World of Employment Blog Launches New Responsive Design and Enhanced Reader Features

Dear World of Employment Blog readers. We’ve been blogging since 2008, and while our commitment to keep you informed on major employment law developments hasn’t changed, technology certainly has. Six years ago, it was still a desktop- and RSS-dominated world. Today, more and more of you are reading our posts on tablets and smartphones. As readers ourselves, we understand your need for news on-the-go and at your convenience.

So we’re very excited to announce to you today a completely new – and improved – blog design, along with new feature sets we think will enhance your content experience.

  • First, World of Employment Blog now uses a responsive design format. So no matter where – or on what device – you visit us, you can be assured of a consistent, clean and crisp reader experience.
  • Second, we’ve added new social sharing features to our posts. With easy-to-read social icons, sharing World of Employment blog posts with your social networks is now a snap.
  • Third, we’ve improved our content subscription options. We’ve expanded the number of RSS subscription feeds, optimized the look and feel of our email subscription service, and added links to our Twitter feed as an alternative content consumption option.

We hope you find these changes useful. Thanks again for visiting and keeping us among your must-read bookmarks!

California Supreme Court Clarifies When a Franchisee’s Employees Can Bring Employment Claims Against the Franchisor in Taylor Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC

In Taylor Patterson v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, the California Supreme Court restricted the ability of a franchisee’s employees to sue the franchisor based on theories of vicarious liability and the theory that the franchisor was an “employer” under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). With this decision, franchisors can breathe a sigh of relief as the Supreme Court’s decision could have opened the flood gates for employment claims brought by employees seeking a recovery from the perceived “deep pocket” franchisor.

The plaintiff in Taylor alleged that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor while employed at a Domino’s Pizza franchise owned and run by a company called Sui Juris. She subsequently filed suit against her supervisor, Sui Juris, and the franchisor, Defendant Domino’s Pizza Franchising, LLC (“Domino’s”). Plaintiff’s claims against Domino’s were premised on the theory that Domino’s was her and her supervisor’s employer.

Continue Reading

9th Cir. Finds FedEx Delivery Drivers Are Employees, Not Contractors

Last week, the 9th Circuit held in two related cases from California and Oregon that FedEx misclassified approximately 2,600 delivery truck drivers as independent contractors, rather than as employees. The cases—Alexander v. FedEx and Slayman v. FedEx—are an important reminder for employers that reality matters more than labels when it comes to classifying workers. 

On that note, the most succinct (and most memorable) summary of the rulings appears in Judge Trott’s short concurrence in Alexander:

“Abraham Lincoln reportedly asked, ‘If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?’ His answer was, ‘Four. Calling a dog’s tail a leg does not make it a leg.’ . . . Labeling the drivers ‘independent contractors’ in FedEx’s Operating Agreement does not conclusively make them so . . . .”

The two cases dealt with virtually identical facts. FedEx’s Operating Agreement (“OA”), which principally governed its business relationships with the 2,300 California drivers and 363 Oregon drivers in each class, contained several generalized clauses that suggested the drivers were independent contractors. For example, the OAs provided that “the manner and means of reaching [the parties’ “mutual business objectives”] are within the discretion of the [driver], and no officer or employee of FedEx . . . shall have the authority to impose any term or condition on the driver . . . which is contrary to this understanding.” The two opinions noted, however, that neither California nor Oregon law views a contract’s description of a worker as an independent contractor as dispositive of the worker’s true status.

Continue Reading

“Isn’t there supposed to be a good cop?” — 9th Circuit Holds Bilious Conduct Not a Disability Under ADA

Cantankerous employees beware! Being a jerk is not a disability and, at least according to the Ninth Circuit in Weaving v. City of Hillsboro, blaming bad behavior on a physical or mental impairment does not guarantee protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").

Matthew Weaving was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, but stopped exhibiting symptoms at the age of 12 and was taken off of his ADHD medication. His interpersonal problems continued through adolescence and into adulthood. Weaving pursued a career as a police officer and eventually joined the Hillsboro (Oregon) Police Department in 2006. His relationship with subordinates and peers was strained. Co-workers complained that he often was demeaning and derogatory. Following a subordinate’s complaint about Weaving in 2009, the Police Department placed him on leave pending investigation.

While on leave, Weaving decided that some of his interpersonal difficulties might have been due to ADHD so he sought a mental health evaluation. The psychologist concluded that Weaving had adult ADHD and sent a letter to the police department explaining his diagnosis. The next day, Weaving sent a letter informing his employer about the diagnosis and requesting “all reasonable accommodations.”

A few weeks later, the police department concluded its investigation, finding that Weaving had created and fostered a “hostile work environment for his subordinates and peers,” noting that they described him as “tyrannical, unapproachable, non-communicative, belittling, demeaning, threatening, intimidating, arrogant and vindictive.” Following a fitness for duty examination in which two doctors found Weaving fit for duty despite his ADHD diagnosis, the police department terminated Weaving’s employment.

Continue Reading

Washington Court of Appeals Expands “Jeopardy” Element of Claim for Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy

This month the Washington State Court of Appeals, Division III issued a ruling in Becker v. Community Health Systems, Inc. that expands protections in a wrongful termination action based on violation of a public policy.

In Becker, the Plaintiff, a former chief financial officer for Community Health Systems, Inc. (“CHS”), alleged that while CHS initially represented that it would have a $4 million operating loss, Becker calculated a projected $12 million operating loss in 2012. When CHS requested Becker revise his projection prior to submitting it to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), Becker refused. CHS placed Becker on a performance improvement plan and conditioned his continued employment on revising the loss projection. Becker documented his concern with the CHS calculation and advised the company that unless it remedied its misconduct he would be forced to resign. CHS accepted Becker’s notice as a resignation. 

Becker sued in superior court for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy (he also filed a whistleblower retaliation complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration).  After the trial court denied CHS’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under CR 12(b)(6), CHS sought discretionary review with the Court of Appeals.

Continue Reading

Facebook “Like” Button – Protected Activity? It Depends on What You “Like”!

In an ever expanding arc of decisions that extends the NLRA’s protections to a wide range of employee conduct – both on-and off-duty, and in union and non-union settings alike – the NLRB last week decided that merely clicking on Facebook’s “Like” Button was concerted, protected activity. Triple Play Sports Bar, 361 NLRB No. 31 (August 22, 2014).

Triple Play Sports Bar is a non-union employer whose owners had a little difficulty preparing annual payroll tax calculations, and as a result, employees owed state income tax in arrears. One of the employees – not happy at the prospect of back taxes – posted on her Facebook “Status Update,”

Maybe someone should do the owners of Triple Play a favor and buy it from them. They can’t even do the tax paperwork correctly‼! Now I OWE money … Wtf‼!

Other employees chimed in with comments of their own (“[the owner] f***** up the paperwork…as per usual”; “[the owner is] such a shady little man. He prolly [sic] pocketed it all from our paychecks…”; “Such an a******”), as did a couple of the Sport’s Bar’s customers. But one employee simply pressed the “Like” button and made no other comments. Company owners terminated the employees for defamation and disloyalty.

Continue Reading

Washington Court of Appeals Holds Independent Contractors Are Protected from Retaliation by the Washington Law Against Discrimination

The Washington courts are strict in their interpretation of the classification of individuals as employees versus independent contractors, resulting in many an employer discovering that an “independent contractor” is instead an employee. But the Washington Court of Appeals’ recent ruling in Currier v. Northland Services, Inc., confirms that even those individuals who qualify as bona fide independent contractors will be deemed subject to the full protections of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”), including protection from retaliation. 

In Currier, the plaintiff, who worked as an independent contractor truck driver for NSI, overheard another independent contractor make a racist “joke” to a Latino driver. Currier reported the incident to NSI’s quality assurance manager, who informed the dispatchers of Currier’s complaint. Two days later, the dispatchers terminated Currier’s contract, citing “customer service issues” and informing Currier that they had spoken with the other truck drivers and “they had decided that the joke was funny.”

Continue Reading

California Supreme Court Makes It Easier For Workers in Misclassification Cases To Obtain Class Certification

Employment class action litigation is often won or lost with a class certification ruling.  If the employer is successful in opposing class certification, then these cases often go away with little or no fanfare and limited liability.  If, however, an employer is unsuccessful, it may be exposed to substantial liability.  After the California Supreme Court’s ruling last month in Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers, workers alleging employment misclassification claims will find it easier to obtain class certification thereby transforming their relatively small individual claims into potentially multi-million dollar class action disputes. 

The plaintiffs in Ayala were newspaper carriers employed by defendant newspaper publisher. In their action, the four plaintiffs claimed that defendant classified them as independent contractors when, in reality, they were employees entitled to various wage and hour protections.  They sought to certify a class consisting of other carriers employed by defendant. The trial court denied plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, concluding that common issues did not predominate because determining the carriers’ employee status would require a detailed review of how defendant controlled the work of each respective carrier.  Plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s denial to the Court of Appeal which agreed with plaintiffs that the issue was a common one capable of answer on a class wide basis. The California Supreme Court granted review and affirmed the ruling by the Court of Appeal. 

Continue Reading

President Obama Signs Executive Order Banning LGBT Job Discrimination by Federal Contractors and Government

What the Executive Order Does:

This Executive Order amends two earlier executive orders: it amends Executive Order 11246, which prohibits discrimination by federal contractors to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the existing prohibitions of race, color, religion, national origin, age and sex discrimination. In addition, Executive Order 11478, which, as amended, bars discrimination against federal employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, disability and age, is further amended to include gender identity. Notably absent from the Executive Order is an expanded religious exemption requested by some communities of faith, similar to the one included in ENDA. However, President Bush’s Executive Order 13279, which permits religiously affiliated federal contractors to favor individuals of a particular religion when making employment decisions remains in effect.

The new Executive Order states that the provision affecting federal employees will take effect immediately. The provision affecting federal contractors and subcontractors likely will be implemented by early 2015.

What Does This Mean for Employees:

In eighteen states, including California, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington, and in the District of Columbia, laws already exist to protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, the White House’s Office of the Press Secretary notes that most of America’s major companies have already included LGBT protections within their non-discrimination policies: 91% of Fortune 500 companies prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and 61% prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Among the 50 largest federal contractors, which represent nearly half of all federal contracting dollars, 86% prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and 61% prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

However, there are still 29 states without express job protections based on sexual orientation, and 32 states lack bans on gender identity discrimination. There are an estimated 14 million employees of federal contractors who live in states without state law protections that will now be covered.

What About the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA):

President Obama has reaffirmed that there remains a need for ENDA. Although ENDA was passed by the Senate in November 2013, ENDA is unlikely to be taken up for a vote in the House anytime soon. In signing the Executive Order, President Obama stated “I’m going to do what I can, with the authority I have, to act. The rest of you, of course, need to keep putting pressure on Congress to pass federal legislation that resolves this problem once and for all.”

Authored by Ed Reeves and law clerk, Dexter Pearce.

Supreme Court’s Noel Canning Decision Invalidates Numerous NLRB Decisions

The U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated President Obama’s 2012 "recess" appointments of several members of the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB" or "Board"), which occurred while the Senate was in a three day recess. As a result, every decision issued by the Board between January 4, 2012, and July 30, 2013, is void, including some highly controversial decisions which negatively impacted employers. National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning (June 26, 2014). A copy of the Noel Canning opinion is here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-1281_bodg.pdf

Continue Reading

LexBlog