Justia Civil Rights Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
Colquhoun v. City of Nashua
Plaintiff Laura Colquhoun filed a complaint against defendant City of Nashua, after the City denied her Right-to-Know Law request for all email communications between two City employees during a specific two-month period. Plaintiff submitted a Right-to-Know Law request seeking access to “all email communications between Ms. Kleiner [the City’s Administrative Services Director] and Mr. Richard Vincent [the City’s Chief of Assessing] for the period of January 1, 2021 to March 1, 2021.” In its answer, the City asserted that a search of the email folders located on the computers of both named individuals was “likely to produce hundreds of pages of email communication between the two of them, the vast majority of them being duplicated at least once.” The City further explained that: (1) Vincent had begun employment with the City on approximately January 1, 2021; (2) Kleiner was his immediate supervisor; and (3) the Assessing Department “was in the midst of several projects which would have caused much communication between the two.” The City asserted that “emails that may be responsive to the request could be found in any of the approximately 29,000 files related to individual parcels assessed by the Department.” The City also argued “as a general matter, that Right-to-Know requests for ‘any and all’ documents are overbroad.” The court ordered the parties “to meet and confer within fourteen days and engage in a good faith effort to narrow and focus requests for the benefit of both the City and the requester.” (Citations and quotations omitted.) The court concluded by ordering the City “to conduct a reasonable search for responsive records in accordance with its burden under the Right-to-Know law.” The sole issue before the New Hampshire Supreme Court in this matter was whether the trial court erred by denying plaintiff’s request for attorney’s fees relating to her request. Because the Supreme Court was satisfied the record demonstrated that the City knew or should have known that its blanket denial violated the Right-to-Know Law, the Court concluded the trial court erred when it denied the plaintiff’s request for attorney’s fees and costs. View "Colquhoun v. City of Nashua" on Justia Law
Paine v. Ride-Away, Inc.
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
Crowe v. Appalachian Stitching Company, LLC
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
Avery v. Commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Clifford Avery appealed a superior court order that dismissed his complaint for breach of contract against the Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (DOC or department). Avery argue the trial court erred in concluding that his suit was barred by sovereign immunity and, alternatively, that he lacked standing. Avery was an inmate at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men (NHSP) who sued the DOC as part of a federal, class-action, 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit, and the federal district court found that conditions at the NHSP subjected inmates to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The lawsuit resulted in a consent decree requiring the DOC to provide certain services to inmates confined at the NHSP, regularly inspect prison conditions, and ensure that NHSP practices, including those related to food service, medical care, mental health care, sanitation, and maintenance, comported with specified standards. The consent decree was modified to resolve issues raised by Avery and the class of original plaintiffs in motions for contempt that alleged the DOC was violating the terms of the original decree. In his complaint here, Avery made numerous allegations that conditions at the NHSP violated the terms of the settlement agreement. After the case was submitted, the New Hampshire Supreme Court directed the parties to provide supplemental briefing on the issue of sovereign immunity and sought amicus briefing. The Supreme Court determined RSA 491:8 (as amended July 2020) waived the State's sovereign immunity for Avery's suit for breach of the settlement agreement. Furthermore, Avery had standing to pursue his action. The trial court therefore erred in dismissing Avery's complaint on these grounds; the matter was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Avery v. Commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Corrections" on Justia Law
Burnap v. Somersworth School District
Plaintiff Amy Burnap appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to the Somersworth School District (District) on her claim of employment discrimination based upon her sexual orientation. The District hired the plaintiff as the Dean of Students at Somersworth High School for a one-year period beginning in July 2015. It was undisputed plaintiff “is a member of a protected class of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender individuals.” In January 2016, several instances of purported misconduct involving plaintiff came to light, setting in motion a sequence of events that culminated in her termination. She argued to the New Hampshire Supreme Court that the trial court erred because there were disputed material facts that could allow a jury to determine that the District’s stated reason for firing her, sexual harassment, was a pretext for unlawful sexual orientation discrimination because: (1) her colleagues’ alleged discriminatory animus infected the District’s decision to fire her; and (2) a preliminary investigation conducted prior to the District’s decision was a “sham.” The Supreme Court affirmed because there were insufficient facts in the record from which a jury could find, under either argument, that the District fired the plaintiff because of her sexual orientation and used sexual harassment as a pretext. View "Burnap v. Somersworth School District" on Justia Law
New Hampshire v. Lilley
Defendants were all arrested and convicted of violating a Laconia Ordinance prohibiting nudity in public places. They jointly moved to dismiss the charges against them, arguing the ordinance violated the guarantee of equal protection and their right to free speech under the State and Federal Constitutions. They further contended that the City of Laconia lacked the authority to enact the ordinance and that the ordinance was preempted by RSA 645:1 (2016). Finally, defendants maintained that the ordinance violated RSA chapter 354-A. Following a hearing, the court denied the defendants’ motion, and subsequently found them guilty of violating the ordinance. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the ordinance merely prohibited those who access public places from doing so in the nude, and made a permissible distinction between the areas of the body that must be covered by each gender. Accordingly, their convictions were affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Lilley" on Justia Law
Petition of Kyle Guillemette
Petitioner Kyle Guillemette challenged a determination by the Administrative Appeals Unit (AAU) of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that the notice requirements set forth in RSA 171-A:8, III (2014) and New Hampshire Administrative Rules, He-M 310.07 did not apply when Monadnock Worksource notified Monadnock Developmental Services of its intent to discontinue providing services to petitioner because that act did not constitute a “termination” of services within the meaning of the applicable rules. Petitioner received developmental disability services funded by the developmental disability Medicaid waiver program. MDS was the “area agency,” which coordinated and developed petitioner’s individual service plan. Worksource provides services to disabled individuals pursuant to a “Master Agreement” with MDS. Worksource began providing day services to the petitioner in August 2012. On March 31, 2017, Worksource notified MDS, in writing, that Worksource was terminating services to petitioner “as of midnight on April 30.” The letter to MDS stated that “[t]he Board of Directors and administration of . . . Worksource feel this action is in the best interest of [the petitioner] and of [Worksource].” Petitioner’s mother, who served as his guardian, was informed by MDS of Worksource’s decision on April 3. The mother asked for reconsideration, but the Board declined, writing that because the mother “repeatedly and recently expressed such deep dissatisfaction with our services to your son, the Board and I feel that you and [petitioner] would be better served by another agency . . . .” Thereafter, petitioner filed a complaint with the Office of Client and Legal Services alleging that his services had been terminated improperly and requesting that they remain in place pending the outcome of the investigation of his complaint. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the AAU’s ruling was not erroneous, it affirmed. View "Petition of Kyle Guillemette" on Justia Law
Appeal of Farmington School District
Farmington School District appealed a Board of Education (state board) decision reversing the decision of the Farmington School Board (local board) not to renew the employment contract of Demetria McKaig, a guidance counselor at Farmington High School. In November 2012, a student (Student A) and her boyfriend told McKaig and another guidance counselor that Student A was pregnant and that she wanted to terminate her pregnancy. Student A was fifteen years old at the time. McKaig suggested that Student A tell her mother about the pregnancy, but Student A refused. The principal expressed his view that the school should inform Student A’s mother about the pregnancy. McKaig disagreed, asserting that Student A had a right to keep the pregnancy confidential. McKaig spoke with Attorney Barbara Keshen of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union about Student A’s situation. Keshen’s opinion was that the judicial bypass law protected the confidentiality of Student A’s pregnancy and the fact that she was contemplating an abortion. McKaig relayed this opinion to Student A, and Student A made an appointment with a health center and another attorney to assist her with the judicial bypass proceedings. Meanwhile, the principal instructed the school nurse to meet with Student A to tell her that the school would inform her mother about her pregnancy. McKaig told the principal about her conversation with Keshen and urged him to contact Keshen to discuss Student A’s rights. The principal did not contact Keshen; however, Keshen contacted him. He told Keshen that the parental notification and judicial bypass laws did not prevent him from telling Student A’s mother about the pregnancy. Keshen instituted a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the principal to prevent him from contacting Student A’s mother. McKaig was named as the petitioner “ON BEHALF OF [Student A]”; she was not named in her individual capacity. The TRO was ultimately granted. Months later, McKaig received a notice of nonrenewal from the superintendent; in the written statement of the reasons for non-renewal, the superintendent listed three reasons: insubordination, breach of student confidentiality, and neglect of duties. After the hearing, the local board upheld McKaig’s nonrenewal on those grounds. McKaig appealed to the state board, which found, pursuant that the local board’s decision was “clearly erroneous.” The state board reversed the local board’s decision to uphold McKaig’s nonrenewal, but it did not order McKaig’s reinstatement or any other remedy. McKaig cross-appealed the state board’s decision and argued that she was entitled to reinstatement with back pay and benefits. The Supreme Court affirmed the state board’s reversal of the local board’s decision, and ordered that McKaig be reinstated to her former job. The case was remanded to the state board for further proceedings to determine whether she was entitled to additional remedies. View "Appeal of Farmington School District" on Justia Law
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Comm’n v. Fred Fuller Oil Company, Inc.
Plaintiffs Nichole Wilkins and Beverly Mulcahey sued their former employer, Fred Fuller Oil Company, Inc. (Fuller Oil), for sexual harassment and retaliation. Plaintiffs also sued Frederick J. Fuller, an employee of Fuller Oil, individually Prior to trial, defendant sought to prohibit plaintiffs from asserting claims against him under RSA chapter 354-A in his individual capacity. The district court thereafter informed the parties that it would not allow plaintiffs to assert such claims. Subsequently, Fuller Oil filed for bankruptcy protection and, therefore, the case against Fuller Oil was stayed; the case was reopened as to claims against defendant. Because the questions of whether an employee could recover damages from another employee for aiding and abetting sexual harassment or for retaliation under RSA chapter 354-A concerned unresolved issues of New Hampshire law, the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire certified two questions of New Hampshire law to the New Hampshire Supreme Court: (1) whether sections 354-A:2 and 354-A:7 of the New Hampshire Revised Statutes imposed individual employee liability for aiding and abetting discrimination in the workplace; and (2) whether section 354-A:19 of the New Hampshire Revised Statutes imposed individual employee liability for retaliation in the workplace. The New Hampshire Supreme Court answered both questions in the affirmative. View "U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. Fred Fuller Oil Company, Inc." on Justia Law
In re G.G.
Respondent, the father of G.G., appealed a superior court order which, after de novo review, upheld a finding by the 10th Circuit Court – Portsmouth Family Division that the respondent had abused and neglected G.G. Respondent challenged the superior court’s denial of his request to cross-examine or subpoena G.G. after the court admitted her videotaped interview into evidence. The Supreme Court concluded that given the plain language of the pertinent statutes and the court’s inherent authority to control the proceedings before it, trial courts have the discretion in abuse and neglect proceedings to determine whether any witness, including the child, should be compelled to testify. The record was unclear as to whether the trial court adequately considered the competing interests of respondent and the child. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court's decision and remanded this case for further proceedings: "[w]hen the court is considering whether to compel G.G. to testify in this case, the court may wish to consider whether she testified at the respondent's criminal trial and, if so, whether her testimony in the criminal proceeding would suffice for the instant proceeding." View "In re G.G." on Justia Law