• Posts by Ronald Novotny
    Of Counsel

    Ronald Novotny has been representing employers in labor and employment matters in federal and state courts and administrative agencies in California since 1981. He has extensive experience involving union and employer unfair ...

Can an employee sue his employer for unpaid wages by claiming that his employer and its principals “converted” his personal property to their own use, and that the principals are individually liable for the employer’s conduct? No, held the California Supreme Court in the recent case of Voris v. Lampert, (Cal S Court Case No. S241812), issued on August 15, 2019. 

In Melendez v. San Francisco Baseball Associates LLC (2019) S245607, the California Supreme Court recently held that a security guard’s state law claim for unpaid wages and “waiting time” penalties could proceed over his employer’s objections that they had to be resolved under his union’s agreement.  Because the employee’s claim was founded on a right existing in state law, and not the agreement, he was permitted to proceed with his claim in court even though the agreement was relevant to the claim and would have to be “consulted” and determining it.

George Melendez worked as a security guard at AT&T Park in San Francisco, and filed a lawsuit when he was not paid his final wages immediately after the end of each San Francisco Giant’s home stand, concert, or other event at the stadium that he worked at.  He primarily claimed that the Giants’ failure to pay him wages due at the time of termination entitled him to “waiting time” penalties of up to 30 days’ additional pay after the completion of each assignment.  He principally relied on a 2006 Supreme Court Case, Smith v. Superior Court (2006) 39 Cal.4th 77, which held that a hair dresser who was hired to work for only a single day was required to be paid at the end of that job. 

The Giants argued that there were numerous provisions in its collective bargaining agreement with the Service Employees International Union, Melendez’s collective bargaining representative, which showed that security guards were employed on a continuous year-round basis and were not terminated after single job assignments. These included provisions that classified employees based on the number of hours worked per year, provided for probationary period of 500 hours of work, and required drug screening for new hires. Because of these provisions, the Giants argued that Melendez’s claim was preempted by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act,  because it required “interpretation and application” of the union agreement.

Relying on past cases, including the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s 2000 decision in Balcorta v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. (9th Cir. 2000) 208 F.3d 1102, the Supreme Court rejected the Giants’ federal preemption defense.  The Court stated that not every claim that requires resort to the language in a labor-management agreement is necessarily preempted, and that this is particularly the case when the meaning of the contract is not in dispute.  The case at hand did not involve a dispute over the terms of the agreement that required a court to interpret them, and preemption could not be found based only on the fact that interpretation of the contract terms was required to determine the validity of the employer’s defense. Instead, because the legal character of the claim relied on a state law right that was not substantially dependent on the contract’s terms, the employee was permitted to proceed in court with his unpaid wages and waiting time penalty claim.

The Melendez case confirms the important principle that unless a claim under a statutory law is expressly made the subject of an agreement to arbitrate under a union agreement, or is clearly and unmistakably provided for in the arbitration clause of the agreement, such a claim may proceed even though the employer’s factual and legal defenses to the claim are based on the provisions of the agreement.

Clients with questions regarding this case or arbitration and grievance procedures in collective bargaining agreements may contact the author or their usual labor law counsel at Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo.

In two decisions issued within the last month, the California appellate courts broadened the circumstances under which agreements to arbitrate civil claims can be enforced. One court held that an employee effectively entered into an agreement by continuing to work for the company around the same time a claim was filed, while another held that an arbitration agreement applied to a claim even after a lawsuit was filed. The two cases clarified the availability of arbitration agreements to insulate employers from the prospect of jury trials in both such situations.

In a case of first impression, the California Supreme Court recently decided that an employee cannot sue a payroll company for failing to include the legally required information on the employee’s earnings statements.  The Court held that because a payroll company’s obligations are solely to the employer, an employee cannot claim that they are a third‑party beneficiary of the employer’s contract for payroll services, and cannot maintain a claim for breach of that contract against the payroll provider. (Goonewardene v. ADP, No. S238941, February 7, 2019)

On September 25, 2018, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the claims of potentially hundreds of thousands of Uber drivers for misclassification as independent contractors cannot proceed as a class action.  (O’Connor v. Uber Technologies, Ninth Circuit Case No. 16-15595.)  In this case, the drivers signed arbitration agreements containing class action waivers, which the Ninth Circuit initially refused to enforce based on the state of the law at the time.  However, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Epic Systems (Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S.Ct. 1612, 200 L.Ed.2d 889 (2018)) which issued in June, the appellate court held that the waivers must be enforced and that the case cannot proceed as a class action.  The court ordered that the arbitration agreements be enforced so that the arbitrations proceed on an individual basis. 

In a decision issued by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on September 10, 2018, the court rejected a challenge based on federal preemption grounds to the California Labor Commissioner’s use of the Borello standard for determining independent contractor status. The challenge was made based on the motor carrier provisions of the Federal Aviation and Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (“FAAAA”), 49 U.S.C. § 14501, et seq., which prohibit states from enacting or enforcing laws or regulations that relate to “a price, route or service of a motor carrier . . . with respect to the transportation of property.”

What kinds of provisions in arbitration agreements will cause the courts to invalidate them?  The Court of Appeal in the recent case of Baxter v. Genworth North America Corporation analyzed and rejected several of them, in upholding the denial of a motion to compel arbitration of an employee’s wrongful termination and discrimination claims.  Baxter v. Genworth North America (October 26, 2017 ...

When can an employer be liable for failing to prevent a sexual assault or rape of an employee?  The California Court of Appeal in the recent case of M.F. v. Pacific Pearl Hotel Management, LLC (D070150, FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION ONE, 10/26/17), helped provide some answers to this question.

The plaintiff in the case worked as a housekeeper in a five-building hotel property.  One morning, the hotel’s ...

One problem that employers frequently confront when seeking to compel arbitration of employee claims is the employee’s failure to have signed the arbitration agreement.  In the recent case of Harris v. TAP Worldwide, LLC, however, a California appellate court held that this is not an impediment to the enforcement of such an agreement when the employer takes measures to verify that the employee has received ...

The state and federal courts in California continue to closely scrutinize employment arbitration agreements even though they remain a favored means of resolving disputes.  This was evident in the recent case of Ashbey v. Archstone Property Management, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that an employee effectively waived his right to a judicial forum for his Title VII claim and ...

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