Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The Ninth Circuit granted the union's petition for review, challenging the Board's decision holding that janitorial employees had lost the protection of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) due to unlawful picketing. In this case, with the help of a union, janitorial employees picketed outside the commercial office building where they worked to protest their low wages and poor working conditions. The employees were consequently terminated from their jobs.The panel concluded that the Board erred in determining that the employees' picketing violated Section 8(b)(4)(ii)(B) of the NLRA, a provision that prohibits various unfair labor practices, including what is known as "secondary picketing." The panel explained that, while the union may have engaged in coercive activity (picketing and patrolling), the Board's finding that it constituted secondary, as opposed to primary, activity is not supported by substantial evidence. The panel further explained that the union never made any statements or took any actions indicating that an objective of its picketing was to coerce Harvest into pressuring Preferred to meet the employees' demands. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Service Employees International Union Local 87 v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order preliminarily enjoining enforcement, against any motor carrier doing business in California, of California's Assembly Bill 5, which codified the judge-made "ABC test" for classifying workers as either employees or independent contractors.After determining that CTA has standing to bring suit, the panel held that application of AB-5 to motor carriers is not preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAA), because AB-5 is a generally applicable labor law that affects a motor carrier's relationship with its workforce and does not bind, compel, or otherwise freeze into place the prices, routes, or services of motor carriers. In this case, because CTA is unlikely to succeed on the merits, the district court erred by enjoining the state from enforcing AB5 against motor carriers operating in California. The panel explained that, by failing to follow precedent regarding labor laws of general applicability, the district court committed a legal error to which the panel cannot defer, even at the preliminary-injunction stage. View "California Trucking Ass'n v. Bonta" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendants' motion to compel arbitration of plaintiff's statutory employment discrimination and civil rights claims. Plaintiff, a former corporate attorney who became an investment banker with defendants, entered into an agreement that set her compensation and benefits, as well as provided that all disputes arising from her employment would be resolved through binding arbitration. Plaintiff also signed a second document that specified the arbitration procedures.The panel concluded that employment disputes are encompassed by the arbitration provisions, and plaintiff knowingly waived her right to a judicial forum. The panel applied Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp., 500 U.S. 20 (1991), where the Supreme Court has held that, while not all statutory claims may be appropriate for arbitration, if a party agreed to arbitration, the party will be held to that agreement unless the party could prove a congressional intent to preclude a waiver of judicial remedies for the statutory rights at issue. In this case, plaintiff carries the burden to show such an intention. The panel extended Gilmer to Title VII claims and held that there must be at least a knowing agreement to arbitrate employment disputes before an employee may be deemed to have waived judicial remedies.The panel assumed, without deciding, that the knowing waiver requirement remains good law and is applicable to these statutes despite the district court's failure to utilize the proper analysis to establish that the standard applies to these statutory claims. Instead, the panel held that this appeal is resolved on the arbitration agreement's clear language encompassing employment disputes and evidence that plaintiff knowingly waived her right to a judicial forum to resolve her statutory claims. The panel remanded to the district court with the direction that all claims be sent to arbitration and the case be dismissed without prejudice. View "Zoller v. GCA Advisors, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted a petition for review of the Commission's decision concluding that petitioner failed to prove a prima facie case of discrimination under Section 105(c) of the Mine Safety and Health Act. Petitioner, a dredge operator, claimed that his former employer, CalPortland, discriminated against him for engaging in protected activities related to safety issues.The panel concluded that Section 105(c)'s unambiguous text requires a miner asserting a discrimination claim under Section 105(c) to prove but-for causation. Therefore, the panel rejected the Pasula-Robinette framework and concluded that the Commission applied this wrong causation standard. The panel explained that the Supreme Court has instructed multiple times that the word "because" in a statutory cause of action requires a but-for causation analysis unless the text or context indicates otherwise. Section 105(c) contains no such indication. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Thomas v. CalPortland Co." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting in part a union's motion to dismiss and holding that five claims brought by a union member were preempted by section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) and were thus "converted" into section 301 claims. In this dispute between union members and their union, plaintiff filed suit in state court challenging the trusteeship as violating the Nevada Service Employees Union's (the Local) constitution, the Service Employees International Union's (the International), and an affiliation agreement between the two organizations. After removal to federal court, the district court granted the Local's board's (the Union) motion to dismiss in part.The panel concluded that section 301 completely preempts claims that require interpretation of a union constitution, to the extent the constitution is a contract between unions. The panel explained that savings clauses included in the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act did not repeal section 301's preemptive force. The panel also concluded that plaintiff's five claims required analysis of at least one section 301 labor contract. Therefore, plaintiff's claims were preempted and removable. View "Garcia v. Service Employees International Union" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's dismissal of his complaint, alleging various causes of action arising from his termination as a police officer with the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, a federally recognized Indian Tribe.The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that, to the extent that plaintiff's claims alleged that the Tribe's decision to fire him was retaliatory, those claims are barred by the discretionary function exception of the Federal Tort Claims Act. The panel applied the two-part Gaubert-Berkovitz test and concluded that the discretionary function test bars plaintiff's two retaliation-based wrongful termination claims. In regard to plaintiff's third cause of action alleging that his termination was wrongful, the panel concluded that the first element of the Gaubert-Berkovitz test was not met and the discretionary function exception did not apply. Therefore, the district court erred in concluding that plaintiff's third cause of action was barred. Finally, the panel concluded that the district court erred in determining that the discretionary exception function barred the two additional claims plaintiff sought to raise in the Third Amended Complaint. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Miller v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, filed suit against the University, alleging claims under the Equal Pay Act, Title VII, Title IX, and Oregon law. Plaintiff claims that there is a gender disparity in pay that is department wide and is caused by the University's practice of granting "retention raises" to faculty as an incentive to remain at the University when they are being courted by other academic institutions. Plaintiff also alleges that female professors at the University are less likely to engage in retention negotiations than male professors, and when they do, they are less likely to successfully obtain a raise. The district court granted summary judgment for the University on all counts.The Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the Equal Pay Act claim because a reasonable jury could find that plaintiff and her comparators did substantially equal work. Furthermore, plaintiff has raised a genuine issue of material fact under Oregon Revised Statute 652.220 for the same reasons she has done so under the Equal Pay Act. The panel also concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the Title VII disparate impact claim where there is at least a genuine issue of material fact as to whether plaintiff established a prima facie case of disparate impact. However, plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment because equity raises and retention raises are not comparable and the panel could not say that plaintiff's comparators were treated "more favorably" than was plaintiff in this context. Consequently, summary judgment was also proper on plaintiff's claim under Oregon Revised Statute 659A.030. The panel also affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on plaintiff's Title IX claim and state constitutional claim. View "Freyd v. University of Oregon" on Justia Law

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A class of California-based flight attendants employed by Virgin America filed a putative class action, alleging that Virgin America violated California labor laws. The district court certified a class of similarly-situated plaintiffs and granted summary judgment to plaintiffs on virtually all of their claims.As a preliminary matter, the Ninth Circuit held that the dormant Commerce Clause does not bar applying California law. The panel held that Virgin America's compensation scheme based on block time did not violate California law. The panel explained that the fact that pay was not specifically attached to each hour of work did not mean that Virgin America violated California law. The panel also held that Virgin America was subject to the overtime requirements of Labor Code section 510; California's meal and rest break requirements are not preempted by the Federal Aviation Act or the Airline Deregulation Act; Ward v. United Airlines, Inc., 466 P.3d 309, 321 (Cal. 2020) -- which held that California Labor Code section 226(a) applied to workers who do not perform the majority of their work in any one state, but who are based for work purposes in California -- is applicable to the wage statement claim in this case; because the California Supreme Court held that section 226 applied under these circumstances, sections 201 and 202 apply as well; because applicability of California law has been adjudicated on a class-wide or subclass-wide basis, no individual choice-of-law analysis was necessary; and Virgin America was not subject to heightened penalties for any labor code violation that occurred prior to the district court's partial grant of plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and vacated. The panel also vacated the district court's order granting attorney's fees and costs to plaintiffs, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bernstein v. Virgin America, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant in an action brought by plaintiffs, on behalf of two certified classes of employees, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), alleging that their weekly per diem benefits were improperly excluded from their regular rate of pay and thereby decreasing their wage rate for overtime hours.The panel held that the record establishes that the contested benefits functioned as compensation for work rather than as reimbursement for expenses incurred, and that the per diem benefits were thus improperly excluded from plaintiffs' regular rate of pay for purposes of calculating overtime pay. The panel remanded for the district court to enter partial summary judgment in plaintiffs' favor as to whether the per diem payments to class member employees should be considered part of the employees' rate of pay and to conduct further proceedings. View "Clarke v. AMN Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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After the Ninth Circuit received an answer from the California Supreme Court to a certified question, the panel amended and reissued its opinion. The panel vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Jan-Pro in a putative class action involving back wages and overtime claims, holding that the so-called ABC test in Dynamex Ops. W. Inc. v. Superior Court, 416 P.3d 1 (Cal. 2018), which determines whether workers are independent contractors or employees under California wage order laws, applies retroactively to this case.In this case, the district court had no opportunity to consider whether Plaintiffs are employees of Jan-Pro under the Dynamex standard, and neither party had the opportunity to supplement the record with regard to the Dynamex criteria. The panel remanded to the district court to consider the question in the first instance with the benefit of a more developed record. As an aid to the district court, the panel offered observations and guidance. On remand, the district court should consider all three prongs of the ABC test and, in doing so, may wish to consider authorities from other jurisdictions that apply the test. View "Vazquez v. Jan-Pro Franchising International, Inc." on Justia Law