Hawaii Employment Law Decisions from April 12 to April 25 – Jeffrey S. Harris

A District Court erroneously granted summary judgment against an employee's long term disability benefit claim by reviewing an administrator's denial of claim under abuse of discretion rather than a de novo standard, because although the summary plan description for the plan gave the plan administrator discretionary authority to determine eligibility for benefits, the insurance certificate between the employer and insurance was the plan document and did not grant that the plan administrator had that authority.  Prichard v. Metro. Life Ins Co., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 6553 (9th Cir. April 21, 2015).

A District Court did not erroneously grant summary judgment against a discharged employee's age discrimination and retaliation claims, because the employee did not offer evidence connecting his termination to one discriminatory comment, he had performance issues before reporting the comment to human resources and there was no evidence that the supervisors were aware of his report.  Rey v. C & H Sugar Co., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 6603 (9th Cir. April 21, 2015).

A District Court did not erroneously grant summary judgment against a discharged employee's disability discrimination, race discrimination, retaliation or failure to accommodate claims, because he did not show the employer's reasons for his discharge were pretextual, the employer terminated the other employee who was allegedly the source of the discrimination and retaliation before it terminated the employee, the employee did not inform the employer of his restrictions or request an accommodation and he was released to work without any restrictions.   Leatherbury v. C & H Sugar Co., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 6606 (9th Cir. April 21, 2015).

A District Court erroneously granted summary judgment against an employee's disability discrimination claim.  There was a dispute of fact whether lifting packages weighing more than 40 pounds unassisted was an essential function of her driver position, because the applicable job description contained statements making it unreliable as a description of the position, the employer provided no evidence as to how often lifting more than 40 pounds was required and the employee's testimony did not estimate the relative time spent on larger as opposed to smaller packages.  The employee offered evidence that the employer could accommodate her limitation by reducing the number of heavy packages in her truck and a collective bargaining provision that all drivers would earn a 'fair day's pay for a fair day's work' did not directly conflict with that accommodation.   The District Court erroneously granted summary judgment against the employee's failure to accommodate claim, because the employee offered evidence that she requested modification of the driver position or reassignment, the employer did not show accommodation in conflict with the collective bargaining agreement and there was a dispute of fact whether the employer could have accommodated the employee by reducing the frequency of heavy packages in her truck.  The District Court erroneously granted summary judgment against the employee's failure to engage in interactive process claim, because the employer did not reengage with her after her weight lifting limit changed.  Wright v. United Parcel Serv., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 6489 (9th Cir. April 20, 2015).

Note: We analyze cases to learn rules the courts will follow or disappoint us if they don't. Rules that the courts follow allow us to behave and provide explanations that they accept. But competent advocates may limit the rules to the facts of the case where they are discussed, or expand rules by showing that differences in other cases are irrelevant.
The Labor and Industrial Relations Board did not err in concluding that an employee's psychological injury sustained as a result of supervisors accusing him of insubordination since he forget to turn off his computer monitor resulted solely from disciplinary action and his workers compensation claim was therefore barred by HRS § 386-3(c).  Gao v. State of Haw. Dep' of Attorney Gen., 2015 Haw. App. LEXIS 194 (April 23, 2015).