The beginning of 2019 brought substantial employment case settlements and verdicts.  This Friday’s Five reviews the settlements and verdicts that should catch the attention of all employers, as well as a review of the U.S. Supreme Court’s new ruling on arbitration agreements for transportation workers:

1. Restaurant settles claim with Labor Commissioner for $4 million covering approximately 300 employees.

The restaurant chain in the San Francisco bay area, Rangoon Ruby, settled a Labor Commissioner claim involving more than 300 employees for $4 million.  The damages included payments for unpaid overtime wages, minimum wages, split shift premiums, liquidated damages, waiting time penalties, and failure to provide accurate itemized wage statements.

2. ABM Industries settles class action lawsuit for $5.4 million for required used of cell phones.

In the case, Castro v. ABM Industries, Inc., plaintiffs alleged that the employer required its employees to use their cell phones for business purposes and were not reimbursed for the costs associated with the cell phone use as required under Labor Code section 2802.  Plaintiffs contended they were required to use their cell phones to clock in and out for work and to communicate with their supervisors.

Employers need to be careful regarding requiring employees to use certain apps or their cell phones for work purposes.  As new work-related apps find their way into the workplace, employers need to be careful of claims that the use of their personal cell phone for work purposes was required.  Apps used in the workplace for timekeeping, scheduling, and reporting complaints to employers could be susceptible to these types of allegations.

Indeed, it is a good reminder for employers that employers are still required to reimburse employees for the expense of cell phone use even though the employee did not pay additional cell phone fees for using their cell phone for work purposes.  See prior post on holding in Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service here.

Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary approval of the class action settlement can be found here.

3. Virgin America flight attendants awarded $77 million in wage and hour class action.

A federal judge awarded a class of flight attendants the money after entering summary judgment against the airline for California flight attendants that were not paid for all hours worked, overtime premiums, missed meal and rest breaks, and inaccurate wage statements.  The court also found the airline liable for waiting time penalties under Labor Code section 203 and awarded derivative penalties under California’s Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”).  The case is Bernstein v. Virgin America Inc.

4. California Senate settles harassment claim for $350,000.

The Senate settled the lawsuit in November 2018, but was recently reported by the Los Angeles Times.  The lawsuit alleged that a former staffer was terminated in retaliation for reporting being raped by an Assembly legislative aide in December 2016.  On a similar note, the California legislature passed many new #metoo laws in 2018.

5. Supreme Court narrows enforceability of arbitration agreements for transportation workers.

Plaintiff filed a wage and hour class action against New Prime, a trucking company.  New Prime filed a motion to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act.  Plaintiff countered that the employer could not enforce its arbitration agreement with him because §1 of the FAA exempts from arbitration disputes involving “contracts of employment” of certain transportation workers.  New Prime argued that the question of §1’s applicability in this case is for the arbitrator to decide, and even if the court could decide the issue, plaintiff in this case was an independent contractor.  Therefore, §1’s exclusion from arbitration would not apply in this case.

The Supreme Court framed the two issues as follows:

When a contract delegates questions of arbitrability to an arbitrator, must a court leave disputes over the application of §1’s exception for the arbitrator to resolve? And does the term “contracts of employment” refer only to contracts between employers and employees, or does it also reach contracts with independent contractors?”

The Supreme Court answered the first issue in explaining that “a court should decide for itself whether §1’s ‘contracts of employment’ exclusion applied before ordering arbitration.”  The Supreme Court answered the second issue in explaining that the Federal Arbitration Act’s term “contracts of employment” referred to agreements to perform work, which would also include agreements with independent contractors.  Therefore, the Court held that §1 of the FAA precluded New Prime from compelling arbitration of the plaintiff’s claims in this case.  The case is New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira.

I cannot believe it is already Friday, and one week done in 2016.  This Friday’s Five focuses on a few action items for employers can use to start a review of their employment policies for 2016.Happy New Year 2016

 1.      Ensure the new hire packets contain all required information for employees. 

If employers do not have a standard new hire packet, the first step in 2016 should be implementing this packet.  There are many disclosures and documents that need to be provided to employees when they are hired.  This packet should be reviewed by legal counsel as well to ensure that all required forms are included for each employee.  For example, employees earning commissions must be provided the commission agreement in a writing signed by both the employee and the employer.  See Labor Code Section 2751.

 2.      Review pay stubs to ensure they are compliant. 

The DLSE provides an example of a pay stub and the required information for an hourly employee:

Also, do not forget that with California’s paid sick leave law that took effect on July 1, 2015, employers will have additional reporting information regarding employees’ accrued paid sick leave and usage. Employers must show how many days of sick leave an employee has available on the employee’s pay stub or a document issued the same day as a paycheck.

3.      Analyze if arbitration agreements are appropriate.

Employers should understand the potential benefits and costs associated with arbitration agreements, and should review with counsel whether they might be appropriate for their workforce.

4.      Review payroll practices and ensure overtime is being paid correctly.

If non-exempt, review to ensure the appropriate overtime is being paid at the proper rate, and that all overtime is being paid for work done over eight hours in a day and 40 hours in a week.

Generally, any work performed over eight hours in any workday or more than six days in any workweek requires that the employee is compensated for the overtime at not less than:

  •  One and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of eight hours up to and including 12 hours in any workday, and for the first eight hours worked on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek; and
  • Double the employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 12 hours in any workday and for all hours worked in excess of eight on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek.

Employers should review that the employee’s “regular rate of pay” used for calculating overtime includes all required payments to the employee such as non-discretionary bonuses, piecework earnings, or commissions.  The Department of Industrial Relations provides some good examples on what must be included when calculating the regular rate of pay and how to calculate the applicable overtime.

5.      Understand new laws taking effect in 2016.

Employers should learn about the new laws passed that are effective in 2016.  I’ve posted some excerpts from a webinar I recently conducted last week on a few new laws facing California employers in 2016.  I’ll be posting additional excerpts soon as well.  If you would like to be notified about future webinars or seminars I conduct, you can sign up here.

1. Arbitration Agreements: What Are They?
Employers can agree that they and any employees who enter into an arbitration agreement will resolve their differences before a private arbitrator instead of civil court. There are many different arbitration companies to choose from, but the American Arbitration Association and JAMS are two of the larger ones that are routinely appointed in arbitration agreements. Arbitrators are private companies that usually hire retired judges to resolve disputes in a private setting as opposed to civil court.

2. Are Arbitration Agreements Enforceable in California?
Generally speaking, if the agreement is drafted and implemented properly, it is enforceable. However, arbitration agreements are routinely struck down by courts if they are not properly drafted. For example, recently a California court held in Ajamian v. CantorCO2e, that an arbitration agreement was not enforceable because it required the employee to waive statutory damages and remedies.  In addition, the agreement in that case only allowed the employer to recover its attorney’s fees if successful, not the employee.  The Court held these terms caused

3. Why Would an Employer Implement an Arbitration Agreement?
There are a number of reasons. The arbitration process can proceed more quickly than civil litigation, saving a lot of time and attorney’s fees in the process. For example, often times the discovery process moves more quickly, and if there are any disputes, the parties can raise them with the arbitrator telephonically, instead of the lengthy motion process required to resolve disputes in civil court. The arbitration process is also confidential, so if there are private issues that must be litigated, these issues are not filed in the public records of the courts. The parties also have a say in deciding which arbitrator to use in deciding the case, whereas in civil court the parties are simply assigned a judge without any input into the decision. This is very helpful in employment cases, which often times involve more complex issues, and it is beneficial to the parties to select an arbitrator that has experience in resolving employment cases.

4. Are Class Action Waivers Enforceable In Arbitration Agreements?
Yes. The California Supreme Court ruled in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC that class action waivers can be enforceable, following the standards set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion.  However, Plaintiffs continually challenge class action waivers on numerous grounds, and it is critical employers’ agreements are properly drafted and up-to-date. In addition, while courts will uphold class action waivers, the California Supreme Court held that employee may still bring representative actions under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). PAGA claims are limited to specific penalties under the law, and have a much shorter one year statute of limitations compared to potentially a four year statute of limitations for most class actions.

5. Based On the Holding in Iskanian, Should Every Employer Enter Into Arbitration Agreements With Its Employees?
No. The decision to implement an arbitration agreement should be reviewed with an employment lawyer to discuss the positives as well as the negatives of arbitration agreements. As discussed above, there are a lot of benefits of having an arbitration agreement in place, but it does not come without a few drawbacks. The primary drawback is that in California, the employer must pay all of the arbitrator’s fees in employment cases. Arbitration fees can easily be tens of thousands of dollars – a cost that employers do not need to pay in civil cases. In addition, while a class action waiver may be enforceable, employers still face substantial liability under PAGA representative actions, and a strategy in implementing a class action waiver should be thought through with the help of informed counsel.

Today, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC regarding the enforceability of class action waivers in arbitration agreements. In upholding class action waivers in arbitration agreements, the Supreme Court explained in the introduction of the opinion:

The question is whether a state’s refusal to enforce such a waiver on grounds of public policy or unconscionability is preempted by the FAA. We conclude that it is and that our holding to the contrary in Gentry v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 443 (Gentry) has been abrogated by recent United States Supreme Court precedent. We further reject the arguments that the class action waiver at issue here is unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act and that the employer in this case waived its right to arbitrate by withdrawing its motion to compel arbitration after Gentry.

When asserting a Labor Code claim in connection with an Unfair Competition Law claim (Business and Professions Code section 17200), the statute of limitations extends back four years. Today’s holding upholds arbitration agreements entered into between employers and employees barring employees from brining any claims on a class wide basis as long as the underlying arbitration agreement is enforceable under California law.

In addition, the Supreme Court reviewed whether an employer could have an employee waive his ability to bring a representative action under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). PAGA is a Labor Code provision that permits aggrieved employees to recover civil penalties that are only recoverable by the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) and the Labor Commissioner. PAGA expands the scope of penalties available through wage and hour lawsuits. In holding that arbitration agreements could not limit an employee’s right from bringing a representative PAGA claim, the Court explained:

The employee also sought to bring a representative action under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) (Lab. Code, § 2698 et seq.). This statute authorizes an employee to bring an action for civil penalties on behalf of the state against his or her employer for Labor Code violations committed against the employee and fellow employees, with most of the proceeds of that litigation going to the state. As explained below, we conclude that an arbitration agreement requiring an employee as a condition of employment to give up the right to bring representative PAGA actions in any forum is contrary to public policy. In addition, we conclude that the FAA’s goal of promoting arbitration as a means of private dispute resolution does not preclude our Legislature from deputizing employees to prosecute Labor Code violations on the state’s behalf. Therefore, the FAA does not preempt a state law that prohibits waiver of PAGA representative actions in an employment contract.

Because PAGA claims seek to recover penalties, a one year statute of limitations applies. Therefore, even if employers have a class action waiver in an arbitration agreement entered into with an employee, the employee may still assert a representative PAGA action to recover appropriate penalties with a one year statute of limitations on behalf of all aggrieved employees. PAGA is sometimes referred to as the “bounty-hunter law” because it allows a plaintiff to recover these civil penalties that were only recoverable by the Labor Commissioner, but it requires that the plaintiff provide 75% of the civil penalties recovered to the LWDA and the remaining 25% to the aggrieved employees. In a previous post, I’ve written about PAGA claims and what to do in response to receiving a PAGA notice. The California Supreme Court’s ruling in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC can be downloaded here (Word).  This is an initial summary of the holding, and I’ll write more about the case as I’ve had more time to review the opinion in more detail. 

My firm is conducting a webinar on Thursday June 19, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. for a mid-year update on emerging employment law issues and the newly enacted LLC statute effecting most California Limited Liability Companies. 

For more information and to register, please complete the form below:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1LU6GudLKMnb4yt4qpvQTagUj9OlxJmaR13JQs79urKI/viewform?embedded=true

 

Generally, yes, and surprisingly this is one area that legislation is well ahead of the general adoption of the technical capabilities available in the marketplace. For example, in 1999 the California Legislature enacted the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (the “UETA”), Civ. Code, §§ 1633.1 et seq., which provides that when a law requires a record to be in writing or requires a signature, an electronic record or signature satisfies the law. The law requires that any contract entered into between two parties may not be denied legal enforceability simply because of the use of an electronic signature. In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (“ESIGN”), 15 U.S.C. § 7001 et seq., which provides for the enforceability of electronic signatures on the federal level. In addition, most states have also passed their version of the UETA. Taken together, these laws provide authority that electronic signatures are legally binding, just as if the contract was signed in the traditional “wet” manner.

The enforceability of electronic signatures in the employment context was confirmed in recently by a California Federal District Court in Chau v. EMC Corp. (2014). In Chau, the plaintiff sued EMC alleging she was discriminated against because of her pregnancy. The company made a motion to compel arbitration. The plaintiff opposed defendant’s motion to compel arbitration on various grounds, but in particular argued that the arbitration agreement was never signed by the plaintiff. The court rejected plaintiff’s argument, and upheld the electronic signature in this case:

Defendants have also established that Chau signed the Key Employee Agreement, including accepting the arbitration provision. [citations omitted] Chau agreed that “an electronic signature by me (checking Yes) is valid as if I had signed the documents referred to below by hand.” See also Cal. Civ.Code § 1633.2(h) (defining “electronic signature” to include a process [i.e. checking Yes] executed by a person with the intent to sign the electronic record). Accordingly, defendants have established that a valid, signed, arbitration agreement exists between plaintiff and defendants. Neither party disputes that the agreement encompasses the issues in this case.

For the electronic signature to be binding, the ESIGN and UETA require that the signer of the agreement must have intended to sign the agreement, and that the parties consented to complete the agreement electronically. However, as the court in EMC recognized, the laws do not require a traditional signature, but rather “an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to or logically associated with an electronic record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the electronic record.” Therefore, someone can electronically sign a document by checking a box indicating that they are “signing” the document as was done in the EMC case.

In Kinecta Alternative Financial Solutions v. Superior Court (wrd) held that a trial could improperly ordered a wage and hour class action to proceed in arbitration as a class action. The appellate court held that even though the arbitration agreement was silent on whether the parties agreed to arbitrate class claims, the fact that the agreement only referenced plaintiff’s claims against the employer (not other employees’ claims as well) the plaintiff could only bring her individual claims in arbitration.

The plaintiff signed an arbitration agreement that provided to arbitrate all disputes arising out of her employment. The arbitration agreement was silent on the issue of class arbitration. Plaintiff filed a class action complaint alleging various wage and hour violations including failure to pay overtime and failure to provide meal and rest breaks. The employer filed a motion to compel arbitration and a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s class claims. The issue the court addressed was whether the employer in this case could be compelled to arbitrate a class action when the arbitration agreement does not expressly provide for a class arbitration.

In agreeing with the employer, the Court held that even though the arbitration agreement was silent on class arbitration, it cannot be assumed that the parties agreed to arbitration class claims. Relying upon the recent United States Supreme Court rulings, the court held:

This petition is governed by Stolt-Nielsen v. Animalfeeds International Corp. (2010) 559 U.S. __ [130 S.Ct. 1758], which holds that under the [Federal Arbitration Act], a party may not be compelled to submit to class arbitration unless the arbitration contract provides a basis for concluding that the party agreed to do so. The arbitration provision in this case expressly limited arbitration to the arbitration of disputes between Malone and Kinecta. The arbitration agreement made no reference to, and did not authorize, class arbitration of disputes. Thus the parties did not agree to authorize class arbitration in their arbitration agreement, and the order denying Kinecta’s motion to dismiss class claims must be reversed.

The arbitration agreement in this case only made reference to the plaintiff, by referencing “I”, “me,” and “my.” The agreement never made reference to other employees or groups of employees. Under the Federal Arbitration Act a party cannot not be compelled to submit to class arbitration unless there is a contractual basis for concluding that they agreed to do so. The mere silence on the issue of class arbitration in an arbitration agreement cannot be interpreted to mean that a party agreed to class arbitration. Therefore, the court held that plaintiff’s lawsuit could only proceed on her own individual claims in arbitration.

Employers should carefully examine whether or not arbitration agreements are appropriate for their company. There are some negative aspects of entering into arbitration agreements, but the ruling in Kinecta is a good example of the enforceability of class action waivers in arbitration agreements.

For more information about arbitration agreements, and the enforceability of their terms, please see my previous post, Things You Wanted To Know About Arbitration Agreements In California, But Were Afraid To Ask.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently held in D.R. Horton, 357 NLRB No. 184, that a class action waiver in an arbitration agreement was unenforceable as it violates employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Specifically, it held that employees have “the right ‘to engage in…concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection…” under section 7 of the NLRA and therefore any waiver to participate in class actions violates this right.

However, since the D.R. Horton decision courts have upheld class action waivers in the employment context and have rejected the NLRB’s reasoning in D.R. Horton as inconsistent with the United States Supreme Court’s holding in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, which permitted class action waivers in arbitration agreements. For example, in LaVoice v. UBS Financial Services, Inc. (S.D.N.Y.), the plaintiff brought a putative class action alleging various wage and hour violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York labor laws. In rejecting the reasoning of D.R. Horton, the court held that:

Given that the Supreme Court held in AT&T Mobility that ‘[r]equiring the availability of classwide arbitration interferes with fundamental attributes of arbitration and thus creates a scheme inconsistent with the FAA,’ this Court must read AT&T Mobility as standing against any argument that an absolute right to collective action is consistent with the FAA’s ‘overarching purpose’ of ‘ensur[ing] the enforcement of arbitration agreements according to their terms so as to facilitate streamlined proceedings. To the extent that [plaintiff] relies…on the recent decision of the National Labor Relations Board (‘NLRB’) in D.R. Horton, Inc. and Michael Cuda, Case 12-CA-25764, January 2, 2012, as authority to support a conflicting reading of AT&T Mobility, this Court declines to follow [that] decision[].

As I’ve written about previously, this area of the law is quickly changing. There is no doubt that new decisions this year will continue to add to the development of this area of the law.

 

What is an arbitration agreement?

            Employers can agree that they and any employees who enter into an arbitration agreement will resolve their differences before a private arbitrator instead of civil court. There are many different arbitration companies to choose from, but the American Arbitration Association and JAMS are two of the larger ones that are routinely appointed in arbitration agreements. 

Are they enforceable in California?

            Generally speaking, if the agreement is drafted and implemented properly, they are. However, arbitration agreements are routinely struck down by courts if they are not properly drafted. For example, recently a California court held in Ajamian v. CantorCO2e, that an arbitration agreement was not enforceable because it required the employee to waive statutory damages and remedies and only allowed the employer to recover its attorney’s fees if successful, not the employee. 

Why would an employer want to implement arbitration agreements?

            There are a number of reasons. The arbitration process can proceed more quickly than civil litigation, saving a lot of time and attorney’s fees in the process.  For example, often times the discovery process moves more quickly, and if there are any disputes, the parties can raise them with the arbitrator telephonically, instead of the lengthy motion process required to resolve disputes in civil court. The arbitration process is also confidential, so if there are private issues that must be litigated, these issues are not filed in the public records of the courts. The parties also have a say in deciding which arbitrator to use in deciding the case, whereas in civil court the parties are simply assigned a judge without any input into the decision. This is very helpful in employment cases, which often times involve more complex issues, and it is beneficial to the parties to select an arbitrator that has experience in resolving employment cases.   

Are class action waivers enforceable in arbitration agreements?

            Yes. Two recent U.S. Supreme Court cases, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion and Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp. have established that class action waivers in arbitration agreements are enforceable. However, Plaintiffs continually challenge class action waivers on numerous grounds, and it is critical employers’ agreements are properly drafted and up-to-date. 

Should every employer implement arbitration agreements?

            No. The decision to implement an arbitration agreement should be reviewed with an employment lawyer to discuss the positives as well as the negatives of arbitration agreements. As discussed above, there are a lot of benefits of having an arbitration agreement in place, but it does not come without a few drawbacks. The primary drawback is that in California, the employer must pay all of the arbitrator’s fees in employment cases. Arbitration fees can easily be tens of thousands of dollars – a cost that employers do not need to pay in civil cases. However, if the company values the confidentiality and speed of process provided in arbitration, this extra cost may well be worth it.

 

I’ve recently written a series of posts regarding the Berman hearing process available for employees to resolve wage disputes before the Labor Commissioner. See previous posts: Overview Of Berman Hearings Before The Labor Commissioner and How To Prepare For a Berman Hearing. But can an employer have an employee sign an arbitration agreement in which the employee agrees to waive any rights to a Berman hearing, and all claims against the employer must proceed directly to arbitration? A good question, to which there is not currently an answer. The issue is currently under review by the California Supreme Court in the case Sonic-Calabasas A, Inc. v. Moreno

This also leads to the issue of why might an employer want to have all claims proceed directly to arbitration, and skip-over the Berman hearing. As the California Supreme Court stated in its initial review of the Sonic-Calabasas case in early 2011, the Berman hearing provides the employee a number of benefits:

These provisions include the Labor Commissioner’s representation in the superior court of employees unable to afford counsel, the requirement that the employer post an undertaking in the amount of the award, and a one-way attorney fee provision that requires an employer that is unsuccessful in the appeal to pay the employee’s attorney fees.

It is an interesting background on how the Sonic-Calabasas case proceeded through the Courts. The California Supreme Court has already ruled on the Sonic-Calabasas case in the early part of 2011. At that time, the Court held that a waiver of the Berman hearing process in the arbitration agreement was unconscionable and contrary to public policy, and was not preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Therefore, the California Supreme Court ruled that this waiver of the Berman hearing process was not an enforceable provision of the arbitration agreement. However, shortly after this ruling, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, a separate case out of California in which the US Supreme Court held that the FAA preempted California law and found that a class action waiver provision in arbitration agreements can be enforceable. For more information on AT&T Mobility you can listen to my podcast on the case here. The employer in Sonic-Calabasas A v. Moreno filed an appeal with the US Supreme Court to review the California Supreme Court’s ruling invalidating the Berman hearing waiver in the arbitration agreement. The US Supreme Court granted review, but recently sent the case back to the California Supreme Court to review the case again and to apply the standards set forth in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion. So, we are waiting for the California Supreme Court to review the issue once again to have a definitive answer to the question.