CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON AUGUST 28, 2017
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT HUGHES
COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE MARK BARNETT JUDGE
P. KNUDSEN OF GUNDERSON, PALMER, NELSON & ASHMORE LLP
RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT.
MICHAEL M. HICKEY KELSEY B. PARKER OF BANGS, MCCULLEN,
BUTLER, FOYE & SIMMONS LLP RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE.
GILBERTSON, CHIEF JUSTICE
Bennett County Hospital and Nursing Home (the Hospital)
terminated the employment of Joyce Riggs and subsequently
opposed her claim for unemployment benefits. Riggs filed a
complaint alleging the Hospital's opposition to her
unemployment claim was retaliation for her earlier request
for permission to bring a companion dog to work. The South
Dakota Department of Labor's Division of Human Rights
(DHR) determined there was not probable cause to believe
Riggs's allegations, and the circuit court affirmed.
Riggs appeals. We reverse the circuit court's affirmance.
We neither affirm nor reverse DHR's decision, but we
remand back to DHR for further consideration.
and Procedural History
Riggs worked for the Hospital from March 2006 until her
termination in March 2015. At the time of her dismissal,
Riggs was employed full time as a central-supply technician
and part time as an emergency medical technician for the
Hospital's ambulance service. Riggs's immediate
supervisor in her role as a central-supply technician was
Katie Dillon; in Riggs's role as an emergency medical
technician, her supervisor was her husband, Alfred Riggs.
Ethel Martin was the Hospital's chief executive officer
at the time of Riggs's dismissal.
Riggs suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress
disorder. Previously, she has used a companion dog to help
manage her symptoms. After Martin became CEO in 2012,
however, the Hospital adopted a more restrictive policy
regarding pets in the workplace. At the time, according to
Riggs, she informally requested permission to continue
bringing her pet to work, but the Hospital denied her
On January 13, 2015, Riggs formally requested the Hospital
permit her to bring her companion dog to work. To support her
request, Riggs submitted a form completed by her
psychiatrist, Dr. Lyle P. Christopher son. On the form, Dr.
Christopherson indicated that Riggs suffered from depression
and post-traumatic stress disorder and that Riggs's
depression had worsened since 2012. Dr. Christopherson
recommended that the Hospital grant Riggs's request and
permit her to bring her dog to work.
On January 21, 2015, a committee consisting of Martin,
Dillon, and Judy Soderlin (the Hospital's chief financial
officer) met to consider Riggs's request. In a letter
sent to Riggs and dated January 28, the committee indicated
that in considering her request, it took into account the
duties of Riggs's position, her current job performance,
her two most recent performance evaluations, her attendance
record over the past year, any previous complaints or
concerns Riggs expressed to her supervisors describing her
difficulties, and Riggs's medical documentation. In
analyzing these factors, the letter stated:
The Committee found no change in employment duties, actual
improvement in [Riggs's] two most recent job performance
evaluations which were both at acceptable levels, excellent
attendance, no complaints or concerns presented to
[Riggs's] supervisor related to [her] ability to perform
specific tasks, no decline in ability or extreme reactions
when in stressful situations, good ability to multi-task, no
verbal or written warnings of unsatisfactory job performance
over the past year, and no substantial impairment of any
major life activity or function.
on these findings, the committee denied Riggs's request
for accommodation. The letter advised Riggs of her right to
appeal the committee's decision within 30 calendar days.
Dillon delivered the letter and a copy of the Hospital's
grievance policy to Riggs. According to Dillon, Riggs reacted
by throwing the policy in a drawer, slamming the drawer,
cursing, and then walking away.
Following the committee's denial of Riggs's request,
Riggs's relationship with the Hospital's management
became increasingly strained. According to Martin, Riggs
would not communicate with Martin or respond to Martin's
directions. According to Dillon, Riggs came to Dillon's
office on February 4, 2015, upset that Martin had terminated
another employee. Riggs referred to Martin as a
"bitch" and said she hoped a family ...