Are Employees Owed Pay for Going Through Security? SCOTUS Will Decide

The U.S. Supreme Court granted cert on March 3, 2014 in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Jesse Busk to resolve a federal circuit split on whether time employees spend in security screenings is compensable under the FLSA. The issue is whether security screenings are quintessential “preliminary” or “postliminary” activities that are non-compensable under the FLSA (as held by the Second and Eleventh Circuits) or whether time spent in security screenings is potentially compensable because it is “integral and indispensable” to an employee’s principal job duties (as held by the Ninth Circuit). Read More

Strippers and the Fair Labor Standards Act: Lessons for All Employers

Late last month, in the Southern District of Florida, adult entertainers at several Rick’s Cabaret locations filed a lawsuit alleging that they were improperly categorized (and thus improperly compensated) as independent contractors rather than employees. See Espinoza, et al. v. Rick’s Cabaret Int’l, Inc., Case No. 1:13-cv-24565-UU. In light of recent decisions, Rick’s—like other employers classifying workers as independent contractors—should proceed with caution.

The past several months have seen a spate of rulings adverse to employers in the adult entertainment context. Early last year, a Southern District of New York judge approved an $8 million settlement for a class of dancers at another adult establishment who alleged that they were misclassified as independent contractors. See In re: Penthouse Executive Club Compensation Litigation, Case No. 1:10-cv-01145. In September 2013, in a different S.D.N.Y. case, the court in Hart, et al. v. Rick’s Cabaret Int’l, Inc. found that dancers at the New York club location were employees, not independent contractors, for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the New York Labor Law. And just last week a Northern District of Georgia judge who previously certified a class of adult entertainers who alleged they were wrongly classified as independent contractors granted the entertainers’ summary judgment motion with respect to their status as employees under the FLSA. See Stevenson, et al. v. The Great American Dream, Inc., No. 1:12-CV-3359-TWT.

In finding no independent contractor relationship in Hart, the court cited the existence of club guidelines that governed dancers’ dress/appearance (e.g., body glitter forbidden, 4-inch stiletto heels required), behavior in the club (e.g., gum chewing or using a cell phone on the dance floor prohibited), when dancers could be scheduled to work, various fees dancers were required to pay, and manner of performance (e.g., prohibition on more than one knee touching the ground when performing on stage). Of virtually no significance was the fact that there were signed agreements between dancers and Rick’s Cabaret expressing that the employment relationship was that of an independent contractor.

Irrespective of industry, companies that utilize independent contractors are well advised to periodically reexamine the economic realities of those relationships.

Arbitration Wars: The California Supreme Court Strikes Back In Sonic II

On October 17, 2013, the California Supreme Court revisited the enforceability of arbitration agreements in California. The Court released its decision Sonic-Calabasas Inc. v. Moreno (Sonic II). In that 5 – 2 ruling, the California Supreme Court reversed its prior decision to strike down an arbitration agreement on the ground of FAA preemption, but remanded the case for analysis of the enforceability of the arbitration agreement under an unconscionability analysis.  Read More

Court Strikes Down Proposed Class of Female Wal-Mart Employees – Again!

After suffering defeat in the United States Supreme Court, Plaintiffs in Dukes et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. returned to court in California in an attempt to certify a newly defined and smaller class of 150,000 current and former female employees. On August 2, 2013, Judge Charles R. Breyer of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification, which leaves each member of the proposed class to pursue her claims individually against Wal-Mart. Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 3:10-CV-03005-CRB, Slip Op. at 2 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 2, 2013).  Read More

Bark and Bite: Best Practices for Your Company’s Off-the-Clock Policy

Most employers maintain a written timekeeping policy stating that non-exempt employees should accurately record their time worked. Yet many employers are still facing class action lawsuits alleging off-the-clock claims. Below we detail some key practices companies may consider to strengthen their timekeeping policies and defend against off-the-clock claims.

  • Policy:  Maintain a timekeeping policy that makes the company’s expectations crystal clear, including that the company (1) does not tolerate off-the-clock work; (2) requires employees to immediately report policy violations to HR; and (3) disciplines (including terminates) employees who work off-the-clock or allow others to do so.
  • Training:  Train non-exempt employees and their managers on the timekeeping policy and keep records of the training completion.
  • Reminders:  Issue regular reminders regarding the timekeeping policy and/or post a reminder in the break room that employees are not allowed to work off-the-clock and must report policy violations.
  • Check-ins:  Have managers, HR and/or auditors periodically check in with employees to confirm they are not working off-the-clock.
  • Certification:  Require employees to certify or acknowledge that their time records are accurate. If the time records are inaccurate, require employees to immediately notify their manager or HR.
  • Take complaints seriously:  Thoroughly investigate complaints, discipline/terminate policy violators and pay for reported off-the-clock work.
  • Remote access:  Don’t give non-exempt employees remote access to company systems or e-mail, or make it clear that they must record any such remote access time.

Supreme Court Eliminates Jurisdictional Escape Hatch To The Class Action Fairness Act

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles confirms that a plaintiff cannot avoid federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”) by stipulating that the class will seek less than CAFA’s $5 million amount in controversy threshold. Read More

Second Circuit Holds No Substantive Right To Bring A Pattern-Or-Practice Title VII Claim

Reversing a denial of a motion to compel arbitration in Parisi et al. v. Goldman, Sachs & Co. et al., the Second Circuit held that a plaintiff does not have a substantive right to bring a pattern and practice claim under Title VII. The plaintiff at issue in Parisi alleged gender discrimination under Title VII, seeking to bring her claims on behalf of herself and a putative class of female Goldman Sachs employees. During her employment, the plaintiff signed a broad arbitration agreement, which covered her discrimination claims and did not contain a provision providing for class-wide arbitration.  Read More

Seventh Circuit Holds That FLSA and Rule 23 Certification Standards Are the Same and Affirms Denial of Certification Based on Lack of Trial Plan

A recent opinion by the Seventh Circuit holds that the standard for certifying a collective action under the FLSA is the same as the standard applied to a class action under Rule 23. In Espenscheid v. DirectSat USA, LLC, No. 12-1943 (7th Cir. Feb. 4, 2013), the court considered decertification by a Western District of Wisconsin District Court of more than 2,000 satellite technicians in an action alleging technicians did not receive overtime and were not compensated for certain hours. In analyzing the standard to apply in evaluating the decertification decision, the court contrasted the opt-in procedure of FLSA collective actions with the opt-out procedure of Rule 23 actions, as well as noted that the FLSA lacks “the kind of detailed procedural provisions found in Rule 23” that set forth the standard for certification. Read More

See’s Candy Shops, Inc. v. Superior Court: California Appellate Court Confirms Application of Federal Rounding Standards in California

Many employers systematically round employee time punches to the nearest tenth of an hour. For example, if an employee clocks in at 9:58 a.m., the time is rounded up to 10:00 a.m.; and likewise if she clocks in at 10:02 a.m., her time is rounded down to 10:00 a.m. Under federal law, rounding policies are lawful if they are neutrally applied and do not systematically under compensate employees. While this standard was approved by the California Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement, until recently, no California court or statute specifically addressed the issue.

However, on October 29, 2012, the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District in See’s Candy Shops, Inc. v. Superior Court confirmed that the neutral rounding standard adopted by federal law and the Department of Labor Standards and Enforcement is appropriate under California law. Thus, under See’s Candy, California employers may maintain lawful rounding policies if the rounding does not consistently result in a failure to pay employees for time worked. An example of a potentially unlawful rounding policy is one in which the employer always rounds time down.

Also of note, in approving the federal rounding standard, the See’s Candy opinion rejected the plaintiff’s reliance on California Labor Code section 204. Specifically, the court emphasized that Section 204 is solely a timing requirement as to when wages must be paid, and does not create any substantive right to wages.

You can read the decision here.

U.S. Supreme Court To Decide Whether Class Action Plaintiffs Can Use Stipulations To Avoid Jurisdiction Under The Class Action Fairness Act

The United States Supreme Court recently granted certiorari to review whether class action plaintiffs can avoid federal court jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”) by stipulating that their damages do not exceed the federal jurisdictional prerequisite.  This issue is particularly significant to employers because they frequently rely on the CAFA to remove cases to federal court when hit with wage-and-hour and other employment class action lawsuits.  The CAFA generally permits class action defendants to remove cases with minimal diversity to federal court where the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million. Read More