Employment Law

Post-Tyson Foods: No, The Sky Is Not Falling


This past March, we blogged about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bouaphakeo v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 136 S. Ct. 1036 (2016), a case in which the plaintiffs alleged that Tyson Foods improperly denied compensation for time spent putting on and taking off required protective gear at a pork processing facility.  At trial, the plaintiffs presented experts who, based on sample data, determined the average number of minutes employees likely spent donning and doffing and the aggregate damages that would be owed to the class as a result.


DOL’s Final Rule on Sick Leave Takes Effect: Contractors Have Until Year’s End to Comply


On September 29, 2016, the DOL released a final rule requiring federal contractors to provide seven days of paid sick leave annually.  The rule implements a 2015 executive order from President Obama that we covered in greater detail here.  More than 35,000 individuals and organizations submitted comments on the DOL’s proposed rule.


OFCCP Files Discrimination Complaint Targeting Tech Hiring Practices


Earlier this year, we predicted that the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance (“OFCCP”) would ramp up investigations directed at rooting out alleged discrimination by information technology companies.  Many tech companies have indeed been the focus of increasingly intense and acrimonious investigations in 2016.

OFCCP took its enforcement efforts to the next level this week by filing a formal administrative complaint for violations of Executive Order 11246 (which prohibits discrimination by federal contractors).  The complaint alleges that Palantir Technologies – a private software company headquartered in Palo Alto and recently valued at $20 billion – discriminated against Asian applicants for three positions (QA Engineer, Software Engineer, and QA Engineer Intern).  Specifically, the OFCCP alleges that the company hired largely based on an employee referral system that resulted in statistically significant underrepresentation of Asian hires, given that the vast majority of applicants for these jobs were Asian.  The complaint seeks to debar the company from future federal contracts and require “complete relief” for Asian applicants for these roles, including lost compensation, hiring, and retroactive seniority.


Pay Raises Across the Nation? Not So Fast Say Several States and Business Groups: 21 States and 55 Business Groups Challenge New Federal Overtime Rule


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.


Cat’s Paw Making New Tracks: Second Circuit Extends Cat’s Paw Principle to Retaliation Claims and to Low-Level Employees


The “cat’s paw” doctrine, a concept first coined by Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner in 1990 and adopted by the Supreme Court in 2011, applies when an employee is subjected to an adverse employment action by a decision maker who does not have any discriminatory animus but who bases his or her decision upon information from another who has such an improper motive.  In Vasquez v. Empress Ambulance Service, Inc., the Second Circuit recently held that the “cat’s paw” theory may be used to support recovery for Title VII retaliation, in addition to discrimination, claims and then extended the doctrine to permit liability if the individual with the discriminatory or retaliatory motive is a low-level employee, not just a supervisor.


North Carolina’s “Bathroom Bill” Dealt a Blow as Debate on Transgender Access Continues


On August 26, 2016, a North Carolina federal judge blocked the University of North Carolina (UNC) from enforcing a state law requiring transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates.

With the passage of House Bill 2 (HB2) in March 2016, North Carolina became the first state to ban people from using restrooms consistent with their gender identity in government buildings and schools.  News of HB2 stirred up a public outcry, including a Department of Justice lawsuit and the NBA’s decision to relocate the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, North Carolina to another location.


Commodity Whistleblowers May Hit the Jackpot: Enhanced Bounty Rules in the Works


The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) is proposing amendments to its Dodd-Frank whistleblower regulations to bring them more in line with the SEC’s whistleblower bounty program. This is perhaps not surprising given the relative success of the SEC’s program compared to the CFTC’s program to date (over $100 million in SEC bounties versus about $10 million in CFTC bounties).  The proposed changes would include the following:

  • Giving the CFTC the ability to bring anti-retaliation suits in its own name (previously it interpreted Dodd-Frank as only providing for private causes of action);
  • Providing that “no person may take any action to impede an individual from communicating directly with the Commission’s staff about a possible violation of the Commodity Exchange Act, including by enforcing, or threatening to enforce, a confidentiality agreement….”  This is much like the SEC’s Rule 21F-17, which that agency has used to aggressively prosecute cases against companies and collect significant fines; and
  • Enhancing the ability of whistleblowers to recover bounties for “related” actions brought by agencies other than the CFTC.

In addition, the proposed regulations would extend the time frame for a whistleblower to report to the CFTC after reporting internally and still be award-eligible from 120 to 180 days.  Comments will be accepted until September 29, 2016, and we will keep our readers posted on the rule-making in this area.

ECJ: No Discrimination Claims for Mock Applicants in Europe


Just in time for the 10th anniversary of the German General Equal Treatment Act (Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz – AGG) the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has clarified that European anti-discrimination law does not protect mock applicants, i.e. applicants who are not interested in being hired, but solely apply in order to bring claims on the grounds of discrimination. The judgment will make it easier for companies in Europe to reject such discrimination claims in the future.


Arbitration in Employment Sea Change?: Ninth Circuit Holds Mandatory Class Action Waivers Unlawful


Can employers still require employees to sign arbitration agreements with class action waivers as a condition of employment?  Last week, the Ninth Circuit became the second appellate court to adopt the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) position that class action waivers violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) in Morris v. Ernst & Young LLP.


Final Fair Pay Rules Are Here: Contractors Face Complex Requirements and Challenges with New Reporting Obligations


The federal government released the final regulations implementing the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order (“EO” hereafter) this week.  The regulatory package contains two parts: amendments to the Federal Acquisition Regulations and guidance from the Department of Labor for implementing the regulations. The regulatory package is a central part of the Administration’s aggressive regulatory agenda we have previously discussed and reflects continuing burdens on federal contractors.