After more than 30 years, the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) has concluded that it was time to change the standard for determining when companies are to be considered joint employers under the National Labor Relations Act. On August 27, 2015, with its much-anticipated decision in Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc., the Board issued a new joint-employer standard that will examine whether an employer has the potential to exercise control over employees’ working conditions and reversed the previous requirement that a joint employer must exercise direct and immediate control over the employees in question.
California employers should keep an eye on a new challenge to arbitration provisions on its way to the Governor’s desk. On August 24, 2015, the California Senate passed AB 465, which would make it unlawful for any employer or other company to “require another person to waive any legal right, penalty, remedy, forum, or procedure for a violation of any provision of [the California Labor Code], as a condition of employment, including the right to file and pursue a civil action or complaint with, or otherwise notify, the Labor Commissioner, state agency, other public prosecutor, law enforcement agency, or any court or other governmental entity.” The Senate version eliminates the originally proposed $10,000 per violation penalty, but continues to authorize an award of injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees to a prevailing plaintiff seeking to enforce the section. The Assembly concurred in the Senate’s amendments on August 27, 2015, and the bill will reach the Governor shortly.
On August 3, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision in France v. Johnson, holding that an average age difference of less than 10 years between an Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) plaintiff and the individual(s) promoted in lieu of the plaintiff creates a rebuttable presumption that the difference was insubstantial. The “rebuttable presumption” approach affords limited protection to an employer faced with an ADEA suit, and highlights the need for employers to implement appropriate policies and training to mitigate the risk of such claims.
The ability to preserve privilege for highly sensitive internal investigations conducted at the direction of attorneys is alive and well. In a closely watched decision on the scope of the attorney-client privilege as applied to internal investigations, the D.C. Circuit granted defense contractor Kellogg Brown & Root’s (“KBR”) petition for a writ of mandamus and vacated a district court’s order that privileged documents from an internal investigation must be produced.
In Cheeks v. Freeport Pancake House, Inc., the Second Circuit held that without the approval of a district court or the U.S. Department of Labor, parties cannot secure a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice of an FLSA claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(ii). In practice, this holding will prevent parties to an FLSA litigation – where there is a bona fide dispute as to liability – from reaching a privately negotiated settlement that includes a joint stipulation of dismissal of the case.
On August 4, 2015 the Securities and Exchange Commission issued interpretive guidance elaborating its view that the anti-retaliation provisions in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act apply equally to tipsters who claim retaliation after reporting internally, as well as those who are retaliated against after reporting information to the SEC. The guidance reflects that there is a split among federal courts over whether Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower retaliation provisions apply to internal as well as external reporting, and recognizes that the only circuit court to decide the issue to date, the Fifth Circuit, has taken a contrary position to that of the Commission in Rule 21F, the regulation the SEC adopted to implement the whistleblower legislation, holding that internal reports are not protected by Dodd-Frank. Whether internal reports qualify for Dodd-Frank coverage has important implications because, among other things, Dodd Frank provides enhanced recoveries (including two times back pay) and longer time frames (six years) for bringing a retaliation claim than would be available under the anti-retaliation provisions in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
The Ninth Circuit recently delivered a setback to defendants seeking to remove cases to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”) when it interpreted the statute narrowly to exclude consideration of non-class claims in determining the jurisdictional amount in controversy in Yocupicio v. PAE Grp., LLC, No. 15-55878, 2015 WL 4568722 (9th Cir. 2015).
On July 17, 2015, the SEC announced a whistleblower award of over $3 million to a company insider who provided information that “helped the SEC crack a complex fraud.” This payout represents the third highest award under the SEC’s whistleblower program to date. The SEC has made two of the three highest payments to clients of the same law firm – Phillips & Cohen LLP. (The SEC paid roughly $14 million to a whistleblower in October 2013, and nearly $30 million to a foreign whistleblower represented by Phillips & Cohen in September 2014.). This latest multi-million dollar payout suggests that the SEC’s whistleblower program is in full swing, and that legal representation of whistleblowers may be on the rise.
On July 31, the Solicitor General filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in United States v. Newman, 773 F.3d 438 (2d Cir. 2014), asking the United States Supreme Court to address the standard for insider trading in a tipper-tippee scenario. Specifically, the Solicitor General argues that the Second Circuit’s Newman decision is in conflict with the Supreme Court’s 1983 decision in Dirks v. SEC, 463 U.S. 646 (1983), and the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision in United States v. Salman, No. 14-10204 (9th Cir. July 6, 2015). Because the Supreme Court grants certiorari in nearly three out of four cases filed by the Solicitor General, the likelihood of a cert grant in Newman is particularly high.
On the heels of the landmark decision by the Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage, the EEOC held on July 15, 2015 that sex discrimination under Title VII includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Even though the decision is not binding precedent in federal court, and runs contrary to a significant body of case law holding that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it could be regarded by some courts as persuasive authority. The decision could also have an impact on employers in the form of an increased number of administrative charges of discrimination filed with the EEOC based on sexual orientation, as courts determine whether to adopt the EEOC’s interpretation.