In April 2018, an en banc Ninth Circuit held in Rizo v. Yovino that an employer cannot justify a wage differential between male and female employees under the Equal Pay Act by relying on prior salary. Before the Ninth Circuit published its decision, though, Judge Stephen Reinhardt passed away. On February 25th, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s decision, reasoning that the appellate court should not have counted Reinhardt’s vote because he passed away before the decision was issued. Instead, the Ninth Circuit should not have released the opinion. READ MORE
Taking a second look at the use of “no future employment” provisions in a settlement agreement between a doctor and his former employer, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that two of the three provisions constituted “restraints of substantial character” that ran afoul of California’s restriction on noncompete clauses. Golden v. California Emergency Physicians Medical Group, No. 16-17354 (9th Cir. July 24, 2018) (“Golden II”).
In 2007, Dr. Donald Golden, an emergency room surgeon, sued his former employer, California Emergency Physicians Medical Group (“CEP”), claiming that he had been fired because of his race. After mediation, the parties orally agreed to settle the dispute. However, Dr. Golden later refused to sign a written settlement agreement, arguing that three provisions therein violated the restriction on noncompete agreements embodied by California Business and Professions Code Section 16600. Section 16600 provides that, aside from certain exceptions, “every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void.”
Dr. Golden challenged the following provisions of the proposed settlement agreement as violative of Section 16600:
- A provision preventing Dr. Golden from working or being reinstated at any facility that CEP owns, manages or contracts with.
- A provision allowing CEP to terminate Dr. Golden without any liability if CEP contracts with an emergency room at which Golden is employed or rendering services.
- A provision allowing CEP to terminate Dr. Golden without any liability if CEP contracts with a facility at which Golden is employed or rendering services.
The district court originally granted a motion to enforce the agreement and ordered Dr. Golden to sign, reasoning that the provisions would only prevent him from working for, not competing with, his former employer CEP, and thus Section 16600 did not apply. When the Ninth Circuit first considered this issue on appeal (Golden I), it reversed, holding that Section 16600 applies not only to noncompetition agreements but to any contractual provision that places a “restraint of a substantial character” on a person’s ability to practice a profession, trade, or business. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case to the district court to apply this standard, but the district court again ordered Dr. Golden to sign the settlement agreement, concluding that the disputed provisions did not constitute a restraint of a substantial character.
Addressing the dispute a second time in Golden II, the Ninth Circuit clarified that to meet the “restraint of substantial character” standard, “a provision need not completely prohibit the business or professional activity at issue, nor does it need to be sufficient to dissuade a reasonable person from engaging in that activity…[b]ut its restraining effect must be significant enough that its enforcement would implicate the policies of open competition and employee mobility that animate [Business and Professions Code] section 16600.”
The Ninth Circuit concluded that the first clause prohibiting Golden from working at any facility contracted by, owned, or managed by CEP was valid, as its effect on Golden’s ability to practice medicine was minimal. However, the court held that the second and third restrictions proposed by CEP would “easily rise to the level of a substantial restraint, especially given the size of CEP’s business in California.” CEP currently staffs 160 healthcare facilities in California and handles between twenty-five and thirty percent of the state’s emergency room admissions. Because the second and third restrictions would affect Golden’s “[existing] and future employment at third-party facilities” where CEP provided services, even if the CEP services began after Golden’s employment, and even if CEP’s services did not compete with the services Golden provided, the provisions ran afoul of Business and Professions Code Section 16600.
The Ninth Circuit’s recent decision is a good reminder that California generally disfavors noncompete agreements. California employers may wish to review their separation/settlement agreements with this case in mind or to consult with counsel to ensure that their agreements comply with California law.
In July, we reported that the Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments to settle the circuit split of whether mandatory class action waivers violate section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).
Last month, both sides argued before the Court: the pro-employer representatives argued that arbitration agreements containing class waivers must be enforced under the FAA (representing the Second, Fifth and Eighth Circuits) while the pro-employee representatives argued that class waiver provisions contained in arbitration agreements are illegal under the NLRA and thus, not subject to the FAA (representing the Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Circuits). READ MORE
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.