Justia New Hampshire Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
by
The State of New Hampshire appealed a New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) ruling that the State committed unfair labor practices when the Governor: (1) sent an email to all state employees concerning collective bargaining negotiations involving the State; and (2) refused to send the report of a neutral fact finder to the Executive Council for its consideration. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the State did not commit unfair labor practices, and that the PELRB erred by concluding otherwise. View "Appeal of State of New Hampshire" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner John Doe appealed a superior court order dismissing his petition for declaratory and injunctive relief for failure to state a claim under either RSA 105:13-b (2013) or the New Hampshire Constitution. In April 2016, while employed as a patrol officer by a town police department, Doe was investigated by that department for denying that he wrote in permanent marker on a department rain jacket. Although Doe “was led to believe” he would only receive a “verbal counseling” for what he understood to be a misunderstanding, he later found that the investigation resulted in a one-page written report. In April 2017, after leaving the department, Doe was informed by a letter from the County Attorney’s Office that, from a review of his personnel file, his name was being placed on the Exculpatory Evidence Schedule (EES). Doe did not contest his inclusion on the EES at that time, but later, Doe submitted two requests to remove his name from the EES to the Attorney General’s Office (AGO). Both requests were denied for lack of an “order or other determination” overturning the original finding of misconduct. Citing RSA 105:13-b and his right to due process under the Federal Constitution, Doe filed a petition for declaratory relief and a request for preliminary and permanent injunctions against the AGO, seeking review of his personnel file, removal from the EES, and attorney’s fees. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded RSA 105:13-b, II did not authorize the trial court to review the contents of an officer’s personnel file outside the scope of a particular criminal case. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's ruling on Doe's state constitutional due process issue, and remanded for further proceedings without prejudice to Doe amending his petition given a statutory change. View "Doe v. N.H. Attorney General" on Justia Law

by
The New Hampshire Division of State Police (the Division) appealed a Personnel Appeals Board (PAB) order reversing the Division’s non-disciplinary removal of an employee pursuant to New Hampshire Administrative Rule, Per 1003.03, and ordering him reinstated subject to certain conditions. The Division argued the PAB: (1) erred by reversing the employee’s removal; and (2) exceeded its statutory authority by ordering the employee’s reinstatement subject to certain conditions. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the Division failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the PAB’s decision to reverse the employee’s removal was clearly unreasonable or unlawful. However, the PAB exceeded its statutory authority by imposing certain conditions upon the employee's reinstatement. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed in part, and reversed in part. View "Appeal of New Hampshire Division of State Police" on Justia Law

by
Claimant Elba Hawes appealed a decision of the New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) determining that he was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Claimant was employed as a “ground man” for Asplundh Tree Expert, LLC. In November 2019, claimant and his fellow workers were working at a job site that was approximately 10-15 minutes away from a sandpit in Conway, where they punched in and punched out. On November 1, claimant reported to work for his regular 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. shift, punched in, left his personal vehicle at the sandpit, and traveled with his coworkers to the job site in company trucks. Because of an impending storm, the employer told its workers to stop work at noon, punch out, and go home and rest for the afternoon so they could return to the sandpit at 8:00 p.m. for storm cleanup activities through the night. It was not uncommon for the work schedule to change because of weather. As instructed, claimant left the job site with his coworkers, returned to the sandpit, and punched out at noon. Soon after driving away from the sandpit in his personal vehicle, the claimant was severely injured in a vehicular accident that was not his fault. Because of his accident-related injuries, the claimant was disabled from work from November 1, 2019, through February 9, 2020. The employer’s insurance carrier denied benefits on the ground that claimant’s injuries were not causally related to his employment. At claimant’s request, the matter was heard by a New Hampshire Department of Labor hearing officer, who ruled in the carrier’s favor. Claimant argued his injuries were compensable under the “special errand” exception to the coming and going rule. To this, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concurred: although it was not uncommon for the work schedule to change because of weather, the claimant’s trip home at noon was not part of his regular schedule. The claimant would not have left work at noon but for the employer’s direction to do so. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Appeal of Hawes" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire, Inc. SEIU, Local 1984 (SEA), and intervenors New Hampshire Troopers Association, New Hampshire Troopers Association-Command Staff, New Hampshire Probation and Parole Officers Association, and New Hampshire Probation and Parole-Command Staff Association, appealed a Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) order denying petitioner’s request for declaratory relief. They argued the PELRB erred by ruling that the state legislature’s vote accepting a fact-finder’s report and recommendations pursuant to RSA 273-A:12, III (2010) was not binding upon respondent State of New Hampshire. In 2018, the unions and the State began negotiating the terms of a multi-year collective bargaining agreement. After the negotiations reached an impasse, the parties proceeded to impasse resolution procedures and engaged a neutral fact finder to assist them with resolving their disputes. The unions accepted the fact-finder’s report, but the Governor did not. In addition, the Governor declined to submit the report to the Executive Council for its consideration. The parties treated the Governor’s actions as a rejection of the report pursuant to RSA 273-A:12, II; from there the matter was submitted to the legislature. The legislature voted to adopt the fact-finder’s report. The unions took the position that the legislature’s vote was binding upon the State with respect to the cost items set forth in the report. The State took the opposite position, asserting that the legislature’s vote was merely advisory and did not result in a binding agreement between the parties. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the legislature’s vote was advisory and did not bind the State. View "Appeal of New Hampshire Troopers Association et al." on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the New Hampshire Supreme Court arose from the New Hampshire Division of State Police's decision to terminate State Trooper Thomas Owens after an internal investigation. The Trooper appealed his termination to the New Hampshire Personnel Appeals Board (PAB), which reinstated him. The Division appealed, arguing that the PAB’s reinstatement of the Trooper was unjust and unreasonable because he was no longer qualified to be a state trooper. It also argued that the PAB erred as a matter of law when it reinstated the employee in contravention of public policy. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the PAB. View "Appeal of New Hampshire Division of State Police" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Keene School District appealed a superior court decision denying the School District’s petition to modify, correct or vacate an arbitrator’s award. The arbitration arose from grievances lodged by two teachers claiming that the School District’s 120-day delay in paying early retirement benefits violated the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the School District and the defendant, Keene Education Association (Association). The arbitrator concluded that the School District’s delay violated the CBA. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "Keene School District v. Keene Education Association, NEA-NH" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Scott Paine appealed a superior court decision granting judgment on the pleadings for his employment discrimination claim against defendant, Ride-Away, Inc. Plaintiff suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for many years, which substantially limited a major life activity. He was employed by defendant at its facility in Londonderry, New Hampshire as an automotive detailer in May 2018. In July 2018, his physician prescribed cannabis to help treat his PTSD, and plaintiff enrolled in New Hampshire’s therapeutic cannabis program. Plaintiff submitted a written request to defendant for an exception from its drug testing policy as a reasonable accommodation for his disability. Plaintiff explained that he was not requesting permission to use cannabis during work hours or to possess cannabis on defendant’s premises. Plaintiff was informed that he could no longer work for the company if he used cannabis. After plaintiff notified defendant that he was going to treat his PTSD with cannabis, his employment was terminated in September 2018. Plaintiff sued for employment discrimination, based on defendant’s failure to make reasonable accommodation for his disability. Defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that, because marijuana use was both illegal and criminalized under federal law, the requested accommodation was facially unreasonable. After a hearing, the trial court granted defendant’s motion. The sole question before the New Hampshire Supreme Court was whether the court erred in ruling that the use of therapeutic cannabis prescribed in accordance with New Hampshire law could not, as a matter of law, be a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s disability under RSA chapter 354-A. The Supreme Court held the trial court erred in determining that the use of therapeutic cannabis prescribed in accordance with RSA chapter 126-X could not, as a matter of law, be a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s disability under RSA chapter 354-A. "[P]laintiff’s disability is PTSD, not the illegal use of or addiction to a controlled substance." Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Paine v. Ride-Away, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Patricia Crowe appealed a Superior Court order granting summary judgment to defendant Appalachian Stitching Company, LLC (Appalachian), on Crowe’s claim that Appalachian violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and RSA chapter 354-A by refusing to accommodate her sciatica. Crowe worked at Appalachian as an assembler, which required her to have the ability to bend, lift and turn freely. After a trip to the emergency room, Crowe returned to work and informed her supervisor she had been diagnosed with sciatica. Crowe requested the ability to sit until her pain subsided and she could resume standing. Appalachian requested a doctor’s note explaining her condition; she obliged with the emergency room discharge instructions that stated, “NO LIFTING, BENDING OR STOOPING FOR 1 WEEK.” After reviewing the discharge instructions, Appalachian sent Crowe home until she was released to work by her doctor. On June 1, 2017, after Crowe missed work for eight days without providing an update on her condition, Appalachian determined that she had voluntarily quit. The trial court granted summary judgment to Appalachian on the ground that Crowe had not established she was a “qualified individual” under the ADA or RSA chapter 354-A. On appeal, Crowe argued that she could have performed the essential functions of her job if Appalachian had not sent her home and, instead, continued to allow her to sit as requested. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found that an employer, did not need to provide futile or ineffective accommodations. "Once Crowe was on leave, Appalachian was entitled to rely on the doctor’s evaluation that Crowe was unable to return to work. ... although a request for leave can, in some circumstances, trigger an employer’s obligation to make reasonable accommodations under the ADA, Crowe’s doctor’s inquiry about the availability of FMLA was not such a request." Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court correctly determined that Appalachian was entitled to summary judgment on Crowe’s ADA and RSA chapter 354-A claims. View "Crowe v. Appalachian Stitching Company, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) appealed a New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) order finding that DOT committed an unfair labor practice when it implemented a new commercial driver’s license (CDL) medical card requirement for certain current DOT employees. In early April 2019, DOT unilaterally revised the minimum qualifications necessary for certain positions so that they now require an employee to have a CDL medical card. DOT notified the Union that the new minimum qualifications apply to new hires and to current employees only upon being promoted (even temporarily), demoted, or transferred to a position that now required a CDL medical card. Thus, a current employee occupying a position that now required a CDL medical card need not obtain a card to remain in his or her current position. The employee had to obtain a CDL medical card only if he or she wqw promoted, demoted, or transferred to a different position requiring a CDL medical card. The Union filed an unfair labor practice complaint against DOT asserting that, by adopting the medical card requirement for current employees, DOT failed to negotiate a mandatory subject of bargaining and improperly implemented a unilateral change in the terms and conditions of employment for affected employees. The Union did not challenge the new CDL requirement for new hires. DOT opposed the complaint, arguing that requiring certain current DOT employees to obtain CDL medical cards in connection with a position change was a matter of managerial prerogative and a prohibited subject of bargaining. Following a hearing, the PELRB ruled in favor of the Union. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court Affirmed the PELRB's order. View "Appeal of New Hampshire Department of Transportation" on Justia Law