Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

by
Ron Koenig was the superintendent and principal of the Warner Unified School District (the district). He and the district entered an agreement to terminate his employment one year before his employment agreement was due to expire. Under the termination agreement, Koenig agreed to release any potential claims against the district in exchange for a lump sum payment equivalent to the amount due during the balance of the term of his employment agreement, consistent with Government Code section 53260. The district also agreed to continue to pay health benefits for Koenig and his spouse "until Koenig reaches age 65 or until Medicare or similar government provided insurance coverage takes effect, whichever occurs first." The district stopped paying Koenig's health benefits 22 months later. Koenig then sued to rescind the termination agreement and sought declaratory relief he was entitled to continued benefits pursuant to his underlying employment agreement, which provided that Koenig and his spouse would continue receiving health benefits, even after the term of the agreement expired. After a bench trial, the trial court determined the district's promise in the termination agreement to pay health benefits until Koenig turned 65 violated section 53261, was unenforceable, and rendered the termination agreement void for lack of consideration. Both Koenig and the district appealed the judgment entered after trial. Koenig contended the trial court properly determined the termination agreement was void but should have concluded he was entitled to continued health benefits until the age of 65. The district contended the trial court erred when it concluded the termination agreement was void; rather, the trial court should have severed the termination agreement's unenforceable promise to continue paying benefits, enforced the remainder of the termination agreement, and required Koenig to pay restitution for benefits paid beyond the term of the original agreement. The Court of Appeal concluded the termination agreement's unlawful promise to pay health benefits in excess of the statutory maximum should have been severed to comply with sections 53260 and 53261, Koenig did not establish he was entitled to rescind the termination agreement, and the district was entitled to restitution for health benefits paid beyond the statutory maximum. Judgment was reversed and the trial court directed to enter judgment in favor of the district for $16,607. View "Koenig v. Warner Unified School District" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the court of appeals' decision reducing Terry Bortolotti's weekly income benefit awarded by the workers' compensation court from the maximum to the minimum and eliminating the award of out-of-pocket medical expenses, holding that the reduced weekly benefit was correct but that the medical expense award should be reinstated. In upholding the reduced weekly benefit, the Supreme Court held (1) the compensation court erroneously based the determination of Bortolotti's average weekly wage on a superseded and inoperative pleading, and the court of appeals' determination of average weekly wage was supported by competent evidence in the record; and (2) as to Bortolotti's medical expenses, the court of appeals failed to give Bortolotti's testimony the inferences mandated by the deferential standard of review. View "Bortolotti v. Universal Terrazzo & Tile Co." on Justia Law

by
Javitz accepted an “at-will” position as Luzerne County's Director of Human Resources. Javitz participated in meetings with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which resulted in ASFSCME filing an unfair labor practices suit. Javitz claimed that a document filed in that lawsuit was a transcript of the meetings. She suspected that a county employee had recorded the meeting without Javitz’s consent—a crime under Pennsylvania law. Javitz's supervisor agreed that the meeting may have been recorded; they met with the District Attorney, who indicated that she would refer the matter to the Office of the Attorney General due to a conflict of interest. Javitz claims that the County Manager intervened and instructed the District Attorney to drop the matter. Javitz followed up about the investigation. Javitz alleges that county employees retaliated against her. Within weeks Javitz was fired. The County maintains that Javitz was fired because of her conduct toward unions, her failure to follow directions, and her handling of employment applications. The district court rejected her claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Third Circuit affirmed that Javitz did not have a property interest in her employment; her termination did not violate her due process rights. The court reversed as to a First Amendment claim: Who Javitz spoke to, what she spoke about, and why she spoke fall outside the scope of her primary job duties. Javitz was a citizen speaking to a matter of public concern. View "Javitz v. County of Luzerne" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff and others filed a class action against defendants, alleging claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Nebraska law, arising out of an eight-week student-driver training program operated by defendants and intended for new truck drivers. The Eighth Circuit agreed with defendants that the district court abused its discretion by granting plaintiffs' request to extend the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b) disclosure deadline, despite finding that good cause for the extension had not been shown, based on an erroneous application of Rule 37(c)(1). The court held that the error was not harmless because the jury clearly relied on the opinion of plaintiff's expert in reaching the damages award. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Petrone v. Werner Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff, on behalf of herself and three alleged classes of hourly Loews employees, filed suit alleging that Loews improperly calculated her premium payment when Loews failed to provide her with statutorily required meal and/or rest breaks, in violation of Labor Code section 226.7, and Loews underpaid her by unlawfully shaving or rounding time from the hours she worked. The Court of Appeal held that the statute's plain language, statutory history, and federal case precedent differentiates "regular rate of compensation" from "regular rate of pay." The court also held that Loew's facially neutral rounding policy did not systematically undercompensate its employees over time. Therefore, there was no triable issue of material fact and Loews was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. View "Ferra v. Loews Hollywood Hotel, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment to the City of Brainerd after the City restructured its fire department and eliminated all of its union positions, holding that the City engaged in an unfair labor practice prohibited by Minn. Stat. 179A.13, subd. 2(2). Firefighters Union Local 4725 and the union president sued the City under the Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA), Minn. Stat. 197A.01-.25, alleging that in eliminating the union positions, the City engaged in unfair labor practices prohibited by PELRA. The district court granted summary judgment for the City. The court of appeals reversed, ruling that the City violated section 179A.13, subd. 2(2) by undergoing a department reorganization that resulted in the dissolution of a bargaining unit. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the City's interference with the existence of an employee organization constituted a prohibited unfair labor practice. View "Firefighters Union Local 4725 v. City of Brainerd" on Justia Law

by
Progress Rail, a manufacturer, has Shop Rules; violations result in “disciplinary action ranging from reprimand to immediate discharge.” Progress hired McDaniel in 2005 as a Material Handler. In 2016, McDaniel complained that Howard, his supervisor, was giving overtime to younger workers. Shortly thereafter Howard issued McDaniel a disciplinary notice for using his cell phone while on work equipment in violation of Shop Rules. McDaniel denied talking on his phone but admitted that it was “on top of the truck” in violation of a Rule. McDaniel received a one-day suspension. Weeks later, Howard claimed McDaniel was using his cell phone to take pictures. McDaniel volunteered his phone to confirm he did not take any photographs. There was no discipline. McDaniel alleges that Howard then assigned him to sweeping and general maintenance duties for three weeks. Months later, McDaniel suffered a serious injury while attempting to move a 106-pound piece of machinery by hand. After investigatory interviews, with a Union Representative in attendance, McDaniel, age 55, was terminated. After filing an EEOC complaint, McDaniel sued, alleging discrimination on the basis of age and retaliation for complaining about a superior, citing the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621–34. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Progress. McDaniel has not supplied evidence of any similarly situated employee that would allow a fact-finder to determine whether any adverse employment action was the result of age discrimination or retaliation. View "McDaniel v. Progress Rail Locomotive, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed a putative class action against SGT, alleging that SGT violated various provisions of the Labor Code and Industrial Welfare Commission's (IWC) wage orders by misclassifying drivers as independent contractors. While this appeal was pending, the California Supreme Court decided Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court (2018) 4 Cal.5th 903, in which it adopted the "ABC test" used in other jurisdictions to streamline and provide consistency in analyzing the distinction between employees and independent contractors for purposes of wage order claims. The Court of Appeal held that the the ABC test adopted in Dynamex is retroactively applicable to pending litigation on wage and hour claims; the ABC test applies with equal force to Labor Code claims that seek to enforce the fundamental protections afforded by wage order provisions; and statutory claims alleging misclassification not directly premised on wage order protections, and which do not fall within the generic category of "wage and hour laws," are appropriately analyzed under what has commonly been known as the Borello test. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Gonzales v. San Gabriel Transit" on Justia Law

by
Danville, a third-party service station operator, fired Henderson following an accusation of sexual harassment. Henderson managed several of Danville’s Shell-branded gas stations but was never directly employed by Shell. Shell supplied the stations with fuel products and set fuel prices. Danville facilitated the collection of customer payments. Shell compensated Danville for this service and reimbursed Danville for certain expenses. Danville agreed to abide by certain standards to protect the Shell brand. Danville alone made decisions with respect to recruiting, interviewing, hiring, disciplining, promoting and terminating its employees; had sole control over employee payroll functions; and had its own employee handbook. Shell retained the right to ask Danville to “remove” an employee from a Shell-owned station “for good cause shown.” Henderson was instructed to contact Danville for any questions about operating his stations. Shell was not involved in the decision to terminate Henderson’s employment. After his termination, Henderson sued for unpaid wages, statutory wage and record-keeping penalties and interest, plus restitution, injunctive, and declaratory relief under Business and Professions Code section 17200, alleging that Shell was liable as his “joint employer.” The court of appeal affirmed judgment in favor of Shell. Henderson did not present any triable issues of fact demonstrating the existence of a joint employment relationship under the three alternative definitions of employment set forth in Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order No. 7. View "Henderson v. Equilon Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Biomet employed Yeatts in a role that included implementing compliance policies. In 2008, Biomet terminated its Brazilian distributor Prosintese, run by Galindo, after learning that Galindo had bribed healthcare providers, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 78dd-1. Prosintese still owned Brazilian registrations for Biomet’s products. Biomet could not quickly obtain new registrations, and, in 2009, agreed to cooperate with Prosintese and Galindo “to implement the new Biomet distributors.” A distributor that replaced Prosintese hired Galindo as a consultant. Yeatts communicated with Galindo in that new role. Biomet entered into a 2012 Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the Department of Justice, which required that Biomet engage an independent corporate compliance monitor. In 2013, Biomet received an anonymous whistleblower tip that Biomet continued to work with Galindo. Biomet informed the DOJ and the Monitor, terminated Yeatts, and included Yeatts on a Restricted Parties List. Biomet entered a second DOJ agreement that references Yeatts’s interactions with Galindo and paid a criminal penalty of $17.4 million. In Yeatts's defamation suit, the court granted Biomet summary judgment because Biomet’s statement that Yeatts posed a compliance risk was an opinion that could not be proven false and presented no defamatory imputation. Yeatts could not establish that Biomet made the statement with malice, so Biomet was protected by the qualified privilege of common interest and the public interest privilege. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, agreeing that inclusion of Yeatts on the Restricted Parties List conveyed no defamatory imputation of objectively verifiable or testable fact. View "Yeatts v. Zimmer Biomet Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law