Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
Blankenship et al. v. City of Irondale
The Jefferson County, Alabama Board of Education ("the Board") and several of its employees sought to avoid the application of an occupational tax imposed by the City of Irondale ("City"). The Board and its employees argued that public-school employees were exempt from the occupational tax because, they contended they provided an essential government service. "But the importance of a state employee's role, even a role as important as a public-school employee, does not remove that employee's obligation to pay a duly owed occupational tax." The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of the City. View "Blankenship et al. v. City of Irondale" on Justia Law
Fagan v. Warren Averett Companies, LLC
Plaintiff Gerriann Fagan appealed a circuit court order granting defendant Warren Averett Companies, LLC's motion to compel arbitration. Fagan was the owner of The Prism Group, LLC, a human-resources consulting firm. In February 2015, Warren Averett approached her and asked her to join Warren Averett and to build a human-resources consulting practice for it. In February 2015, she agreed to join Warren Averett, entering into a "Transaction Agreement" which provided that: Fagan would wind down the operations of The Prism Group; Fagan would become a member of Warren Averett; Warren Averett would purchase The Prism Group's equipment and furniture; Warren Averett would assume responsibility for The Prism Group's leases; and that Warren Averett would assume The Prism Group's membership in Career Partners International, LLC. The Transaction Agreement further provided that Fagan would enter into a "Standard Personal Service Agreement" ("the PSA") with Warren Averett; that Fagan's title would be president of Warren Averett Workplace; and that Fagan would be paid in accordance with the compensation schedule outlined in the PSA. Fagan alleged that she subsequently resigned from Warren Averett when she was unable to resolve a claim that Warren Averett had failed to properly compensate her in accordance with the PSA. On or about February 28, 2019, Fagan filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association ("AAA"). The employment-filing team of the AAA sent a letter dated March 4, 2019, to the parties informing them of the conduct of the arbitration proceedings. On April 18, 2019, the employment-filing team notified the parties that Warren Averett had failed to submit the requested filing fee and that it was administratively closing the file in the matter. On April 30, 2019, Fagan sued Warren Averett in circuit court. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Warren Averett's failure to pay the filing fee constituted a default under the arbitration provision of the PSA. Accordingly, the trial court erred when it granted Warren Averett's motion to compel arbitration. View "Fagan v. Warren Averett Companies, LLC" on Justia Law
Anthony et al. v. Datcher, et al.
Cynthia Anthony, former interim president of Shelton State Community College; William Ashley, then-president of Shelton State; and Jimmy Baker, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System ("the ACCS") (collectively, "the college defendants"), appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of Khristy Large and Robert Pressley, current instructors at Shelton State, and Scheree Datcher, a former instructor at Shelton State (collectively, "the instructor plaintiffs"). Large and Pressley were instructors in the Office Administration Department ("OAD") at Shelton State; Datcher was an OAD instructor, now retired. Under college policy, an instructor was placed into one of three groups based on the instructor's "teaching area": Group A, Group B, or Group C. After an instructor was placed into a group, the instructor was ranked within the group for salary purposes according to criteria listed in the policy. The primary issue in this case was whether the instructor plaintiffs should be placed in Group A or Group B. In 2013, Joan Davis, then-interim president of Shelton State, concluded that Datcher and Pressley should have been reclassified from Group A to Group B, contrary to their credentialing document. Datcher and Pressley received higher salaries by being reclassified to Group B. When Large was hired to be an OAD instructor in 2013, she was also placed in Group B. In 2016, Chancellor Heinrich directed Anthony, then interim president, to review instructors' classifications to make sure they were properly classified. Anthony determined the instructor plaintiffs should have been classified as Group A, in accordance with the credentialing document. Thus, she reclassified the instructor plaintiffs to Group A, which resulted in decreased salaries. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of the instructor plaintiffs, concluding that they are properly classified in Group B under the policy and ordering that the instructor plaintiffs be placed in Group B. The trial court also awarded the instructor plaintiffs backpay for the period following Anthony's reclassification, during which they were classified as Group A instead of Group B. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the placement of OAD instructors in Group A was "plainly incorrect." Because the college defendants lacked discretion to classify the instructor plaintiffs as Group A, the claims for backpay against them in their official capacities were not barred by the doctrine of State immunity. When Anthony left her position as interim president, her successor was automatically substituted for her with respect to the official-capacity claims alleged against her; judgment should not have been entered against her. Therefore, judgment was reversed insofar as it was entered against Anthony. The judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Anthony et al. v. Datcher, et al." on Justia Law
Synergies3 Tec Services, LLC, et al. v. Corvo
Synergies3 Tec Services, LLC ("Synergies3"), and DIRECTV, LLC ("DIRECTV"), appealed a circuit court judgment in favor of Lisa Corvo and Thomas Bonds and against Synergies3 and DIRECTV based on the doctrine of respondeat superior and a claim alleging negligent hiring, training, and supervision. Corvo and her fiance Bonds sued Daniel McLaughlin, Raymond Castro, and DIRECTV in the trial court, asserting claims of conversion and theft as to a diamond that had been removed from an engagement ring and $160 cash that, they alleged, had been taken from the master bedroom of Corvo's house on Ono Island when McLaughlin and Castro, employees of Synergies3, installed DIRECTV equipment in Corvo's house. Corvo and Bonds asserted the conversion and theft claims against DIRECTV under the doctrine of respondeat superior and, in addition, asserted claims against DIRECTV of negligent and wanton hiring, training, and supervision. They also sought damages for mental anguish and punitive damages. While the Alabama Supreme Court found the trial court did not err in denying Synergies3 and DIRECTV's motion for a judgment as a matter of law as to Corvo and Bonds's claim of negligent hiring, training, and supervision of Castro, but that punitive damages were improperly awarded. Judgment was reversed insofar as it held Synergies3 and DIRECTV vicariously or directly liable on the claims of theft and conversion, and insofar as it awarded punitive damages. The judgment was affirmed insofar as it held Synergies3 and DIRECTV liable for the negligent hiring, training, and supervision of Castro and awarded compensatory and mental-anguish damages. View "Synergies3 Tec Services, LLC, et al. v. Corvo" on Justia Law
Rogers v. Burch Corporation
Joshua Rogers appealed a preliminary injunction preventing Rogers from soliciting any employees or clients of Burch Corporation, his former employer, as contractually agreed to under restrictive covenants in an employment agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court determined there was nothing justiciable concerning the preliminary injunction because the nonsolicitation clause in the employment agreement expired, at the latest, on December 6, 2019. Therefore, the case was moot and the Court dismissed the appeal. View "Rogers v. Burch Corporation" on Justia Law
Craft v. McCoy et al.
Justin Craft and Jason Craft appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of members of the Lee County Board of Education ("the Board") and the Superintendent of the Lee County Schools, Dr. James McCoy. During July, August, and September 2016, the Board hired S&A Landscaping to perform three projects of overdue lawn maintenance at Lee County schools. S&A Landscaping was owned by an aunt by marriage of Marcus Fuller, the Assistant Superintendent of the Lee County Schools. The Crafts, who were employed as HVAC technicians by the Board, questioned the propriety of hiring S&A Landscaping for those projects. The Crafts expressed their concerns with various current and former Board members and individuals at the State Ethics Commission ("the Commission") and at the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts. Although an individual at the Commission instructed Jason Craft on how to file a complaint with the Commission, neither of the Crafts did so. During this time, McCoy, Fuller, and others suspected various maintenance employees, including the Crafts, of misusing their Board-owned vehicles and misrepresenting their work hours. To investigate their suspicions, the Board had GPS data-tracking devices installed in Board-owned vehicles being used by employees to monitor their use and the employees' activities. A review of the GPS data indicated that certain employees, including the Crafts, had violated Board policy by inappropriately using the Board-owned vehicles and by inaccurately reporting their work time. McCoy sent letters to the Crafts and two other employees, advising them that he had recommended to the Board the termination of their employment. The letters detailed dates, times, and locations of specific incidents of alleged misconduct. The Crafts were placed on administrative leave, then returned to work to custodial positions that did not require them to use Board-owned vehicles. The Crafts appealed their job transfers, arguing they had not been afforded due process. An administrative law judge determined the Students First Act did not provide an opportunity for a hearing before the imposition of a job transfer. The Crafts thereafter sued the Board members and McCoy, seeking declaratory relief based on alleged violations of the anti-retaliation provision of section 36-25-24, Ala. Code 1975, arguing that they were punished for contacting the Commission. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the anti-retaliation protection was triggered only when an employee filed a complaint with the Commission. Because it was undisputed the Crafts did not file a complaint, they were not entitled to those statutory protections. Therefore, summary judgment in favor of the Board and McCoy was affirmed. View "Craft v. McCoy et al." on Justia Law
Ex parte Drury Hotels Company, LLC.
Drury Hotels Company, LLC ("Drury"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to dismiss Maritza Diaz's tort claims against Drury. Diaz worked as a housekeeper at Drury's hotel in Montgomery. In her complaint, Diaz alleged that she was working at the hotel when she was attacked by an unknown assailant. Diaz alleged that the assailant "sexually assaulted and robbed [her] by placing a knife to her throat, threatening to harm [her], attempting to force [her to] have sexual intercourse and taking approximately $200 in property from [her]." Diaz further claimed that the assault caused her serious bodily injuries, emotional distress, and mental anguish. In December 2018, Diaz sued Drury, alleging claims of negligence and wantonness based on allegations that Drury had failed to provide a secure workplace. Diaz also alleged a claim of negligence based on the theory of premises liability, and she alleged claims against fictitiously named parties. As an alternative to her tort claims, Diaz also alleged a claim for workers' compensation benefits under the Act if her injuries are in fact covered under the Act. Given the procedural posture of this case and the arguments presented, the Supreme Court concluded Drury did not establish a clear legal right to mandamus relief. Thus, Drury's petition for a writ of mandamus was denied. The Court made no conclusion regarding whether Drury could ultimately be entitled to immunity under the exclusive-remedy provisions of the Act. View "Ex parte Drury Hotels Company, LLC." on Justia Law
DeVos v. Cunningham Group, LLC
William DeVos, M.D., and Donald Simmons, M.D. (collectively, "the doctors"), appealed a preliminary injunction entered in an action filed against them by The Cunningham Group, LLC, and Cunningham Pathology, LLC. The doctors separately appealed the trial court's order denying their request to increase the amount of the surety bond for the imposition of the injunction. According to the complaint, the doctors had been employed by The Cunningham Group from April 30, 2007, until August 31, 2018, when the doctors terminated their employment without prior notice. The Cunningham Group, also identified in the complaint, other pleadings, and documents in the record as "Services LLC," provided pathology and cytology services through an agreement with Cunningham Pathology. The doctors entered into employment agreements with Services LLC in 2007, in which they agreed that, if they provided Services LLC less than 12 months' notice of their termination of their employment, they would pay Services LLC an amount equal to one year's annual salary. The doctors also agreed that, for a period of two years after the termination of employment, they would not directly or indirectly solicit any of Cunningham/Services' clients or referral sources without prior consent of Cunningham/Services. Cunningham asserted that Cunningham Pathology was an express third-party beneficiary of the doctors' employment agreements with Services LLC, and asserted claims of breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty and sought to enforce the restrictive covenants contained in the employment agreements. Cunningham also filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction to prohibit the doctors from violating the nonsolicitation provisions of the employment agreements. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the doctors would still be required to prove their actual damages should it later be determined that they were wrongfully enjoined. "[A]t this stage the trial court should be concerned only with setting an injunction bond amount that would adequately cover the doctors' prospective costs, damages, and attorney fees if it is later determined that the doctors were wrongfully enjoined." The Supreme Court found that based on the evidence presented to the trial court, a $25,000 injunction bond was "simply inadequate to compensate two physicians for damages and attorney fees in the event it is determined that they were wrongfully enjoined from soliciting and continuing to serve Brookwood through their new pathology business." The trial court's order denying the doctors' request to increase the amount of the injunction bond was reversed, and the case remanded for the trial court to increase the injunction-bond amount. View "DeVos v. Cunningham Group, LLC" on Justia Law
Ex parte Sonia Blunt.
Sonia Blunt, a teacher in the Tuscaloosa City Schools system ("TCS"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in her favor on the basis of State-agent immunity as to claims asserted against her by Keith Langston, as next friend and father of Joshua Langston and Matthew Langston, minors at the time the action was filed. Marcus Crawford, a student attending one of Blunt’s summer-school classes at TCS, left campus for lunch at a nearby fast food restaurant. Crawford testified it took longer to get his food order than he estimated, and hurried back to campus. Approximately one mile away on a two-lane public road, Crawford attempted to pass a vehicle in front of him by crossing a double-yellow center line and driving in the oncoming lane of traffic. In doing so, Crawford collided with a vehicle driven by Susan Kines Langston, a TCS teacher, in which Matthew Langston and Joshua Langston were passengers. Susan Langston was killed in the accident, and Matthew and Joshua were seriously injured and eventually had to be life-flighted to Children's Hospital in Birmingham. Crawford was charged, tried, and convicted of reckless manslaughter for his actions in causing Susan Langston's death. He was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison. Thereafter Keith Langston filed suit against Blunt and Patsy Lowry (another TCS teacher). Langston asserted claims of negligence and wantonness against Blunt and Lowry for failing to follow the "policies and procedures" of TCS, which failure allegedly proximately caused the injuries sustained by Matthew and Joshua Langston. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Langston failed to demonstrate the existence of a detailed rule binding upon Blunt that would establish that she acted beyond her authority in supervising students when she allowed Crawford to leave the school campus at the time and in the manner he did. Therefore, Blunt was entitled to State-agent immunity from Langston's claims of negligence and wantonness pertaining to her alleged violation of a TCS policy or procedure. View "Ex parte Sonia Blunt." on Justia Law
Ex parte Burkes Mechanical, Inc.
Burkes Mechanical, Inc. petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a trial court to vacate its order denying Burkes's motion to dismiss claims of negligence, wantonness, and the tort of outrage asserted against Burkes by Alexsie McCoy and to enter an order dismissing those claims. In 2018, McCoy was injured during the course of his employment as an iron worker for Burkes. McCoy and two other iron workers were working in a hot, confined space at a mill owned by International Paper Company ("IP") and were using welding torches to cut heavy metal plates in IP's debarking machine. A worker employed by another company broke a welding line, which ignited the air. McCoy sustained severe burn injuries. According to McCoy, Burkes failed to notify IP, which had an emergency-medical-response team on site to address workplace injuries. Instead, a Burkes employee sprayed an "improper substance" on McCoy to treat the injury. Rather than calling an ambulance, Burkes transported McCoy by private vehicle to a local doctor's office, which advised McCoy's injuries were too severe to be treated at his office and that McCoy needed to be taken to a hospital. A Burkes employee took McCoy to a drugstore to purchase over-the-counter burn cream and then to Grove Hill Memorial Hospital. That hospital determined that the burns were too serious to be treated there, and, as a result, McCoy was transported by ambulance to the University of South Alabama Medical Center in Mobile, where he was hospitalized for approximately one week. Burkes filed a motion to dismiss McCoy's negligence and wantonness claims against it, asserting that the exclusivity provisions of the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act barred those claims. The Supreme Court concluded Burkes, with its reliance on a few distinguishable cases, did not demonstrate a clear legal right to have the negligence and wantonness claims against it dismissed. It agreed the tort of outrage was not pled sufficiently, but denial of a motion to dismiss was not reviewable through a petition for mandamus relief. As such, the Court denied relief. View "Ex parte Burkes Mechanical, Inc." on Justia Law