We have previously written about how Dodd-Frank retaliation cases are a mixed bag for employers and about the Supreme Court’s expansion of Sarbanes-Oxley (“SOX”) Whistleblower protections. A new decision from the Wisconsin District Court is another mixed win for employers who want to enforce arbitration agreements in Dodd-Frank and SOX retaliation cases. In a case of first impression in the Seventh Circuit, Wussow v. Bruker Corporation., No. 16-cv-444-wmc, 2017 WL 2805016 (W.D. Wis. June 25, 2017), the district court held that while arbitration of SOX whistleblower retaliation claims cannot be compelled, a similar cause of action for whistleblower retaliation under Dodd-Frank can be. READ MORE
Andrea Johnson is a member of the employment law group at Orrick’s Global Operations Center in Wheeling, West Virginia. She has a broad range of employment law experience, including matters involving claims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation and whistleblowing.
has experience with class actions and collective actions under both state and
federal law. Prior to joining Orrick, Andrea worked as a trial attorney
for a boutique employment and civil rights firm in Detroit, Michigan. In
addition, Andrea served as a federal judicial law clerk for the Honorable
Victoria A. Roberts in the Eastern District of Michigan. Andrea has
provided pro bono services in a number of matters, including in Michigan’s
marriage equality case, DeBoer v. Snyder. Andrea received
recognition from the Eastern District of Michigan for her pro bono work in 2014
Posts by: Andrea Johnson
As employers well know, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) permits employees to file suits on behalf of themselves and others who are “similarly situated.” 29 U.S.C. 216(b). In practice, this often means large employers find themselves defending against a single or handful of employees attempting to certify a collective action that includes hundreds or thousands of employees nationwide. Many times, the collective group includes employees in states where the plaintiffs have never worked. However, as a NY federal court recently reminded us, while plaintiffs’ evidentiary burden is not onerous at this stage, lack of knowledge about the employees in other states continues to be an obstacle for plaintiffs in obtaining conditional certification. On the opposite side of the coin, this failure of evidence can be utilized by defendant employers to narrow the proposed collective group or altogether prevent the conditional certification of a collective action. READ MORE
On May 4, 2017, the President signed the Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Liberty (the “EO”). The EO’s stated policy is to “vigorously enforce Federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom.” An early version of the Executive Order contained provisions that directed the Department of Labor to begin rulemaking which could have expanded the religions exemptions to federal civil rights laws for federal contractors. While this and other expansive provisions were not included in the current EO, further accommodations of religious exercise in the workplace are not off the table. READ MORE
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) has created a flurry of class action complaints in recent years aimed at employers who fail to comply with the FCRA’s hyper-technical disclosure and consent requirements. However, a new class action against UPS reminds us that traditional FCRA claims have not faded away and employers should remain mindful of the Act’s requirements. READ MORE
From the time of its enactment, the California Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”) has been a thorn in the side of employers. For example, the California Supreme Court insists PAGA actions are not class actions, but that hasn’t stopped aggrieved employees from seeking class-wide discovery. And because PAGA permits employees to seek penalties for unconventional causes of action previously off-limits to private plaintiffs (such as the California Wage Order’s suitable seating requirement), employers must grapple with new uncertainties.
But one aspect of PAGA that provides some relief to employers is the requirement that plaintiffs exhaust administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit. To satisfy this this requirement, a plaintiff is required to send a notice to her employer and the Labor Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”) setting forth the “specific provisions” of the Labor Code allegedly violated and explaining the “facts and theories to support the alleged violation” and then wait 65 days before filing suit. This notice requirement has two purposes: (1) to give the LWDA sufficient information to determine whether the alleged violation justifies an investigation and/ or citation and (2) to put the employer on notice so that it may voluntarily cure the alleged violation. Oftentimes, however, plaintiffs’ notice letters are deficient because they fail to include sufficient facts and theories to inform the employer or the LWDA of the nature of the claims. In such cases, plaintiffs have failed to exhaust administrative remedies.
Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s recent decision in Gunn v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc., Case No.: 3:14-cv-1916-GPC-BGS (S.D. Cal. Dec. 2, 2016), reminds us of the standard that notice letters must meet. Plaintiff Gunn’s notice letter advised the LWDA of his intent to file a PAGA action for violations of Wage Order 7-2001, Section 14, and “[s]pecifically . . . allege[d] that Family Dollar failed to provide suitable seats to Plaintiff and other current and former employees when the nature of their work reasonably permits the use of seats, in violation of California Labor Code section 1198 and Wage Order 7-2001, section 14.” Judge Curiel held that such an allegation was insufficient to meet PAGA’s standards. As he noted, plaintiffs must detail the “facts and theories” supporting their alleged violations. But here, the plaintiff’s allegations simply parroted the language of the underlying regulation, amounting to nothing more than a “string of legal conclusions” devoid of any of the facts or theories required by the Labor Code. The court rejected the plaintiff’s contention that facts could be implied by his allegations (i.e., that the class of employees at issue would not include office employees because they have seats).
The most notable aspect of Judge Curiel’s opinion, however, was his denial of the plaintiff’s request for leave to amend. Although the court recognized leave to amend tends to be granted freely, he disagreed that applied to defective PAGA notices. The court stated that “courts have granted PAGA claimants leave to amend only when the plaintiff’s complaint failed to adequately plead exhaustion, not when Plaintiff provided defective notice to the LWDA” (emphasis added). Indeed, granting the plaintiff leave here would tacitly endorse a strategy that precludes the LWDA from receiving the information necessary “to intelligently assess the seriousness of the alleged violation,” thereby frustrating the purpose of PAGA’s statutory notice requirement.
While the unpublished opinion in Gunn will not likely mark a sea change in how courts treat PAGA actions, it is nevertheless a victory for California employers. Those facing suitable seats claims, which are based on a notoriously ambiguous statute, may have the most to gain.
On Tuesday, September 20, 2016, twenty-one states filed a complaint in federal court in Texas challenging the new overtime rule finalized by the Department of Labor (“DOL”) in May of this year. The States seek to prevent implementation of the new rule, which is scheduled to become effective on December 1, 2016. That same day, fifty-five business groups, including several chambers of commerce, filed a similar lawsuit in Texas federal court to block the rule.