Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Plaintiff Natalie Garcia (née Watkins), sued her former employer, Defendant Hatch Valley Public Schools (HVPS), for employment discrimination under the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA). Plaintiff alleged that HVPS terminated her employment as a school bus driver based on her national origin, which she described as “German” and “NOT Hispanic.” HVPS successfully moved for summary judgment in the district court, and the Court of Appeals reversed, focusing on Plaintiff’s “primary contention” that HVPS had discriminated against her and terminated her employment because she was not Hispanic. The New Mexico Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, holding that summary judgment in HVPS' favor was appropriate because Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination and failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact about whether HVPS’ asserted reason for terminating her employment was pretextual. In so holding, the Court also concluded: (1) the Court of Appeals properly focused on Plaintiff’s contention that she was not Hispanic in analyzing her discrimination claim; (2) Plaintiff could claim discrimination under the NMHRA as a non-Hispanic; and (3) the plain language of the NMHRA did not place a heightened evidentiary burden on a plaintiff in a "reverse" discrimination case. View "Garcia v. Hatch Valley Pub. Schs." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and the corporate Defendants freely negotiated and entered into a clear and unambiguous contract for Plaintiff to sell their insurance policies. In the contract, Plaintiff consented to a provision allowing Defendants to immediately terminate the contract if he breached it in any one of five different specified ways. Plaintiff breached the contract, and Defendants exercised their right to terminate. Plaintiff sued Defendants under numerous theories of liability for terminating the contract, including under the doctrine of prima facie tort, asserting that Defendants had nefarious reasons for terminating the contract. After review, the New Mexico Supreme Court held that when a contract is clear, unambiguous, and freely entered into, the public policy favoring freedom of contract precludes a cause of action for prima facie tort when the gravamen of the allegedly tortious action was the defendant’s exercise of a contractual right. View "Beaudry v. Farmers Ins. Exch." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and the corporate Defendants freely negotiated and entered into a clear and unambiguous contract for Plaintiff to sell their insurance policies. In the contract, Plaintiff consented to a provision allowing Defendants to immediately terminate the contract if he breached it in any one of five different specified ways. Plaintiff breached the contract, and Defendants exercised their right to terminate. Plaintiff sued Defendants under numerous theories of liability for terminating the contract, including under the doctrine of prima facie tort, asserting that Defendants had nefarious reasons for terminating the contract. After review, the New Mexico Supreme Court held that when a contract is clear, unambiguous, and freely entered into, the public policy favoring freedom of contract precludes a cause of action for prima facie tort when the gravamen of the allegedly tortious action was the defendant’s exercise of a contractual right. View "Beaudry v. Farmers Ins. Exch." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of New Mexico certified a question of New Mexico law to the state Supreme Court. The question centered on whether a worker injured in the course of employment by a co-worker operating an employer owned motor vehicle was a person “legally entitled to recover damages” under his employer’s uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. Andrew Vasquez was killed at the workplace after being struck by a steel beam that fell off of a forklift during the course of his employment at Coronado Wrecking and Salvage. A coworker operating the forklift had jumped off to check whether the steel beam being lifted was secure, leaving the forklift unattended as the steel beam slid off of the forks, striking and killing Vasquez. Plaintiff, Vasquez’s estate, subsequently collected workers’ compensation benefits from Coronado’s workers’ compensation carrier. Related to the forklift accident, Plaintiff also collected uninsured motorist benefits under Vasquez’s own automobile insurance policy.The certified question from the district court arose from an alleged discontinuity among the plain language of New Mexico’s Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA), the Uninsured Motorist statute, and the New Mexico Court’s case law. Because the WCA provided the exclusive remedy for an employee injured in a workplace accident by an employer or its representative, the employee was not legally entitled to recover damages from the uninsured employer tortfeasor under the Uninsured Motorist statute. The Court therefore answered the certified question in the negative. View "Vasquez v. American Cas. Co. of Reading" on Justia Law

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These consolidated appeals presented an issue to the New Mexico Supreme Court on whether farm and ranch laborers' exclusion from coverage under the state Workers' Compensation Act violated the rights of those workers under the Equal Protection Clause of Article II, Section 18 of the New Mexico Constitution in light of the fact that other agricultural workers are not singled out for exclusion. After review of these cases, the Supreme Court concluded that there was nothing to distinguish farm and ranch laborers from other agricultural employees and that purported government interests such as cost savings, administrative convenience, and other justifications related to unique features of agribusiness bore no rational relationship to the Act’s distinction between these groups. "This is nothing more than arbitrary discrimination and, as such, it is forbidden by our Constitution." Accordingly, the Court held that the farm and ranch laborer exclusion contained in Section 52-1-6(A) of the Act was unconstitutional, and these cases were remanded for further proceedings. View "Rodriguez v. Brand West Dairy" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 18, AFL-CIO, Locals 1461, 2260 and 2499 (AFSCME), brought a declaratory-judgment action challenging the grandfather status of Respondent’s Board of County Commissioners of Bernalillo County (County Commission), local labor relations board. Both the trial and appellate courts rejected AFSCME’s claims. In its review, the New Mexico Supreme Court focused on the statutory jurisdictional prerequisites of New Mexico’s Declaratory Judgment Act, NMSA 1978, §§ 44-6-1 to -15 (1975), and held that AFSCME’s claims were not ripe, and AFSCME failed to assert an injury-in-fact. Accordingly, the district court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate AFSCME’s declaratory-judgment action. The case was remanded to the district court to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals also lacked jurisdiction, and its opinion was vacated. View "AFSCME v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Bernalillo Cty." on Justia Law

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Phillip Ramirez, a member of the New Mexico Army National Guard, was employed by the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD). In July 2005, Ramirez was ordered to federal active duty and deployed to Iraq. After Ramirez returned to work in New Mexico, CYFD terminated his employment. Ramirez sued CYFD, asserting a Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) claim. A jury found in his favor and awarded Ramirez monetary damages. The Court of Appeals reversed the damages award, concluding that CYFD as an arm of the State was immune to Ramirez’s USERRA claim. After review of that decision, the New Mexico Supreme Court disagreed: by enacting NMSA 1978, Section 20-4-7.1(B) (2004), the Legislature specifically extended “[t]he rights, benefits and protections” of USERRA to members of the New Mexico National Guard who were ordered to federal or state active duty for a period of thirty or more consecutive days. In so doing, the Legislature consented to suits brought against state employers who violate the protections guaranteed by USERRA. View "Ramirez v. CYFD" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Heather Spurlock, Sophia Carrasco, and Nina Carrera were former inmates of the Camino Nuevo Correctional Center, a prison housing female offenders, directed by Third-Party Defendant Warden Barbara Wagner and privately operated by Third-Party Defendant Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). While incarcerated, Plaintiffs were sexually assaulted by Defendant Anthony Townes, a corrections officer employed by CCA. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit certified a question of New Mexico law to the New Mexico Supreme Court centering on the question of the civil liability under New Mexico law of a private prison when a non-duty corrections officer sexually assaults inmates in the facility. The New Mexico Court held that the private prison was vicariously liable for damages caused by the intentional torts of its employee when those torts were facilitated by the authority provided to the employee by the prison. The liability of the prison may not be reduced by any fault attributed to the victims of the sexual assaults. View "Spurlock v. Townes" on Justia Law

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Respondent Nancy Garduno was ineligible for unemployment benefits because her employer terminated her for misconduct connected with her employment. The Cabinet Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions ordered respondent to repay $11,256 in overpaid unemployment benefits. A majority of the Court of Appeals held that due process precluded the Department from collecting the overpaid unemployment benefits from respondent where she received benefits payments during the ongoing appeals process because she was unaware of her employer’s appeal for over 100 days. The Supreme Court reversed, however, finding that respondent’s procedural due process rights were not violated because the Department provided respondent with constitutionally adequate procedural protections prior to terminating her benefits and ordering her to reimburse the Department for the overpaid benefits. View "N.M. Dep't of Workforce Solutions v. Garduno" on Justia Law

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Appellee Emily Kane ran for elective office while she was employed at the Albuquerque Fire Department (the AFD) as a captain. Article X, Section 3 of the Charter of the City of Albuquerque (1989), and the City of Albuquerque Personnel Rules and Regulations Section 311.3 (2001), prohibit city employees from holding elective office. Kane sought injunctive relief to allow her to hold elective office while retaining her employment with the AFD. She argued that the employment regulations of the City of Albuquerque (the City) violated: (1) the First and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution; (2) Article VII, Section 2 of the New Mexico Constitution; and (3) Section 10-7F-9 of the Hazardous Duty Officers' Employer-Employee Relations Act (the HDOA). The district court granted Kane the relief she sought, but the Supreme Court reversed. The Court found the City's employment regulations did not violate the First Amendment because they regulated conflicts of interest, and they were therefore rationally related to the legitimate government purpose of promoting administrative efficiency. In addition, the Court held these regulations did not violate Article VII, Section 2 because they constituted conditions of employment that did not add additional qualifications to elective public office. Finally, the City's employment regulations were not preempted by Section 10-7F-9 because personnel rules touched issues of local rather than general concern, and they were within the City's authority to promulgate. View "Kane v. City of Albuquerque" on Justia Law