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Posts by: Michael Weil

Marrying Sex and Sexuality under Title VII

Several recent cases are poised to set a major tonal shift in the realm of LGBT employee rights following the Supreme Court’s 2015 landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. As part of its ongoing coverage of LGBT employment issues, Orrick offers its insights and predictions as courts continue to contemplate where sexual identity fits within this changing landscape of protected statuses. READ MORE

Pulling the Seat From Under PAGA Plaintiffs

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. 

 

Court of Appeal Gives California Employers a Break – but Not a Full Vacation – from PTO Reporting Requirements

Your employees may spend their time daydreaming about how to spend the vacation hours they accumulate each pay period – and in California, they are entitled to be paid out upon termination for any accrued, unused vacation time or paid time off.  But that doesn’t mean they are entitled to see a breakdown of the monetary value of accrued vacation or paid time off (PTO) on each wage statement, according to a recent ruling from a California state appellate court.  That said, employers still have an obligation to list an employee’s accrued sick leave on pay stubs consistent with California’s sick leave law. READ MORE

BREAKING: President Obama Signs Defend Trade Secrets Act Into Law

This afternoon, as anticipated, President Barack Obama signed the Defend Trade Secrets Act into law, wrapping up a lengthy bipartisan effort to bring trade secrets under federal system law. Some observed that the fact that President Obama chose to sign the bill into law publicly indicates the importance of the new law to the administration.

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It’s All Relative: A California Court Says Employers Must Accommodate Employees “Associated” With a Person With a Disability

In an issue of first impression, the California Court of Appeals held that employers have a duty under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to provide reasonable accommodations to an applicant or employee who is associated with a disabled person, even if the employee is not disabled.  Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc. No. B261165, 2016 Cal. App. LEXIS 255 (Cal. Ct. App. April 4, 2016).  This holding confirms that FEHA provides broader protections for employees associated with a disabled person than the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which does not contain the same requirement.

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Testing the Limits of Employee Privacy: Ninth Circuit Allows EEOC To Obtain Extensive Personal Information About Employees Despite Privacy Concerns

Matrix

The Ninth Circuit recently held that during the course of an investigation, the EEOC can force employers to produce “pedigree information” (i.e., name, telephone number, address, and Social Security number) of applicants and workers other than the charging party if the information is relevant to the underlying investigation.

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A Win for Employers: Court Denies Class Certification of Rest Break Claim Where Plaintiff Alleged Employer Did Not Have a Rest Break Policy

A recent federal district court decision denying a motion for class certification of wage-and-hour claims reflects continuing disagreement among courts in California regarding the suitability for class treatment of meal and rest break claims when an employer has no written break policy.

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Employees Snooze, Employers Lose: California Supreme Court Delivers Wake Up Call to Employers of On-Call Security Workers

3 Minutes to 12:00

In Mendiola v. CPS Security Solutions, Inc., issued on January 8, 2015, the California Supreme Court ruled that security guards are entitled to compensation for all on-call hours spent at their assigned worksites, even when they are engaged in certain personal activities or sleep.

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The Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Busk: Could Employers Have to Pay for Employee Time Spent Passing Through Security?

On October 8, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk. In Busk, plaintiffs allege that, under the FLSA, their employer should have compensated them and other warehouse employees for time spent passing through the employer’s security clearance at the end of their shifts, including their time spent waiting in line to be searched. Busk is an important case to watch because the Court may provide employers with wide-ranging guidance on what pre-work or post-work tasks are compensable.

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