On the heels of the landmark decision by the Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage, the EEOC held on July 15, 2015 that sex discrimination under Title VII includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Even though the decision is not binding precedent in federal court, and runs contrary to a significant body of case law holding that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it could be regarded by some courts as persuasive authority. The decision could also have an impact on employers in the form of an increased number of administrative charges of discrimination filed with the EEOC based on sexual orientation, as courts determine whether to adopt the EEOC’s interpretation.
The Second Circuit revived an FLSA collective action filed by Michael Lola, an attorney licensed to practice law in California, who for fifteen months performed document review services for Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP (“Skadden”) though a staffing agency while living and working in North Carolina. Lola alleged that these services did not constitute the “practice of law,” and that he was therefore eligible for overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Rejecting Lola’s arguments, a Southern District of New York judge dismissed the complaint on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion on the grounds that Lola was exempt from overtime. However, the Second Circuit held that when accepting all of Lola’s allegations as true for purposes of a motion to dismiss, his work might not constitute the practice of law.
On July 15, 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued an Administrator’s Interpretation that purports to clarify on one of the most challenging legal questions facing employers today: are certain workers employees or independent contractors? Notably absent from the guidance, however, is any specific reference to workers who provide services through “on-demand” companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb who use technology to deliver traditional services more efficiently by connecting consumers directly with service providers. This is surprising since it seems that the DOL’s renewed focus on misclassification has stemmed in large part from the slew of pending on-demand worker lawsuits in which the classification tests have proven very difficult to apply.
On Monday, July 13, 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a much anticipated “fix it” bill that amends the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014, clarifying the requirements of California’s sick leave law.
The fixes bring welcome clarity and revisions to key provisions that, for most employers, will make the law easier to administer. Yes, it’s two weeks late—the intent was for the bill to pass before the July 1 deadline for employers to implement the bulk of the original law’s requirements. But the delay was due in large part to several revisions that the legislature made in hopes of getting it right this time. And thanks to an urgency provision, the amendments go into effect immediately. The full text of the amendment (AB 304) is available here, but we’ve highlighted a few key provisions below. You should also visit our prior blogs on this subject here to make sure you’re keeping up with the feverish pace of things.
Following the excitement of the same-sex marriage decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26th, the question remains how much the Opinion may impact Title VII employment discrimination claims. Based on our reading of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, and the many states that have passed legislation protecting employees from sexual-orientation discrimination, we recommend that employers revisit and update their anti-discrimination policies.
In addressing a matter of first impression, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals set out a new standard to determine when an unpaid intern is deemed an employee for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and thus entitled to compensation, including minimum wage and overtime, under the FLSA. Two appeals were argued in tandem on this issue with the Second Circuit issuing an Opinion on July 2, 2015 in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., and a Summary Order in Wang v. Hearst Corp.
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 June 10, 2015, the New York City Council passed the Fair Chance Act (the “Act”), which prohibits employers from inquiring into the criminal backgrounds of applicants in the initial stages of the employment application process. With the passage of the Act, which is expected to be signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City joins a large group of other states and municipalities in passing so-called “ban the box” legislation, which refers to laws that prohibit or restrict employers from asking about or relying upon criminal convictions and arrests or requiring employees to disclose their criminal history through a check box on an employment application. The ban the box legislation stems from the use of criminal history as an employment screening tool and from concerns that criminal history is often not a reliable indicator of job performance, and moreover, may adversely affect minority groups.
Baseball season is well underway as fans fill themselves up on hot dogs and beers, don their rally caps for some late-inning luck, and cheer for their favorite players. Meanwhile, a class action against Major League Baseball by former minor league players has been trotting through federal court. In Senne v. MLB, No. 3:14-cv-00608-JCS (N.D. Cal. Feb. 7, 2014), ECF No. 1, the plaintiffs cry foul in alleging that “paying their dues” on the way to the big leagues isn’t paying the bills. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that MLB and all 30 of its teams have violated the FLSA by not paying the minor leaguers overtime and minimum wage.
Employers often encounter challenging questions regarding their duty to accommodate employees who are diagnosed with stress, anxiety, or other mental health conditions that allegedly impact job performance absent accommodation. But what if an employee claims that the stress of working with a particular supervisor is disabling, and that a transfer is the only reasonable accommodation? The California Court of Appeal has provided some measure of clarity, in a recent opinion holding that anxiety and stress claimed by an employee as a result of working under a particular supervisor does not constitute a disability under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Higgins-Williams v. Sutter Med. Found., Case No. C073677 (May 26, 2015).