Articles Posted in California Employment Law

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When a new mother returns to the workplace, certain sections of the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, continue to grant her special protections. Employers that fail to observe these protections may find themselves subject to a costly lawsuit.

Legal-Fees-PaidSuch is the case with the City of Tucson. A recent federal trial court jury’s decision found in favor of a plaintiff to the tune of $3.8 million. The plaintiff, Carrie Clark, was employed by the City of Tucson as a paramedic. Upon returning from maternity leave, Clark needed to be able to express breast milk throughout the day. However, the city assigned her to fire stations that lacked appropriate facilities for meeting this need.

Under Section 7(r) of the FLSA, employers are required to provide break time for nursing mothers to express breast milk. This accommodation must be made for up to a period of one year after the child’s birth. Moreover, employers are required to provide a private, hygienic place, which is not a bathroom, in which the mother can express breast milk away from curious eyes.

The law does not require that employers pay employees for this break time. However, if compensation is provided for such break periods, then it must be paid to the worker.

Section 7(r) is not the most well-known component of the FLSA. Nonetheless, the City of Tucson may now be wishing that they had been more aware of their responsibilities under the law. The jury found that the city appeared to exacerbate the situation by retaliating against Clark when she made repeated requests for adequate accommodations for expressing breast milk.

The April 2019 jury decision found in favor of the plaintiff on all counts. According to the decision, Clark was discriminated against for a pregnancy-related condition. Additionally, because her employer required her to take leave so that she could express breast milk in private and punished her for allegedly “not being in harmony with others,” Clark was awarded further damages.

This case is a stark reminder for employers everywhere to be aware of all facets of FLSA, discrimination and anti-retaliation laws.

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A recent decision by the Supreme Court of California declares that workers don’t have the right to sue a payroll company with which their employer has a contract. This ruling is a reversal of a decision in a lower court. If that decision had been affirmed, employees would have been empowered to sue payroll companies for tort and breach of contract claims.

Timeclock-45269690-001The case was Goonewardene v. ADP. Plaintiff Sharmalee Goonewardene sued her employer over unpaid wages. Later, her complaint was amended to include Automatic Data Processing, or ADP, which has a contract with her employer for payroll services. Goonewardene alleged that ADP had violated wage orders and the California Labor Code, effectively asserting that she was a joint employee of her employer and ADP.

Goonewardene accused ADP of negligent misrepresentation, professional negligence and breach of contract. However, a trial court dismissed these claims. Goonewardene appealed, and the appeals court decided that she didn’t have the right to sue ADP under the California Labor Code. Nonetheless, the court found that she could sue ADP for other claims such as breach of contract and negligence because she was a third-party beneficiary of the contract between her workplace and ADP. This appeals court opinion made it possible for workers across the state to jointly sue their employer and their employer’s payroll processor.

The Supreme Court of California was called upon to review the case. This court disagreed that the plaintiff was a third-party beneficiary of the contract. The decision was based on the theory that any employer’s agreement with a company like ADP is for their benefit rather than the benefit of employees. Moreover, imposing liability on a payroll services company was judged to be against the expectation of the two parties to the contract.

With this Supreme Court decision, it is clear that a payroll company is not a joint employer with its clients, nor does such a company owe a duty of care to the employees of clients. This is likely to minimize the number of lawsuits that would have proliferated if the appeals court decision had been sustained.

If you are an California employer or business owner with questions about any legal issue feel free to contact me, attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500 or via the Contact form on this page.

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A decision in a California lawsuit may have implications for retail employers who require workers to be available for on-call shifts. Under the decision, it may be wise for such employers to consider whether or not their employees are entitled by law to compensation for their time when they are requested to “report to work” by telephone.

clock-overtime-110616811-001Ward v. Tilly’s, Inc. is a class action lawsuit filed by Skylar Ward, an employee of retail chain Tilly’s. The plaintiff alleges that her employer institutes a policy of on-call shifts in which employees are required to call in two hours in advance to ask the employer if they are needed. In the complaint, attorneys argue that such an obligation triggers an employer responsibility to compensate the employee for their time under the California Industrial Welfare Commission’s Wage Orders.

The Wage Orders state that when an employee complies with a requirement to report for work, they are entitled to half of their usual pay or no less than two-hours’ pay. Tilly’s policy stated that employees should assume that they were scheduled to work up until the moment they were told that they weren’t needed. This meant that employees would have to schedule their time as if they were going to be working, leading to arrangements for childcare, giving up social engagements and being unable to schedule academic courses.

Under Tilly’s policy, employees could be disciplined for failing to call in or for refusing to work an on-call shift. Such actions received the same discipline as missing a regularly scheduled shift.

Ward’s complaint was refused by the trial court. An appeal brought the case before the Court of Appeal, which reversed the trial court’s findings two to one. Appeal judges determined that reporting for work under the definition in the Wage Orders means “presenting oneself as ordered.”

The dissenting opinion argued that the Wage Order’s intent applied to the employee’s physical presence at the store. Nonetheless, the outcome of this matter demonstrates the need for employers to review their pre-shift call-in policy to bring it in line with the findings in Ward v. Tilly’s.

If you are an California employer or business owner with questions about any legal issue feel free to contact me, attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500 or via the Contact form on this page.

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When a worker suffers an on-the-job injury, what sort of accommodation is her employer legally required to make to ensure her ability to return to work? The law is deliberately vague on this subject, generally stating that employers must make “reasonable” accommodations. Failing to do so can lead to legal headaches.

Wrongful-TerminationThat’s the case for Dignity Health in California. Dignity manages St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital. Virginia Hoover had been working at the hospital for approximately 24 years as a radiologic technologist. In 2014, she suffered an injury to her shoulder while moving some equipment. The hospital granted her a leave of absence for recovery.

By August 2014, Hoover was cleared to return, but she was given limitations. She wasn’t supposed to lift anything heavier than 15 pounds with her non-dominant left arm and she was not permitted to raise that arm above her head. However, Hoover claims that Dignity made no effort to accommodate these restrictions. She was fired in December 2014 after her employer concluded that she couldn’t perform her duties.

Hoover filed a lawsuit against Dignity in 2016. Recently, a jury awarded her just over one million dollars for lost wages and emotional distress. The plaintiff claimed that Dignity had wrongfully terminated her and discriminated against her based on her age. Among the claims, Hoover says that another employee with similar restrictions had been accommodated by the hospital to remain in their position.

Dignity argued that they accommodated Hoover by granting her a leave of absence and then working with her to return to her duties. However, supervisors ultimately concluded that she wasn’t capable of performing the essential functions of her job.

In such cases, the law states that employers must find alternative work for an employee, but no documents from the lawsuit indicate whether or not this was attempted.

If you are an employer and one of your workers gets injured on the job, do you know how to comply with the relevant laws? Failing to do so can result in a costly lawsuit and negative publicity. If you are an California employer or business owner with questions about on the job injuries or any legal issue feel free to contact me, attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500 or via the Contact form on this page.

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Since 2004, PAGA has been a concern for California employers. The Private Attorneys General Act enabled workers to sue their employers for all Labor Code violations. This is normally the realm of the state’s Attorney General. However, lawmakers knew that they had a problem with underground businesses avoiding taxes and licenses. They hoped that empowering employees to sue their employers as if they were representing an agency would uncover unsafe working conditions.

1504001-Gavel-Money-3As many laws do, PAGA had unintended effects. Soon potential plaintiffs, and the attorneys representing them, discovered that they could sue for every violation under the sun. What’s more, the process was extremely profitable for everyone involved, except for business owners.

Suddenly, employers were being sued for minor, non-monetary violations. As an example, consider the case of the 99 Cents Only Stores. Cashiers sued for the right to have chairs at their workstations. The employees won, and the decision was upheld by the California Court of Appeal. This early case demonstrated how profitable such litigation could be.

Under PAGA, employees have the right to recover monetary penalties for an employer’s violation of any Labor Code. Prior to passage of the law, these civil matters would have to be brought by the State Labor Commissioner. PAGA also made it possible for fines to be imposed against employers for virtually every provision of the Labor Code.

Moreover, plaintiffs may recover 100 percent of their attorney’s fees. This meant that employees could address any perceived shortcomings in their working conditions, and that plaintiff’s lawyers were motivated to help them.

The California Business & Industrial Alliance is now suing California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra claiming that PAGA is unconstitutional. The plaintiff’s say that the state’s powers have been turned over to attorneys who are focused on personal gain. They claim that attorneys are using the law to avoid mediation and to extort millions of dollars from employers.

This lawsuit is new and nowhere near a resolution. However, it’s a reminder that employers should do their utmost to ensure compliance with Labor Codes, and it underscores the importance of working with a qualified business attorney.

If you are an California employer or business owner with questions about PAGA or any legal issue feel free to contact me, attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500 or via the Contact form on this page.

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A decision in the California Court of Appeals serves as a reminder that compliance with wage and hour laws should be a primary concern for all employers.

The case is Atempa v. Pedrazzani. Arguing that their former employer did not pay them in accordance with the law, two former co-workers from a restaurant filed a suit against the company. They sued not only their former employer Pama, Inc. but also the owner of the company, Paolo Pedrazzani.

clock-overtime-110616811-001The plaintiffs alleged that Pama and Pedrazzani violated several wage and hour laws. Among these were California Labor Code Section 558 regarding unpaid overtime and California Labor Code Section 1197.1 regarding unpaid minimum wages. The plaintiffs used the Private Attorney General Act of 2004, or PAGA, as the basis for their suit. In a bench trial, the plaintiffs prevailed. According to the court’s decision, Pedrazzani and Pama were jointly and severally responsible for any civil penalties that were based on wage and hour violations. Using PAGA, the court also declared that Pedrazzani was liable for the plaintiffs’ attorney fees.

Pedrazzani and Pama appealed the decision, and when Pama filed for bankruptcy, Pedrazzani became the only party to be held responsible for paying the attorneys’ fees and civil penalties.

In his appeal, Pedrazzani argued that an individual could not be held legally responsible for the wage and hour violations of an employer unless plaintiffs showed that the employer was an alter ego of the individual. However, the appeals court denied this argument and decided that Pedrazzani was personally liable for all civil penalties.

The court stated that an employer and an “other person” could be held liable for failing to follow wage and hour laws and that the employer’s business structure is irrelevant. Pedrazzani, so the court argued, was the “other person” under the definition of Labor Code Sections 558 and 1197.1.

With this decision, the court says that an employer and its owners and officers may be held personally liable for civil penalties arising from wage and hour violations. Clearly, vigilance with regard to wage and hour compliance is more critical than ever.

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Facebook is facing legal woes as a group of plaintiffs charges the tech giant with making it possible for companies to post employment advertisements in a discriminatory manner. The plaintiffs include the American Civil Liberties Union, a coalition for workers and three women who were seeking employment.

Smart-Phone-with-Apps-48915227-001In addition to Facebook, 10 employers are named as defendants in the complaint. Plaintiffs say that Facebook’s ad-targeting technology made it possible for these employers to direct their help-wanted ads exclusively to men. The jobs on offer included truck drivers, law enforcement officers and sales clerks at sporting goods retailers.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received the complaint, which argues that since an increasing number of job and housing applicants are conducting their searches online, it has been increasingly easy for employers and landlords to engage in discriminatory practices. Under federal law, it is illegal for employers and landlords to discriminate against people based on their race, religion, gender, national origin, disability status or other protected categories.

However, in the online world, it is routine for tech companies to use algorithms that fast-track certain ads to specific users. Facebook excels at “microtargeting” users for certain advertisements. Additionally, the social media platform allows users to click on a link that says “Why am I seeing this?” This feature is actually what prompted lawyers with the ACLU to file the complaint.

Outten & Golden, a Washington, D.C. law firm, performed an experiment in which people used Facebook to search for a job or otherwise indicate that they were engaged in a job hunt. Employment ads for the 10 employers named in the suit were displayed for the male job candidates but not for the female ones. The Facebook users then clicked on the “Why am I seeing this?” link, where it was stated that their gender played a role in the targeting of that particular ad to that user.

This is not the first such complaint that has been lodged against Facebook. An earlier EEOC complaint alleged that Facebook employment ads were targeted to unfairly exclude older employees. Both of these cases are pending.

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Electric car company Tesla has filed a lawsuit against a former employee over what it claims are stolen secrets. Martin Tripp is named as the defendant.

System-Failure-51347065-001Tripp began working for Tesla in October 2017. His job was at the organization’s Nevada battery factory. As a process technician, Tripp was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement like other employees. Supervisors at Tesla began noticing problems with Tripp’s employment after a few months. They allege that Tripp was combative with colleagues and caused disruptions. In May 2018, he was reassigned to another department. The company also claims that this prevented Tripp from getting a promotion that he felt he deserved.

In the complaint, Tesla alleges that Tripp’s reassignment and the denied promotion are what sparked the employee to retaliate. Tripp admitted to internal investigators at Tesla that he wrote a software program that was capable of transferring gigabytes of data to computers outside the company. The data included photographs and videos, and Tesla claims that all of the data was privileged. Tripp is alleged to have placed the hacking software on the computer systems of three other employees so that he could continue to receive data even after he left the company. Additionally, this measure would implicate the other employees in the data theft.

According to the complaint, Tripp then leaked some of the stolen data to the media, combining it with falsehoods such as a claim that punctured battery cells were used in Tesla’s Model 3 car. The company further alleges that Tripp falsified data regarding the amount and value of scrap metal that is generated in the organization’s production processes.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk warned employees in an email about the hacking and the falsehoods that were leaked to the media. He noted that many other entities, like oil and gas companies, “want Tesla to die,” and that this is leading them to investigate whether or not Tripp acted alone.

It is not known if any criminal investigation has been launched, but this situation serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting intellectual property using all legal means available.

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A California law firm is being sued by three of its female associates. The plaintiffs, identified only as “Jane Does,” allege that Morrison & Foerster systematically discriminates against female employees, particularly those who are pregnant or have children.

Gender-Discrimination-105366239-001Representatives for the plaintiffs say they believe the case will become a class action lawsuit once other female associates at Morrison become aware of it. Plaintiffs are seeking approximately $100 million in damages, arguing that the firm pays them less and provides them with fewer promotions when compared with male peers.

The allegations came as a surprise to partners at Morrison & Foerster, a firm that provides several options for accommodating the needs of new parents. Some of these programs include flexible work options, reduced hours, parental transition time and 20 weeks of paid time off for primary caregivers.

However, the plaintiffs say that associates who take advantage of these programs are “set up to fail.” In January 2018, each learned that their peers who were in the same class year had been promoted ahead of them. Additionally, their salaries were no longer the same as their promoted peers. Their external billing rates had been raised, an error that management corrected when they were alerted to the issue.

One plaintiff described her performance review, which occurred during the same month. The plaintiff says that the partner conducting the review essentially informed her that she had not been promoted because she became a mother. She also revealed that her request for flexible scheduling, which would have allowed her to work full time with some of the hours being logged at home, was denied.

Another plaintiff was told that she was required to work more billable hours upon her return from maternity leave. However, when she requested additional work to meet this new standard, the partners were not forthcoming.

It’s unlikely that the management at Morrison intended to discriminate against any of their associates. However, sometimes even the appearance of gender and pregnancy bias is enough to cause legal problems. Working closely with an employment attorney is the best way to avoid these situations.

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The Ninth Circuit Court has acted to further eliminate the wage gap. In fact, it reversed a decision that the judge now views as unjust. The ruling sets precedent for female employees who allege that they are paid less than similarly qualified male counterparts for the same work.

Compensation-134182432-001The case in question is Rizo v. Yovino. Aileen Rizo is a math consultant employed with Fresno County Public Schools. When she learned that male colleagues in her department were being paid significantly more than she was, Rizo began investigating. What she learned eventually led her to sue her employer. Basically, Rizo was earning less because she had been paid less in her previous positions with other employers. Fresno County Public Schools used her wage history as justification for paying her less than male counterparts with similar experience.

The Ninth Circuit agreed with this pay history reasoning last year, aligning themselves with the defendant because the pay differential was based on “a factor other than sex.” The recent reversal of this finding means that a worker’s pay history cannot be construed as “a factor other than sex” under the auspices of the Equal Pay Act. This decision effectively wipes out 30 years of precedent, and activists say that it strikes a major blow to the wage gap situation.

In the decision, Judge Reinhardt wrote that “‘any factor other than sex’ is limited to legitimate, job-related factors such as a prospective employee’s experience, educational background, ability, or prior job performance.” The judge went on to argue that using the Equal Pay Act to perpetuate the gender wage gap runs contrary to the very purpose of the Act.

The decision is an echo of several state-level decisions that are prohibiting employers from gathering data relating to the salary history of prospective employees. Accordingly, it is critical for employers to update their hiring processes to reflect these changes. It also is sensible to review current salary data for all existing employees to ensure that any pay disparities between male and female colleagues with similar qualifications are supported by the provisions of the Equal Pay Act.