Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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The Vermont Human Rights Commission and three female employees of the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) filed suit against the State (the DOC and the Vermont Department of Human Resources (DHR)) claiming that the DOC violated the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act (VFEPA) by paying a male employee in the same position as the female plaintiffs as much as $10,000 more annually without a legally defensible, gender-neutral reason. The trial court granted summary judgment to the State, concluding that although plaintiffs established a prima facie case, the undisputed facts established that the wage disparity was due to legitimate business reasons and not gender-based. After review, the Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed dismissal of plaintiffs' case. View "Vermont Human Rights Comm'n v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Daniel Brown appealed a superior court decision granting summary judgment to the State on his claim of employment discrimination in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. He argued that summary judgment was improper because genuine material issues of fact remained as to whether his membership in the Vermont National Guard was a motivating factor in the State's decisions not to promote him, and ultimately to terminate him from his position. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether the constitutional rights of a putative biological father who seeks an order of parentage when a court has already issued a parentage order determining the minor child's parents. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Vermont's parentage statute does not authorize a court to allow a second parentage action involving a particular child brought by or against a different putative parent unless constitutional considerations require the court to entertain the second parentage case. In this case, even if plaintiff was the genetic parent of the minor child, he did not have constitutionally-protected parental rights. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's decision denying plaintiff's motion for genetic testing and dismissed his complaint for establishment of parentage. View "Columbia v. Lawton" on Justia Law

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Applicant Marilyn Clifford appealed the denial of long-term home-care benefits under the Medicaid-funded Choices for Care program, arguing that a second home on an adjacent piece of property should have been excluded from the financial-eligibility calculation. Given the language of the regulation, the legislative history that led to its promulgation, and the policy considerations attending the Medicaid program, the Supreme Court concluded that the Secretary correctly interpreted the home-exclusion rule when he reinstated the determination of the Department of Children and Families denying the benefits. Thus, the Court found no compelling indication of error in the Secretary’s determination and affirmed. View "In re Marilyn Clifford" on Justia Law

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The State of Vermont appealed a trial court's dismissal of a civil driver's license suspension complaint.  The trial court found that the statutory requirements for civil suspension had not been met. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, finding that indeed, the statutory requirements for civil suspension had not been met. View "Vermont v. Spooner" on Justia Law

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Kayla Eaton's lawsuit against her former employer and supervisor for sexual assault was dismissed for failure to prosecute. She claimed that her ability to prosecute the case was thwarted by a licensed polygraph examiner, Leroy Prior, who determined that she did not tell the truth in responding to questions about the alleged assault. Ms. Eaton and her father Robert Eaton filed this action against Prior, claiming negligent administration of the polygraph examination, and against the Vermont State Police and Lt. Matthew Belmay, alleging that they improperly disclosed the examination results and conspired to cover up Prior's misconduct. The trial court entered judgment for defendants on the ground that the suit was barred by the three-year statute of limitations applicable to actions for "injuries to the person," under 12 V.S.A. 512(4), and the Eatons appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court correctly concluded the statute of limitations applied to this case, however, the court mistakenly failed to consider the applicability of 12 V.S.A. 511's general six-year limitation period to the claims for economic harm resulting from dismissal of the underlying lawsuit and other alleged economic costs.  Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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Plaintiff Frank Hall, a longtime employee of the Agency of Transportation (AOT), sued the agency in 2007, alleging discrimination on the basis of a physical disability and retaliation for his having filed a workers' compensation claim. The jury found no disability discrimination, but awarded Plaintiff damages based upon its finding that the State had retaliated against him as alleged. On appeal, the State argued that: (1) Plaintiff's retaliation claim was precluded by a September 2003 Stipulation and Agreement signed by Plaintiff and AOT releasing the State from liability for any and all claims associated in any way with Plaintiff's reclassification and transfer stemming from hostile work environment allegations against him; (2) Plaintiff's retaliation claim was not supported by any causal connection linking his employment reclassification and transfer with his having filed a workers' compensation claim; (3) evidence of a video surveillance of Plaintiff connected with a second workers' compensation claim was insufficient as a matter of law to support his retaliation claim and the resulting damages award; and (4) even if the record supported his retaliation claim, the State's liability is limited to $250,000, as set forth in Vermont's Tort Claims Act during the relevant time period. Plaintiff cross-appealed, challenging the trial court's denial of his request for post-judgment interest and attorney's fees. Upon review, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment against the State and remanded the matter for the trial court to rule on the potentially determinative issue of the scope of the September 2003 release.

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Plaintiffs Vermont Human Rights Commission (HRC) and Ursula Stanley, an employee of the State Agency of Transportation, appealed the Washington Civil Division's decision to grant the State's motion to dismiss her complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Ms. Stanley complained that, under the Vermont Parental and Family Leave Act (VPFLA), 21 V.S.A. 472(c), which requires continuation of certain "employment benefits" during family leave, she was entitled to accrue, but was denied, paid vacation and sick time during the course of an unpaid parental leave. The trial court held that under section 472(c) an employee does not continue earning paid leave during unpaid parental leave. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision to dismiss, finding that sections 472(a) and (b) of the VPFLA point to why the accrual of paid time-off and sick time are not benefits that employers must provide during unpaid leave. Section 472(a) states that an employee is "entitled to take unpaid leave." However, the statute permits employees to use already "accrued paid leave," such as vacation or sick leave, during parental leave. As the trial court noted, if an employee could demand accrual of paid leave from an employer under the VPFLA while on family leave, it must follow that at least a portion of the parental leave would be rendered paid leave, "a result not just inconsistent with, but contrary to, the employer's VPFLA obligation to provide unpaid parental leave only."

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Plaintiffs Russell and Mary Ann Rueger and John Moyers appealed a trial courts grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants Natural Resources Board and the District #9 Environmental Commission of Vermont. The matter arose from an Access to Public Records Act request. The court concluded that certain records held by Defendants reflected deliberations of an agency acting in a quasi-judicial role, and those were exempt from disclosure. Plaintiffs argued on appeal that the court erred in interpreting the Act. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the documents in question fell within the plain language of the Act, and were indeed exempt. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants.

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The question before the Supreme Court was whether, and to what extent, a state's attorney was entitled to official immunity from civil liability for allegedly tortuous conduct concerning a local police officer. The trial court concluded that liability for the acts complained of was precluded by either qualified or absolute immunity, or was otherwise barred. In February 2010 when Plaintiff was employed as a police officer with the South Burlington Police Department, filed a complaint against Defendant, the Chittenden County State's Attorney, stating claims for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and intentional interference with Plaintiff's employment. The complaint alleged that Defendant (formerly a private lawyer and a member of what Plaintiff characterized as the Vermont "Drug Bar") harbored an animus against Plaintiff due to his police work. Plaintiff claimed that as state's attorney Defendant had "maliciously pursued a course of action . . . to undermine Plaintiff's work and credibility in the law enforcement community." As alleged in the complaint and in Plaintiff's later responses to discovery, Defendant's tortious misconduct included meeting with Plaintiff's supervisors to criticize his job performance and falsely accuse him of dishonesty; declining to file charges or seek search warrants based on Plaintiff's affidavits; threatening not to work with Plaintiff and thereby end his career if Plaintiff attempted to bypass the State's Attorney's office and obtain warrants directly from the trial court; criticizing Plaintiff's work when he was being considered by the State Police to serve on its Drug Task Force; impugning Plaintiff's honesty to other prosecutors; encouraging the filing of a civil-rights lawsuit against Plaintiff and testifying falsely in that action; and "leaking" harmful information about Plaintiff to criminal defense attorneys. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded "[t]he trial court's ruling was sound" and affirmed the trial court's ruling that the State's Attorney was entitled to absolute immunity.