Julie Totten is the partner in charge of Orrick’s Sacramento Office. She is also the partner in charge of the Sacramento Employment Law and Litigation group, which 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.
Julie, who has more than 20 years’ experience representing companies in high stakes litigation, is honored to be a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment and she also serves as a Council Member of the American Bar Association Labor and Employment Law Section. Julie has achieved significant results for her clients and in 2014 she was recognized by Legal 500 as someone who "truly understands corporate politics and works with in-house counsel to understand the intersections of legal advice and business objectives."
Julie represents employers in complex cases, including wage-and-hour class and collective actions, EEO claims and claims involving breach of contract and wrongful termination. She has also successfully represented clients involved in investigations and audits by the Department of Labor and the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, and she assists clients in developing compensation policies and compliance measures designed to reduce potential exposure. Julie also counsels and trains clients on a wide variety of employment law matters, including social media and employee privacy.
Some of Julie’s more notable engagements include the following:
- Privately Held Technology Company. Julie was retained following several years of litigation and after a class had been certified. Julie thereafter obtained decertification of the class and successfully defended that order on appeal.
- Fortune 100 Telecommunications Company. Julie defeated class certification in a wage-and-hour class action alleging off-the-clock work at the client’s California call centers.
- Global Fortune 200 Pharmaceutical Company. Julie obtained summary judgment for a pharmaceutical company in a wage-and-hour class action challenging the exempt status of pharmaceutical representatives.
- Global Eyewear Company. Julie represents a global eyewear retailer in several proposed California and nationwide wage-and-hour class and collective actions.
- Professional Services Firm. Julie represents a professional services firm in several class and collective actions challenging the exempt status of accountants and other entry-level professionals.
- Fortune 100 Financial Services Company. Julie successfully represented a financial services client in a wage-and-hour class action seeking reimbursement of alleged expenses incurred by loan officers.
- Pharmaceutical Company. Julie successfully represented a pharmaceutical client in a wage-and-hour class action challenging the validity of the defendant’s alternative workweek schedules and alleging failure to pay for all work performed.
On May 16, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in the closely watched case Spokeo, Inc. v. Thomas Robins et al., addressing the issue of standing under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The Court held that in order to establish standing to sue, plaintiffs must show “an invasion of a legally protected interest” that is both “particularized and concrete.” In doing so, the Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s prior holding that a consumer has standing under Article III to bring an action for statutory violations without alleging actual injury. See Spokeo Inc. v. Thomas Robins et al., case number 13-1339.
Spokeo operates a “people search engine” that provides information on contact data, marital status, age, occupation, and wealth level. In June 2013, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined Spokeo for selling consumer profiles to potential employers without fulfilling its reporting obligations under the FCRA. The FTC’s pursuit of Spokeo, a non-traditional consumer reporting agency (CRA), signaled a more expansive application of FCRA provisions at that time, and set the groundwork for a civil action on related claims.
Thomas Robins subsequently brought action against Spokeo, alleging “willful violations” of the FCRA, which he claimed resulted in publication of inaccurate information about his job and wealth level that caused him psychological harm while struggling to find work. The district court dismissed the case, finding that Robins had failed to plead an injury-in-fact that could be traced to Spokeo. In February 2014, the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that a showing of actual harm is not required for willful FCRA violations and that the suit could go forward under Article III without alleging actual injury.
In 2015, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) proposed substantial changes to the minimum salary level requirements, sought input on whether bonuses and incentives should be included in meeting the salary level test and considered changing the duties test to establish overtime eligibility. Taken together, these proposed changes would have had a drastic effect on the obligation of employers to pay overtime. On May 18, 2016, DOL issued its Final Rules and employers have until December 1, 2016 to comply. Overall, the changes strike a middle ground as DOL declined to adopt the more restrictive California 50% duties test. However, doubling the salary level threshold and other changes present significant economic and compliance challenges for employers. Below is a summary of key takeaways and steps employers should consider to address these changes and ensure compliance.
Whether a Human Resources Director will be deemed the “employer” and held individually liable for alleged violations under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) should be left to the jury, according to the Second Circuit’s recent FMLA decision. In Graziadio v. Culinary Institute of America, et al., 15-888-cv (2d Cir. Mar. 17, 2016), the Second Circuit found that there could be a viable claim for individual liability under the FMLA and it also announced the standard for what could be considered unlawful “interference” with FMLA rights.
In what could prove a harbinger of worker classification developments to come, Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez (D – San Diego) has proposed AB 1727, “The California 1099 Self-Organizing Act.” The bill, which is at the earliest stages of the legislative process, would provide an avenue for certain workers classified as independent contractors to engage in “group activities” including organizing, bargaining, and striking. At bottom, the legislation would give certain independent contractors the ability to collectively confront those with whom they contract.
The California legislature played an active role in 2015 by enacting new rules and amendments in many employment areas. The following covers some of the key highlights, some of which became effective on January 1, 2016.
On May 4, 2015, the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Williams v. Chino Valley Independent Fire District, holding that unsuccessful FEHA plaintiffs should not be ordered to pay the defendant’s ordinary litigation costs unless, “plaintiff brought or continued litigating the action without an objective basis for believing it had potential merit” (also called “the Christianburg standard”). (2015) 61 Cal. 4th 97, 99-100. Prior to Williams, the Christianburg standard applied when defendants sought attorneys’ fees after prevailing on the merits of a FEHA claim, but there was a split in authority regarding whether the higher threshold in Christianburg applied to awards of ordinary costs under California Code of Civil Procedure section 1032. Williams resolved the split and held that FEHA constitutes an exception to section 1032 and that defendants must meet the higher threshold in Christianburg before the court can exercise its discretion in awarding costs.
On March 18, 2015, the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a report (General Counsel Memorandum GC 15-04) summarizing recent NLRB enforcement action regarding many common employment policies. The report is relevant to nearly all private employers, regardless of whether they have union represented employees. It is troubling because it finds that many seemingly innocuous, sensible employer handbook provisions and policies are unlawful because they could potentially be interpreted to chill employees’ rights to engage in concerted protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act.
On March 2, 2015, the SEC announced a whistleblower bounty award of between $475,000 and $575,000, its 15th under the Dodd-Frank whistleblower program. While the SEC’s order is scant on detail, it does disclose that the award will go to a corporate officer, making it the first award to go to an officer under the program. This award is in keeping with the SEC’s approach to demonstrate in the relatively small number of awards made to date that a broad range of individuals can get bounties for providing original information of corporate wrongdoing under Dodd-Frank.
Because of the way the statute is drafted and how courts have interpreted it, employers of current members of the Armed Forces and veterans can sometimes find themselves with unexpected legal exposure under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”). The statute imposes various obligations on employers with respect to members of the U.S. military returning to work and also prohibits discrimination against employees and potential employees based on their military service. As 2014 comes to a close, a couple of USERRA cases from this year remind employers of the intricacies of USERRA compliance.
On September 9, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB-2053, which mandates that certain California employers provide workforce bullying training in addition to already-required sexual harassment training and education. As a result, many California employers need to be prepared to expand their training programs to address abusive conduct beginning on January 1, 2015.