Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to determine whether the Commonwealth Court erred in holding appellant Daniel Harmon was disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits pursuant to Section 402.6 of the Unemployment Compensation Law. Appellant was a part-time employee at Brown’s Shop Rite beginning February 14, 2013. By December, he was convicted of driving with a suspended license and sentenced to a term of 60 days’ imprisonment to be served on 30 consecutive weekends, beginning March 14, 2014 and ending August 7, 2014. Appellant’s employment with Brown’s Shop Rite was terminated on March 24, 2014 due to a violation of company policy, which was unrelated to his incarceration. He then filed for benefits and received them for the week ending March 29, 2014 through the week ending July 26, 2014. This period included weeks when appellant was serving his sentence of weekend incarceration. The Supreme Court held appellant was not disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits, and therefore reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Harmon v. UCBR" on Justia Law

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In 2003, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (“DCED”) designated the City of Pittsburgh as a financially distressed municipality under the Municipal Financial Recovery Act (“Act 47”). The City’s collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) with Appellant Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 (the “Union”) expired on December 31, 2014. As the parties were unable to reach consensus on a new CBA, they entered into interest arbitration governed by the Policemen and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act (“Act 111”). After an evidentiary hearing encompassing ten days of testimony before an Act 111 arbitration panel, the panel issued a final award covering years 2015-2018. The Award contained numbered factual findings one of which included a list of itemized findings relating to the City’s population, income, housing vacancy rate, and, most relevantly, the City’s police officer compensation as measured against other economically and demographically comparable subdivisions. The Union’s financial expert had testified in a prior matter in 2014 that the City’s police pay was above the median of a comparison group; the City’s police officers paid substantially lower contributions toward health insurance than other City employees for the same coverage level; and the Union’s own financial expert believed City police officers were paid competitively. The Union filed an appeal in the Commonwealth Court, contending that the Award deviated from the Plan by failing to ensure competitive compensation for police officers as required by the Plan. The Union argued that the court had jurisdiction to rule on its appeal per Section 252(e) of Act 47. Te Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the Commonwealth Court properly held that the Union’s challenge to the Award fell outside the scope of Section 252(e). Accordingly, that court’s order quashing the parties’ appeals was affirmed. View "FOP Fort Pitt v. City of Pgh" on Justia Law

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This appeal presented an issue of whether a workers’ compensation insurance carrier could bring a third-party action against an alleged tortfeasor on behalf of an injured employee to recoup the amount paid in workers’ compensation benefits where the employee did not independently sue the tortfeasor, did not join in the insurer’s action, and did not assign her cause of action to the insurer. In 2013, Chunli Chen was standing in the parking lot of Thrifty Rental Car when she was struck by a rental vehicle operated by Kafumba Kamara. When the accident occurred, Chen was in the course of her employment with Reliance Sourcing, Inc., which maintained workers’ compensation coverage through The Hartford Insurance Group (“Appellee” or “Insurer”). Insurer had paid $59,424.71 in medical and wage benefits to Chen pursuant to her employer’s workers’ compensation insurance policy. Chen did not seek to recover damages for her injuries by filing an action against Kamara and/or Thrifty Rental Car (collectively referred to herein as “Appellants” or “Tortfeasors”) and did not assign her cause of action against Tortfeasors to Insurer. In 2015, when the two-year statute of limitations was about to expire on Chen’s cause of action, Insurer sought to effectuate its subrogation right under Section 319 of the Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”) by filing a praecipe for a writ of summons against Tortfeasors. “Reaffirming the well-settled proposition that the right of action against the tortfeasor remains in the injured employee,” the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that, unless the injured employee assigns her cause of action or voluntarily joins the litigation as a party plaintiff, the insurer may not enforce its statutory right to subrogation by filing an action directly against the tortfeasor. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the Superior Court’s judgment and reinstated that of the trial court, which sustained the preliminary objections filed by the tortfeasor and dismissed the insurer’s complaint with prejudice. View "Hartford Ins. Grp. v. Kamara" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review in this matter to determine whether an employer has a legal duty to use reasonable care to safeguard its employees’ sensitive personal information that the employer stores on an internet-accessible computer system. Barbara Dittman, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated (collectively, Employees), filed the operative class action complaint in this matter against UPMC d/b/a the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and UPMC McKeesport (collectively, UPMC), alleging that a data breach had occurred through which the personal and financial information, including names, birth dates, social security numbers, addresses, tax forms, and bank account information of all 62,000 UPMC employees and former employees was accessed and stolen from UPMC’s computer systems. Employees further alleged that the stolen data, which consisted of information UPMC required Employees to provide as a condition of their employment, was used to file fraudulent tax returns on behalf of the victimized Employees, resulting in actual damages. Employees asserted a negligence claim and breach of implied contract claim against UPMC. The Supreme Court held an employer has a legal duty to exercise reasonable care to safeguard its employees’ sensitive personal information stored by the employer on an internet- accessible computer system. Furthermore, the Court held that, under Pennsylvania’s economic loss doctrine, recovery for purely pecuniary damages is permissible under a negligence theory provided that the plaintiff can establish the defendant’s breach of a legal duty arising under common law that is independent of any duty assumed pursuant to contract. As the Superior Court came to the opposite conclusions, the Supreme Court vacated its judgment. View "Dittman v. UPMC" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to address two issues associated with workers’ compensation claims by firefighters suffering from cancer. First, the Court had to determine the evidentiary requirements for a claimant to demonstrate that he or she has an “occupational disease,” as that term is defined in Section 108(r) of the Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”). Second, the Court had to decide whether epidemiological evidence may be used by an employer to rebut the evidentiary presumption that the claimant’s cancer is compensable as set forth in Section 301(f) of the Act. With respect to the first issue, the Supreme Court concluded that pursuant to Section 108(r), the claimant has an initial burden to establish that his or her cancer is a type of cancer that is capable of being caused by exposure to a known IARC Group 1 carcinogen. With respect to the second, the Court concluded that epidemiological evidence was not sufficient to rebut the evidentiary presumption under Section 301(f). View "City of Phila. FD v. WCAB; Appeal of: Sladek, S." on Justia Law

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Fu Xiang Lin began performing remodeling work for Eastern Taste, a restaurant that had not yet opened for business. Lin and three other individuals were hired by Lin’s sister-in-law, Sai Zheng Zheng, who was the owner of Eastern Taste. They did not sign a written contract, but Lin was to be paid for his services on a per diem basis. Lin had worked in remodeling for fifteen years, and he was the most experienced individual involved in the project. Although Wang purchased the materials necessary for the project, Lin brought and used his own tools. Lin was hired only to complete the remodeling work. While repairing a chimney, Lin fell from a beam and landed on a cement floor, suffering serious injuries. In addition to numerous bone fractures, the impact caused trauma to Lin’s spinal cord, rendering him paraplegic. Lin filed a workers’ compensation claim petition against Eastern Taste. Because Eastern Taste did not maintain workers’ compensation insurance, Lin additionally filed a petition for benefits from the Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund (the “Fund”). Both Eastern Taste and the Fund filed answers denying, inter alia, the existence of an employment relationship. In this appeal, the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether, pursuant to the Construction Workplace Misclassification Act (“CWMA” or “the Act”), Lin was eligible for compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The Commonwealth Court determined that the CWMA was inapplicable under these circumstances, that the claimant otherwise failed to establish that he was an employee of the restaurant, and that he accordingly was ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Dept. of Labor & Industry v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”) makes an employer liable for paying the disability benefits and medical expenses of an employee who sustains an injury in the course of his or her employment. In January 1993, Craig Whitmoyer suffered a work-related injury that resulted in the amputation of part of his arm. Starting at that time, his employer, Mountain Country Meats (“MCM”), or MCM’s insurance carrier, Selective Insurance (“Selective”), paid all of Whitmoyer’s medical expenses related to this injury. A few months later, the parties reached an agreement related to Whitmoyer’s disability benefits – he was entitled “to a 20 week healing period and 370 weeks of specific loss benefits [at $237.50 per week after May 22, 1993].” Whitmoyer subsequently petitioned for a commutation of these weekly payments. In December 1994, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (“WCJ”) granted his petition and directed MCM or Selective to pay Whitmoyer a lump sum payment of $69,994.64. While this commutation resolved his entitlement to disability benefits entirely, MCM remained responsible for Whitmoyer’s ongoing medical bills. Several years later, Whitmoyer obtained a $300,000 settlement from third parties related to his injury and, in April 1999, he entered a third-party settlement agreement (the “TPSA”) with Selective providing that as to past-paid compensation, Selective was entitled to a net subrogation lien of $81,627.87. Selective continued to pay Whitmoyer’s work-related medical expenses in full (without taking credit under the TPSA) for approximately thirteen years, until September 2012. At that time, Selective filed a modification petition requesting an adjustment to the TPSA to reflect the medical expenses incurred since the parties entered the agreement. The WCJ found, per the parties’ stipulation, that Selective had paid $206,670.88 for Whitmoyer’s work injury as of February 2013.The WCJ ordered that Selective’s percentage credit be reduced to 26.09% of future medical expenses, up to Whitmoyer’s balance of recovery amount of $189,416.27. Whitmoyer appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (the “Board”), arguing that the TPSA was unenforceable because neither he nor his counsel had signed it. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to determine whether the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that the term “instalments of compensation” in section 319 of the WCA encompassed both disability benefits and payment of medical expenses. Under the WCA, disability benefits were required to be paid “in periodical installments, as the wages of the employee were payable before the injury.” Medical expenses are not. Accordingly, when a workers’ compensation claimant recovers proceeds from a third-party settlement (following repayment of compensation paid to date) as prescribed by section 319, the employer (or insurance carrier) is limited to drawing down against that recovery only to the extent that future disability benefits are payable to the claimant. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Whitmoyer v. Workers' Compensation App. Bd." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”) makes an employer liable for paying the disability benefits and medical expenses of an employee who sustains an injury in the course of his or her employment. In January 1993, Craig Whitmoyer suffered a work-related injury that resulted in the amputation of part of his arm. Starting at that time, his employer, Mountain Country Meats (“MCM”), or MCM’s insurance carrier, Selective Insurance (“Selective”), paid all of Whitmoyer’s medical expenses related to this injury. A few months later, the parties reached an agreement related to Whitmoyer’s disability benefits – he was entitled “to a 20 week healing period and 370 weeks of specific loss benefits [at $237.50 per week after May 22, 1993].” Whitmoyer subsequently petitioned for a commutation of these weekly payments. In December 1994, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (“WCJ”) granted his petition and directed MCM or Selective to pay Whitmoyer a lump sum payment of $69,994.64. While this commutation resolved his entitlement to disability benefits entirely, MCM remained responsible for Whitmoyer’s ongoing medical bills. Several years later, Whitmoyer obtained a $300,000 settlement from third parties related to his injury and, in April 1999, he entered a third-party settlement agreement (the “TPSA”) with Selective providing that as to past-paid compensation, Selective was entitled to a net subrogation lien of $81,627.87. Selective continued to pay Whitmoyer’s work-related medical expenses in full (without taking credit under the TPSA) for approximately thirteen years, until September 2012. At that time, Selective filed a modification petition requesting an adjustment to the TPSA to reflect the medical expenses incurred since the parties entered the agreement. The WCJ found, per the parties’ stipulation, that Selective had paid $206,670.88 for Whitmoyer’s work injury as of February 2013.The WCJ ordered that Selective’s percentage credit be reduced to 26.09% of future medical expenses, up to Whitmoyer’s balance of recovery amount of $189,416.27. Whitmoyer appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (the “Board”), arguing that the TPSA was unenforceable because neither he nor his counsel had signed it. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to determine whether the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that the term “instalments of compensation” in section 319 of the WCA encompassed both disability benefits and payment of medical expenses. Under the WCA, disability benefits were required to be paid “in periodical installments, as the wages of the employee were payable before the injury.” Medical expenses are not. Accordingly, when a workers’ compensation claimant recovers proceeds from a third-party settlement (following repayment of compensation paid to date) as prescribed by section 319, the employer (or insurance carrier) is limited to drawing down against that recovery only to the extent that future disability benefits are payable to the claimant. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Whitmoyer v. Workers' Compensation App. Bd." on Justia Law

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In this discretionary appeal, we consider whether Appellant, the Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”), is entitled to subrogation of benefits that a trooper – who was injured in a motor vehicle accident – was eligible to receive under the Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”) against the trooper’s recovery from a third-party tortfeasor pursuant to the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). In 2011, Pennsylvania State Trooper Joseph Bushta (“Claimant”) was on duty when his police vehicle was hit by a tractor-trailer. As a result of the collision, Claimant suffered various cervical, thoracic, and lumbar injuries which required medical treatment and physical therapy, and which resulted in Claimant’s inability to perform his job duties for approximately 16 months. PSP, a self-insured public employer, issued a notice of compensation payable (“NCP”) indicating a weekly compensation rate of $858.08 under the WCA. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that all of the benefits Claimant received were Heart and Lung benefits, not WCA benefits. Thus, pursuant to the MVFRL, PSP does not have a right of subrogation against Claimant’s settlement with the third-party tortfeasors. View "Penn. State Police v. WCAB (Bushta)" on Justia Law

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Dr. Susan Kegerise sought reinstatement as superintendent of the Susquehanna Township School District, as well as back pay and benefits. In January 2010, Kegerise was appointed superintendent. In 2013, the District’s Board of Directors extended Kegerise’s contract for a three-year term after agreeing, at Kegerise’s request, to include a resignation provision in her employment contract. Kegerise alleged this resignation clause was necessary to protect her interests in light of several Board members’ inappropriate behavior. Kegerise further alleged that, this clause notwithstanding, and in an effort to force her resignation, several Board members persisted in hostile actions including, inter alia, physical intimidation and verbal abuse, even after the contract was executed. In 2014, Kegerise informed the Board that she was receiving medical care and would be unable to return to work until April 21, 2014. While Kegerise was on medical leave, the Board received several letters from Kegerise’s counsel asserting that Kegerise had been constructively discharged. The Board responded by affirming that Kegerise remained the Superintendent of Schools, and that “[h]er time away from the District since that day has been recorded as sick leave derived from Dr. Kegerise’s pre-existing sick leave accumulation.” On April 17, 2014, Kegerise filed a complaint at the United States District Court, alleging, inter alia, that the Board had constructively discharged her. Kegerise asserted that, “although no formal termination has taken place, [she] cannot perform the job duties of Superintendent,” due to the Board’s behavior toward her. Kegerise sought damages in excess of six million dollars, including compensatory and economic damages “for loss of contractual salary and other emoluments of employment” and consequential damages for “damage to professional reputation and loss of future salary as an educational administrator.” The trial court held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Kegerise had intended to resign when she filed her federal complaint, after which, it ordered the Board to reinstate Kegerise to her position with back pay and benefits. The Board appealed to the Commonwealth Court; the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of mandamus. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, found Kegerise did not demonstrate to a clear legal right to reinstatement. Accordingly, the orders reinstating her as superintendent with back pay and benefits was reversed. View "Kegerise v. Delgrande, et al," on Justia Law