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FMG Law Blog Line

Archive for October, 2018

As #MeToo Movement Takes Off, EEOC Sexual Harassment Claims Jump

Posted on: October 11th, 2018

By: Barry Brownstein

Since October 2017, when the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke and the #MeToo movement took off, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed 50 percent more sexual harassment lawsuits than it did the previous year and has seen a spike in the number of sexual harassment claims it has received. The EEOC filed 66 harassment lawsuits in fiscal 2018 of which 41 contained allegations of sexual harassment.  In addition, the EEOC recovered about $70 million for sexual harassment victims in fiscal 2018, compared with approximately $47 million it recovered in fiscal 2017.

According to the agency’s data, besides its own stepped up enforcement efforts, workers have also increasingly turned to the EEOC over the past year to report allegations of sexual harassment.  The number of charges filed by individuals alleging they were victims of workplace sexual harassment increased by 12 percent in fiscal 2018 from the prior year. The EEOC fielded 6,696 sexual harassment charges in fiscal 2017. A 12 percent increase of that figure indicates the agency fielded about 7,500 sexual harassment charges in the most recent fiscal year. That increase is the first time this decade the number of sexual harassment charges received by the EEOC has gone up from one fiscal year to the next.

Acting EEOC Chair Victoria Lipnic has ardently communicated the message that the EEOC has continued to lead the way to achieve the goal of reducing the level of harassment and promoting harassment-free workplaces. Consistent with that theme, the EEOC has also issued a report highlighting the various measures it took over the past 12 months to fight all forms of workplace harassment.  Such efforts include more than 1,000 outreach events, the development of “respectful workplaces” training seminars, and the creation of an internal “harassment prevention action team” to coordinate the agency’s anti-harassment efforts.

With sexual harassment claims soaring, employers should review their current training program, update it so it is consistent with the EEOC’s “respectful workplaces” training, and ensure all employees are provided with such training.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Barry Brownstein 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].

Ninth Circuit Compounds ATDS Confusion in TCPA, Causing FCC to Seek Further Comment

Posted on: October 8th, 2018

By: Matt Foree

As we previously discussed in the ACA International decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit recently rejected the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC”) guidance concerning the definition of automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS), one of the key components of liability in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”).  Among other things, the TCPA prohibits using an ATDS to make calls to a cellular telephone without consent.  Since the D.C. Circuit’s ruling, courts have wrestled with the analysis of what qualifies as an ATDS, which has created a patchwork of decisions.  Some courts determined that the FCC’s pre-2015 guidance on the topic is no longer relevant.  Other courts have relied on that previous FCC guidance in their rulings.

On September 20, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit added to the confusion.  In the Marks v. Crunch San DiegoLLC case, the court analyzed a device called the Textmunication system, which is a web-based marketing platform used to send promotional text messages to a list of stored telephone numbers.  In analyzing whether the device was an ATDS, the court determined that the FCC’s pre-2015 guidance on the definition of an ATDS were no longer binding. Therefore, it determined that only the statutory definition of ATDS remains, such that it analyzed the device at issue under the definition in the TCPA. The statute provides that an ATDS is “equipment which has the capacity—(A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.”

The court struggled with the statutory language, finding that it is ambiguous on its face, such that it turned to other aids in interpreting it. Among other things, the court looked at the “context and structure of the statutory scheme.”  In doing so, it determined that, although Congress focused on regulating the use of equipment that dialed blocks of sequential or randomly generated numbers, the statutory language extended to equipment that made automatic calls from lists of recipients.  Therefore, reading the ATDS definition in context and with a view to its “place in the overall statutory scheme,” the Ninth Circuit concluded that the “statutory definition of ATDS is not limited to devices with the capacity to call numbers produced by a ‘random or sequential number generator,’ but also includes devices with the capacity to dial stored numbers automatically.”  Accordingly, the court read the statute to provide that ATDS means “equipment which has the capacity—(1) to store numbers to be called or (2) to produce numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator—and to dial such numbers.”

In May of this year, the FCC had previously sought comment on the contours of the ATDS definition in light of the ACA International decision.  Significantly, on October 3, 2018, after the Marks ruling, the FCC requested further comment on interpretation of ATDS in light of the Marks decision. Specifically, the FCC sought further comment on how to interpret and apply the statutory definition of ATDS in light of the Marks decision, as well as how that decision might impact the analysis of the ACA International case.  Comments are due October 17, 2018, with reply comments due on October 24, 2018.

If you have any questions regarding the current status of ATDS analysis, the Marks decision, or the FCC’s request for further comment, please contact Matt Foree at [email protected].

 

Employment Arbitration Agreements are Still Alive in California, At Least For Now

Posted on: October 4th, 2018

By: Rebecca Smith

As Freeman Mathis & Gary brought out in its August 24, 2018 Blog by attorney Dave Daniels, the California Senate had voted to approve Assembly Bill 3080 (“AB 3080”) intended to combat the use of mandatory arbitration agreements and confidentiality clauses to prevent the public disclosure of workplace sexual harassment.  September 30, 2018 was the last day for Governor Brown to sign or veto legislation passed by the California Legislature this year.  Included in the last day of vetoes, Governor Brown vetoed AB 3080.

AB 3080 sought to amend the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Labor Code making it an unlawful employment practice to require an applicant, employee or independent contractor to agree to arbitrate claims arising under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and Labor Code.  AB 3080 would also have added Section 432.4 to the Labor Code, which would have barred any person from prohibiting an applicant, employee, or independent contractor, “as a condition of employment, continued employment, the receipt of any employment-related benefit, or as a condition of entering into a contractual agreement,” from “disclosing to any person an instance of sexual harassment that the employee or independent contractor suffers, witnesses, or discovers in the workplace or in the performance of the contract.”

In returning the bill unsigned, Governor Brown pointed to several recent court decisions that invalidated state policies which unduly impede arbitration.  “The direction from the Supreme Court,” Governor Brown indicated “has been clear – States must follow the Federal Arbitration Act and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Act.”  “Since this bill plainly violates federal law,” Governor Brown indicated in this statement, “I cannot sign this measure.”

So, at least for the time being, California Employers are still able to use arbitration agreements as long as they are drafted with care.  Employers should review all arbitration agreements and practices to ensure that the agreements they are using will withstand challenge, or to update their agreement to comply with recent authorities addressing arbitration agreements.  Additionally, this will, in all likelihood not be the last challenge which will be made to arbitrations in the employment context in California as bills similar to AB3080 have previously been introduced and undoubtedly will be introduced again in the future.

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