December 2019 and January 2020 employment law decisions

The time to file an administrative discrimination claim can be extended by the filing of a workers’ compensation claim; and the filing deadline period starts at the end of ongoing discriminatory conduct or with a constructive termination.

January 28, 2020, First District Court of Appeal, Jay Brome v. California Highway Patrol: Mr. Brome’s claims for harassment and sexual orientation discrimination were not barred by the statute of limitations because the one-year period to file with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing was tolled while a workers’ compensation claim was pending; a jury could conclude that there was harassment that continued to within the limitations period extended by the tolling; and a jury could conclude that Mr. Brome was constructively terminated when he resigned less than one year before he filed with the Department.

Employees’ do not prevail on sexual harassment claims.

January 22, 2020, Second District Court of Appeal, Tamika Schmidt v. Superior Court: Court verdict finding no sexual harassment against two court employees is affirmed because the court properly applied the applicable law and did not exhibit bias amounting to a due process violation.

Unionized federal employees may only bring discrimination claims through either their union’s grievance procedure or their agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity office.

January 16, 2020, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Garry Heimrich v. United States Department of the Army: Mr. Heimrich could not pursue a wrongful termination claim before his agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity office because he previously raised the same matter in a union grievance: in both instances the underlying action was premised on a termination motivated by race, retaliation, and disability.

Employers cannot use acronyms in wage statements and PAGA claims need only cite the applicable Labor Code section.

December 26, 2019, Third District Court of Appeal, Mohammed Noori v. Countrywide Payroll & HR Solutions, Inc.: Mr. Noori asserted a valid claim for failure to provide a proper itemized wage statement because the employer’s name was indicated only by an acronym; and a valid claim under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) by citing the Labor Code section (as opposed to the specific subdivision) that was allegedly violated; but his failure to maintain wage statements claim failed because the employer’s failure to state its name in the statements was not an actionable injury.

State defendants cannot avoid liability for claims by removing cases to federal court.

December 23, 2019, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Donald Walden, Jr. v. State of Nevada: A State that removes a case to federal court waives its immunity from suit on all federal-law claims in the case, including the Fair Labor Standards Act claim in this case.

Fourth District claims no adverse action based on rejection of accommodation requests despite statutory and case law authority to the contrary; and affirms dismissal of interactive process and reasonable accommodation claims on grounds the employee did not identify his particular disability despite case law emphasizing the discussion of limitations resulting from the disability.

December 19, 2019, Fourth District Court of Appeal, John Doe v. Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: Dismissal (summary judgment) of Mr. Doe’s disability discrimination, retaliation, and harassment claims was affirmed because criticism of Mr. Doe’s work, ordering a wellness check when Mr. Doe was out sick, suspecting Mr. Doe of bringing a cell phone to work, and assigning Mr. Doe as primary crisis person on the day he had a union meeting did not amount to an adverse employment action. The Fourth District further affirmed the dismissal on grounds that no court had ever held a failure to accommodate a disability is an adverse employment action, despite a 2002 case (Bagatti v. Department of Rehabilitation (2002) 97 Cal.App.4th 344) that did and the statute specifically providing that failure to accommodate is an adverse action (Government Code section 12940(m)(1)). The dismissal of Mr. Doe’s interactive process and accommodation claims was affirmed on grounds Mr. Doe was responsible for the breakdown in the accommodation discussions because he did not identify his disability, despite case law providing that the focus of such discussions is on the employee’s limitations, not specific disabling conditions.

No punitive damages against public entities available under whistleblower law.

December 17, 2019, Fifth District Court of Appeal, Visalia Unified School District v. Superior Court: Award of punitive damages to employee who sued Visalia Unified School District under the whistleblower statute covering public school employees (Education Code section 44110 et seq.) was reversed based on public entity immunity to punitive damage awards.

Verdict in favor of employee of religious organization upheld under federal, but not state, law.

December 12, 2019, Sixth District Court of Appeal, Jeremiah Mathews v. Happy Valley Conference Center, Inc.: Verdict in favor of Mr. Mathews upheld with respect to his retaliation claim under federal law (Title VII) because the jury properly concluded that Happy Valley and the Community of Church, of which Happy Valley was an affiliate, were joint employers collectively employing more than 15 employees based on common ownership, closely intertwined management, interrelated operations, and evidence showing Mr. Mathews’ termination was influenced or even dictated by the Church. But the verdict in favor of Mr. Mathews with respect to his retaliation claim under state law (Fair Employment and Housing Act) was reversed because religious associations or non-profit corporations (other than hospitals and schools) are completely exempt from FEHA claims and Happy Valley did not waive this exemption.

Posted by deanroyerlaw in Employment

October and November 2019 employment law decisions

Federal employee’s case that named the wrong defendant is still timely.

November 14, 2019, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Alisha Silbaugh v. Elaine Chao: Ms. Silbaugh filed her case concerning her employment with the Federal Aviation Administration within the time limits (statue of limitations) but named the wrong defendant. After the limitations period ran, the FAA moved to dismiss the action on grounds the case had to be filed against the head of the executive agency to which the FAA belongs. Ms. Silbaugh responded by filing an amended complaint that named the Secretary of Transportation (Ms. Chao) as the defendant. The district court denied FAA’s motion to dismiss as moot. Ms. Chao filed a motion to dismiss on grounds the amended complaint was not timely because it did not “relate back” to the original complaint. The district court agreed. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed a federal rule of civil procedure (15(c)) that provides that an amendment relates back to the original complaint when a United States officer or agency is added as a defendant if the original complaint and summons was served on the United States attorney, the Attorney General, or the officer or agency within a 90-day period. Because Ms. Silbaugh timely served the United States attorney and Attorney General her amendment to re-name the defendant related back. Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal.

Disability discrimination need not be based on animus or ill will.

November 13, 2019, Second District Court of Appeal, John Glynn v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County: Mr. Glynn sued his employer for disability discrimination. The case arose from a temporary benefits staffer mistakenly thinking Mr. Glynn had transitioned from short term disability to long term disability and was unable to work with or without an accommodation. On that basis, the staffer terminated Mr. Glynn. For months the employer ignored Mr. Glynn’s efforts to correct the misunderstanding. The issue before the court of appeal was whether this constituted direct evidence of disability discrimination. Under the direct evidence method of proof the employee must show that his employer knew of his disability and the disability was a substantial motivating reason for an adverse employment action such as termination. The court of appeal reviewed a prior appellate decision in which the court concluded that animus or ill will was not required to prove discriminatory intent; rather, the disability discrimination law protects employees from erroneous or mistaken beliefs about the employee’s disability. In this case, the termination letter stated that Mr. Glynn’s employment ended due to his inability to return to work with or without an accommodation. As a result, the court of appeal concluded that Mr. Glynn’s case could not be dismissed (summary judgment).

Each payment of an alleged discriminatory disability check triggers a new statute of limitations period.

October 31, 2019, First District Court of Appeal, Joyce Carroll v. City and County of San Francisco: Ms. Carroll sued her former employer as a class representative claiming that San Francisco discriminated based on age by providing reduced disability retirement benefits to older employees who took disability retirement after working for the City for less than 22.22 years. A required administrative charge with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing was filed more than 17 years after Ms. Carroll retired. The trial court dismissed the case (demurrer) on grounds the DFEH charge was filed too late (statute of limitations). The court of appeal decided that the one-year limitations period started each time Ms. Carroll received a discriminatory disability payment. Therefore, the dismissal was reversed.

Employer’s service charge may be considered a tip that must be distributed to employees.

October 31, 2019, First District Court of Appeal, Lauren O’Grady v. Merchant Exchange Productions, Inc.: Ms. Grady sued her employer as a class representative asserting a failure to distribute tips (gratuities). Merchant Exchange Productions added a mandatory “service charge” to the contract for every banquet facility it provided and distributed only some of the charge to managerial employees who did not serve food and beverages at the banquet. Ms. Grady alleged that she and other employees who served food and beverages were entitled to the entire service charge as a tip as required by California’s Labor Code (section 351). The court of appeal decided that a service charge can meet the Labor Code’s definition of a tip and that Ms. O’Grady’s complaint sufficiently alleged a violation of law.

Posted by deanroyerlaw in Employment

October 2019 employment law decisions

Temporary employee can hold the contracting company liable.

October 17, 2019, Fourth District Court of Appeal, Elvia Jimenez v. U.S. Continental Marketing, Inc.: Ms. Jimenez brought claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) against her contracting employer (U.S. Continental Marketing), a company that negotiated with her direct employer, a temporary-staffing agency (Ameritemps). At trial, the jury decided that U.S. Continental Marketing was not Ms. Jimenez’s employer. The Fourth District reversed the jury verdict. Under the FEHA, whether a company is an employer is determined by the totality of the circumstances, including the extent of direction and control possessed and/or exercised by the company over the employee. Undisputed evidence showed that U.S. Continental Marketing exercised considerable direction and control over Ms. Jimenez’s terms, conditions, and privileges of employment and terminated her employment with them.

Remedy for meal and rest break violations is determined by the hourly wage only.

October 9, 2019, Second District Court of Appeal, Jessica Ferra v. Loews Hollwood Hotel, LLC: In this class action for denial of meal and rest breaks, the employees contended that their “premium wage” remedy of one hour of pay for each missed break should be calculated based on their regular rate of pay including nondiscretionary bonus. The Second District disagreed, concluding that the premium wage is determined by the regular rate of compensation, which is the base hourly wage only.

New independent contractor test applies to California Labor Code claims based on wage order violations.

October 8, 2019, Second District Court of Appeal, Francisco Gonzales v. San Gabriel Transit, Inc.: This class action asserted that San Gabriel Transit misclassified drivers as independent contractors, and as a result violated various California wage and hour laws. While this case was pending, the California Supreme Court made its decision (Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court (2018) 4 Cal.5th 903) establishing the “ABC test” for independent contractors for purposes of claims based on California’s wage orders. The court of appeal concluded that the “ABC test” applies retroactively to pending cases; applies to California Labor Code claims that seek to enforce the protections afforded by wage orders; and claims alleging misclassification not directly premised on wage order protections are subject to the “Borello test” (S.G. Borello and Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations (1989) 48 Cal.3d 341).

Gas station employees cannot pursue claims against Shell Oil.

October 8, 2019, First District Court of Appeal, Billy Henderson v. Equilon Enterprises, LLC: Mr. Henderson filed claims for failure to pay overtime and failure to pay for missed break periods against Equilon Enterprises doing business as Shell Oil Products US. The court of appeal agreed with the trial court that Shell was not a joint employer under the “control,” “suffer or permit,” or “engage” tests. The gas station where Mr. Henderson worked and that had a franchise agreement with Shell unilaterally set Mr. Henderson’s wages and was responsibile for payroll and compliance with labor laws. The station’s agreement with Shell provided that the station had the exclusive right to hire and fire and maintain control over its employees’ daily work activities. Finally, Shell never exercised an option to remove an employee from the station.

McDonald’s employees cannot pursue claims against McDonald’s Corporation.

October 1, 2019, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Guadalupe Salazar v. McDonald’s Corp.: Ms. Salazar and other employees brought a class action for denial of overtime premiums, meal and rest breaks, and other benefits, alleging that McDonald’s was their joint employer with the company who contracted with McDonald’s as a franchise. The Ninth Circuit agreed with the trial court that McDonald’s was not a joint employer under the “control,” “suffer or permit,” or “engage” tests. McDonald’s did not have control over the employees’ wages, hours, or working conditions; rather it only controlled its franchisees with respect to quality control. McDonald’s did not suffer or permit the employees to work because McDonald’s did not have the power to hire and fire the employees. Finally, McDonald’s did not engage the employees to work (California common law) because McDonald’s did not have the right to control the manner and means of work performed at its franchises.

Verdict in favor of employee with retaliation claims is reversed.

October 1, 2019, Second District Court of Appeal, Patrick Nejadian v. County of Los Angeles: A jury found that Los Angeles retaliated against Mr. Nejadian for resisting unlawful orders (Labor Code section 1102.5) and reporting conduct that he reasonably believed constituted unlawful discrimination or harassment in the workplace (Government Code section 12940). On appeal, Los Angeles argued that there was insufficient evidence for these findings. The court of appeal agreed. For the unlawful orders claim, the trial court failed to determine whether the orders resisted by Mr. Nejadian would result in a violation of a statute, rule, or regulation. Furthermore, Mr. Nejadian failed to present sufficient evidence to establish that any acts he was asked to perform would result in a violation of a statute, rule, or regulation. As for the other claim, the court gave a jury instruction that allowed the jury to find in Mr. Nejadian even if he did not report any discrimination or retaliation (refusal to participate in activities that would violate statutes, rules, or regulations). Moreover, Mr. Nejadian failed to present evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Los Angeles was motivated by any reporting of discrimination when it took adverse employment actions against him.

Posted by deanroyerlaw in Employment

August and September 2019 employment law decisions

Retaliation claim can be proved with evidence concerning a comparator who need only be similarly situated to the plaintiff employee in all relevant respects.

September 26, 2019, First District Court of Appeal, Rashmi Gupta v. Trustees of the California State University: The court of appeal affirmed a jury verdict finding San Francisco State University retaliated against Dr. Gupta in denying her tenure and terminating her employment. The trial court did not err by allowing Dr. Gupta to present evidence of a comparator professor because the other professor was similarly situated in all relevant respects and Dr. Gupta did not have to show that she was clearly superior to him.

Premium wages required for on-duty meal periods unless there is written agreement to such meal periods.

September 26, 2019, Second District Court of Appeal, Gustavo Naranjo v. Spectrum Security Services, Inc.: The court of appeal determined that at-will, on-call, hourly, nonexempt employees who are paid for on-duty meal periods are also entitled to premium wages (one hour of wages for each off-duty meal period not provided) if the employer does not have a written agreement that includes an on-duty meal period revocation clause.

Employees entitled to penalties and attorney’s fees in whistleblower retaliation case.

September 25, 2019, Second District Court of Appeal, Todd Hawkins v. City of Los Angeles: A jury found in favor of Mr. Hawkins and his co-plaintiff Hyung Kim who claimed retaliation for whistleblowing. The court of appeal affirmed the jury verdict and the trial court’s award of a Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) penalty because the plaintiffs’ pre-lawsuit notice referred to their employer’s conduct directed toward them and other employees that also impacted the public. The court of appeal also affirmed the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees under PAGA, and under a law concerning enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest (Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5) because the case concerned claims that the plaintiffs were retaliated against for reporting pressure on hearing examiners to change decisions concerning parking citations.

Common law failure to hire claim is not available.

September 24, 2019, Third District Court of Appeal, Wilfert Williams v. Sacramento River Cats Baseball Club, LLC: The court of appeal determined that Mr. Williams’s failure to hire claim is not cognizable under a common law doctrine (Tameny claim) because the doctrine requires the prior existence of an employment relationship that gives rise to an employer’s duty to not violate fundamental public policy with respect to its employees.

Employee’s whistleblower case survives anti-SLAPP motion.

August 29, 2019, Second District Court of Appeal, James Jeffra v. California State Lottery: The court of appeal disagreed with the trial court’s denial of an anti-SLAPP motion on grounds Mr. Jeffra’s whistleblower case arises from non-protected retaliation. The Second District applied a recent California Supreme Court decision that whether a case arises from protected activity depends on the elements of the claim that need to be proven. In this retaliation case, Mr. Jeffra had to prove he was subjected to an adverse employment action, which he claimed was an investigation of alleged wrongdoing (followed by administrative leave and forced retirement). Nevertheless, the court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion because Mr. Jeffra presented sufficient evidence to establish a probability of prevailing on the merits.

Whether morbid obesity is a disability under federal law in the absence of an underlying physiological condition is an open question.

August 20, 2019, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Jose Valtierra v. Medtronic Inc.: After acknowledging that four other circuits have concluded that morbid obesity is not a disability unless caused by an underlying physiological condition, the Ninth Circuit did not take a stand on that issue. Instead it affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Mr. Valtierra’s federal disability discrimination case on grounds he did not have evidence to suggest a causal connection between his obesity and his termination.

The causation standard for federal disability discrimination claims is “but for.”

August 20, 2019, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Michael J. Murray, M.D. v. Mayo Clinic: In light of two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s jury instruction for Mr. Murray’s federal disability discrimination claim that used a but for causation standard as opposed to a motivating factor standard.

Unfair Competition Law claims seeking private injunctive relief are subject to arbitration agreements.

August 14, 2019, Fourth District Court of Appeal, Daniel Clifford v. Quest Software Inc.: Mr. Clifford brought various wage and hour claims against his employer. Quest Software moved to compel arbitration. The trial court ordered the case to arbitration except Mr. Clifford’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) claim. The court of appeal reversed after finding that a California Supreme Court decision did not bar arbitration of a UCL claim for private (as opposed to public) injunctive relief.

The change in law for awards of attorney’s fees and costs to employers in Fair Employment and Housing Act cases applies retroactively.

August 1, 2019, Fourth District Court of Appeal, Arthur Scott v. City of San Diego: Mr. Scott rejected a $7,000 settlement offer under Code of Civil Procedure section 998. After the case went to trial and a jury found in favor of San Diego, the trial court awarded the city $51,946.96 in costs even though it found that the plaintiff’s case was not frivolous. While the appeal was pending, the California Legislature amended the governing costs statute to provide that a prevailing defendant may not recover attorney’s fees and costs, notwithstanding a section 998 offer, against a plaintiff with non-frivolous claims. The court of appeal decided that this amendment clarified existing law, meaning that the change in law applies retroactively. On this basis, it reversed the trial court’s award of costs.

Posted by deanroyerlaw in Employment

July 2019 employment law decisions

On-duty meal periods subject to the 30-minute minimum requirement.

July 31, 2019, First District Court of Appeal, L’Chaim House, Inc. v. Division of Labor Standards Enforcement: Residential care home is required to provide meal periods of at least 30 minutes even when they are “on-duty” periods, i.e., the nature of the work prevents the employees from being relieved of all duty and the employer and employees agree in writing to an on-the-job paid meal period.

Anti-SLAPP motions available in discrimination or retaliation cases but not in this particular case.

July 22, 2019, Supreme Court of California, Stanley Wilson v. Cable News Network, Inc.: The anti-SLAPP statute (special motion to strike claims that arise from the defendant’s constitutionally protected activity) may be used to screen claims alleging discriminatory or retaliatory employment actions because the defendant’s adverse action is a necessary element of such claims. Mr. Wilson’s claim that his employer defamed him by privately discussing the alleged reasons for his termination with potential employers and others is not subject to the anti-SLAPP statute because the communications were not made in connection with any issue of public significance.

Employees have sufficient evidence for discrimination and harassment claims.

July 17, 2019, Third District Court of Appeal, Nancy Ortiz v. Dameron Hospital Association and Shirley Galvan v. Dameron Hospital Association: The facts were disputed whether Dameron constructively terminated Ms. Ortiz and Ms. Galvan because there was evidence that their supervisor intentionally created working conditions that would cause a reasonable person to feel compelled to resign. The facts were also disputed whether the supervisor acted with national origin discrimination motive based on evidence that the supervisor focused her criticisms on subordinates’ accents and English language skills. The facts were further disputed whether Ms. Ortiz and Ms. Galvan were subjected to unlawful harassment given the evidence of the supervisor’s criticisms of accents and English-speaking skills and references to subordinates’ ages, including calling them “too old”; and in Ms. Ortiz’s case, the additional evidence of being transferred to a unit where she had little or no experience and provided with no training, being falsely accused of sleeping on the job, and being told she would likely be fired.

Jury verdict in favor of employee in race discrimination and retaliation case affirmed.

July 17, 2019, Third District Court of Appeal, Wendell Brown v. City of Sacramento: Mr. Brown could recover for a suspension that occurred more than one year before he filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) because the suspension did not become final until a union grievance challenging it was dismissed within the one-year statute of limitations period. Mr. Brown could also recover for a transfer that had been announced but not scheduled to take effect until after he filed his DFEH complaint. Although the DFEH complaint did not refer to the specific transfer, it included general language about being forced to transfer and the DFEH investigation would have likely uncovered the specific transfer at issue.

Employer not required to reimburse its employees for purchasing slip-resistance shoes.

July 8, 2019, Third District Court of Appeal, Krista Townley v. BJ’s Restaurants, Inc.: BJ’s Restaurants has a safety policy that requires its employees to wear slip-resistance shoes, although no specific brand, style, or design is required and the policy does not prohibit the employees from wearing their shoes outside of work. The California law requiring employers to reimburse their employees for expenses incurred in the discharge of their work duties (Labor Code section 2802) does not apply because the shoes are non-uniform work clothing and generally usable in the restaurant occupation.

Posted by deanroyerlaw in Employment