We have previously written about how Dodd-Frank retaliation cases are a mixed bag for employers and about the Supreme Court’s expansion of Sarbanes-Oxley (“SOX”) Whistleblower protections. A new decision from the Wisconsin District Court is another mixed win for employers who want to enforce arbitration agreements in Dodd-Frank and SOX retaliation cases. In a case of first impression in the Seventh Circuit, Wussow v. Bruker Corporation., No. 16-cv-444-wmc, 2017 WL 2805016 (W.D. Wis. June 25, 2017), the district court held that while arbitration of SOX whistleblower retaliation claims cannot be compelled, a similar cause of action for whistleblower retaliation under Dodd-Frank can be. READ MORE
Global companies face stricter rules on employee data privacy, in particular when using social media and internal monitoring tools. It also now becomes clearer that many EU Member States will use the opening clause of Art. 88 General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) to re-implement their “old” data privacy laws.
- Use of Social Media And Employee Analysis Tools Under GDPR
Recently, the Article 29 Working Party (“WP29”), the expert group of European data protection authorities, published its opinion on the upcoming changes relating to data privacy at the work place. It explains what employers should do for ensuring compliance with the GDPR and provides guidelines for the use of information found on social media platforms – such as Facebook or LinkedIn and for electronic monitoring of employees. READ MORE
On July 13, 2017, the California Supreme Court greatly expanded the scope of discovery available under California’s Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”). In Williams v. Superior Court (Marshalls of CA, LLC), ___Cal. 5th ___ (Jul. 13, 2017), the court held that the breadth of discovery in a PAGA action should be no less than what is normally permitted in a class action. Additionally, the Court held that as an essential first step to prosecuting any representative action, a PAGA plaintiff is presumptively entitled in the early stages of litigation to obtain from the employer-defendant the contact information of those the plaintiff purports to represent in early stages of litigation. READ MORE
In January, we reported that the Supreme Court granted review of three conflicting Court of Appeal decisions to settle the question of whether an agreement requiring that employees resolve employment-related disputes through individual arbitration violates the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).
Last week, the Supreme Court set oral argument for October 2, 2017 to resolve the circuit split on whether mandatory class action waivers violate the NLRA. The Fifth, Second and Eight Circuits rejected the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) position that class action waivers unlawfully interfere with employees’ NLRA rights to engage in concerted activity. See Murphy Oil USA, Inc. v. NLRB, 808 F.3d. 1013 (5th Cir. 2015); Cellular Sales of Missouri, LLC v. NLRB, 824 F.3d 772 (8th Cir. 2016); Patterson v. Raymours Furniture Co., Inc., 2016 WL 4598542 (2d Cir. Sept. 2, 2016). The Ninth and Seventh Circuits however, held that an arbitration agreement precluding class actions violates the NLRA and is not preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). See Morris v. Ernst & Young, 834 F. 3d 975 (9th Cit. 2016) Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 823 F.3d 1147 (7th Cir. 2016). The Ninth Circuit’s opinion distinguishes mandatory class action waivers from those agreements that permit employees to opt-out.
In June, Ernst & Young, Murphy Oil and Epic Systems filed their opening briefs with the Supreme Court, requesting that the Court affirm the Fifth Circuit’s decision and reject the Seventh Circuit’s decision. The companies argued that the FAA requires enforcement of class action waivers because it requires enforcement of agreements to arbitrate according to their terms and the NLRA’s provisions protecting employees’ right to act in concert do not override the FAA. The U.S. Department of Justice filed one of 17 amicus curiae briefs last month in support of the enforceability of class action waivers. The Department of Justice’s argument that the NLRB’s position contradicts the FAA is especially significant given its previous contrary position under the Obama administration.
The SEC has awarded $2.5 million to a government agency employee who reported misconduct by a company to the SEC and caused the SEC to open an investigation. While the SEC order granting the award acknowledged that government employees may be prohibited from receiving whistleblower awards in some circumstances, such as when the employee works for a “law enforcement organization,” the SEC nevertheless determined that although “certain components of Claimant’s governmental employer have law enforcement responsibilities, [ ] those responsibilities are housed in a separate, different component of the agency at which Claimant works.” The SEC further explained that “the record is clear that this is not a situation where a claimant sought to circumvent the potential responsibilities that his or her government agency might have to investigate or otherwise take action for the misconduct. We express no view on how an award determination might differ under that alternative circumstance.” Ultimately, because the individual provided the Commission with “credible information . . . significant ongoing assistance, and relevant testimony that accelerated the pace of the investigation,” the SEC found the $2.5 million bounty justified.
In a press release announcing the award, the SEC noted it has now awarded approximately $156 million to 45 whistleblowers since the program’s inception.
In the past few years, the American workforce has shifted dramatically. By some estimates, as many as 53 million Americans are now self-employed. Many of them work in the “gig” or “on demand” economy, which has emerged as the new norm for doing business. In general, the gig economy offers traditional services, such as transportation, food delivery, and housing, in a more efficient way by connecting consumers directly to service providers. But, as with many innovations, gig economy companies face challenges from multiple fronts due to mounting legal pressures. Employment laws written in the 1930s haven’t kept up with the pace of innovation, and trying to apply them to the way services are delivered today is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. READ MORE
On June 28, 2017, three prominent whistleblower law regulators spoke at PLI’s Corporate Whistleblowing in 2017, which was co-chaired by Orrick partners Mike Delikat and Renee Phillips. With the standard disclaimer that their comments and opinions were their own and not the official comments of their respective agencies, each spoke candidly about their agencies’ whistleblower program’s progress, challenges, and priorities.
SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower
The Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower (“OWB”), Jane Norberg, kicked off the panel with her views on the current status and priorities of the OWB in the new administration: “From my point of view, the SEC’s whistleblower program is open for business and we are moving forward as we have in the past.” She elaborated on the program’s results to date, noting that the Commission has received over 18,000 tips and awarded over $154 million to 44 tipsters, reflecting over $1 billion recovered through the SEC’s enforcement actions and related actions arising from whistleblower tips. Norberg explained, “the real value of the program comes from individuals who help prevent ongoing fraud at a company while also giving victims a chance to recover some of what they lost.” READ MORE
Following a vacate and remand order by the United States Supreme Court for employing the de novo standard of review rather than the abuse of discretion standard, the Ninth Circuit revisited the standard for relevance in the EEOC subpoena context. EEOC v. McLane Co., No. 13-15126 (9th Cir. May 24, 2017).
In McLane, the EEOC was investigating a charge of gender discrimination which was based on the employer’s use of a physical capacity strength test. As part of its pre-litigation investigation into that charge, of gender discrimination filed by an ex-McLane Company employee, the EEOC issued a subpoena for “pedigree information” (i.e., name, Social Security number, last known address, and telephone number) for employees or prospective employees who took the physical capability strength test.
On Friday, June 16, 2017, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an amicus brief reflecting a change of heart when it comes to the enforceability of class waivers in arbitration agreements. In an unprecedented move, President Trump’s acting solicitor general, Jeffrey B. Wall, said his office had “reconsidered the issue and has reached the opposite conclusion” as the Obama administration in a set of consolidated cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, NLRB v. Murphy Oil USA Inc. (Docket Nos. 16-285, 16-300, and 16-307).
Earlier this month, the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced its intent to rescind the Obama-era regulations regarding persuader activity and reporting requirements pursuant to Section 203(c) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (“LMRDA”). Under the Obama administration, persuader activity was considered activity by anyone engaged to help management discourage employees from forming or joining a labor union, including lawyers hired to advise management on how to discourage union organizing activity. The official rescission of the Rule was published in the Federal Register on June 12, 2017.