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Archive for the ‘Employment Law Blog – CA’ Category

Employers Reconsidering Forced Arbitration in Response to Protest

Posted on: March 4th, 2019

By: Hassan Aburish

In late 2017, the “Me Too” movement ignited after actress Ashley Judd publicly accused media mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. Since then, the movement has led to vast changes in the workplace. Numerous industry leaders have fallen from grace. States are quickly passing legislation to attempt to curb sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace, and allegations of sexual harassment continue to rise. However, as Google employees proved last month, compliance with the law cannot be an employer’s only consideration.

When Andy Rubin stepped down from his executive role at Google in October of 2014, it appeared to be an amicable parting of ways. But three years later, a New York Times article revealed that Andy Rubin was forced to resign following a “credible” allegation of sexual harassment. The NYT also disclosed that Google gave Rubin an exit package worth approximately $90 million dollars, which was not required under his contract. Within days of learning this information, hundreds of Google employees staged a walk-out to protest their employer’s handling of alleged sexual misconduct.

In response to employee demands, Google CEO Sundar Pichai agreed not to enforce mandatory arbitration agreements with regard to claims of sexual harassment and assault. However, following their victory, Google employees began pushing for the arbitration clauses to be nixed entirely. On February 21, Google announced the end of its policy of forced arbitration and class action waivers for its employees.

There are many lessons we can learn from Google’s experience. First, never assume that resolution of a dispute will remain confidential. One of the most embarrassing aspects of this situation for Google—and what appears to have been the source of much employee infuriation—was the fact that Google could have terminated Rubin without paying him $90 million for allegations an internal investigation concluded to be credible.

Second, employers must weigh all costs and benefits of their policies regarding employees. While employers typically can require employees who have signed arbitration agreements to pursue their claims within the arbitration context, employers should also assess other factors in deciding how they handle the use of arbitration agreements with their workforce.

Third, sexual harassment continues to be a front-page issue. From giant tech companies to family-owned restaurants, allegations of sexual harassment are likely to make it into the news. So it is now more important than ever to ensure that employers get ahead of these issues by holding consistent harassment training, updating employee policies and manuals, and quickly and appropriately handling employee complaints.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Hassan Aburish at [email protected].

Cal. Attorney Sanctioned $50,000 for Reckless and Malicious Conduct at Deposition

Posted on: February 18th, 2019

By: Jenny Jin

A California Court of Appeal upheld a $50,000 sanction against an attorney based on conduct at a deposition.

On February 4, 2019, the Court of Appeal issued its opinion in the case Anna Anka v. Louis Yeager. This case involved a child custody dispute between Paul Anka’s ex-wife, Anna Anka, and her first husband, Louis Yeager. As part of this dispute, the trial court had ordered that a confidential child custody and evaluation report be performed. Mrs. Anka was then subsequently involved in a second child custody dispute with her second husband/now ex-husband, Paul Anka.

Mrs. Anka was represented by the same attorney in both custody disputes. Mrs. Anka’s attorney took Mr. Yeager’s deposition as part of Mrs. Anka’s second custody dispute. During the deposition, Mrs. Anka’s attorney asked Mr. Yeager a series of questions to attempt to elicit confidential information regarding the contents of the evaluation and report from the first child custody dispute. Mr. Yeager testified that he could not recall the information. However, the trial court still sanctioned Mrs. Anka and her attorney $50,000 jointly and severally for her attorney’s reckless and malicious line of questioning that was orchestrated to elicit confidential child custody information.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the $50,000 sanctions against the attorney, but reversed the sanctions award as to Mrs. Anka. The Court found that the disclosure of confidential information was due solely to the attorney’s reckless and malicious conduct during the deposition. The Court opined that “besides being an advocate to advance the interest of the client, the attorney is also an officer of the court” and further that “counsel’s zeal to protect and advance the interest of the client must be tempered by the professional and ethical constraints the legal profession demands.” The Court held that the attorney’s conduct in eliciting confidential information during the deposition was not only reckless, but was intentional and willful.

The takeaway from this case is that in both California and across all states, there are real ethical limitations to zealous representation during depositions. Attorneys must remember to balance their duty to zealously represent their client’s interests with their duty as officers of the court to conduct themselves with integrity, courtesy, and professionalism.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Jenny Jin at (415) 352-6451 or [email protected].

Women On Board

Posted on: October 16th, 2018

By: Rebecca Smith

Nearly one-quarter of California-headquartered publicly held domestic or foreign corporations have no female directors.  No later than the close of the 2019 calendar year, those companies will need to add at least one.  Senate Bill 826 (SB 826) signed by Governor Brown on September 30, 2018 has mandated this change.  And, if the board of directors of a corporation is larger than four board members, the required number of women on the board increases.  If the number of directors is six or more, the corporation must have a minimum of three directors, if the number of directors is five, the corporation shall have a minimum of two directors.  Corporations will be allowed until the close of the 2021 calendar year to add the additional female directors beyond one.

There is a strong likelihood that this new law will be challenged in the courts.  The first argument being made is that the law will displace an existing member of the board of directors solely on the basis of gender.  The new law has attempted to address this by indicating:  “A corporation may increase the number of directors on its board to comply with this section.”  The argument being made is that the law focuses too narrowly on gender instead of other aspects of diversity, including race and sexual orientation.  The government may have to prove not only that there is disparity in board representation among men and women, but also that such a divide is a sufficient reason to create a special law for women.

The other issue in the forefront is to which companies the law will apply.  While the statute provides that the companies will be determined by the location of the principal executive offices according to the corporation’s SEC 10-K form, challenges are being made that the law should not apply to businesses headquartered in California, but incorporated elsewhere.  The new Section 2115.5 of the Corporations Code has attempted to address this issue by indicating that the new requirements shall apply to a foreign corporation that is a publicly held corporation to the exclusion of the law of the jurisdiction in which the foreign corporation is incorporated.  That being said, the “internal affairs doctrine” may provide a basis for the challenge.  The internal affairs doctrine, a choice of law rule in corporation law, provides that the internal affairs of a corporation will be governed by the corporate statutes and case law of the state in which the corporation is incorporated.

So what happens if a company does not comply:  A fine of $100,000 for a first violation, and a fine of $300,000 for a second or subsequent violation.  For purposes of imposing the fine, each director seat required by the section to be held by a female, which is not held by a female during at least a portion of the calendar year is considered a violation.  For the time being, California companies with their principal executive offices in California should start to think about how to comply with the law by the end of 2019 and stay tuned for any changes.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Rebecca Smith at [email protected].

Ninth Circuit’s Decision Upholding Arbitration Clause Enables Uber To Sidestep Substantive Issues Regarding Misclassification

Posted on: October 10th, 2018

By: Laura Flynn

In O’Connor v. Uber, a case in which California Uber drivers assert they should be categorized as employees rather than independent contractors, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an order reversing the district court’s denial of Uber’s motions to compel arbitration. The Court rejected Plaintiffs’ assertion Uber’s arbitration agreements were unenforceable. The Court’s decision reversing the order denying arbitration was based on Mohamed v. Uber, 848 F.3d 1201 (9th Cir.  2016) wherein the Court found the relevant provisions delegated the threshold question of arbitrability to the arbitrator, that the delegation provisions were not adhesive and were therefore not procedurally unconscionable, and that the provisions allowing drivers to opt-out of arbitrations were not illusory. The Court rejected Plaintiffs’ additional argument the arbitration agreements were unenforceable because they contained class action waivers that violate the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 pointing to the recent Supreme Court decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 138 S. Ct. 1612 (2018). As the class certification by the district court was premised on its determination the arbitration agreements were unenforceable, the order certifying a class of approximately 160,000 Uber drivers was also reversed.

Based on the Court’s decision, it appears Uber drivers will have to purse their misclassification claims individually through arbitration. The limited pool of arbitrators, the amount of time it takes to arbitrate an individual claim, the smaller payout for attorneys, and lack of precedential value associated with arbitrations will likely discourage some drivers from pursuing their claims.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Laura Flynn at [email protected].

 

For further reading, see our blogs discussing this matter:

#MeToo Movement Leads to New California Laws

Posted on: October 9th, 2018

By: Gretchen Carner

California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law several work-related bills that will make it easier for workers to speak out about and sue over workplace sexual harassment.  The new laws codify a broader definition of sexual harassment that will make it easier for workers to bring and sustain harassment allegations in California courts, and block businesses from making workers sign nondisclosure agreements when they come on board, ask for raises or settle sex harassment suits, among other things.

California Government Code Section 12940 redefines sexual harassment and amends FEHA to make harassment legally actionable if it makes it harder for workers to do their jobs. The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2019, also tells judges to scrutinize employers’ motions for summary judgment on harassment claims. It also blocks businesses from giving workers raises or bonuses in exchange for their waiving FEHA claims or signing NDAs and makes it harder for businesses to win fees when they beat workers’ bias suits. Government Code section 12964.5 blocks businesses from making workers sign NDAs as conditions of sexual harassment settlements.

California lawmakers adopted an expansive definition of sexual harassment as outlined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her 1993 concurring opinion in Harris v. Forklift Sys. (1993) 510 U.S. 17, in which she said that harassment is discriminatory conduct that could make a reasonable person who experienced it believe that it made it harder for them to do their job.  Section 12923 states harassment cases are “rarely appropriate for disposition on summary judgment” because a single incident of harassing conduct is sufficient to create a triable issue of fact.  In addition, the new section instructs courts that the legal standard for sexual harassment “should not vary by type of workplace.”

While California law has previously required harassment prevention training of 2 hours for supervisors of employers with 50 or more employees every two years, revisions to the law now require employers with 5 OR MORE EMPLOYEES to provide the harassment training for supervisors and adds that non-supervisorial employees must now be trained.  (Government Code section 12950.1.)

Brown also signed a bill enacting Corporations Code section 301.3 which is aimed at giving women more say in corporate governance by making public, California-based businesses put one woman on their board of directors by the end of 2019 and as many as three by the end of 2021.  This statute will have a significant impact on dozens of public companies that have no women on their boards.  For a review of this new law in more detail, please see Rebecca Smith’s upcoming blog, Women On Board.

We anticipate much litigation over these new laws and will be keeping an eye on how the courts will enforce and interpret these statutes.  If you have any questions, please contact Gretchen Carner at [email protected].