Goodbye Uber Class Action, Hello Individual Arbitration

Natalie Alameddine and Caroline Powell Donelan

Last week, in a significant blow to claims that gig economy workers are entitled to pursue disputes on a class or collective basis, and possibly whether those workers will be able to establish that they are employees and not independent contractors, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously decertified a class of 240,000 Uber drivers. The decision in O’Conner v. Uber is a victory for the ride-share company, which will now be able to defend claims that it misclassified employees as independent contractors on an individual basis—one arbitration at a time.

For the past five years, there has been an ongoing and contentious dispute over whether Uber drivers (and similarly, Lyft and other ride-share drivers) are independent contractors or employees. If the workers are deemed to be employees, Uber could face hundreds of millions of dollars in alleged California labor code violations and business expense claims. To combat the possibility of having to litigate this issue on a class-wide basis, Uber entered into arbitration agreements with each driver, requiring that any driver’s claims be arbitrated and that each case had to be arbitrated individually (rather than as a class action). Continue reading “Goodbye Uber Class Action, Hello Individual Arbitration”

Too Fat to Work Here?—Not So Fast

Scott F. Cooper

A decision this week from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has further fueled the debate over whether obesity is a protected impairment under federal and state law.

In Casey Taylor et al. v. Burlington Northern Railroad Holdings Inc. et al., Case No. 16-35205 (9th Cir. Sept. 17, 2018), Burlington rejected Taylor’s application to become an electronic technician because his Body Mass Index (“BMI”) placed him in the “severely” or “morbidly” obese category. Complicating this case is that the company’s chief medical officer otherwise found Taylor qualified for the position. The company also was willing to reconsider the application if Taylor undertook additional pre-hire medical screening at his own expense. The Ninth Circuit earlier this year held that shifting pre-hire medical examination costs to an applicant is unlawful.

The Ninth Circuit certified the issue and sent it to the Supreme Court of Washington to determine its application under Washington state law. Pending that ruling, the Ninth Circuit will then resolve the issue under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). How these decisions come out could have sweeping implications for employers who have acted against obese job applicants and employees. Continue reading “Too Fat to Work Here?—Not So Fast”

De Minimis” May Be Down, but It’s Not Out—And What Does It Mean for Employer Rounding Policies in California?

Laura Reathaford, Caroline Powell Donelan, and Caitlin I. Sanders

On July 26, 2018, the California Supreme Court issued its long-awaited opinion in Troester v. Starbucks Corp., __ P.3d __ (2018). In the days that have followed, legal headlines have lamented the presumed “death” of the de minimis doctrine. But is Troester really that simple? And what does it mean for employer rounding policies?

The issue in Troester was whether the federal Fair Labor Standards Act’s (“FLSA”) de minimis doctrine applies to claims for unpaid wages under certain provisions of the California Labor Code. For the better half of the past century, the de minimis doctrine has been applied in the federal wage and hour context to excuse payment of wages under the FLSA for insubstantial or insignificant periods of time. Continue reading ““De Minimis” May Be Down, but It’s Not Out—And What Does It Mean for Employer Rounding Policies in California?”

The Epic Systems Decision: Where Do Employers Go from Here?

Emery Gullickson Richards

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis has significant ramifications for the scope of class action waivers in employee arbitration agreements. In each of the three consolidated cases that the Court’s opinion addressed, the plaintiffs were pursuing class/collective actions with Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) claims for unpaid overtime. Plaintiff Sheila Hobson’s FLSA claim in the Murphy Oil case had been dismissed by the trial court as a result of the arbitration provision in the employment agreement she signed when she started work at a gas station in Alabama. By contrast, plaintiff Jacob Lewis, a technical communications employee, had overcome a motion to dismiss his FLSA overtime class action in the Epic Systems case by arguing that a class action waiver in an arbitration agreement that had been emailed to him by his employer was unenforceable. In the Ernst & Young case, plaintiff Stephen Morris sought unpaid overtime under the FLSA and the California Labor Code for working long hours during audit season. As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, after remand, all of these claims now appear destined for arbitration unless they are resolved. The Epic Systems decision represents a broader affirmation, however, that arbitration agreements are enforceable regardless of the nature of an employee’s claim, even if the claims are brought pursuant to employment statutes that explicitly provide for class or collective actions. Continue reading “The Epic Systems Decision: Where Do Employers Go from Here?”

What #MeToo Means for the Maritime Sector

Susan L. Bickley, Emery Gullickson Richards, and Jeanne M. Grasso

The #MeToo movement has shone new light on issues for employers in the maritime industry seeking to ensure that seafarers and shore-based personnel can participate in a work environment free of sexual harassment and assault, both shipboard and shoreside. Employees at sea, often for months at a time, can face special challenges associated with a work environment that can be thousands of miles away from any home office, and that can lead to feelings of isolation, make communications difficult, involve close proximity between work spaces and living quarters and generally require employees to remain at the workplace during rest periods.

In other sectors of the global maritime industry, companies engaged in international business can find themselves navigating scenarios that arise from expectations regarding workplace interactions between men and women that are as diverse as their workforces. We examine here the unique legal framework that applies to sexual harassment in the maritime context, what to keep in mind for addressing incidents and recent trends regarding steps employers are currently taking in response. Continue reading “What #MeToo Means for the Maritime Sector”

Epic Shift: Supreme Court Enforces Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements

Emery Gullickson Richards

The Supreme Court issued a landmark decision on May 21, 2018, which has widespread implications for all employers. In Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Gorsuch, the Supreme Court held that arbitration agreements and class/collective action waivers are enforceable, putting to rest any argument that the National Labor Relations Act prevents or limits their enforceability. The decision provides employers further options for limiting litigation risk, particularly with respect to costly wage and hour collective actions. The decision also contains important implications for employers that maintain or are considering implementing arbitration agreements in the workplace, as there is no longer any identified legal impediment to the concept of an employer requiring its employees to waive the ability to bring a class or collective action under federal, state, and local employment laws. Continue readingEpic Shift: Supreme Court Enforces Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements”

Employers Should Take Notice of New Jersey’s Expected Equal Pay Law

Thomas J. Szymanski

The Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act (“Act”), directed at remedying discriminatory pay practices in the workplace, was passed by both houses of New Jersey’s Legislature and awaits the signature of Governor Phil Murphy. This is not the first time that the New Jersey Legislature has passed a bill modeled after the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which made it easier to pursue pay-discrimination lawsuits—former Governor Chris Christie previously vetoed nearly identical versions of this bill, based on his stated belief that they were overly-expansive and bad for business. Governor Murphy has pledged to sign the current version of the Act into law, with an anticipated effective date of July 1, 2018. Some of the Act’s provisions, notably those providing for treble damages and a six-year look back period, could provide more employees with much greater relief for violations than the federal Ledbetter Act or other state equal pay laws. Continue reading “Employers Should Take Notice of New Jersey’s Expected Equal Pay Law”