Posts in Litigation.
The Buck Stops Where?  Personal Liability in Wage and Hour Litigation in California 

Even seemingly minor wage and hour violations present a very real threat of crippling or potentially ruinous liability for California’s employers when assessed in class and Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) representative action lawsuits. To make matters worse, plaintiffs are increasingly targeting individual owners and agents in addition to their corporate employer, which begs the question: When can individuals be held personally liable in wage and hour lawsuits? 

Categories: Litigation, PAGA

Seventeen years ago, in 2004, the California Legislature enacted the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”).  Appropriately dubbed a “bounty hunter” law, PAGA authorizes any current or former “aggrieved” employee of a California employer to file suit to seek statutory penalties for essentially any violation of the California Labor Code together with attorney’s fees, hence the incentive for plaintiff attorneys to bring such cases.  Specifically, under PAGA a current or former employee who is “aggrieved” by a violation of the California Labor Code can seek in addition to damages and liquidated damages, civil penalties on the employee’s behalf and on behalf of all other similarly “aggrieved” (i.e., affected) current and former employees.  The recoverable civil penalties are up to $100 per employee per pay period for an initial violation and $200 per employee per pay period for each subsequent violation, plus attorney’s fees and litigation costs.  When such penalties are awarded, the plaintiff current or former employee along with all other similar “aggrieved” employee will receive 25% of the penalties together with their attorney’s fees as a “bounty,” with the balance of the penalties payable to a State agency known as the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency.  Click Here to read entire post.

In Magadia v. Wal-mart Associates, Inc., et al., No. 19-16184, 2021 WL 2176584 (9th Cir. May 28, 2021), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the district court’s award of $102 million to an employee who sued the company alleging that he and other employees did not receive compliant wage statements or meal periods.  Unlike the district court, the Ninth Circuit found that the former employee who sued Walmart had suffered no meal period violations, and thus the employee had no standing to sue on behalf of others.  The Ninth Circuit also held that the district court incorrectly concluded Walmart’s wage statements did not comply with California law.

Categories: Litigation, PAGA

In Anthony v. TRAX International Corp. (April 17, 2020, Case No. 18-15662), the Ninth Circuit held the limitation of using after-acquired evidence to merely mitigate damages did not extend to evidence used to show that an Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) plaintiff is not a qualified individual, an element of a prima facie case of disability discrimination.

During COVID-19 Pandemic EEOC Has Paused Issuance of Right-To-Sue Notices

In yet another forum, the novel coronavirus pandemic has disrupted “business as usual.”  The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) confirmed Tuesday that it has largely paused its issuance of key notices that start the clock for workers to sue their employers for discrimination. 

Categories: Litigation
Tags: EEOC
Employers Must Ensure Unlimited Vacation Policies Are Truly Unlimited Otherwise They May Be On The Hook To Pay Out Vacation When Employment Ends

Do employers have to pay out unlimited vacation time to an employee when employment ends?  According to the California Court of Appeal Second Appellate District, when an employer’s unlimited vacation policy is not truly unlimited, they must pay out unused vacation time upon termination.  (McPherson v. EF Intercultural Foundation, Inc., Case No. B290869 (Apr. 1, 2020)).

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.

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.

California Courts Issue Twin Decisions Enforcing Arbitration Agreements

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.

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