As of March 30, 2020, Maryland and Virginia became the latest states to issue stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). The directive to keep people at home began just two weeks ago in California and has now been adopted by more than half the states. READ MORE
During the past three decades, Joe has built a reputation as a top employment litigator by approaching each case with a fresh perspective and relentlessly seeking to unravel the plaintiff’s case.
Clients turn to Joe again and again as a creative problem solver and trusted advisor in helping them achieve their goals quickly and efficiently.
For example, in a wage class action for Sears, Joe quarterbacked an unusual strategy to dismiss the case. The team discovered that the plaintiff had filed for bankruptcy, and filed a motion to dismiss because the plaintiff no longer owned the lawsuit, the bankruptcy trustee did. But the plaintiff argued he might re-acquire the lawsuit in bankruptcy court, and the district court allowed him to try. In the bankruptcy court, Joe had Sears buy the lawsuit (an asset of the plaintiff’s bankruptcy estate) for a nominal amount, and then returned to the district court where Sears, now the owner of the class action against itself, dismissed the case with prejudice.
In Pao v. Kleiner Perkins, the high-stakes gender discrimination and retaliation case that garnered intense national scrutiny, Joe led the trial team's work on jury instructions and expert witnesses.
Joe is praised by clients, co-counsel and colleagues for his collaborative approach and ability to bring out the best work from the team.
Posts by: Joe Liburt
New York State enacted the “Women on Corporate Boards Study” on December 30, 2019, with the goal of improving diversity on corporate boards. Effective June 27, 2020, the law requires the New York Department of State and Department of Taxation and Finance to conduct a study on the number of women who serve on boards of directors of companies doing business in New York State. To facilitate the study, the law requires foreign and domestic corporations to report to the Secretary of State the number of directors on their boards and to specify how many of those directors are women as part of the corporation’s filing statement.
The study will analyze the number of women directors and the total number of directors that constitute the board of each corporation, the change in the number of women directors from previous years, and the aggregate percentage of women directors on all boards in New York. The law also provides that the Department of State will publish a report regarding the study on or before February 1, 2022, with a new report required every four years thereafter.
The law is described as a “proactive approach to address historical inequality and end discriminatory practices,” with New York leading the way. In signing the legislation, Governor Cuomo stated, “[f]rom new pay equity laws to strongest-in-the-nation sexual harassment policies, New York is leading the fight for gender equality in the workplace—but our work won’t be done until women are better represented at the highest levels of organizations.” Cuomo further stated that the new study would “help shed light on the problem and guide the development of new policies to ensure more women have a seat at the proverbial table.”
The Growing National Trend in Board Diversity Efforts
New York is not the only jurisdiction to implement corporate reporting aimed at increasing board diversity. Illinois passed a corporate reporting law in August 2019, requiring corporations to include additional board composition information in annual reports submitted to the Secretary of State. The additional required information includes the gender of each board member, various processes for identifying and appointing executive officers, and the corporation’s policies and practices for promoting diversity and inclusion among its board and executive officers. Maryland also enacted reporting requirements effective October 2019, requiring certain corporations to include in their annual reports the number of women serving on the board of directors and the total number of board members.
This legislation follows in the footsteps of California’s first-of-its-kind law requiring women to be represented on boards. As we previously reported, in 2018, California passed a law requiring publicly held corporations based in California to have at least one woman director by the end of 2019. The law also provides that by the end of 2021, corporations with five or more directors on the board must have at least two female board members, and boards with six or more board seats must have at least three women board members. The law—currently being challenged on constitutional grounds—imposes significant penalties for failing to comply and calls for publishing the names of compliant and non-compliant companies.
Legislation to increase board diversity and to require corporations to report board diversity is a growing trend in response to the #MeToo movement. Employers should take heed of the growing interest in legislation aimed to increase board diversity and should remain on watch for developments in the jurisdictions where they operate. Indeed, board diversity has piqued Congressional interest, as exemplified by the House’s passage of the Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act of 2019, which would require public companies to annually disclose the gender, race, ethnicity, and veteran status of their board of directors, nominees, and senior executive officers, and would require the Securities and Exchange Commission to establish a Diversity Advisory Group to study strategies for increasing gender, racial, and ethnic diversity among boards of directors. In addition, some companies are already taking the reins in pressuring businesses to increase board diversity: for instance, Goldman Sachs recently announced that it would not take companies public in the U.S. and Europe if they do not have at least one diverse board director.
California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) has updated its Employer FAQ guidance addressing the new sexual harassment prevention training requirements that were initially set to go into effect on January 1, 2020. However, an amendment to the bill earlier this year moved the effective date to January 1, 2021. As we reported when the initial bill was passed last year, the law expands harassment training requirements from employers with fifty or more employees to those with five or more employees, and from requiring training for supervisory employees only to requiring training for non-supervisory employees as well. The training must be repeated once every two years. 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.
As you’ve likely been monitoring, last month the California legislature passed several bills to Governor Brown for signature relating to sexual harassment. The hashtag #TakeTheLead emerged as a symbol reflecting California’s potential to become the state at the forefront of passing additional legislation characterized as increasing protection for women – and workers generally – in the face of the #MeToo movement. Late Sunday night, in the last moments before Governor Brown’s September 30 deadline, he vetoed the most contentious bill – AB 3080 – and signed into law many of the other pending bills. READ MORE
Employers across the country should dust off their background check policies and forms and be mindful of recent developments related to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
FCRA mandates specific, technical steps for employers using consumer reports to make employment decisions, including hiring, retention, promotion or reassignment. While many employers are familiar with the importance of following FCRA requirements, actual compliance with the law can be tedious and challenging. As the law continues to evolve, employers should be aware of recent updates to the model federal form for consumer rights and recent guidance from a California federal court related to the “stand-alone” disclosure and authorization requirement. READ MORE
On June 4, 2018, a 7-2 United States Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. et al. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission et al. reversed discrimination penalties against a baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. This long-anticipated decision turns narrowly on an administrative agency’s past treatment of the case and largely avoids the core constitutional issues involving free speech, religious freedom of the First Amendment, and asserted LGBTQ rights. READ MORE
Employers across the country started the work week with some positive and long-awaited news. On Monday, May 21, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark case that employment arbitration agreements with class action waivers do not violate federal labor law. The Court’s 5-4 decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, No. 160285 (U.S. May 21, 2018), consolidated with Ernst & Young LLP et al v. Morris et al., No. 16-300, and National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., et al. , No. 16-307, was authored by Justice Gorsuch, and settles 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 (NLRA). READ MORE
In a break from federal law, the California Supreme Court clarified in Alvarado v. Dart Container Corp. the proper formula for calculating flat-rate bonuses into overtime pay under California law. The Court adopted the Plaintiff’s position and held that, for purposes of calculating the per-hour value of a flat rate bonus, the divisor should be the number of nonovertime hours the employee worked in the pay period rather than all hours worked during the pay period. READ MORE
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