On Friday, January 10, 2020, Chief United States District Judge Kimberly Mueller of the Eastern District of California heard oral argument on plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction. As a result of clarifications made at the oral argument, the temporary restraining order (TRO) has been modified from its broad applicability to only enjoin defendants from enforcing AB 51 to the extent it applies to arbitration agreements covered by the FAA. The revised TRO will remain in effect until January 31, 2020, at which point we might have a ruling on the preliminary injunction. Judge Mueller concluded the oral argument by providing both parties the opportunity to submit supplemental briefing on two issues: (1) jurisdiction/standing; and (2) severability. As to the latter issue, Judge Mueller indicated she would accept specific proposals related to how the arbitration-related sections of the statute might be severed if she decided to grant the injunction on FAA preemption grounds. READ MORE
Posts by: Alex Guerra
2020 is upon us, and with it, a slew of new employment laws that are now in effect. Read on for a description of 13 key employment laws every employer operating in California should know about going into 2020. For more information on these laws and advice regarding best practices, check out our California Employment Law Update Seminars taking place at our San Francisco office on January 9, 2020 and Silicon Valley office on January 22, 2020. READ MORE
Arbitration agreements are a powerful tool in resolving employment actions. As we noted last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark case that employers can use class and collective action waivers in mandatory arbitration agreements. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, No. 160285 (U.S. May 21, 2018), was authored by Justice Gorsuch, and settled the longstanding dispute over whether arbitration agreements containing class waivers are enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) despite the provisions of Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (the Act).
On August 14, 2019, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued Cordúa Restaurants, Inc., 368 NLRB No. 43 (2019), in which the NLRB sided with employers on two key arbitration questions following the Epic decision. First, the NLRB found that an employer that is sued in a class or collective action can update its existing mandatory arbitration agreement to include a class or collective action waiver, barring workers from opting in to the pending litigation. What’s more, the NLRB found that employers can warn workers that failure to sign the updated arbitration agreement will result in termination.
Employers can update an existing mandatory arbitration agreement to include a class or collective action waiver, even after workers have opted in to the collective action:
The NLRB first addressed the issue of “whether the Act prohibits employers from promulgating [mandatory arbitration] agreements in response to employees opting in to a collective action.” In Cordúa Restaurants, Inc., Cordúa Restaurants had an existing mandatory arbitration agreement that required employees to waive their “right to file, participate or proceed in class or collective actions (including a Fair Labor Standards Act (‘FLSA’) collective action) in any civil court or arbitration proceeding,” but did not expressly prohibit opting in to collective actions. Seven employees filed a collective action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas alleging violations of the FLSA and the Texas Minimum Wage Act. After thirteen employees opted in to the collective action, Cordúa Restaurants updated their existing mandatory arbitration agreement to expressly require employees to agree not to opt in to collective actions. Although the NLRB, for purposes of the decision, assumed that opting in to a collective action constitutes protected concerted activity under Section 7 of the Act, it still found that promulgating the updated mandatory arbitration agreement in response to the opt-ins did not violate the Act. The Board reasoned that Epic made clear that an agreement requiring that employment-related claims be resolved through individual arbitration, instead of class or collective action, does not restrict Section 7 rights in any way.
Employers can warn workers that failure to sign the updated arbitration agreement will result in termination:
The NLRB next tackled the issue of “whether the Act prohibits employers from threatening to discharge an employee who refuses to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement.” After updating the mandatory arbitration agreement to include the above provision against opting in to collective actions, Cordúa Restaurants needed to distribute and execute these updated agreements. During a pre-shift meeting, an assistant manager distributed the updated agreement to employees and explained that employees would be removed from the schedule if they declined to sign it. After a couple employees objected to signing the updated agreement, the assistant manager stated that he “wouldn’t bite the hand that feeds [him]” and that he would instead “go ahead and sign it.” The NLRB reasoned that because Epic permits employers to condition employment on employees entering into an arbitration agreement that contains a class or collective action waiver, the assistant manager did not unlawfully threaten the employees.
The majority opinion was authored by Chairman John F. Ring, Member Marvin E. Kaplan, and Member William J. Emanuel. Member Lauren McFerran authored a separate dissent, which disagreed with the majority on both issues and found that, “[t]he record here establishes that [Cordúa Restaurants] violated Section 8(a)(1) [of the Act] by imposing the revised arbitration agreement on employees, in response to their protected concerted activity and by threatening employees for protesting the revised agreement.” Member McFerran reasoned that although Epic blessed the use of mandatory arbitration agreements with class or collective action waivers, promulgating a lawful rule or policy in response to protected concerted activity is prohibited under Board law. Lastly, Member McFerran found that the employees exercised their Section 7 rights by protesting the updated agreement and the assistant manager unlawfully threatened them.
In its news release, the NLRB recognized that Cordúa Restaurants, Inc. is its first decision concerning the lawfulness of employer conduct surrounding mandatory arbitration agreements since Epic. It remains to be seen how state or district courts analyze a fact pattern such as this one, but this is a very encouraging development for employers if this is a sign of what’s to come from the NLRB. The decision strengthens employers’ power to effectuate mandatory arbitration agreements—now before and during pending litigation.
You may be asking yourself: How is it already almost 2019?! With the New Year fast approaching, for those employment law enthusiasts out there, here are some legal issues that you want to keep in mind as you look back on 2018 and forward to 2019:
Year-End Bonuses: Employers distributing holiday bonuses, holiday gift cards, year-end merit bonuses, and other types of compensation to nonexempt employees should consider whether the compensation must be included in a nonexempt employee’s “regular rate” of pay when calculating overtime. The Code of Federal Regulations carves out some specific types of pay that need not be included in an employee’s regular rate of pay. For example, Section 778.211 excludes purely discretionary bonuses and section 778.212 excludes gifts for Christmas and other special occasions. So, an employer giving employees gift cards for the holidays or other special occasions is not required to incorporate the value of those gift cards into an employee’s regular rate of pay as long as the amounts “are not measured by or dependent on hours worked, production, or efficiency.” See 29 C.F.R. § 778.212(a); 29 U.S.C.A. § 207.
The Senate is gearing up to consider President Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court to replace Justice Kennedy. While employment law is not likely to be the center of his confirmation hearings, many employers will be watching to see how Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment may impact employment cases that come before the Supreme Court. A review of Judge Kavanaugh’s employment law decisions during his time on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit suggests that although he sometimes sides with employees, he would be an employer-friendly addition to the Supreme Court.
In the first federal court in California to issue a rule on classification of gig-economy workers, the Northern District of California recently concluded that restaurant delivery drivers are properly classified as independent contractors instead of employees under California law.
In Lawson v. Grubhub, Inc., No. 15-cv-05128-JSC (N.D. Cal. Feb. 8, 2018), Plaintiff Raef Lawson worked as a restaurant delivery driver for Grubhub for four months in late 2015 and early 2016. Grubhub is part of the growing gig-economy, connecting diners to local restaurants through its internet food ordering app. Lawson brought his claims both in an individual capacity and as a representative action pursuant to the California Private Attorney General Act (PAGA). The critical question before the court was whether Lawson was an employee or an independent contractor. READ MORE