Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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The issue this interlocutory appeal presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether, pursuant to Mississippi’s venue statute, a corporation may have only one national principal place of business or may have a principal place of business in multiple or all states. Cleveland Smith, a resident of Lowndes County, filed suit against his employer, Kansas City Southern Railway Company (“KCS”), at the Lowndes County Circuit Court. The trial court granted KCS’s Motion for a Change of Venue, holding that, although KCS’s national principal place of business was in Kansas City, Missouri, KCS also did business in Mississippi and that its principal place of business in Mississippi was Rankin County. Because holding that a corporation has a single, principal place of business follows the plain language of the statute and promoted simplicity, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the trial court's decision and remanded the case. View "Smith v. Kansas City Southern Railway Company" on Justia Law

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Quindon Thomas, an employee of a contractor at Chevron’s petroleum refinery plant in Pascagoula, was injured on the job. Thomas accepted workers’ compensation benefits provided by Chevron for his injuries. Thomas then sued Chevron and one of its employees for the same injuries. Chevron asserted the exclusive-remedy defense under the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Act and the circuit court granted summary judgment to Chevron. Thomas appealed, arguing the trial court erred in granting summary judgment. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found that Chevron was not a statutory employer of Thomas and therefore was not immune from tort liability. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Chevron, reversed the trial court’s denial of Thomas’s cross-motion for summary judgment, and remanded for a trial on the merits. View "Thomas v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc." on Justia Law

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After suffering a fall at work, Linda Mitchell returned to the same position she had before her injury, and continued to work for more than seven months until she was terminated for a cause unrelated to the injury. She then sought and was awarded disability benefits from the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission. But because the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and Commission both failed to recognize that Mitchell’s return to work created a rebuttable presumption that she suffered no loss of earning capacity, the Supreme Court reversed the award of disability benefits and remanded this case to the Commission to apply the correct legal standard. View "Hudspeth Regional Center v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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A jury awarded Elsie Smith more than three million dollars in damages after an asbestos-related wrongful death trial in 2009, but the trial judge granted the defendants’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (“JNOV”). Elsie appealed, and the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. Following remand, the trial judge again entered a JNOV, and Elsie appealed that ruling. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The trial judge reaffirmed JNOV for the sole reason that Elsie presented insufficient evidence of Larry (her husband’s) exposure to the defendants’ asbestos products. But the Court found that Smith did present sufficient evidence to make the exposure issue a question for the jury. And because the trial judge did not address any of the other arguments that the defendants reasserted after the Court’s prior ruling, it declined to address any of the other issues raised in the briefing and in the defendants’ cross-appeals. View "Smith v. Union Carbide Corporation f/k/a Union Carbide Plastics & Chemicals Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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Mark Roberts filed various claims against multiple defendants, all of which were dismissed on summary judgment. Roberts began working for Warrior Energy Services Corporation in February 2012. He was an at-will, full-time salesman for the company. But in late March 2013, Warrior let him go. According to Roberts, his termination was the result of a conspiracy by Warrior; Bill Jenkins, a Warrior officer; Jason Smith, Jenkins’s close friend; and Boots Smith Oilfield Services, LLC. Roberts believed these four conspired to retaliate against Roberts for doing two things: (1) reporting illegal activity; and (2) buying the assets of a pipeline company to compete with Boots Smith. When the defendants filed their motions for summary judgment, discovery was not yet complete. Roberts had been deposed. But the depositions of the defendants, as well as a key factual witness, were still pending. So Roberts responded to the summary judgment motions with a motion to defer under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f). Because completing discovery is often preferable and sometimes necessary to rule on a summary-judgment motion, Rule 56(f) permits a trial court to continue its ruling until discovery is complete. Roberts asserted in his Rule 56(f) motion that, to oppose the motions for summary judgment, he needed specific information in the defendants’ possession, namely, the defendants’ sworn deposition testimony about their involvement in terminating Roberts’s employment. And because those depositions had already been scheduled to take place, the Supreme Court found the trial court’s denial of Roberts’ Rule 56(f) motions was an abuse of discretion. Consequently, the Court reversed the judgments in favor of the defendants as prematurely granted. View "Roberts v. Boots Smith Oilfield Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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An employee of NTC Transportation, Inc. (“NTC”) filed petitions with the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission (“the Commission”), claiming he had suffered compensable work-related injuries on two occasions. AmFed National Insurance Co. (“Amfed”), believing NTC’s workers’ compensation coverage to have lapsed due to NTC’s failure to timely pay the premium, responded and denied both liability and coverage as to the latter injury. AmFed’s denial of coverage was litigated and culminated in a judgment rendered in NTC’s favor. Based on the applicable law and particular facts of this case, the Supreme Court found that NTC had no insurance coverage with AmFed in effect at the time of the relevant injury. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded. View "Amfed National Insurance Co. v. NTC Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law

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Henry Roop sued Southern Pharmaceuticals Corporation (“SPC”) and its principal owners, individually, claiming he has been terminated for reporting illegal activity, namely a kickback scheme to be carried out through a straw employee. SPC countered that it fired Roop for, among other things, not meeting his contract goals for the year. A jury found SPC wrongfully terminated Roop for reporting illegal activity, and the jury awarded Roop compensatory damages. The circuit court entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in SPC’s favor. The circuit court reasoned that the jury would have had to speculate whether the arrangement would have been illegal, as the employment, and thus the kickback, never took place. Roop appealed, arguing that the judge had erred in overturning the jury’s verdict and in not thereafter proceeding with a hearing on punitive damages. The Supreme Court concluded after review that the trial court erred in overturning the jury's verdict, reversed, and remanded the case for further proceedings on Roop's other claims for punitive damages and attorney's fees. View "Roop v. Southern Pharmaceuticals Corp." on Justia Law

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The federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Mississippi law to the Mississippi Supreme Court. Robert Swindol sued his employer, Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, in federal court for wrongful discharge and defamation. Swindol alleged that Aurora had terminated him for having a firearm inside his locked vehicle in the company parking lot. Aurora filed a motion to dismiss, and the district court dismissed Swindol’s wrongful-discharge claim with prejudice,1 stating that it “[could not] say that the Mississippi Supreme Court would recognize a third exception to the doctrine of at-will employment,” as proposed by Swindol. As such, the district court found that Swindol had failed to state a claim for wrongful discharge. Swindol appealed, and the Fifth Circuit asked the Supreme Court whether an employer could be liable for a wrongful discharge of an employee for storing a firearm in a locked vehicle on company property in a manner that is consistent with Mississippi Code Section 45-9-55. The Supreme Court found that an employer could be liable and that Section 45-9-55(5) did not shield Aurora from liability under the facts of this case. View "Swindol v. Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation" on Justia Law

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A female corrections officer in a juvenile-detention facility in Lee County was fired for refusing to wear the proper uniform. After she filed for unemployment benefits, the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found in her favor and awarded her benefits, and the MDES Board of Review affirmed. But the circuit court reversed the Board of Review on appeal. After review, the Supreme Court found that Finnie did not commit misconduct as Mississippi law defined it, so it reversed the circuit court’s judgment and reinstated the Board of Review’s decision. View "Finnie v. Lee County Board of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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Devin Jones worked for T&L Specialty Company as a product technician from 2012 to 2013. On February 4, 2013, Jones timely reported to work at 7:00 p.m. and performed his assigned duties until his first break at 9:00 p.m. While on his break, Jones learned that his fiancé was having complications related to her pregnancy, so he left work early. He did not notify his supervisor, Mitch Monts, that he was leaving, but he did ask his coworker, Demetrius Tatum, to tell Monts that he was leaving and why. Tatum, however, failed to relay this message, and so Monts did not learn of the emergency. Pursuant to a policy in T&L’s employee handbook, Monts concluded that by leaving work early without informing him within eight hours, Jones had “voluntarily quit” his job. He immediately hired a replacement for Jones. Unaware that Monts deemed him to have quit voluntarily, Jones returned to work the following day. Jones pleaded with Monts, and then with Karen Hodum from T&L’s Human Resources department, insisting that he had not intended to quit his job and maintaining that he believed that, by leaving work early, he would only receive a half-point on his record. Jones’s pleas with T&L representatives proved unsuccessful and so he filed a claim for unemployment benefits. After determining that Jones voluntarily quit his job without good cause, the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) denied his application for unemployment benefits. Because the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) relied solely on an inapplicable provision from the employee handbook in concluding that Jones had voluntarily quit his job, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Jones v. Mississippi Employment Security Commission" on Justia Law