The “cat’s paw” doctrine, a concept first coined by Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner in 1990 and adopted by the Supreme Court in 2011, applies when an employee is subjected to an adverse employment action by a decision maker who does not have any discriminatory animus but who bases his or her decision upon information from another who has such an improper motive. In Vasquez v. Empress Ambulance Service, Inc., the Second Circuit recently held that the “cat’s paw” theory may be used to support recovery for Title VII retaliation, in addition to discrimination, claims and then extended the doctrine to permit liability if the individual with the discriminatory or retaliatory motive is a low-level employee, not just a supervisor.
Two recent events may spur a rise in the number of high quality whistleblower tips filed with the SEC. First, on August 30, 2016, the SEC announced that it had awarded a $22.4 million bounty to a former Monsanto financial executive, whose report of alleged accounting fraud led to the company’s $80 million settlement with the SEC in February. This recent award brings the total amount paid out to whistleblowers by the SEC since the inception of the bounty program in 2011 up to $107 million, more than half of which has been paid out in 2016 alone. This most recent award follows a string of seven and eight-figure awards in 2016, most notably topping a $17 million bounty in June 2016, and is second in size only to a September 2014 award of $30 million. The $22.4 million award represents approximately 28% of Monsanto’s $80 million payment, just shy of the 30% award cap established for recoveries exceeding $1 million.
On August 26, 2016, a North Carolina federal judge blocked the University of North Carolina (UNC) from enforcing a state law requiring transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates.
With the passage of House Bill 2 (HB2) in March 2016, North Carolina became the first state to ban people from using restrooms consistent with their gender identity in government buildings and schools. News of HB2 stirred up a public outcry, including a Department of Justice lawsuit and the NBA’s decision to relocate the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, North Carolina to another location.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) is proposing amendments to its Dodd-Frank whistleblower regulations to bring them more in line with the SEC’s whistleblower bounty program. This is perhaps not surprising given the relative success of the SEC’s program compared to the CFTC’s program to date (over $100 million in SEC bounties versus about $10 million in CFTC bounties). The proposed changes would include the following:
- Giving the CFTC the ability to bring anti-retaliation suits in its own name (previously it interpreted Dodd-Frank as only providing for private causes of action);
- Providing that “no person may take any action to impede an individual from communicating directly with the Commission’s staff about a possible violation of the Commodity Exchange Act, including by enforcing, or threatening to enforce, a confidentiality agreement….” This is much like the SEC’s Rule 21F-17, which that agency has used to aggressively prosecute cases against companies and collect significant fines; and
- Enhancing the ability of whistleblowers to recover bounties for “related” actions brought by agencies other than the CFTC.
In addition, the proposed regulations would extend the time frame for a whistleblower to report to the CFTC after reporting internally and still be award-eligible from 120 to 180 days. Comments will be accepted until September 29, 2016, and we will keep our readers posted on the rule-making in this area.
Just in time for the 10th anniversary of the German General Equal Treatment Act (Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz – AGG) the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has clarified that European anti-discrimination law does not protect mock applicants, i.e. applicants who are not interested in being hired, but solely apply in order to bring claims on the grounds of discrimination. The judgment will make it easier for companies in Europe to reject such discrimination claims in the future.
Can employers still require employees to sign arbitration agreements with class action waivers as a condition of employment? Last week, the Ninth Circuit became the second appellate court to adopt the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) position that class action waivers violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) in Morris v. Ernst & Young LLP.
The federal government released the final regulations implementing the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order (“EO” hereafter) this week. The regulatory package contains two parts: amendments to the Federal Acquisition Regulations and guidance from the Department of Labor for implementing the regulations. The regulatory package is a central part of the Administration’s aggressive regulatory agenda we have previously discussed and reflects continuing burdens on federal contractors.
California’s resistance to the longstanding federal policy favoring arbitration frequently results in public expressions of frustration by the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. In over five years since the Supreme Court’s broad directives in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333 (2011), recent California decisions, including our recent coverage of the California Supreme Court’s holding in Sandquist v. Lebo, Case No. S220812, 2016 WL 4045008 (Cal. July 28, 2016), suggest that the state’s stubbornness may be waning, at least for the time being. The following summarizes key decisions that diverge from California’s traditional resistance to arbitration and which every employer should have in their arsenal of tools.
On July 28, 2016, the California Supreme Court added to the ever-changing body of case law regarding classwide arbitration when it held that “no universal rule” exists regarding who (the court or the arbitrator) should decide whether classwide arbitration is permissible under an arbitration agreement, and that this issue must be decided on a case-by-case basis.
OSHA’s San Francisco region, which includes California, Nevada, and Arizona, launched a new pilot program on August 1, 2016 that would allow complainants, under certain circumstances, to ask OSHA to cease its investigation and issue findings for an ALJ to consider. The program is an effort to process cases more quickly in the region. To qualify for expedited treatment, the investigator must first interview the complainant, allow the respondent the opportunity to submit its position statement and meet with OSHA and present statements from witnesses if so desired, and allow the complainant an opportunity to respond to the respondent’s submission.