Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision of the District Court, which denied attorneys' fees and nontaxable costs under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) to the defendants-appellants, Brian Bowers, Dexter Kubota, and Bowers + Kubota Consulting, Inc. The Department of Labor had alleged that the defendants sold their company to an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) at an inflated value. The government's case relied on a single valuation expert, whose opinion was ultimately rejected by the District Court, resulting in the government losing the case. Nonetheless, the District Court found that the government's litigation position was "substantially justified." On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the government's position at trial was substantially justified, and thus, in denying attorneys' fees and nontaxable costs under EAJA. The Court also held that the District Court abused its discretion in reducing the award of taxable costs, as it was based on a clearly erroneous finding of fact. Therefore, the case was remanded for reconsideration of the award of taxable costs. View "SU V. BOWERS" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Lorenzo Dominguez, who was a former employee of Better Mortgage Corporation, alleged that the company violated federal and state wage-and-hour laws, primarily by failing to pay overtime to him and other mortgage underwriters. Upon being sued, Better Mortgage attempted to reduce the size of the potential class and collective action by persuading employees to agree not to join any collective or class action and to settle their claims individually. The district court found that Better Mortgage's communications were misleading and coercive. As such, the court nullified the new employment agreements, release agreements, and ordered the company to communicate with current and former employees about wage-and-hour issues only in writing and with prior approval.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order imposing a communication restriction on Better Mortgage, considering the company's appeal timely due to a motion to reconsider the restriction, thus tolling the time to file the notice of appeal. The appellate court held that it had jurisdiction to review the communication restriction and found it both justified and tailored to the situation created by the employer’s misleading and coercive communications. However, the appellate court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction the employer’s appeal from the district court’s order nullifying agreements between the employer and current and former employees. The appellate court found that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the merits of the nullification order because the issue was raised in an interlocutory appeal and did not fit any exception that would allow for review. View "DOMINGUEZ V. BETTER MORTGAGE CORPORATION" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff employees who opted out of their union and employer-sponsored health plans received a monetary credit, part of which was deducted as a fee that was then used to fund the plans from which plaintiffs had opted out. Plaintiffs argue that this opt-out fee should be treated as part of their “regular rate” of pay for calculating overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. The panel held that the opt-out fees were not part of the employees’ “regular rate” of pay, but rather were exempted as “contributions irrevocably made by an employer to a trustee or third person pursuant to a bona fide plan for providing” health insurance under 29 U.S.C. Section 207(e)(4). View "ANTHONY SANDERS, ET AL V. COUNTY OF VENTURA" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Department of Labor brought the underlying lawsuit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, alleging that Appellants Brian Bowers and Dexter Kubota sold their company to an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) at an allegedly inflated value. The government’s case hinged on a single valuation expert, who opined that the plan overpaid for that company. The district court rejected the opinion, and the government lost a bench trial. The district court denied Appellants’ request for attorneys’ fees and nontaxable costs under EAJA, finding that the government’s litigation position was “substantially justified” and that it did not act in bad faith.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of attorneys’ fees and nontaxable costs. The panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the government’s position at trial was substantially justified, and in denying attorneys’ fees and nontaxable costs under EAJA. The panel noted that the government could not rely on red flags alone, such as the “suspicious” circumstances of the ESOP transaction, to defend its litigation position as “substantially justified.” The panel held that the district court abused its discretion in reducing the award of taxable costs because it relied on a clearly erroneous finding of fact in reducing the magistrate judge’s recommended award of taxable costs. View "JULIE SU V. BRIAN BOWERS, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Three private contractors providing war-zone security services to the Department of Defense (DOD) appealed a district court order remanding to Nevada state court this suit brought by a group of their employees who guarded DOD bases, equipment, and personnel in Iraq. The guards alleged that their working conditions violated the contractors’ recruiting representations, their employment contracts, and the Theater Wide Internal Security Services II (TWISS II) contract between the contractors and the Department of Defense.The Ninth Circuit reversed. The panel held that the contractors met the limited burden imposed by the federal officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. Section 1442(a)(1), which permits removal of a civil action against “any officer (or any person acting under that officer) of the United States or of any agency thereof . . . for or relating to any act under color of such office.” To satisfy this requirement, a removing private entity must show that (a) it is a “person” within the meaning of the statute; (b) there is a causal nexus between its actions, taken pursuant to a federal officer’s directions, and the plaintiff’s claims; and (c) it can assert a colorable federal defense. There was no dispute that the contractors, as corporations, were “persons” for purposes of Section 1442(a)(1). The panel held that the contractors sufficiently pleaded that there was a causal nexus between their actions and the guards’ claims. View "NICHOLAS DEFIORE, ET AL V. SOC LLC, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Intervenor UNITE HERE Local 11 (Union) was the exclusive collective bargaining representative for a unit of employees whom Kava Holdings LLC employed at the Hotel Bel-Air. Kava temporarily closed the Hotel for extensive renovations and laid off all the unit employees. As Kava prepared to reopen the Hotel, Kava conducted a job fair to fill about 306 unit positions. Approximately 176 union-affiliated former employees applied for those positions. Kava refused to rehire 152 of them. The National Labor Relations Board found that Kava committed unfair labor practices. The Board ordered various remedies, including reinstatement of the former employee applicants who were affected by Kava’s discriminatory conduct. Kava petitioned for review of the Board’s order and a supplemental remedial order, and the Board cross-applied for enforcement.   The Ninth Circuit denied in part and dismissed in part Kava Holdings, LLC’s petition for review and granted the National Labor Relations Board’s cross-petition for enforcement of its order, which found that Kava committed unfair labor practices in violation of Sections 8(a). The panel held that substantial evidence supported the Board’s finding that Kava committed an unfair labor practice by refusing to rehire union-affiliated former employees so that Kava could avoid its statutory duty to bargain with the Union. The panel held that substantial evidence supported the Board’s finding that Kava committed an unfair labor practice by refusing to recognize and bargain with the Union as it reopened the Hotel and by unilaterally changing the bargaining unit’s established pre-closure terms and conditions of employment. View "KAVA HOLDINGS, LLC V. NLRB" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, members of a certified class, are former California employees of Hyatt Corporation who were laid off after the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020. Plaintiffs were laid off in March 2020 and then terminated in June 2020. Plaintiffs contend that Hyatt violated California law by failing to pay them immediately for their accrued vacation time and by failing to compensate them for the value of free hotel rooms employees received each year. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Hyatt and dismissed the case with prejudice.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s summary judgment. The panel concluded that the prompt payment provisions of the California Labor Code required Hyatt to pay Plaintiffs their accrued vacation pay in March 2020. The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) opinion letter and its Policies and Interpretations Manual establish that a temporary layoff without a specific return date within the normal pay period is a discharge that triggers the prompt payment provisions of Cal. Labor Code Section 201. Hyatt, thus, should have paid the accrued vacation pay at the initial layoff in March 2020 because the temporary layoff was longer than the normal pay period, and there was no specific return date. The panel reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Hyatt as to the vacation pay claim and remanded for the district court to consider whether Hyatt acted willfully in failing to comply with the prompt payment provisions. View "KAREN HARTSTEIN V. HYATT CORPORATION" on Justia Law

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The City and County of San Francisco (the City) owns and operates San Francisco International Airport (SFO or the Airport). Airlines for America (A4A) represents airlines that contract with the City to use SFO. In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City enacted the Healthy Airport Ordinance (HAO), requiring the airlines that use SFO to provide employees with certain health insurance benefits. A4A filed this action in the Northern District of California, alleging that the City, in enacting the HAO, acted as a government regulator and not a market participant, and therefore the HAO is preempted by multiple federal statutes. The district court agreed to the parties’ suggestion to bifurcate the case to first address the City’s market participation defense. The district court held that the City was a market participant and granted its motion for summary judgment. A4A appealed.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. The court concluded that two civil penalty provisions of the HAO carry the force of law and thus render the City a regulator rather than a market participant. The court wrote that because these civil penalty provisions result in the City acting as a regulator, it need not determine whether the City otherwise would be a regulator under the Cardinal Towing two-part test set forth in LAX, 873 F.3d at 1080 View "AIRLINES FOR AMERICA V. CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that he was terminated from his position as Fire Chief for the City of Stockton based on his religion and, specifically, his attendance at a religious leadership event.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Defendants in Plaintiff’s employment discrimination action under Title VII and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. The panel held that, in analyzing employment discrimination claims under Title VII and the California FEHA, the court may use the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, under which plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The burden then shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged actions. Finally, the burden returns to Plaintiff to show that the proffered nondiscriminatory reason is pretextual. Alternatively, Plaintiff may prevail on summary judgment by showing direct or circumstantial evidence of discrimination.   The court explained that Plaintiff was required to show that his religion was “a motivating factor” in Defendants’ decision to fire him with respect to his federal claims and that his religion was “a substantial motivating factor” with respect to his FEHA claims. The panel concluded that Plaintiff failed to present sufficient direct evidence of discriminatory animus in Defendants’ statements and the City’s notice of intent to remove him from City service. And Plaintiff also failed to present sufficient specific and substantial circumstantial evidence of religious animus by Defendants. View "RONALD HITTLE V. CITY OF STOCKTON, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought this class action against the Plan’s administrator, AT&T Services, Inc., and the committee responsible for some of the Plan’s investment-related duties, the AT&T Benefit Plan Investment Committee (collectively, “AT&T”). Plaintiffs alleged that AT&T failed to investigate and evaluate all the compensation that the Plan’s recordkeeper, Fidelity Workplace Services, received from mutual funds through BrokerageLink, Fidelity’s brokerage account platform, and from Financial Engines Advisors, L.L.C. Plaintiffs alleged that (1) AT&T’s failure to consider this compensation rendered its contract with Fidelity a “prohibited transaction” under ERISA Section 406, (2) AT&T breached its fiduciary duty of prudence by failing to consider this compensation, and (3) AT&T breached its duty of candor by failing to disclose this compensation to the Department of Labor.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The panel reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the prohibited transaction claim. Relying on the statutory text, regulatory text, and the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration’s explanation for a regulatory amendment, the panel held that the broad scope of Section 406 encompasses arm’s-length transactions. The panel held that the broad scope of § 406 encompasses arm’s-length transactions. Disagreeing with other circuits, the panel concluded that AT&T, by amending its contract with Fidelity to incorporate the services of BrokerageLink and Financial Engines, caused the Plan to engage in a prohibited transaction. The panel remanded for the district court to consider whether AT&T met the requirements for an exemption from the prohibited transaction bar. View "ROBERT BUGIELSKI, ET AL V. AT&T SERVICES, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law