Just the other week, in Jones v. Royal Admin. Servs., the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed the federal common law standard for distinguishing agents from independent contractors and upheld the independent contractor status of telemarketers providing direct sales services for a company, Royal Administration Services, Inc. (“Royal”).
At issue were telemarketers employed by All American Auto Protection, Inc. (“AAAP”), one of about twenty marketing vendors used by Royal to sell vehicle service contracts. Several recipients of these telemarketing calls filed suit, first against AAAP and then against Royal, alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). The telemarketing call recipients alleged that Royal was vicariously liable because the AAAP telemarketers were Royal’s agents. Royal filed for summary judgment, asserting that the AAAP telemarketers were not its agents, but rather independent contractors. The district court granted summary judgment for Royal. READ MORE
As schools across the country prepare for summer break, the Ninth Circuit overturned a lower court decision against the Fresno County public school district which had found that its pay practices were unlawful. Notably, the Ninth Circuit held that an employer may rely on prior salary as an affirmative defense to claims under the federal Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) if “it show[s] that the factor ‘effectuate[s] some business policy’ and that the employer ‘use[s] the factor reasonably in light of the employer’s stated purpose as well as other practices.’” READ MORE
On March 8, 2017, a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in Somers v. Digital Realty Trust Inc. that further widened a circuit split on the issue of whether the anti-retaliation provisions in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act apply to whistleblowers who claim retaliation after reporting internally or instead only to those who report information to the SEC. Following the Second Circuit’s 2015 decision in Berman v. [email protected] LLC, the Ninth Circuit panel held that Dodd-Frank protections apply to internal whistleblowers. By contrast, the Fifth Circuit considered this issue in its 2013 decision in Asadi v. G.E. Energy (USA), LLC and found that the Dodd-Frank anti-retaliation provisions unambiguously protect only those whistleblowers who report directly to the SEC. READ MORE
Last month, the Ninth Circuit issued a notable opinion addressing the enforceability of arbitration agreements in Poublon v. C.H. Robinson Co., 846 F.3d 1251 (9th Cir. 2017), mandate issued (Feb. 24, 2017). In Poublon, the employee filed a class action even though she signed a dispute resolution agreement that prohibited representative actions and required her to mediate and arbitrate all other claims. The court evaluated the agreement to determine if it was unconscionable under California law, which looks at both procedural and substantive unconscionability on a sliding scale. Although the court held that a few provisions were substantively unconscionable, the court severed and reformed the offending provisions and largely upheld the dispute resolution agreement. READ MORE
In August of 2016, we reported that the Ninth Circuit created a deeper circuit-split on whether class action waivers in arbitration agreements violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) with its decision in Morris v. Ernst & Young LLP.
As expected, the Supreme Court granted review today of three of the conflicting Court of Appeals decisions. It granted review of the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Murphy Oil USA, Inc. v. NLRB, 808 F.3d 1013 (5th Cir. 2015). The Fifth Circuit rejected the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) position that class action waivers unlawfully interfere with employees’ NLRA rights to engage in concerted activity, agreeing with the Second and Eighth Circuits. The Ninth and Seventh Circuits, on the other hand, adopted the NLRB’s position that class action waivers violate the NLRA.
The Supreme Court also granted review in Morris v. Ernst & Young, 834 F.3d 975 (9th Cir. 2016) and Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 823 F.3d 1147 (7th Cir. 2016). The Seventh Circuit held that an arbitration agreement precluding collective arbitration or collective action violates section 7 of the NLRA and is unenforceable under the FAA. The Ninth Circuit agreed and concluded that compulsory class action waivers violate sections 7 and 8 of the NLRA by limiting workers’ rights to act collectively, noting in footnote 4 that agreements containing an “opt-out” clause for pursuing class claims do not violate the NLRA.
All three cases have been consolidated and will be argued together.
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.
On May 16, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in the closely watched case Spokeo, Inc. v. Thomas Robins et al., addressing the issue of standing under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The Court held that in order to establish standing to sue, plaintiffs must show “an invasion of a legally protected interest” that is both “particularized and concrete.” In doing so, the Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s prior holding that a consumer has standing under Article III to bring an action for statutory violations without alleging actual injury. See Spokeo Inc. v. Thomas Robins et al., case number 13-1339.
Spokeo operates a “people search engine” that provides information on contact data, marital status, age, occupation, and wealth level. In June 2013, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined Spokeo for selling consumer profiles to potential employers without fulfilling its reporting obligations under the FCRA. The FTC’s pursuit of Spokeo, a non-traditional consumer reporting agency (CRA), signaled a more expansive application of FCRA provisions at that time, and set the groundwork for a civil action on related claims.
Thomas Robins subsequently brought action against Spokeo, alleging “willful violations” of the FCRA, which he claimed resulted in publication of inaccurate information about his job and wealth level that caused him psychological harm while struggling to find work. The district court dismissed the case, finding that Robins had failed to plead an injury-in-fact that could be traced to Spokeo. In February 2014, the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that a showing of actual harm is not required for willful FCRA violations and that the suit could go forward under Article III without alleging actual injury.
On December 3, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals became the most recent entrant into the circuit conflict on the question of when and under what circumstances an employee’s use of a computer to gain access to unauthorized information constitutes a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Over a dissent, the Court held that an employee cannot be convicted of violating the CFAA when he uses a database, to which he has been granted access, in a manner that is prohibited by company policy. With the Second Circuit joining the Fourth and Ninth Circuits in the minority on the issue, the answer continues to turn on the jurisdiction in which the suit was brought. Employers should take note because the decision reinforces the need to consider carefully whether and how to limit employee access to sensitive company information within its network—e.g., by use of written policy or technical access restrictions—and how those protections will play out in court if an employee takes company information for use in future employment.
Asia Employment Law Update
Proposed Regulations May Complicate Reductions in Force in China
On December 31st, 2014, Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (“MOHRSS”) issued a notice to solicit public opinions on the draft Regulations on Personnel Cutbacks by Enterprises (“Draft Regulations”). The Draft Regulations set out detailed implementing rules for “mass layoffs” (defined under the Labor Contract Law as being a layoff of more than 10% of the workforce or more than 20 employees) and, if adopted in their current form, will further complicate the process for conducting reductions in force in China.
The Ninth Circuit recently held that during the course of an investigation, the EEOC can force employers to produce “pedigree information” (i.e., name, telephone number, address, and Social Security number) of applicants and workers other than the charging party if the information is relevant to the underlying investigation.