United States: California Employment Law Notes - May 2015

Employer Can Recover Its Costs And Attorney's Fees From Plaintiff Who Prosecuted "Objectively Groundless" FEHA Action

Williams v. Chino Valley Indep. Fire Dist., 2015 WL 1964947 (Cal. S. Ct. 2015)

Loring Winn Williams sued the District for employment discrimination in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"). The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the District and awarded the District its court costs in the amount of $5,368.88 (the District did not request reimbursement of its attorneys' fees). Although the trial court awarded costs to the District, the trial court failed to make any finding that plaintiff's action was frivolous, unreasonable or groundless as required for a defendant's recovery of attorney's fees in federal civil rights actions under the authority of Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412 (1978). In this opinion, the California Supreme Court expressly adopted the Christiansburg standard, which provides as follows: "...a prevailing plaintiff should ordinarily receive his or her costs and attorney fees unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust... A prevailing defendant, however, should not be awarded fees and costs unless the court finds the action was objectively without foundation when brought, or the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so." The Court remanded the matter for further proceedings to determine whether the action was objectively groundless.

Pregnant UPS Driver Could Proceed With Challenge To Employer's Failure To Accommodate

Young v. United Parcel Serv., 575 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 1338 (2015)

Peggy Young worked as a part-time driver for UPS. After suffering several miscarriages, Young became pregnant. Her doctor told her that she should not lift more than 20 lbs. during the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy or more than 10 lbs. thereafter. UPS required drivers like Young to be able to lift parcels weighing up to 70 lbs. and up to 150 lbs. with assistance. UPS told Young that she could not work while under a lifting restriction, and Young stayed home without pay during most of the time she was pregnant and eventually lost her employee medical coverage. In the lawsuit that followed, Young asserted that UPS had accommodated other drivers who were "similar in their... inability to work" and alleged that UPS' failure to provide such an accommodation to her violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA"). UPS responded that the "other persons" whom it had accommodated were drivers who (1) had become disabled on the job; (2) had lost their Department of Transportation certifications; and (3) suffered from a disability covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. UPS contended that because Young did not fall within any of those categories, she had not been discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy but had been treated the same way it treated all other employees not in those categories.

The Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of UPS, but in this opinion, the United States Supreme Court vacated that judgment, holding that a plaintiff such as Young may make out a prima facie case of disparate treatment under the PDA by showing that the employer did accommodate others "similar in their ability or inability to work." The Court further noted that a plaintiff can create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether a significant burden exists for the employer by providing evidence that the employer accommodates a large percentage of nonpregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant employees. However, the Supreme Court rejected Young's position that pregnant employees are entitled to "most-favored-nations" status such that they should receive no less favorable treatment than any other subset of accommodated workers.

No-Employment Provision In Settlement Agreement May Be An Unenforceable Restrictive Covenant

Golden v. California Emergency Physicians Med. Group, 2015 WL 1543049 (9th Cir. 2015)

Donald Golden, M.D., is an emergency-room doctor formerly affiliated with the California Emergency Physicians Medical Group ("CEP"), a large consortium of over 1,000 physicians that manages or staffs many emergency rooms in California and other western states. Dr. Golden sued CEP for various claims, including racial discrimination. Prior to trial, the parties settled the case and announced the terms orally in open court. Pursuant to the settlement, Dr. Golden received, among other things, a substantial monetary amount and agreed to waive any and all rights to employment with CEP or any facility that CEP may own or with which it may contract in the future. Dr. Golden later refused to execute the written agreement confirming the settlement and sought to have it set aside. The magistrate judge and the district court disregarded Dr. Golden's objections and ordered that he be compelled to sign the settlement agreement. Dr. Golden appealed, asserting that the no-employment provision in the settlement agreement was unlawful under Cal. Business & Professions Code § 16600 (which invalidates "every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business..."). The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings in order to determine "in the first instance whether the no-employment provision constitutes a restraint of a substantial character to Dr. Golden's medical practice."

Employer Cannot Be Liable For Failure To Prevent Harassment If No Actionable Harassment Has Occurred

Dickson v. Burke Williams, Inc., 234 Cal. App. 4th 1307 (2015)

Domaniqueca Dickson, a massage therapist, sued Burke Williams (a spa), alleging that she was subjected to harassing and discriminatory conduct by two customers of the spa. The case went to trial, and the jury returned a special verdict finding Burke Williams not liable for sex discrimination; sexual harassment; racial harassment; retaliation; or failure to prevent racial harassment. Specifically, as to the claims for racial and sexual harassment, the jury found that while Dickson was "subjected to unwanted harassing conduct," such conduct was "not severe or pervasive" and, therefore, not actionable. Nevertheless, the jury found Burke Williams liable for failure to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment and awarded Dickson $35,000 in compensatory and $250,000 in punitive damages. The trial court denied Burke Williams' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, but the Court of Appeal reversed, holding that an employer cannot be liable for failure to prevent harassment if the plaintiff fails to prove actionable harassment actually has occurred.

$180,817 In Fees Were Properly Awarded Against Company That Prosecuted Trade Secrets Claim In Bad Faith

Cypress Semiconductor Corp. v. Maxim Integrated Prods., Inc., 2015 WL 1911121 (Cal. Ct. App. 2015)

Cypress Semiconductor sued Maxim Integrated Products, alleging that Maxim had misappropriated a trade secret ("...or was in the process of doing so") when it sought to hire away from Cypress specialists in touchscreen technology, a field in which Cypress and Maxim compete. After failing to secure a temporary restraining order and failing to obtain an order placing under seal evidence derived by Maxim from public sources, Cypress voluntarily dismissed the action. Maxim then filed a motion for recovery of its attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $180,817 pursuant to Cal. Civil Code § 3426.4, which authorizes such an award to a prevailing party where a claim for misappropriation of trade secrets is found to have been made in bad faith. The trial court granted Maxim's motion, and the Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that Maxim "did no more ...than attempting to recruit the employees of a competitor, which Maxim was entitled to do under the laws of this state."

Courts Can Provide Narrow Review Of EEOC's Pre-litigation Conciliation Efforts

Mach Mining, LLC v. EEOC, 575 U.S. ___, 2015 WL 1913911 (2015)

A female coal miner filed a charge with the EEOC, alleging that Mach Mining had refused to hire her because of her sex. The EEOC investigated the allegation and found reasonable cause to believe that Mach Mining had discriminated against the complainant and a class of women who had similarly applied for mining jobs. In correspondence to the employer, the EEOC invited the company and the complainant to participate in "informal methods" of dispute resolution and promised that a representative from the EEOC would soon "contact [them] to begin the conciliation process." Approximately a year later, the EEOC sent Mach Mining a second letter stating that "such conciliation efforts as are required by law have occurred and have been unsuccessful" and that any further efforts at conciliation would be "futile." The EEOC then sued Mach Mining for sex discrimination in hiring. In its answer to the complaint, Mach Mining asserted that the EEOC had failed to "conciliate in good faith" prior to filing the lawsuit. The district court agreed with Mach Mining that it should engage in a review to determine whether the EEOC had made a "sincere and reasonable effort to negotiate." The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the EEOC's efforts to conciliate are "not subject to judicial review." The United States Supreme Court in this opinion vacated the judgment of the Seventh Circuit and held that a court may engage in a "narrow review" of whether the EEOC satisfied its statutory obligation to engage in conciliation efforts and that if the court determines the EEOC did not sufficiently engage in such efforts, "the appropriate remedy is to order the EEOC to undertake the mandated efforts to obtain voluntary compliance."

Whistleblower Was Required To Exhaust Administrative Remedies Before Filing Lawsuit

Gallup v. Superior Court, 235 Cal. App. 4th 682 (2015)

Emily Gallup sued her former employer, the Superior Court of Nevada County ("SCNC"), under Cal. Labor Code § 1102.5(b) for alleged retaliation against her for engaging in protected activity when she complained to her supervisor and other management that the Family Court Services Department was not providing services in compliance with the law. SCNC demurred to this claim on the ground that Gallup had failed to exhaust administrative remedies under Labor Code § 98.7. The trial court overruled the demurrer, and a jury found in Gallup's favor, awarding her more than $313,000 in damages. In this appeal, the SCNC asserted that the trial court erred when it overruled the demurrer. The Court of Appeal agreed and reversed the judgment, holding that subsequent amendments to the Labor Code from 2013 (stating that exhaustion of administrative remedies is not required to maintain an action) are not retroactive or declaratory of existing law. The Court further held that Section 1102.5 (prior to being amended) did require exhaustion of administrative remedies. See also Tamosaitis v. URS, Inc., 781 F.3d 468 (9th Cir. 2015) (whistleblower employee who worked at a nuclear energy site failed to exhaust administrative remedies under the Energy Reorganization Act as to some defendants but could proceed with claims against another who received adequate notice; as to that defendant, there was adequate evidence to defeat summary judgment; and employee was entitled to jury trial as to some claims).

Employer Properly Removed Case To Federal Court Under CAFA

Reyes v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., 781 F.3d 1185 (9th Cir. 2015)

Dollar Tree Stores removed this action to federal court a second time (after it was removed and remanded two years previously) following the state court's certification of a broader class. The district court ordered the action remanded based upon untimely removal, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the remand order with instructions for the district court to exercise federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"). The Court held that the second removal to federal court was timely because Dollar Tree removed within 30 days of the class certification order and that there was an "unchallenged, plausible assertion" that the jurisdictional requirements of CAFA were satisfied. See also Navarro v. Encino Motorcars, LLC, 780 F.3d 1267 (9th Cir. 2015) (service advisors who work at a car dealership are not exempt from the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act applicable to "any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles").

60-Year-Old Pilot Was Properly Barred From Active Duty

Weiland v. American Airlines, Inc., 778 F.3d 1112 (9th Cir. 2015)

Henry Weiland was a "check airman" when he turned 60 years old on December 7, 2007. Until December 13, 2007, airline pilots at air carriers were subject to the FAA's "Age 60 Rule," which required air carriers to cease scheduling pilots from operating aircraft when they turned 60 years old. The Age 60 Rule was abrogated by passage of the Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act ("FTEPA"), which (as of December 13, 2007) delayed the age at which pilots must cease flying from 60 to 65 years of age. After American Airlines refused to reinstate Weiland based on the Age 60 Rule, he filed a claim of age discrimination against the airline in federal court, and the airline responded with a motion to dismiss, which the district court granted. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed dismissal of Weiland's claim, holding that Weiland does not qualify for any of the FTEPA's exceptions to nonretroactivity.

California Employment Law Notes - May 2015

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions