Chris Brown

Senior Associate
Employment Law
Read full biography at www.orrick.com

Chris Brown, a senior associate in the San Francisco office is a member of the litigation division, particularly the employment law group. Orrick’s Employment Law and Litigation group was recently named Labor & Employment Department of the Year in California by The Recorder, the premier source for legal news, in recognition of their significant wins on behalf of leading multinational companies on today’s most complex and challenging employment law matters.

He has a broad range of experience litigating employment disputes, with a specialization in the defense of large class actions.

Mr. Brown’s experience includes managing cases in both state and federal court that involve claims for wage-and-hour violations, unfair competition, discrimination and retaliation. He counsels employers on litigation avoidance, successfully defends results obtained for clients on appeal, and has prior experience with general commercial litigation, intellectual property disputes, and white collar criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Recent successes include:

  • Defeating class certification in Coughlin v. Sears Holdings Corp., Central District of California Case No. CV 08-00015 CJC (RNBx), wherein plaintiffs sought to represent a class of all former employees in California on claims for unpaid vacation benefits and unfair competition.
  • Working as part of the team that defeated class certification in Drake v. Morgan Stanley and Company, Inc., Central District of California Case No. CV 09-6467 ODW (RCx), a proposed class action alleging that the defendant misclassified stock brokers as exempt from overtime requirements.
  • Defeating class certification in Ortega v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., Santa Barbara Superior Court Case No. 01264561, wherein plaintiff sought to represent all current and former service technicians on various wage/hour and unfair competition claims. Mr. Brown successfully defended the trial court’s denial of class certification on appeal.
  • Defeating a motion for a temporary restraining order that would have barred Orrick clients from developing applications for Apple’s iPhone on the ground that the iPhonedoes not represent a “social networking platform” akin to Facebook or My Space.
Chris Brown

New Law Puts California Businesses On The Hook For Wage And Workers’ Compensation Claims By Temporary Workers Employed By Staffing Agencies

A new law exposes California businesses to potential liability for claims by temporary workers.  On September 28, 2014, Governor Brown signed into law AB 1897, which created California Labor Code § 2810.3.  The new law requires companies who use workers provided by staffing agencies to “share with a labor contractor all civil legal responsibility and civil liability” for (1) the payment of wages and (2) the provision of workers’ compensation insurance.  The effect of this new Labor Code provision is to make it more difficult for companies to argue that they are not joint employers and that workers are independent contractors in relation to wage claims and workers’ compensation claims.

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California Court of Appeal Holds Employer Cannot Shorten Statute of Limitation on California Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

Can employers enter into binding agreements with employees to shorten the statute of limitations on discrimination and other employment claims? A California Court of Appeal decision answered that question with a resounding “no” in a recent case, reinstating claims by a woman who filed suit prior to the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations, but after the deadline she had agreed to in an employment agreement signed at the time of hire. Read More

Court is (Still) in Session: Updates On Three Key Employment Cases Pending Before the United States Supreme Court

Back on October 8, 2013, we highlighted three cases currently pending on the United States Supreme Court docket that employers will definitely want to follow. The cases address issues ranging from the proper interpretation of Sarbanes Oxley’s whistleblower provision to the breadth of Presidential NLRB appointment power, to what constitutes “changing clothes” under the FLSA.  Although decisions have not yet come down, important developments have taken place in all three cases. Read More

San Francisco “Flexible Workplace” Measure May be Tip of the Iceberg of Increasing Local Employment Regulation

October 2013, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the “Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance,” which if signed by the mayor will expand protections for workers with family care-giving duties and require employers to take requests for flexible work arrangements seriously. The measure creates a new, “only in San Francisco” protected category of workers that employers will likely have to keep in mind when making workplace decisions, as Mayor Ed Lee has indicated his intention to sign the measure into law.   Read More

Further Down the Rabbit-Hole we go: California’s Troubling Treatment of Incentive-Based Compensation Systems

On July 17, 2013, the California Supreme Court denied review of the Second Appellate District’s decision in Gonzalez v. Downtown LA Motors, 2013 Cal. App. LEXIS 257 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Mar. 6, 2013), which addressed minimum-wage requirements for piece-rate workers. The Court of Appeal held that the employer had to pay a separate hourly rate of at least minimum wage during work time when piece-rate employees are engaged in compensable activity that does not directly produce piece-rates.  Read More

Party Foul! NLRB Orders Reinstatement and Back Pay for Party Bus Guide After Finding Facebook Postings Amount to Protected Union Organizing Activity

Providing yet another example of how online social networking can amount to protected conduct under the National Labor Relations Act, the NLRB ruled earlier this month in New York Party Shuttle, LLC and Fred Pflantzer, CN: 02-CA-073340 that a New York City tour guide’s Facebook postings constituted protected union organizing activities. The board held that New York Party Shuttle LLC unlawfully discharged Fred Pflantzer when it refused to give him new assignments after he posted Facebook messages criticizing the company’s employment practices. Read More

Put up your Dukes! Supreme Court Clarifies that Damages Must be Capable of Class Wide Resolution in Rule 23(b)(3) Class Actions the United States Supreme Court’s Recent Ruling in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend

The United States Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, Case No. 11-864 (March 27, 2013) reinforces class certification requirements as spelled out in Wal-Mart v. Dukes. However, the closely divided court (5-4) and a strong dissent underscore that the battle over class certification standards may be far from over. While Comcast involved antitrust claims, the Court’s decision has implications for all Rule 23 cases, including employment class actions. Read More

Fifth Circuit to Consider In Re D.R. Horton in Light of Recent Court of Appeals Decision Striking Down Recess Appointments to NLRB

A recent D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision striking down several recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board has cast doubt over one of the NLRB’s most controversial decisions from 2012.

In Noel Canning v. NLRB, F. 3d (D.C. Cir. Jan. 25, 2013), the D.C. Circuit held that President Obama lacked constitutional authority to use recess appointments to name three new members to the NLRB because the vacancies did not arise, and the appointments were not made, during a “Recess of the Senate,” which is defined as “the period between sessions that would end with the ensuing session of the Senate.” Slip op. at 18; 39-40. As a result, the court held that the NLRB lacked a quorum when it decided the underlying case, rendering its decision void ab initio.

The holding in Noel Canning raises questions about the viability of In re D.R. Horton, Inc., 357 NLRB 184 – 2012, one of the most widely discussed NLRB decisions of 2012. In D.R. Horton, the Board held that arbitration clauses that prohibit employees from pursuing class or collective actions violate employee rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) to engage in protected concerted activity. D.R. Horton’s appeal will be heard by the Fifth Circuit on February 4.

D.R. Horton was decided the day before President Obama made the recess appointments at issue in Noel Canning. However, Craig Becker, one of the three NLRB members who decided D.R. Horton, was the subject of an earlier recess appointment in 2010. D.R. Horton filed a letter with the Fifth Circuit on January 29, 2013, arguing that the holding in Noel Canning should be applied to Becker’s appointment and render the decision void. The Fifth Circuit is expected to address this issue together with D.R. Horton’s existing arguments during oral argument on February 4.

Class Certification Denied: California Court of Appeal Holds That Reliance Upon Legal, Companywide Policies Is Insufficient to Support Class Certification

On October 10, 2012, a California Court of Appeal held that a wage and hour class action could not be certified where the common company-wide policy at issue did not answer the “central liability” question of the case.

The case, Morgan v.  Wet Seal, Inc., was brought by former Wet Seal employees against the clothing store alleging that the company violated California law by requiring employees to 1) purchase Wet Seal clothing and merchandise as a condition of employment; and 2) travel between Wet Seal business locations without reimbursing them for mileage. The plaintiffs moved for class certification, pointing to written company policies as evidence of the common issues of fact and law that predominated over individual issues. Wet Seal opposed the plaintiff’s motion for class certification arguing, among other things, that their written policies actually undermined the plaintiff’s claims. The policies at issue specifically state that employees are not required to wear Wet Seal clothing and that employees may be eligible for reimbursement for mileage.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s holding that the facially legal policies made it impossible to use a class-wide method of proving liability. For example, the Court explained that the plaintiffs’ dress code claims raised issues of 1) whether Wet Seal requires employees to wear the merchandise as a condition of employment; 2) whether the allegedly required attire constitutes a uniform; and 3) whether any given purchase by an employee constituted a “necessary expenditure.” Here, the Court found that the policy explicitly did not require wear and the policy’s description of the dress code as “consistent with the current fashion style that is reflected in the stores” was too broad and vague to constitute a “uniform” under the definition provided by the DLSE. Therefore, any question of liability would inevitably turn on what each Plaintiff was told, who told it to them, how they interpreted that information, whether the interpretation was reasonable and whether the employee then purchased merchandise pursuant to that conversation.

The Court of Appeal emphasized that the allegation of a companywide policy is not sufficient in and of itself to establish that common issues predominated because “there was no class wide method of proof for resolving this key liability question.” The anecdotal evidence provided in Plaintiffs’ declarations attempting to show a practice of requiring employees to purchase Wet Seal clothing as a uniform only reinforced the Court’s conclusion that liability would have to be decided on an individualized basis.

Sixth Circuit Reverses Cintas Pattern-or-Practice Case

Last week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment orders in a Title VII sex discrimination case against Cintas Corporation, holding that the EEOC (the intervening plaintiff) should have been allowed to pursue a pattern-or-practice claim under §706 of Title VII using the analytical framework set forth in Int’l Brotherhood of Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324 (1977). The decision rejects the notion that the Teamsters framework can only be used in cases brought under § 707 of Title VII, paving the way for the EEOC to pursue pattern-and-practice claims under § 706, which allows for the recovery of punitive and compensatory damages.

In Serrano et al. v. Cintas Corp., the EEOC challenged hiring practices used for women who applied to work as truck-driving sales representatives in Michigan. The district court dismissed the EEOC’s pattern-or-practice claim on the grounds that the agency pled the claim under § 706 rather than § 707, which provides specific authorization for such claims. The district court also granted summary judgment for Cintas on thirteen individual claims that the EEOC had pursued, analyzing them under the McDonnell-Douglas framework. Read More