Second Circuit Finds that Entry-Level Audit Associates at Accounting Firm are Exempt from Federal Overtime Requirements

In Pippins v. KPMG LLP, No. 13-889 (2d Cir. July 22, 2014), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously held that entry-level audit associates (“Plaintiffs”) at KPMG LLP qualify for the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (“FLSA”) “learned professionals” overtime exemption.  The Second Circuit explained that, while the closely-supervised employees were “the most junior members” of the KPMG accountancy team and did not “make high-level decisions,” their work still required sufficient knowledge and judgment to qualify for the exemption.

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California Court of Appeal Enforces Contractor’s Agreement to Arbitrate Misclassification Claims Out of State

On Monday, July 21, 2014, the California Court of Appeal issued its opinion in Galen v. Redfin Corp., A138642.  This case is important for two reasons:  (1) the court upheld an arbitration agreement between a Seattle-based company and a California plaintiff challenging his status (and that of the putative class) as an independent contractor (v. employee), even though the agreement provided for the application of Washington law and a Washington venue; and (2) it reinforces California’s strong policy of enforcing forum-selection clauses, a policy that is relevant outside the context of arbitration, such as in the noncompete context.

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Illinois Becomes The Fifth State To Enact So Called “Ban The Box” Law, Prohibiting Private Sector Employers From Asking About Criminal History

This past Monday, July 21, 2014, Illinois joined Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island as the fifth State to enact a so called “ban the box” law.  Signed by the Governor, the law will take effect on January 1, 2015.  Called the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act, the law prohibits private sector employers from asking about a job applicant’s criminal record or history until after the employer has scheduled an interview.  If the hiring decision is made without interview, then the employer cannot ask until after it has made a conditional offer of employment.  The law applies to all private sector employers with 15 or more employees.  Exceptions to this new law include: (1) jobs which cannot be held by convicted criminals under federal or state law, (2) jobs requiring licensing under the Emergency Medical Services System Act, and (3) a limited exception for jobs requiring fidelity bonds.

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Second Circuit Finds Possible Pretext in Vague Justification for Non-Transfer

On July 14th, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated an award of summary judgment for the defendants in Abrams v. Department of Public Safety, State of Connecticut, et al., Case No. 13-111, holding that statements concerning an employee’s “fit” for a position could give rise to an inference of discrimination.

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DOL Proposes to Amend FMLA Definition of “Spouse” to Include Same-Sex Marriages

The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed amending the regulatory definition of “spouse” under the Family and Medical Leave Act to expressly include individuals in same-sex marriages.

In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published on June 27, 2014, the DOL proposed the revision in light of the recent United States Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, which found unconstitutional those provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

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California Supreme Court Limits Application of Commissioned Employee Exemption

On July 14, 2014, the California Supreme Court held in Peabody v. Time Warner Cable, Inc. that employees qualify for the California “commissioned employee” exemption in a pay period only if they receive “earnings [that] exceed one and one-half (1-1/2) times the minimum wage” in that two-week pay period.  The Court held that an employer may not satisfy the minimum earnings prong of the exemption by reassigning wages from a different pay period for employees who are paid commissions that are calculated monthly.  In addition, as explained below, while the Court expressly declined to address the issue, its reasoning will lead plaintiffs’ counsel to argue that more than half of an employee’s pay in a pay period must “represent commissions” if the employee is to meet the exemption in that pay period.

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Undocumented Workers May Pursue Claims Under California’s FEHA, So Says The California Supreme Court

On June 26, 2014, in Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co., the California Supreme Court held that undocumented immigrants who fraudulently obtained employment still may pursue retaliation and discrimination claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).  In its decision, the Court also found that the affirmative defenses of unclean hands and after‑acquired evidence, which typically can limit an employee’s ability to obtain relief, are not complete defenses to FEHA claims brought by undocumented workers.  Under the Court’s ruling, employees who used false documentation to obtain employment not only may bring such a lawsuit but also can recover lost wages, emotional distress damages and attorneys’ fees, even if they actually were never legally entitled to work for the employer.

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Cal. Supreme Court Clarifies Standards for Class Certification of Independent Contract Class Actions

On Monday, the California Supreme Court issued yet another decision on class certification; this time in an action challenging the independent contractor (“IC”) classification of a proposed class of Antelope Valley News newspaper deliverers, Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers, Inc.  Although much of the case addresses the proper standards for evaluation of whether a person is an IC or employee, the California Supreme Court further clarified the proper procedures for a trial court considering class certification and did so in a way that should lead either to depublication or reversal of the awful Hall v. Rite-Aid decision I blogged about last month.

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The Supreme Court’s Ruling in Hobby Lobby that Closely Held, For-Profit Companies Should Receive Religious Exemptions From ObamaCare’s Conception Mandate Likely Will Have Little Practical Impact Immediately in the Employment Arena

On June 30, 2014, the US Supreme Court decided the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. in a 5-4 decision along partisan lines.  The Court ruled that closely held, for-profit companies are entitled to certain religious freedom protections from generally applicable regulations that violate the sincerely held religious beliefs of their owners.  Specifically, the majority held that such companies are exempt from the requirement under the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA” a/k/a Obamacare) to provide birth control coverage for their employees.

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New EEOC Guidelines Regarding Employers’ Obligations With Respect to Background Checks and Accommodation of Religious Dress and Grooming Practices

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently announced new guidelines that may impact the way employers conduct background checks and accommodate religious dress and grooming practices.

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