oklahoma State University, which provided that she would be reappointed contingent on her job performance. She was not reappointed and successfully brought suit for breach of contract. After trial, the district court awarded Brisco attorney fees under 12 O.S. 2011 section 936. The State appealed the award of fees, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to address whether fees were authorized under 12 O.S. 2011 section 936, and held they were not. View "Brisco v. Oklahoma ex rel Bd. of Regents Agricultural & Mechanical Colleges" on Justia Law

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Employee-appellant Tracy Meeks sued an insurer for bad faith refusal to timely comply with several orders of the Workers' Compensation Court awarding employee temporary total disability benefits after the insurer, without good cause, withheld employee's benefits on twenty-six separate occasions. Insurer moved for dismissal, asserting employee failed to obtain a certification order from the Workers' Compensation Court (a jurisdictional prerequisite for commencing a bad-faith action in district court). The District Court granted insurer's motion, but the Supreme Court reversed. Because the certification requirements were met here, employee was free to proceed in district court on his bad-faith claim against insurer for insurer's alleged bad faith refusal to provide temporary total disability benefits as ordered by the WCC. View "Meeks v. Guarantee Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Rodney Stanley Brown was employed by Respondent Claims Management Resources (CMR) as a claims adjuster. Brown suffered personal injury to his left knee. At the time Brown was injured, he finished his workday, clocked out, was leaving the office for the day when he fell while descending an interior stairwell. Brown's work area was on the second floor of the building where he worked, and CMR occupied the entire floor. Brown was unable to conclusively identify any factor that might have caused his fall. While admitting an injury occurred, CMR asserted Brown's injury was not compensable within the meaning of the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act (AWCA). A hearing on the matter was held before the Administrative Law Judge, and after considering the parties' stipulations, evidence, and arguments, the Administrative Law Judge concluded that Brown had failed to meet his burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he suffered a compensable injury within the meaning of the AWCA. The Supreme Court concluded after its review that Brown was acting in the course and scope of his employment, and his injury was a compensable injury. The Workers' Compensation Commission’s interpretation of 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sections 2(9) & (13) was legally incorrect and its order denying compensability was clearly erroneous in view of the competent evidence presented. Because relief was available on alternative grounds, the Court did not reach the constitutional issues presented. View "Brown v. Claims Management Resources, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Workers' Compensation Court issued two orders in two proceedings in 2008 and two orders in two proceedings in 2009. These four orders in four different proceedings required the Multiple Injury Trust Fund (Fund) to make periodic payments to injured workers and their lawyers for attorney's fees. The four claimants in these proceedings died, and the Fund stopped making payments to their lawyers upon determining an amount equal to eighty (80) weeks of compensation had been paid or tendered to the lawyers. Claimants' lawyers sought a determination the Fund had failed to make payments as required by the orders issued in 2008 and 2009. The Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims directed the Fund to pay attorneys' fees in each of the four proceedings as provided in the original orders. The Fund sought review of these orders before a three-judge panel of the Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims, and the panel affirmed the four orders of the trial judge. The Fund sought review from the Oklahoma Supreme Court. After its review, the Supreme Court held: (1) it had jurisdiction to review a decision of the Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims when a party aggrieved by that decision has filed a timely petition for review by the Supreme Court in accordance with the law in effect prior to February 1, 2014; (2) The Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims had jurisdiction to determine if the Fund made payments as required by the court's previous orders; (3) The Multiple Injury Trust Fund's liability for attorney's fees in these cases was determined by the specific statute concerning payment of attorney's fees by the Fund, 85 O.S.Supp.2005 section 172(H); and (4) 85 O.S.Supp. 2005 section 172(H) was not an unconstitutional special law. View "Multiple Injury Trust Fund v. Coburn" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-appellant and wife, Jennifer Baggs filed for divorce from her firefighter husband, respondent-appellee, Steven Baggs. As part of the firefighter retirement plan, the husband was vested in what was known as a DROP or Plan B option created specifically for Oklahoma Firefighters. Plan B was an alternative option for firefighters' pensions available when a vested firefighter retired. It was not funded until the firefighter chose the Plan B retirement alternative. Petitioner sought any portion of the Plan B which would be attributable to the years in which she and the husband were married, in the event he chose Plan B when he retired, after the divorce was granted. The trial court declined to divide the Plan B option as marital property and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. After review, the Supreme Court held that, in the event the Plan B option was chosen by a vested former spouse when the firefighter retires, it was divisible to the extent that any funds deposited into it were attributable to the marital years. View "Baggs v. Baggs" on Justia Law

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Drew Bowers (Ward) sustained a traumatic brain injury in 1981. As a result of the injury, he required 24-hour care. His mother, Patricia Bowers Edwards (Guardian) was appointed guardian of her son's person and property in 2004. As guardian, she was responsible for hiring approximately ten caretakers for Drew in his private residence. Two of the ten caretakers contracted to provide services for Drew were domestic workers, Deborah Sizemore and Brad Garrett. In 2013, Sizemore filed a "charge of discrimination" pursuant to the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act, with the Attorney General's Office of Civil Rights Enforcement, claiming that her hours were dramatically reduced when she told the guardian she suffered from narcolepsy. Sizemore also claimed that she was sexually harassed at work by a male co-worker. She identified co-worker Garrett as a supporting witness in her complaint. The Guardian terminated the employment of both Sizemore and Garrett when she received the complaint from the Attorney General. The Guardian admitted she discharged Sizemore and Garrett from employment because the complaint was "the straw that broke the camel's back." Guardian moved for summary judgment arguing that Drew was the actual employer and that under section 1301 of the Act, a natural person did not meet the definition of "employer." Guardian further argued that under section 1302(B) of the Act, the prohibition of discriminatory practices did not apply to " . . .employment in the domestic service of the employer." The trial court denied Guardian's motion for summary judgment and Guardian brought this original action asserting immunity under the Act. Finding that indeed, Guardian was immune from suit under the Act, and that the trial court erred by not dismissing this case, the Supreme Court remanded the matter for the trial court to vacate its judgment and dismiss the case. View "Edwards v. Andrews" on Justia Law

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Jonnie Vasquez, a Dillard's store employee, injured her neck and shoulder as she lifted shoe boxes while working. She filed claims for benefits under Dillard's Opt-Out plan, which were ultimately denied. The employer sought removal to federal court on grounds that the federal court had exclusive jurisdiction under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The United States District Court for the Western District disagreed and remanded the case to the Workers' Compensation Commission. The Commission found that the Opt Out Act: (1) constituted an unconstitutional special law; (2) denied equal protection to Oklahoma's injured workers; and (3) denied injured workers the constitutionally protected right of access to courts. Dillard's appealed. At issue was a challenge to the constitutionality of the Opt Out Act. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded that the core provision of the Opt Out Act, created impermissible, unequal, disparate treatment of a select group of injured workers. Therefore, the Court held that the Oklahoma Employee Benefit Injury Act was an unconstitutional special law under the Oklahoma Constitution, art. 2, section 59.3. View "Vasquez v. Dillard's Inc." on Justia Law

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A. Todd Holliman worked as a Floor Hand on a four man crew for Twister Drilling Company (Employer) on a drilling rig. Holliman lived in Holdenville and the rig was located approximately forty miles away in Maud. Three crews worked eight hours each to service the well 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Employer had no housing at the drill site, therefore; employees were required to find transportation to and from the drill site. In May 2013, Holliman and his supervisor were traveling home from the drill site after completing their shift when they were involved in a double fatality car crash. Holliman's supervisor was killed as was the driver of the other vehicle. The car belonged to Holliman, but his supervisor was driving. Holliman was a passenger and was sleeping at the time of the collision. Holliman filed a Form 3 alleging he sustained a single-event injury to his neck, back, left arm, and psychological overlay arising from injuries sustained from the motor vehicle accident. In its Form 10 Answer, first filed on October 2, 2013, Employer admitted that Holliman was an employee but denied the injuries were compensable or work-related because Holliman was not engaged in the performance of his job duties when he was injured. The trial tribunal found that Holliman's injuries were compensable and work related and awarded benefits. The tribunal found that under the circumstances the accident came within the special task exception to the general going and coming rule. Employer appealed. A three-judge panel reversed the order finding that Holliman was not injured while performing unusual duties and therefore was not entitled to benefits. Holliman appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals (COCA) sustained the three-judge panel's denial of benefits finding that not only was Holliman not performing a special task, but there was no agreement between the crew members to share the travel pay. After review, the Supreme Court reversed, finding that Holliman's injury was a compensable injury under the travel exception to the going and coming rule. Therefore, Holliman was entitled to benefits. View "Holliman v. Twister Drilling Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Annette Legarde-Bober was employed by Employer Oklahoma State University at the Oklahoma City campus. She was a teacher at the child development lab (a childcare facility on the campus of OSU/OKC). The building where the lab is located is surrounded by a sidewalk and parking lot. The parking lot and sidewalk surrounding the building where Petitioner worked was owned and maintained by the University, and Petitioner testified she had previously seen OSU employees working in that parking lot. Petitioner was given a parking permit by her Employer, which gave her permission, and in fact, required her to park in this particular parking lot. On the morning of March 4, 2014, Petitioner arrived at the OSU/OKC campus around 8:55 a.m. because she was required by her Employer to begin her shift at 9:00 a.m. She testified that on that morning, the weather was cold and icy. Petitioner did not have the option to work remotely and was required to report to the child development lab on campus in order to perform her job duties. Although other businesses were closed that day due to the weather conditions, the OSU/OKC campus was open, and students and parents had already begun dropping their children off at the child development lab for childcare. Petitioner testified that after parking in the designated parking lot, she got out of her car, walked across the parking lot, and stepped up onto the curb to go into the building. The Employer's security camera video for the day in question shows that as Petitioner stepped up onto the curb, she slipped and fell on the ice. Petitioner sought treatment and compensation from OSU/OKC. Employer denied compensability, arguing Petitioner's injury did not arise in the course and scope of her employment under 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sec. 2(13). The administrative law judge determined Petitioner's injury did not occur in the course and scope of employment, and the Workers' Compensation Commission affirmed. Petitioner appealed the decision of the Commission. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Petitioner was in the course and scope of her employment as the term is defined in 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sec. 2(13) because her actions at the time of her injury were related to and in furtherance of the business of her Employer OSU/OKC, and she was on the premises of her Employer when she fell. View "Bober v. Oklahoma State Univ." on Justia Law