Posts in Labor and Employment.
Keep On Truckin’—California State Court Judge Finds ABC Test Does Not Apply to Owner-Operators; Federal Court Extends TRO In Favor of California Trucking Association

On January 8, a trial court judge in Los Angeles issued an order finding the ABC Test—now used to determine independent contractor status in California—could not be applied to independent contractor truck drivers (“owner-operators”) due to federal pre-emption concerns.  While the decision represents a major victory for trucking companies, it will be subject to challenge.

As the end of the year descends upon us, it is time for workplaces to have their December gatherings, and like everything else in the employment setting these days, employers must be on their guard to not create situations that could lead to potential legal liabilities.  The following is a quick reminder of considerations for holiday parties.

Raising the Bar: DOL Increases Salary Threshold for Federal White Collar Exemptions

On September 24, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a final rule modifying the earnings thresholds necessary to exempt executive, administrative and professional employees from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) minimum wage and overtime pay requirements. The rule also allows employers to count a portion of certain bonuses/commissions towards meeting the salary level. The thresholds were last updated in 2004, though the DOL briefly adopted more significant changes—which never took effect—in 2015.

California Expands Time for Employees to Bring Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation Actions

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) has always contained a two layered statute of limitations for employees to bring lawsuits against their employers for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.  Formerly, employees had one year to file an administrative complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) from the date of the alleged discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.  If an employee did not comply with this administrative requirement, then the employee’s complaint would be subject to dismissal for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.  Even if an employee were to file a timely administrative complaint, they were subject to a one year statute of limitations for filing a civil action from the time they received a right to sue letter from the DFEH.  The Stop Harassment and Reporting Extension Act (“SHARE Act”) has greatly expanded employee rights. (AB 9, 2019).

Employer Obligations In The Event Of Closures Due to California Wildfires and Power Outages

Natural disasters are something that many don’t think about until it’s too late, particularly in the context of their business obligations, but as extreme winds, wildfires, and power outages continue to pick up in California, employers should consider what obligations exist as to their employees and employment law.

Supreme Court Denies Plaintiffs the Ability to Seek Recovery of Unpaid Wages Under PAGA

On September 12, 2019, the California Supreme Court decided in a unanimous decision that in a Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) action seeking to recover penalties under California Labor Code Section 558, a plaintiff may recover civil penalties but may not recover actual unpaid wages. This is an important decision, which now clearly prevents a plaintiff from seeking both statutory penalties and wages under PAGA (as is often argued by the plaintiff). The high court did, however, reinforce that actions seeking statutory penalties under PAGA cannot be compelled to arbitration.

Deadline for Sexual Harassment Prevention Training Extended to January 1, 2021 for Some Employees

On August 30, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed urgency legislation to extend the deadline to provide certain employees required sexual harassment training until January 1, 2021.  (Senate Bill 778).  Last year, Senate Bill 1343 amended Government Code section 12950.1 to require employers with five or more employees to provide two hours of sexual harassment prevention training to all supervisory employees and one hour of sexual harassment prevention training to all nonsupervisory employees by January 1, 2020.   

California Supreme Court Rejects Conversion Claim for Unpaid Wages

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. 

Failure to Comply with the EEOC’s Claim-filing Requirements May Not Bar Courts from Hearing Discrimination Cases  

On June 3, 2019, the United States Supreme Court issued a rare unanimous decision authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in Fort Bend County, Texas v. Davis (2019) — S.Ct. —, 2019 WL 2331306.  The Court held the charge-filing requirements specified in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are not jurisdictional.  If a requirement is jurisdictional, courts may not adjudicate a claim unless the requirement has been met.  Challenges to a court’s subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised by a defendant at any time during litigation.  On the other hand, if a claim-filing requirement is simply a procedural prerequisite to filing a lawsuit, a defendant employer must timely object based on the plaintiff’s failure to comply, or forfeit the objection. 

Unpaid Wage Claim Held not Preempted by Union Contract

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.

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