Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California

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In this Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), Cal. Lab. Code 2698 et seq., action seeking civil penalties under Cal. Labor Code 558 the Supreme Court held that the civil penalties a plaintiff may seek under section 558 through the PAGA do not include the "amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages." Real party in interest Kalethia Lawson brought this action naming as Defendants her employer and its parent company (collectively, ZB). Lawson had agreed to arbitrate all employment claims and forego class arbitration with her employer. The court of appeals ordered the trial court to deny ZB's motion to arbitrate that portion of Lawson's claim for unpaid wages, concluding that section 558's civil penalty encompassed the amount for unpaid wages and that Lawson's unpaid wages claim could not be compelled to arbitration under Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal.4th 348 (2014). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the amount for unpaid wages is not recoverable under the PAGA, and section 558 does not otherwise permit a private right of action; and (2) therefore, the trial court should have denied ZB's motion. View "ZB, N.A. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a definitive resolution of the question of whether an arbitral scheme resembling civil litigation can constitute a sufficiently accessible and affordable process was unnecessary in this case because the facts involved an unusually high degree of procedural unconscionability, rendering the arbitration agreement in this case unenforceable. During his employment Employee signed an arbitration clause grafted onto an acknowledgment of at-will employment. After his employment ended Employee filed a complaint with the Labor Commissioner for unpaid wages. Employer filed a petition to compel arbitration. The Labor Commissioner proceeded to the hearing without Employer and awarded Employee unpaid wages and liquidated damages. The trial court vacated the award, concluding that the hearing should not have proceeded in Employer's absence. The court, however, did not compel arbitration, finding that the agreement was both procedurally and substantively unconscionable. The court of appeal reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) even if a litigation-like arbitration procedure may be an acceptable substitute for the Berman process, an employee may not be coerced or misled into accepting this trade; and (2) under the oppressive circumstances of this case, the agreement was unconscionable, rendering it unenforceable. View "OTO, L.L.C. v. Kho" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal affirming in part and reversing in part the judgment of the trial court granting Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings on certain stock and wage conversion claims, holding that Plaintiff's stock conversion claims should be permitted to proceed but that Plaintiff did not plead a cognizable claim for conversion of wages. Plaintiff worked alongside Defendant to launch three start-up ventures in return for a promise of later payment of wages. Later, Plaintiff was fired and never paid. Plaintiff successfully sued the companies invoking both contract-based and statutory remedies for the nonpayment of wages. In this lawsuit, Plaintiff sought to hold Defendant personally responsible for the unpaid wages on a theory of common law conversion. The trial court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment. The court of appeal reversed in part but concluded that extending the tort of conversion to the wage context was not warranted. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a conversion claim was not an appropriate remedy for the wrong alleged in this case. View "Voris v. Lampert" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeal concluding that the anti-SLAPP statute, Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 425.16, cannot be used to judicially screen claims alleging discriminatory or retaliatory employment actions, holding that the statute contains no exception for discrimination or retaliation claims. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant, his employer, ultimately fired him for unlawful discriminatory and retaliatory reasons. Defendant, a news organization, filed an anti-SLAPP motion. The trial court granted the motion, concluding that Plaintiff had not shown any of his claims had minimal merit. The court of appeal reversed, concluding that discrimination and retaliation do not qualify as protected activity, and therefore, the anti-SLAPP statute did not apply. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) in cases alleging discrimination or retaliation claims in the employment context, the plaintiff's allegations about the defendant's invidious motives will not shield the claim from the same preliminary screening for minimal merit that would apply to any other claim arising from protected activity; and (2) Defendant showed that Plaintiff's claims arose in limited part from protected activity, and therefore, Defendant was entitled to a determination of whether those limited portions of Plaintiff's claims had sufficient potential merit to proceed. View "Wilson v. Cable News Network, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case concerning whether a certified class of state correctional employees is entitled to additional compensation for time spent on pre- and postwork activities, the Supreme Court held that the represented plaintiffs' claims failed insofar as they sought additional compensation for either "duty-integrated walk time" or "entry-exit walk time" and that, as to the subclass of unrepresented plaintiffs, they may be entitled to additional compensation for duty-integrated walk time. The Supreme Court referred to the time the employees spent traveling from the outermost gate of the prison facility to their work posts within the facility as "entry-exit walk time" and the time the employees spent after beginning the first activity they were assigned to but before arriving at their assigned work post the "duty-integrated walk time." The trial court divided the plaintiff class into two subclasses: one for supervisory employees who were not represented by a union and the other for represented employees. The Court concluded (1) the subclass of represented plaintiffs expressly agreed to a specific amount of compensation for duty-integrated walk time; and (2) the collective bargaining agreements precluded other forms of compensation, and therefore, the represented plaintiffs' claims failed insofar as they sought additional compensation for either duty-integrated walk time or entry-exit walk time. View "Stoetzl v. Department of Human Resources" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that this lawsuit brought by security guards at Oracle Park (the former AT&T Park in San Francisco) against San Francisco Baseball Associates LLC (the Giants) alleging a violation of Cal. Lab. Code 201, subd. (a) was preempted under federal law and must be submitted to arbitration, holding that the trial court correctly denied the Giants' motion to compel arbitration. In this action, the guards claimed that they were discharged after every Giants homestead, at the end of the baseball season, and after other events at the park, and that they were entitled under section 201 to receive their unpaid wages immediately after each discharge. The Giants moved to compel arbitration, arguing that this action was preempted by the Labor Management Relations Act because the controversy required interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) entered into between the parties. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeal reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) while the CBA may be relevant to this lawsuit, the dispute turned on the meaning of "discharge" under section 201 rather than an interpretation of the CBA itself; and (2) therefore, the lawsuit was not preempted, and state courts may decide it on the merits. View "Melendez v. San Francisco Baseball Associates LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the trial court and court of appeal, which determined that the elimination of the opportunity to purchase additional retirement service (ARS) credit set forth in the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013 (PEPRA), Cal. Gov. Code 7222 et seq., did not violate the California Constitution, holding that the opportunity to purchase ARS credit is not a right protected by the contract clause, and in the absence of constitutional protection, the opportunity to purchase ARS credit can be altered or eliminated at the discretion of the legislature. PEPRA effectively repealed the statute granting public employees the opportunity to purchase ARS credit. At issue in this case was whether the opportunity to purchase ARS credit was a vested right protected by the constitutional contract clause and whether the elimination of the opportunity to purchase ARS credit was an unconstitutional impairment of public employees’ vested rights. The Supreme Court answered the first question in the negative and declined to address the second issue, holding that the opportunity to purchase ARS credit is not a vested right. View "Cal Fire Local 2881 v. California Public Employees' Retirement System" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal insofar as it held that the trial court erred in dismissing certain of Plaintiff’s causes of action, holding an employee who believes he or she has not been paid the wages due under the applicable labor statutes and wages orders may not maintain causes of action for unpaid wages against a payroll service provider for breach of contract, negligence, and negligent misrepresentation. While the court of appeal agreed that a payroll company cannot properly be considered an employer of the hiring business’s employee that may be liable for failure to pay wages that are due, the court held that the employee may maintain the causes of action that were dismissed in this case by the trial court. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the court of appeal erred (1) in holding that an employee may maintain a breach of contract action against the payroll company under the third party beneficiary doctrine; and (2) in determining that an employee who alleges that he or she has not been paid wages that are due may maintain causes of action for negligence and negligent misrepresentation against a payroll company. View "Goonewardene v. ADP, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the judgment of the appellate court reversing the judgment of the trial court granted Defendants’ special motions to strike the second through sixth causes of action advanced by Plaintiffs in Plaintiffs’ dispute with the City of Carson and other defendants, holding that some of Plaintiffs’ causes of action were based on protected activities under Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 425.26(e)(2) and (e)(4) but others were not. After Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit Defendants responded by making a motion under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Supreme Court held that the causes of action asserted in Plaintiffs’ dispute with Defendants did not arise from Defendants’ acts in furtherance of their right of free speech in connection with a public issue with the exception of two discrete claims, which were within the scope of subdivision (e)(2) and (e)(4) of the anti-SLAPP statute, thus affirming in part and reversing in part the appellate court’s judgment. View "Rand Resources, LLC v. City of Carson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeal that a wage order of the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) permitting Plaintiffs to waive a second meal period for shifts greater than twelve hours does not violate the Labor Code. The Labor Code provides that employees who work more than five hours must be provided with a meal period and employees who work more than ten hours must be provided with a second meal period. Under the Labor Code, an employee who works no more than six hours may waive the first meal period, and an employee who works no more than twelve hours may waive the second meal period. At issue was a IWC wage order permitting health care employees to waive the second meal per even if they have worked more than twelve hours. Plaintiffs were employees of a hospital who worked shifts longer than twelve hours and waived their second meal periods. After analyzing the relevant statutory and regulatory provisions the Supreme Court held that the IWC order does not violate the Labor Code. View "Gerard v. Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center" on Justia Law