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Posts Tagged ‘supreme court’

On-Premises Rest Breaks: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Posted on: July 18th, 2018

By: Allison Hyatt

Under California law, non-exempt employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if the employee works more than 5 hours in a workday, and a 10-minute break for every 4 hours worked (or “major fraction” thereof).  In the past, employers commonly required employees to remain on the premises during rest breaks.  However, with the California Supreme Court’s decision in Augustus v. ABM Services, Inc. (2016) 2 Cal. 5th 257, which emphasized the fact that employers must “relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time,” employers should discontinue any such policies still in practice.

Although the issue in Augustus was on-call rest periods and therefore the Court did not directly consider an on-premises rest break policy, the California Labor Commissioner’s office updated its fact sheet on rest breaks to specially address on-premises break policies in light of the Augustus opinion.  Quoting the Supreme Court’s opinion, the Labor Commissioner’s office explained that employers cannot impose such restraints, stating: “‘during rest periods employers must relieve employees of all duties and relinquish control over how employees spend their time.’  As a practical matter, however, if an employee is provided a ten minute rest period, the employee can only travel five minutes from a work post before heading back to return in time.”

Moving forward, it is unclear as to how courts will address pre-Augustus on-premises rest break policies believed to be legal at the time.  The Augustus Court did not clarify any limitations to what appears to be a sweeping ruling described by the Dissent in Augustus as a “marked departure from the approach we have taken in prior cases.”  2 Cal. 5th 257, 277.  In one post-Augustus case, Bell v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55442 (E.D. Cal. April 11, 2017), the Eastern District of California declined to reconsider a summary judgment ruling in favor of Home Depot on the plaintiffs’ claims that Home Depot violated California law by requiring employees to remain on premises during rest breaks.  The Eastern District had ruled, prior to the decision in Augustus, that such a policy did not violate the applicable California wage order and statute.  In response to the plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration, Home Depot argued that the Augustus decision implies that restricting employees to the premises, without additional duties or constraints, does not violate the rule.  The Eastern District declined to alter its ruling, noting:

“[t]he facts in Augustus and the present matter are distinct, as the present case does not concern ‘on-call’ rest periods. . . The Augustus court did not directly consider an on-premises rest break policy which does not require employees to remain on call such as the one at issue here.  While the Court finds Defendants’ reading of Augustus more persuasive and accurate than Plaintiffs, it does not specifically adopt Defendant’s interpretation that Augustus affirmatively condones on-premises rest breaks.  Rather, the Court finds that the holding in Augustus does not go as far as Plaintiffs contend.”  2017 U.S. LEXIS 55442 at *5.

It will be interesting to see how other courts interpret the implications of the Augustus opinion.  For now, employers are encouraged to follow the California Labor Commissioner’s advice and discontinue any practices that impose any restraints on how employees spend their break periods.  If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Allison Hyatt at (916) 472-3302 or email at [email protected].

California’s New Independent Contractor Test

Posted on: July 11th, 2018

By: Christine Lee

On April 30, 2018, the California Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court, No. S222732, in which the Court adopted an extremely broad view of workers who will be deemed “employees” as opposed to “independent contractors” for purposes of claims alleging violations of California’s Wage Orders.  This decision will undoubtedly lead to increased litigation challenging classification of workers across the state as employers will now have a much higher burden to defeat such claims.

Under the new “ABC” test set forth in Dynamex, a worker will be presumed to be an employee unless the hiring entity proves all of the following:

(A) The worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract and in fact; and

(B) The worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and

(C) The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work he or she performed for the principal.

An employer’s failure to establish any one of the three factors will result in a determination that the worker is an employee as a matter of law.  The Court’s ruling specifically applies to claims asserted under the IWC Wage Orders, which impose obligations related to minimum wages, overtime, and required meal and rest breaks. It is presently unclear how the case applies to claims arising under other statutes.

We encourage all companies doing business in California to immediately evaluate classification of outside contractors or vendors.  Under Dynamex, the vast majority of persons performing services for a company will be considered employees if they are performing work within the usual course of the company’s business, even if those individuals act autonomously and are free from control or direction of the hiring entity.

Therefore, we strongly encourage employers to consult with counsel to evaluate and consider reclassifying independent contractors or risk finding themselves on the losing end of an expensive and painful misclassification case.

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

New Potential SCOTUS Justice: Friend or Foe of Qualified Immunity?

Posted on: July 10th, 2018

By: Sara Brochstein

President Trump announced his decision to nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement.  Should he be confirmed, Judge Kavanaugh could have significant impact on the preservation of qualified immunity, which continues to come under fire of late.   Essentially, the defense of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Given the current climate with unending allegations of excessive use of force by police, the call for reconsideration of the expansive protection offered by qualified immunity has become widespread.  And whether officers remain entitled to qualified immunity under the current parameters of the doctrine has substantial effect on civil litigation outcomes and potential damage awards.

Such a hot button issue continues to present itself to the Supreme Court.  In fact, just one year ago, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately in the Court’s decision in Ziglar v. Abbasi, stating that in an appropriate case, the Court should reconsider its qualified immunity jurisprudence.   It will be interesting to see how the Court evolves in its decisions to uphold officers’ entitlement to qualified immunity, especially given continuing outspoken public perception on the issue.   However, if Judge Kavanaugh’s recent dissent in Wesby et al. v. District of Columbia et al. is any indication of his views of qualified immunity and the position he would take as a Justice, it appears qualified immunity could endure as a strong  defense given that the Supreme Court ultimately sided with the dissent.

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

Is An Employee’s Intentional Act An Employer’s “Accident”?

Posted on: July 10th, 2018

By: Rebecca Smith and Zach Moura

It may just be, according to the California Supreme Court’s recent decision in Liberty Surplus Ins. Corp. v. Ledesma & Meyer Construction Co., Inc. (June 4, 2018, No. S236765).  In Liberty v. Ledesma, the underlying lawsuit was brought by a minor who sought damages for molestation committed by an employee of a general contractor (“L&M”) while the employee was working on a long-term construction project at the minor’s school.  In response to this underlying suit and the tendering of the action by L&M to its carrier, Liberty Surplus Insurance Corporation and Liberty Insurance Underwriters (“Liberty”), Liberty filed a declaratory relief action seeking to adjudicate that they had no duty to provide coverage under a general liability policy.

The certified question presented to the Supreme Court by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was when a third party sues an employer for negligent hiring, retention and supervision of an employee who intentionally injured that third party, does the suit allege an “occurrence” under the employer’s general liability policy?  The Supreme Court responded that the answer turns on whether the injury can be considered “accidental” and concluded “it can.”

In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the act of L&M in hiring the employee who later turned out to be the molester was intentional and that the employee’s molestation of the student was also intentional; however, held that because L&M did not “expect” its employee to molest a student, an accident transpired as required by the definition of “occurrence” in the Liberty policy.  The Court emphasized that the issue of whether an act constituted an accident for purpose of coverage MUST be viewed from the standpoint of the insured.  Explaining their decision, the Court stated that because the molester’s acts were unanticipated from L&M’s perspective, they were accidents in the context of providing insurance.  The allegedly negligent hiring, retention and supervision were independently tortious acts according to the Supreme Court, which form the basis of their claim against Liberty for defense and indemnification.  Further, the Court stated that the molester’s intentional conduct did not preclude potential coverage for L&M.

While the Supreme Court effectively wiped out a line of California Court of Appeal decisions which held that the unexpected consequences of an intentional act are not an accident, the Court pointed out that if the determination was justified in that if the insurer’s argument regarding the definition of occurrence and accident were accepted, it would leave employers without coverage for claims of negligent hiring, retention or supervision whenever the employee’s conduct is deliberate.  Such a result, the Court opined, would be inconsistent with California law, which recognizes the cause of action even when the employee acted intentionally.

It is expected that the opinion will lead to an increase in claims to insurers from employers facing negligent hiring claims.  It may also lead to an increase in litigation of coverage for liability claims based on intentional acts that result in allegedly unexpected injury, which would previously have been denied on the basis that the unexpected consequences of an intentional act are not an accident and therefore, not an occurrence under personal injury liability coverage.

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

To Shoot or Not to Shoot – The Ninth Circuit Says That Is The Question (for the jury)

Posted on: July 6th, 2018

By: Owen Rooney

On June 25, 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in Estate of Lopez v. Gelhaus, arising out of the shooting in Sonoma County, California of a 13 year old who was holding a toy AK-47 gun.

In the mid-afternoon of October 22, 2013 two deputies for Sonoma County were on patrol in a high crime area with known gang activity.  No active crime was reported. They observed the child walking at a normal speed on the sidewalk with the “gun” pointed down. The deputies disagreed whether the child was holding the gun in his left or right hand.   One deputy chirped the siren briefly and activated the lights.  The deputies also disagreed whether the child looked over his shoulder in response to the chirp of the siren. After stopping, one deputy yelled “drop the gun” from a distance of approximately 65 feet.  The child did not drop the gun and rotated his body clockwise. As the child turned, one deputy saw the gun come around and shot and killed the child without issuing any additional warnings.  The orange tip on the toy gun that is required by federal law had been removed.

The child’s estate filed suit against Sonoma County and the deputy who shot the child for excessive force.  The deputy asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit based on qualified immunity.

The District Court denied defendants’ Motion and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.  The case primarily turned on the number of times that the deputies had shouted for the child to put down his “weapon” and to what extent Andy had pointed the gun at the deputies.  The Court of Appeal noted that one of the deputy’s perspective would be different depending on whether the child had turned to his right or left, a factual dispute that could not be resolved on appeal.  Of note, the District Court only concluded that the gun barrel “was beginning to rise” from its position of having been pointed straight down; thus, the Court opined it was unknown if this posed an imminent threat to the deputies.

As the dissent pointed out, the precise angle that the gun was pointed is “not material” to the qualified immunity analysis because an officer need not delay firing if a person reasonably suspected of being armed makes a furtive movement, harrowing gesture, or serious verbal threat.  The dissent further noted that the District Court seemed to create a spectrum as to how far a suspect can raise their weapon before an officer can use lethal force.

The Ninth Circuit  has a long history of being reversed by the Supreme Court so there are some observers who are surprised that this decision was left intact.  The next procedural step is a trial and one can surmise that additional appeals will follow the end of any jury trial in this case.

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