“Supremes” Validate Title VII Protection for LGBTQ Workers

Jason E. Reisman     

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court issued a long-awaited, watershed decision confirming that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does protect against discrimination in employment based on gender identity and sexual orientation. It may be the most significant employment-related decision in more than 20 years. The decision addresses a connected trio of separate cases that were argued in the fall before the Court: Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (on appeal from the 11th Circuit), Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda (on appeal from the 2d Circuit), and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC (on appeal from the 6th Circuit). For a little background, see our prior blog here.

With a 6-3 majority, the four “liberal” justices joined with two “conservative” justices to reach this momentous decision—in fact, Justice Gorsuch penned the decision. Clearly finding that the word “sex” in Title VII encompasses employment actions based on gender identity or sexual orientation, Justice Gorsuch admitted that the original legislators who drafted Title VII “might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result.” The focus on interpreting the text of the law, which was often championed by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, carried the day—leading to “new” protections that will enhance the rights of the LGBTQ worker community throughout the country, especially in numerous states and locales that do not otherwise provide such protection. The decision also ensures that the “paradoxical legal landscape in which a person can be married [to a same sex partner] on Saturday and then fired on Monday for just that act” (raised in 2017, by a panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Hively v. Ivy Tech. Community College) has drifted off into the sunset.

Simply put, the Supreme Court said, “Because discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently because of their sex, an employer who intentionally penalizes an employee for being homosexual or transgender also violates Title VII.”

For employers across the country, the uniformity created by this decision will impact millions of workers in states where there was no similar protection for such discrimination—which is more than 50 percent of the states. There is much to consider. For example, if an employer employs 15 or more employees and does not have a policy prohibiting gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination, it is time for a handbook update…as the immediate first step, with a corresponding move to update and implement new workforce training. As important, employers should take this valuable opportunity to engage with all employees. Be mindful of, and creative in, bringing positive and productive communication and, where needed, change to the workplace—culture emanates from the top and cannot be overestimated as to its impact on the effectiveness and health of the workforce.

It is inevitable that there will be additional questions as this decision filters out into the workplace and the lower courts interpret it. Cases down the line will likely force the courts to address issues relating to the interplay of this decision with the exercise of religious freedom.  Also, as the dissent from Justice Alito noted, the ruling could have unforeseen consequences, leaving courts to address its implications in athletics, bathroom and locker room access, university housing, and other contexts. Though undoubtedly putting to bed one of the most substantive issues in employment law in the 21st century so far, as with all significant decisions of the highest court, the ripple effects will engender further battles and be felt for decades to come.

Colorado Goes “Wage & Hour” Crazy—Enhances Employee Protections a la California

Jason E. Reisman and Alix L. Udelson

For all of those employers with employees based in Colorado, we wanted to update you on some sweeping changes to Colorado wage and hour laws that went into effect on March 16, 2020. As you know, employers generally must comply with both state and federal wage and hour laws—essentially meeting the requirements that are most protective of employees. To date in Colorado, the state law’s applicability has been limited—but that’s not going to be the case any longer.

The new law, known as the Colorado Overtime & Minimum Pay Standards (“COMPS”) Order #36, replaces all prior Colorado Minimum Wage Orders. The most significant changes include: (1) extending Colorado’s wage and hour laws to even more employers than before; (2) adjusting the salary thresholds required for eligibility under the federal overtime exemptions for executive, administrative, and professional employees; (3) changing employee rest period requirements and requiring meal periods; (4) clarifying the definition of “time worked” for purposes of being considered “compensable time”; (5) imposing new posting and distribution requirements that will require changes to employee handbooks; (6) creating new earnings statement requirements that may require payroll to update your earnings statements; and (7) modifying the calculation of overtime so that it is based not only on a weekly basis, but on a daily and consecutive hourly basis too. More details are below, and a copy of the COMPS Order can be found here. Continue reading “Colorado Goes “Wage & Hour” Crazy—Enhances Employee Protections a la California”

California Corner: The Employee v. Contractor Saga Continues as Uber and Postmates Face First Defeat in Attempt to Enjoin AB5

Caroline Powell Donelan and Natalie Alameddine

The hopes of California gig economy companies to retain the flexibility to classify workers as independent contractors were dashed this week when a federal district court judge refused to enjoin Assembly Bill 5 (“AB5”), which codifies the “ABC” test for most independent contractor classifications.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB5 into law last fall, effecting a seismic change on California’s legal landscape. Effective January 1, 2020, the law makes it nearly impossible for companies to lawfully classify most workers as independent contractors (rather than employees). The bill expands on California Supreme Court’s three-prong “ABC” test from its 2018 Dynamex decision for determining how workers can be classified, which you can read about here. With certain limited statutory exceptions, AB5 provides that, to properly classify a worker as an independent contractor in California, an employer must demonstrate that the worker: (A) is free from the company’s control and direction; (B) performs work outside of the company’s usual course of business; and (C) is customarily engaged in independent work of the same nature as the work performed. There is no balancing, as all three factors must be met. Continue reading “California Corner: The Employee v. Contractor Saga Continues as Uber and Postmates Face First Defeat in Attempt to Enjoin AB5”

PA Approves White Collar Salary Threshold Increases—Leaves FLSA in the Dust

Jason E. Reisman

Boom—take that, Pennsylvania employers!

As a result of Governor Wolf’s battle with the Pennsylvania Republican-controlled legislature being at an impasse over a potential state minimum wage increase, the Governor pressed the Commonwealth’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission (“IRRC”) to approve his administration’s previously proposed increase to the salary threshold for the so-called “white collar exemptions” under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (“PMWA”). Last week, the IRRC voted 3-2 to approve the proposed rule—which is the last regulatory step before the increases to the salary threshold would become effective (though it is unclear at this time when the rule will formally be effective, as we believe it first requires review and approval from the Attorney General).

Background

Governor Wolf first introduced the proposed salary threshold increase in the summer of 2018, after facing repeated rejections of his efforts to raise the Commonwealth’s minimum wage from the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour to at least $12 per hour. The proposed rule has had somewhat of a long and winding road to get to today—but, nonetheless, it now appears primed for implementation. Continue reading “PA Approves White Collar Salary Threshold Increases—Leaves FLSA in the Dust”

Breaking: California Grants Preliminarily Injunction of AB-51

Caroline Powell Donelan

UPDATE: Today, a federal court preliminarily enjoined the enforcement of AB-51 (California’s anti-arbitration law discussed here, here, and here) as it relates to arbitration agreements governed by the Federal Arbitration Association (“FAA”). We will get a detailed order from the court soon, but the minute order issued today is below. A great reminder to employers who wish to implement arbitration that the agreement should always expressly state it is governed by the FAA. Continue reading “Breaking: California Grants Preliminarily Injunction of AB-51”

No New York Employee Wage Liens—Yet!

Stephen E. Tisman

In July, we reported that the New York State Legislature had passed a bill that could substantially alter the legal landscape of wage disputes by allowing employees with wage claims to file liens against their employers’ assets in the amount of the claim. The lien could be filed without any court order or determination of probable liability. The bill further permitted attachments of the employer’s property and would have expanded the personal liability of the 10 largest shareholders of non-public companies by making them liable not only for wages, but also for interest, penalties, liquidated damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs.

On January 1, 2020, anxious employers got a reprieve—albeit a temporary one—when Governor Cuomo vetoed the legislation. Continue reading “No New York Employee Wage Liens—Yet!”

California’s New Anti-Arbitration Law Temporarily Enjoined by Federal Court

Caroline Powell Donelan

UPDATE: On December 29, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California issued an order temporarily enjoining the enforcement of AB 51 (California’s anti-arbitration law discussed here and here) pending resolution of plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, highlighting the “likelihood of irreparable injury” to California employers, and noting plaintiffs had “raised serious questions regarding whether the challenged statute is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act as construed by the United States Supreme Court.”

The court will hear plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction on January 10, 2020.

Stay tuned.

California Employers Fight Back on Governor Newsom’s Attempt to Prevent Mandatory Arbitration Agreements, Seeking to Enjoin AB 51

Natalie Alameddine

As the new year approaches, California employer associations have taken action to prevent Assembly Bill (“AB”) 51 from taking effect. As referenced in this BR Workplace Post, AB 51, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on October 10, 2019, prohibits mandatory arbitration in cases under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) and California Labor Code, and also prohibits employers from retaliating against individuals who do not consent to arbitration agreements. AB 51 is in part motivated by the #MeToo movement, and part reflective of California’s ongoing battle against the U.S. Supreme Court’s unwavering support of arbitration. It is designed to ensure employees maintain the right to bring FEHA and wage-and-hour actions in court, rather than forced arbitration as a condition of employment.

As employers across the state stare down the barrel of AB 51, the California Chamber of Commerce filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in federal court in California last week seeking to prevent AB 51 from going into effect on the grounds that it is invalid and preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). The FAA has a long-established policy favoring arbitration as a means for efficient and individualized alternative dispute resolution. The U.S. Supreme Court has also steadfastly refused to allow employees to circumvent the FAA and file actions in court.

The hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction is set for January 10, 2020, nine days after AB 51’s effective date. Only time will tell how the court will rule. In the meantime, employers should contact legal counsel to determine the best, tailored course of action given their specific operations, workforce, and overall risk tolerance.

Ding, Dong, the Fluctuating Work Week Overtime Method Is Dead … in Pennsylvania!

Jason E. Reisman

Just yesterday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a decision in a case involving the “fluctuating work week” (“FWW”) method of paying overtime that has been percolating in the Commonwealth courts for almost six years. The Pennsylvania high court held that, although the U.S. Supreme Court has confirmed the validity of the FWW method under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), Pennsylvania has not incorporated it into state law; and its use in Pennsylvania is therefore not permitted.

The case is Chevalier v. General Nutrition Centers Inc. In it, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a $1.7 million judgment against General Nutrition Centers (“GNC”) in favor of a class of former store managers who had alleged they were shorted on overtime pay. GNC had used the FLSA’s FWW method, which allows employers to pay employees whose hours fluctuate from week to week a salary that is intended to compensate them for all of the hours worked each week. If the employees work more than 40 hours in a week, then the designated salary is divided by the total number of hours worked that week to calculate the “regular rate,” which is then divided in half and multiplied by the number of overtime hours to compensate the employees for the additional overtime pay due.

Okay, enough math for this blog—basically, the FWW method allows employers to pay overtime at a “half-time” rate because the underlying salary pays for all straight time due for the hours worked. (Note for math geeks: the FWW method causes employees to see a lower effective hourly rate and overtime rate as they work more hours.) This “half-time” method of paying overtime pay conflicts with the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act’s requirement that overtime compensation be 1.5 times the regular rate of pay—at least that’s what the state supreme court found.

So, as a side note for Pennsylvania employers, there’s no need to concern yourselves with the brand-new proposed rule on the FWW method issued earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Our “simple” advice moving forward: Don’t use the FWW method for employees in Pennsylvania.

Shocker!? Scary New California Employment Laws – Coming to You January 1!

Caroline Powell Donelan and Taylor C. Morosco

California Governor Gavin Newsom went on a bill-signing frenzy earlier this month, enacting 17 new bills into law. Below, we highlight the “Big Five” which will have a certain and critical impact on any business with workers in the Golden State.

AB 51 Prohibiting Mandatory Arbitration. California’s battle against arbitration wages on! For agreements “entered into, modified, or extended” on or after January 1, 2020, AB 51  prohibits employers from requiring current employees or applicants to “waive any right, forum, or procedure for a violation” of the Fair Employment and Housing Act or the California Labor Code. This necessarily means that an employer will not be permitted to require applicants or employees to consent to mandatory arbitration as a condition of employment. Notably, employees may still voluntarily consent to arbitration, and AB 51 does not apply to “postdispute” settlement agreements or “negotiated” severance agreements, terms that beg for clarification. AB 51 prohibits retaliation against individuals who refuse to consent to such agreements and even authorizes injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees to any plaintiff who proves a violation. There is no doubt that this bill will be challenged under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), which preempts any state law that “stands as an obstacle” to enforcing arbitration agreements. While the bill contemplates and tries to avoid preemption by expressly stating it is not “intended to invalidate a written arbitration agreement that is otherwise enforceable under the [FAA],” similar attempts by the state have been rejected. Continue reading “Shocker!? Scary New California Employment Laws – Coming to You January 1!”