Justice for Injured Worker

Attorney Richard Myers successfully represented an injured worker who was denied reemployment. The worker suffered a serious on-the-job injury and filed a workers’ compensation claim. Her claim was denied and the employer refused to restore her employment after she recovered from the injury.

Myers represented the worker in a hearing on her workers’ compensation claim. The judge ruled in her favor and issued a penalty for the insurance company’s unreasonable denial of her claim. Shortly after the hearing, Myers successfully pursued separate claims on behalf of the worker for the employer’s unlawful discrimination against a workers’ compensation claimant (ORS 659A.040) and failure to reinstate an injured worker (ORS 659A.043). The worker has since found permanent employment with a new employer.

Federal Court Finds School District Violated Teachers’ and Students’ First Amendment Rights

On the eve of a 2012 teacher strike, the Eagle Point School District adopted policies banning all signs and picketing activity on school property.  The Eagle Point Education Association promptly notified the District that the policies were unconstitutional but the District refused to modify them.  During the strike, the District strictly enforced its new policies to restrict pro-teacher speech by students and others.   The District defended its policies as part of its “educational mission.”  It also argued that school property was not a “not a public forum” and that striking educators had no legitimate reason to be on school property.

The Association filed a federal lawsuit challenging the District’s policies under both the U.S. and Oregon constitutions during the strike.  It pursued those claims after the strike settled.  In a sharply worded ground-breaking decision, Federal Magistrate Mark Clark ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor on each of its claims.  He found that the District’s policies were neither neutral nor necessary to protect the educational mission of the school: “The importance of educating and caring for students in the midst of such a crisis cannot be overstated.  However, it is precisely this mission that gives an even higher purpose to the protections and freedoms afforded by the Constitution.  In this case, what could have been an incredible opportunity for students to witness the function of the Bill of Rights in their very own lives and learn first-hand that the important principals of our government are not mere platitudes instead became a situation of reactionary, fear-based policies designed to suppress any opposition or unpopular viewpoint.”   He also found that the sign policy was unlawful as applied to student Staci Boyer, who was barred from parking in the school parking lot because of a pro-teacher sign in her car.

Magistrate Clark’s report was review by to U.S. Federal District Judge Michael McShane. Judge McShane affirmed the decision in all respects.

Court Approves $2 million Settlement in Class Action Wage Lawsuit

BHMK in collaboration with attorneys from the Oregon Nurses Association successfully settled the class action lawsuit of Thanane v. Providence Health & Services – Oregon.

The lawsuit alleged that Providence violated state and federal laws by withholding wages from employees. Specifically, BHMK attorneys argued that Providence managers fraudulently altered employee timecards to avoid payment of overtime wages. They also argued that Providence systematically underpaid wages by using timekeeping software in a way that rounded clock-in and clock-out times to the detriment of employees.

Providence will pay approximately $2 million as part of a settlement of all claims. More than 25,000 current and former Providence employees were notified that they would receive compensation as part of the settlement. Federal district court judge Michael Mosman approved the settlement at a hearing on June 17, 2015. Checks will be distributed to former and current employees in the next several weeks.

You can read more about the settlement here.

Arbitrator Finds Portland School District Violated High School Workload Contract Provisions

Attorney Margaret Olney has represented local associations throughout the state in efforts to protect their members from the constant pressure of being required to do more work for the same pay.   Most recently, she won a second arbitration for the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) relating to high school workload. The first arbitration arose in 2011 when the District unilaterally adopted a new block schedule that required teachers to teach six instead of five classes and consequently, substantially more students. An arbitrator found that the new schedule violated workload protections in the contract. There were a number of disputes regarding remedy, but ultimately, the District was required to pay over $2 million to high school teachers as compensation for the excess workload.

During bargaining for the current contract, workload protection and workload relief were priorities for PAT.  Despite District demands for take backs regarding workload, PAT succeeded in maintaining key workload protections.  Unfortunately, within days of the contract settlement, the District announced that it would impose a new schedule at all high schools that added significant additional instructional time per week, and eliminated other time available to assist students.  The schedule was inconsistent with promises made in bargaining and, once again, PAT was forced to file a grievance and take the matter to arbitration.  The arbitrator agreed with PAT that workload under the new schedule was not generally comparable to that in place in 2010-2011 (the benchmark year) and ordered the District to return to the prior workload levels and to negotiate a remedy to compensate teachers for the increased workload.   Those discussions regarding remedy are still pending.

Teacher Dismissal Overturned

A teacher had attempted to commit suicide off-duty by driving her vehicle into the back of her estranged husband’s unoccupied truck. Despite the fact that the teacher received only minor injuries and was soon released to return to work, the District terminated her employment. Tom Doyle represented her before an administrative panel. That panel ordered reinstatement. According to the unanimous panel, terminating the teacher was “clearly excessive and unreasonable.”

City Not Entitled to Recoup Overpaid Pension Benefits by Self-Help

After the City of Portland discovered a 15-year-old error in its pension payment calculations for public safety members of the Fire Police Disability and Retirement Fund, the City tried to get back overpayments totaling more than $3 million, by taking it directly out of Fire and Police Pension benefits, without giving members a chance to respond or raise defenses.  BHMK Attorney Hank Kaplan brought class action litigation challenging the City’s action, based on violations of Oregon’s wage deduction statute, 652.610.  The City denied the statute applied, and contended that its action was justified by IRS requirements to preserve the tax qualified status of the pension plan.  Multnomah County Circuit Judge Henry Breithaupt, a former tax attorney, rejected the City’s contentions and on July 26, 2012 ruled that the City violated the Oregon wage deduction statutes.

University Faculty Reimbursed for Unlawful Retirement Contribution Reductions

Tom Doyle represented a group of six plaintiffs on behalf of a class of thousands of Oregon University faculty who participate in State’s Optional Retirement Plan (ORP). The Oregon University System had unlawfully reduced ORP participants contributions by in excess of two million dollars. As a result of the filing of the suit and this settlement, OUS reimbursed its employees in excess of two million dollars, including repaying lost earnings on those contributions and plaintiffs’ attorney fees.

Sexual Harassment Settlement Awarded

An employee was subjected to sexual harassment by her supervisor and other male co-workers. The situation at work became so unbearable that the employee was forced to quit her job. Aruna Masih helped file a sex discrimination and wrongful discharge case in state court on behalf of the employee. The employer settled the case during depositions of their witnesses, agreeing to give the employee a large portion of money and other relief she was asking the state court to award.

Disability Discrimination Case Settled

An employee suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder was refused the right to return to work by her employer, even after her doctor issued a full release. Aruna helped file a disability discrimination case in federal court on behalf of the employee. The employer settled the case before trial, agreeing to give the employee most of the money and other relief she was asking the federal court to award.