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Posts Tagged ‘Florida’

EEOC Settlement With Florida Hotel Is A Reminder To Be Careful In Implementing A Mass Termination Program

Posted on: August 1st, 2018

By: Jeremy Rogers

Recently, the EEOC announced a settlement in a lawsuit brought against SLS Hotel in South Beach.  The lawsuit, filed in 2017, followed an investigation into charges made by multiple Haitian former employees who had been terminated in April 2014. They worked as dishwashers in three separate restaurants located in the SLS Hotel.  They alleged that they had been wrongfully terminated in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act on the basis of race, color, and/or national origin. All told, there were 23 dishwashers fired on the same day in 2014, all but 2 of which were Haitian.  On the date of termination, each terminated employee was called into a meeting with the HR department and fired.  When fired, they allege, they were told that they must sign a separation and final release in order to receive their final paychecks.  Prior to termination, they claim that they had been subjected to considerable forms of harassment including verbal abuse (they assert they were called “slaves”), being reprimanded for speaking Creole among themselves while Latinos were allowed to speak Spanish, and being assigned more difficult tasks than non-Haitian employees.

What makes this case interesting is that SLS had re-staffed these positions using a third-party staffing company. The new staff supplied by the staffing company were primarily light-skinned Latinos.The new staff also included at least one employee who had been terminated by SLS, but that individual was also Latino.  Articles about this case from when it was filed,  show that the EEOC took the position that SLS was attempting to hide their discrimination behind the use of the staffing company. SLS, for their part, asserted that they had made the decision to change to the use of a staffing company 2 years before the mass termination. Despite this, the district director emphasized once again, when the EEOC announced the settlement, that the EEOC will not allow companies to hide behind business relationships to engage in discriminatory practices.  This was, according to the EEOC, just such a case.

So how egregious did the EEOC believe this case to be?  They accepted settlement on behalf of 17 workers for the sum of $2.5 million, which works out to just over $147,000.00 per employee if split equally.

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

Insuring Against Rule 68 Offers of Settlement

Posted on: June 28th, 2018

By: Matt Grattan

One tool defense lawyers in Georgia frequently use to induce settlements is an offer of settlement under O.C.G.A. 9-11-68.   Rule 68 allows either party to a tort action to serve a written offer to settle the claim, so long as the offer is made within a certain time and satisfies several other elements under the statute.  If a Rule 68 offer is properly made by a defendant and rejected, that code section allows a defendant to recover its post-rejection attorney’s fees and expenses from a plaintiff in the event the plaintiff does not recover at least 75% of the offered amount at trial.

It is easy to see how the fee-shifting provision in Rule 68 can provide defense attorneys with leverage during settlement negotiations.  Simply put, it forces plaintiffs to put some skin in the game.  Because paying the defendant’s attorney’s fees and costs can significantly reduce or even eliminate a plaintiffs’ award at trial (and in turn a plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees), plaintiffs may be more inclined to settle rather than face such risks at trial.

The fee-shifting benefit from Rule 68, however, could potentially be diminished by companies like LegalFeeGuard.   Established in Florida in 2012 to combat that state’s offer of settlement statute, LegalFeeGuard has recently started offering insurance policies in Georgia that cover attorney’s fees and costs under O.C.G.A. 9-11-68.  LegalFeeGuard offers no-deductible policies with limits as low as $10,000 and as high as $250,000.   Policies are triggered by a judgment in a bench trial or the return of a verdict in a jury trial, and are available to plaintiffs and defendants for a wide array of cases, including personal injury, breach of contract, and intentional torts.

What does the availability of fee-shifting insurance mean for defense lawyers and their clients?  LegalFeeGuard recently launched in Georgia (and the author is unaware of any other similar companies), so it is tough at this point to determine what kind of impact fee-shifting insurance will have on litigation in Georgia.  But this is certainly a development for lawyers to keep an eye on (particularly since LegalFeeGuard claims on its website to have sold over 1,000 policies in Florida) as such insurance may persuade more plaintiffs to roll the dice and take their case to trial knowing the downside risk of paying fees and costs is reduced, if not altogether eliminated.

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

Arbitration Agreement Litigation Wins Continue to Fall Like Dominoes for Pizza Hut

Posted on: June 26th, 2018

By: Tim Holdsworth

Following the Supreme Court’s opinion in Epic Systems that class and collective actions waivers in arbitration agreements are enforceable, a federal court recently granted a motion to compel arbitration to one of the nation’s largest Pizza Hut franchisees in a lawsuit in Illinois.

In Collins et al. v. NPC International Inc., case number 3:17-cv-00312, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, drivers from Illinois, Florida, and Missouri filed a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act asserting that their employer had failed to reimburse them for vehicle expenses. In May 2017, the judge stayed the franchisee’s motion to compel individual arbitration pending the Supreme Court’s ruling in Epic Systems. The franchisee renewed that motion after the Supreme Court’s ruling, and the judge granted it.

The drivers will now have to bring their claims individually against the franchisee in arbitration, likely saving the franchisee expenses and time.

Epic Systems gave credence to arbitration agreements containing class and collective action waivers, and employers using them continue to reap the benefits. If you have any questions about the issues above or want to learn more about implementing arbitration agreements, please contact me at [email protected], or any of Freeman, Mathis & Gary’s experienced labor and employment law attorneys.

Fourteen Seconds Plus Emergency Lights Equals Probable Cause To Arrest

Posted on: June 11th, 2018

By: Charles Reed

There is a saying that “nothing good ever happens after midnight.” Both City of Hollywood, Florida police officer Ronald Cannella and citizen Livingston Manners would become very familiar with this saying after the events of June 24, 2014. On that day, close to three in the morning, Officer Cannella patrolled a residential area of the city due to a series of recent thefts. Manners, a Hollywood resident, was sitting in his car on the side of the road before heading to work and, shortly after Cannella passed by him on patrol, Manners pulled out and made a turn. What happened after that is largely in dispute, but what is undisputed is that Cannella approached Manners’ vehicle with emergency equipment activated. Manners saw Cannella behind him with lights and siren activated and, instead of stopping his car, Manners drove another fourteen seconds – approximately one tenth of a mile – at a slow speed to reach a well-lit gas station where video surveillance was available. Manners testified that he did not immediately stop his vehicle because it was late at night in a very dark area and, as a large African-American male, he was in fear for his life. However, Manners’ actions captured by videotape thereafter appeared to contradict his purported fear as he argued with Cannella and actively grappled with Cannella as Cannella attempted to arrest him. It took five officers and two taser deployments over a period of three minutes to get Manners in handcuffs.

After Manners was acquitted of the criminal charges stemming from the incident, he sued Cannella and others. On the issue of probable cause, the Eleventh Circuit held in Manners v. Cannella, 2018 U.S. App. Lexis 15007 (June 4, 2018) that Cannella had probable cause to arrest Manners for fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer by driving “for three blocks, or one-tenth of a mile, or for 14.4 seconds after seeing Officer Cannella was behind him with the patrol car’s lights and sirens on.” Id. at *19. This probable cause was present even though Manners rolled down his windows and drove a slower rate of speed (25 miles per hour) before pulling over to the gas station. The Court analogized Manners’ conduct with previous Florida cases involving a ten mile-per-hour drive for five minutes and a one to two-mile drive after lights and sirens were present. Id. at 21-22. The Court shrugged off Manners’ concerns for his safety by filtering his flight through the doctrine of necessity under state law and further held “a generalized fear of police does not provide a legal basis to vitiate probable cause for the offense of flight.” Id. at 23-24.

The Eleventh Circuit’s analysis of this issue reflects the tension between the law and instructions sometimes provided to the general public when approached by law enforcement late at night. In some instances, especially where the citizen is approached by a person impersonating an officer, news reports will quote senior command staff recommending that citizens call 9-1-1 or travel to well-lit areas late at night if they are uncomfortable with emergency lights behind them.[1] On the other hand, should citizens follow these instructions, they risk arrest and prosecution for flight even if – as in this case – the duration of the travel is a tenth of a mile. For now, at least in the Eleventh Circuit, it appears that law enforcement officers may be justified in effecting an arrest in such situations and may not face civil liability for the exercise of their arrest powers.

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

[1] A snapshot of various news articles around the country concerning late night stops between citizens and law enforcement: Chicago Tribune, News4JAX, and South Miami.

A House of Cards: Stacking Inferences to Prove Liability

Posted on: May 10th, 2018

By: Melissa Santalone

A Florida appellate court recently reaffirmed Florida’s state law prohibition against stacking inferences in personal injury cases with a reversal of a $1.5 million verdict in a slip-and-fall case against Publix.  In Publix Super Markets, Inc. v. Bellaiche, 2018 Fla. App. LEXIS 4233 (March 28, 2018), the Third District Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s denial of a directed verdict to Publix at the trial of a case involving slip-and-fall accident at a Miami-Dade County store, holding that proof of liability via the stacking of inferences is impermissible, in contrast to federal case law.

The plaintiff in the case, a 70-year-old woman, alleged she slipped and fell on water in an aisle at a Publix store that she did not observe before the fall.  After she fell, she testified she saw a Publix employee holding a mop nearby, but no evidence was offered that the mop was wet or that water from the mop ever made contact with the ground.  The manager of the store testified the employees at the store used dry rayon mops to clean the floors, and not pre-soaked cotton ones.  Video evidence also showed the only janitor on duty at the time, the only employee whose duty it was to mop the floors, was using a broom and dust pan just prior to the plaintiff’s fall.  The Third DCA noted in its decision that the plaintiff had the burden to prove that Publix either created the dangerous condition that caused her fall or had actual or constructive knowledge of it, an opportunity to correct it, and it failed to do so.  At trial, the plaintiff acknowledged she was not proceeding on a constructive knowledge theory, but on the theory that Publix created the dangerous condition or had actual knowledge of the water on the floor via its employee with the mop.  The jury sided with the plaintiff at trial and awarded her more than $1.5 million, and the trial court denied Publix’s motion for a directed verdict.  In Bellaiche, the Third DCA reversed the lower court’s denial of the motion for directed verdict.  The Third DCA held that “[a] jury may not stack inferences to determine that a party had actual knowledge of a dangerous condition, nor is the mere possibility of causation sufficient to establish liability.  If the only way that a jury can find that a party was negligent is by stacking inferences, ‘then a directed verdict is warranted.’”

In other forums, however, the stacking or pyramiding of inferences is permissible, including in the courts of the Eleventh Circuit, the federal courts in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.  In Daniels v. Twin Oaks Nursing Home, 692 F.2d 1321 (1982), the Eleventh Circuit found that “[a]ccording to federal law there is no prohibition against pyramiding inferences; instead all inferences are permissible so long as they are reasonable.”  Moreover, in Daniels, the Eleventh Circuit further noted that a directed verdict is not required in instances where the jury may choose between allowable inferences including instances where the inference championed by the plaintiff is no more likely than other possible inferences.  The takeaway here is that litigants in personal injury cases must consider the inferences they or their opposition will ask a jury to draw and whether their chosen forum will allow the stacking of inferences to prove liability.  In some venues, like in Florida state courts, more concrete proof of liability is required.

If you have any questions or would like further information, please contact Melissa Santalone at [email protected].