Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

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Christopher Floeting alleged a Group Health Cooperative employee repeatedly sexually harassed him while he was seeking medical treatment. He sued Group Health for the unwelcome and offensive sexual conduct under the Washington Law Against Discrimination, which made it unlawful for any person or the person's agency or employee to commit an act of discrimination in any place of public accommodation. The trial court dismissed on summary judgment, pursuant to Group Health's argument the employment discrimination standard applied. The Court of Appeals reversed. Group Health argued the Washington Supreme Court should import workplace sexual harassment doctrines into the public accommodations context, thereby limiting its employer liability. Declining to do so, the Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court. View "Floeting v. Grp. Health Coop." on Justia Law

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A trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Microsoft Corporation after Dawn Cornwell, a former employee, alleged the company retaliated against her. While working for Microsoft, Cornwell believed that her then-supervisor was discriminating against her on the basis of sex, engaging in romantic favoritism, and taking retaliatory action against her. She hired an attorney and settled the case with Microsoft.The settlement was confidential, and Cornwell was no longer required to work under her then-manager, Todd Parsons. Seven years later, Cornwell's new manager, Mary Anne Blake, asked Cornwell to mentor under another Microsoft employee. After learning that the employee reported to Parsons, Cornwell told Blake that she could not mentor under the employee. Blake asked Cornwell why, and Cornwell responded that it was because she had filed a "lawsuit" against Microsoft and could not report to Parsons. Cornwell also told Blake that the suit involved a review score issue and was confidential. Blake sought more information about the lawsuit from human resources and her direct supervisor, Nicole McKinley. Human resources did not have any information on file about the lawsuit and promised to follow up on the issue. Shortly after Cornwell told her about the suit, Blake conducted a mandatory performance review of Cornwell. Though Cornwell previously received high scores in her reviews, at this particular review, she received the lowest possible score. Human resources told Blake to not inform Cornwell of her review score "unless she asked about it." Cornwell would be laid off as part of a larger reduction in force. Cornwell did not learn about her low score until several years later when she was told that she could not be rehired at Microsoft because her final performance rating was so poor. Based on these events, Cornwell filed suit against Microsoft, alleging retaliation in violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination. The Washington Supreme Court found Cornwell presented sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment on the issues of knowledge and causation, reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Cornwell v. Microsoft Corp." on Justia Law

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Christopher Belling was forced to litigate to receive workers' compensation. The Employment Security Department sought to share in his award. Under some circumstances, when a person is forced to litigate to recover an award, others who seek to share in that award must also share in attorney fees. Under RCW 50.20.190, when a person receives both unemployment and workers' compensation benefits, the unemployment benefits must be repaid. The statute allows for situations when "equity and good conscience" makes repayment unfair under the circumstances. The Washington Supreme Court held in this case, the Department has to consider whether equity and good conscience required it to share in Belling's attorney fees as part of its large consideration of whether it would be fair to partially waive reimbursement of overpaid benefits under RCW 50.20.190(2). Given the case presented to the Department, the Supreme Court could not say the Department erred in declining to reduce reimbursement to account for Belling's attorney fees and costs. View "Belling v. Emp't Sec. Dep't" on Justia Law

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The dispute in this case concerned the correct characterization of Xerox's payment play under Washington law. Xerox had compensation formula fo call center employees based on "production minutes" - a unit of time during which an employee services incoming calls. If the production minute formed the basis for a bona fide piecework system, then one set of minimum wage rules and regulations applied. If the minute formed the basis for an hourly payment system, then a different set of hourly minimum wage protections applied. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question regarding Washington's labor law with respect to Xerox's compensation under "production minutes," and whether they qualified as piecework under the Washington Administrative Code. The Washington Supreme Court responded with a "no," "an employer's payment plan that includes as a metric an employee's 'production minutes' does not qualify as piecework under WAC 296-126-021. View "Hill v. Xerox Bus. Servs., LLC" on Justia Law

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David Martin's employment with Gonzaga University was terminated. He sued, alleging he was wrongfully discharged because of whistle-blowing, and asserted a private cause of action under RCW 49.12.250 for an alleged violation of the statute's requirement he be provided with his complete personnel file. Gonzaga successfully moved for summary judgment, dismissing the case, and the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of the wrongful discharge, but remanded the personnel file claim for further findings of fact. The issue this appeal presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Court of Appeals applied the proper test to Martin's whistle-blower claim. The Supreme Court determined the appellate court applied the incorrect standard, and that the personnel file claim was not yet justiciable. So the Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the whistle-blower claim, and reversed the personnel file claim, finding Gonzaga was entitled to summary judgment on both claims. View "Martin v. Gonzaga Univ." on Justia Law

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Constant vigilance is a job requirement for Garda CL Northwest, Inc., a company that operates armored transportation services. Garda requires those employees to maintain vigilance even when they take lunch breaks. The Court of Appeals ruled this constant vigilance policy deprived employees of a meaningful meal period, as guaranteed under WAC 296-126-092. The court also ruled the policy violated the Washington Minimum Wage Act. Violations of the MWA mandates employers double exemplary damages unless certain exceptions apply. At issue before the Washington Supreme Court was whether : (1) Garda carried its burden of showing a debatable dispute over whether the employees waived their state law right to meal periods in their collective bargaining agreements; and (2) plaintiffs could recover both prejudgment interest and double exemplary damages for the same wage violation. The Supreme Court determined Garda failed to prove a bona fide dispute based on waiver, and that aggrieved workers could recover both double exemplary damages and prejudgment interest for the same wage violation. The Court of Appeals was reversed for holding to the contrary, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Hill v. Garda CL Nw, Inc." on Justia Law

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Respondent-petitioner Brandon Afoa was severely injured in an accident while working at the Port of Seattle for a cargo company. He sued the Port on a theory that the Port retained sufficient control over his work to have a duty to provide him a safe place to work. The Port argued in its defense that several airlines that were not parties to the lawsuit were at fault. A jury found Afoa suffered $40 million in damages and apportioned fault between him, the Port and the airlines. Notwithstanding Washington tort law in which tortfeasors are usually liable only for their proportionate share of the damages they cause, Aofa argued the Port was liable for both its portion and the airlines' portion. The Washington Supreme Court held RCW 4.22.070(1)(a) preserved joint and several liability when a defendant is vicariously liable for another's fault, but the jury's findings did not support the conclusion that the Port was vicariously liable for the airlines' fault. View "Afoa v. Port of Seattle" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. This case began in 2016 when the two named plaintiffs filed this putative class action lawsuit against Dovex on behalf of Dovex's seasonal and migrant agricultural employees. Each summer, Dovex employs hundreds of seasonal and migrant workers, many of whom speak limited English, to harvest apples, pears, and cherries in Dovex's orchards. The plaintiffs alleged Dovex violated state and federal law by willfully refusing to pay wages and failing to "pay minimum wage, provide paid rest breaks, maintain accurate and adequate time and wage records, pay wages when due, [and] provide accurate statements of hours worked." The federal court asked: (1) whether Washington law requires agricultural employers to pay their pieceworkers for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work (e.g., "Piece Rate Down Time" and similar work); if yes, then how must agricultural employers calculate the rate of pay for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work (e.g., "Piece Rate Down Time" and similar work)? The Washington Supreme Court answered the first question “yes:” agricultural workers may be paid on a piece-rate basis only for the hours in which they are engaged in piece-rate picking work. Time spent performing activities outside the scope of piece-rate picking work must be compensated on a separate hourly basis. The Court answered the second question posed consistent with the parties’ position: the rate of pay for time spent performing activities outside of piece-rate picking work must be calculated at the applicable minimum wage or the agreed rate, whichever was greater. View "Carranza v. Dovex Fruit Co." on Justia Law

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Judith Chavez and other registered nurses (nurses) sought class certification in their wage action against their employer, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital at Pasco d/b/a Lourdes Medical Center and John Serle (Lourdes). The trial court denied class certification, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. At issue before the Washington Supreme Court was whether the trial court properly found that the nurses failed to satisfy the predominance and superiority requirements necessary for class certification. The Court held the trial court abused its discretion by finding that individual issues predominate and by failing to compare alternative methods of adjudication. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held that predominance was met because the dominant and overriding issue in this litigation was whether Lourdes failed to ensure the nurses could take rest breaks and second meal periods and could record missed breaks. Superiority was met because a class action was superior to other methods of adjudication for the resolution of these claims. View "Chavez v. Our Lady of Lourdes Hosp. at Pasco" on Justia Law

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The Spokane Valley Fire Department (SVFD) fired Captain Jonathan Sprague for persistently including religious comments in e-mails that he sent through the SVFD computer systems and items he posted on the SVFD electronic bulletin board. Sprague sued the Department for violating his First Amendment free speech rights. The trial court and Court of Appeals declined to address the merits of Sprague's claims, instead concluding that his earlier, unsuccessful appeal to the Spokane County Civil Service Commission (Commission) collaterally estopped his lawsuit. The Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding Sprague met his initial burden to show that SVFD's restrictions on his speech violated the First Amendment. On remand, the burden will shift to SVFD to show by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have reached the same decision as to respondent's employment termination even in the absence of the protected conduct. View "Sprague v. Spokane Valley Fire Dep't" on Justia Law