April and May 2020 employment law decisions
No attorney’s fees available for meal and rest break cases.
May 21, 2020, Second District Court of Appeal, Raquel Betancourt v. OS Restaurant Services, LLC: The trial court awarded Ms. Betancourt over $280,000 in attorney fees for meal and rest break violations. The court of appeal reviewed the attorney’s fees statute for actions based on nonpayment of wages and prior decisions that meal and rest break violations are not actions for nonpayment of wages. The appellate court rejected Ms. Betancourt’s contention that the case was based on a failure to pay earned wages because the claims asserted were the meal and rest violations and wage statement and waiting time penalties.
Time to present a claim under the Government Claims Act is not subject to equitable tolling or continuing violation doctrine.
May 12, 2020, Fourth District Court of Appeal, James Willis v. City of Carlsbad: The trial court struck certain actions taken by the City of Carlsbad from Mr. Willis’s complaint on grounds they were outside of the six-month period prior to Mr. Willis presenting a claim under the Government Claims Act. Mr. Willis contended that the actions should have remained in his case. The court of appeal rejected Mr. Willis’s “equitable tolling” argument because the time to file a Government Claims Act is not a statute of limitations subject to equitable tolling. The appellate court also determined that the continuing violation doctrine did not apply because Mr. Willis was on notice more than six months before he presented his Government Claims Act claim that any further efforts to end the alleged unlawful conduct would be futile in light of the City of Carlsbad’s denials of transfer and promotion.
Wrongful termination claim arising from termination for refusing an extortion attempt based on fraud.
May 6, 2020, First District Court of Appeal, John Galeotti v. International Union of Operating Engineers Local No. 3: The trial court dismissed Mr. Galeotti’s wrongful termination claim (demurrer). The court of appeal reversed after deciding that Mr. Galeotti’s allegations that his employer fired him for not succumbing to an extortion attempt (threat of termination if he did not make a $1,000 contribution to a political campaign) sufficiently describes an alleged violation of public policy (extortion laws). The appellate court also determined that Mr. Galeotti’s allegations that his employer terminated him after mispresenting that the contribution would be used for an election campaign (when it was used for personal use) implicates the public policy against defrauding a person of money.
Punitive damages award affirmed but reduced.
April 29, 2020, Fourth District Court of Appeal, Stephen Colucci v. T-Mobile USA, Inc.: A jury awarded Mr. Colucci $5 million in damages in this workplace retaliation case, including $4 million for punitive damages. The court of appeal determined that there was evidence supporting the jury’s finding that a managing agent of T-Mobile—meaning someone who exercised substantial discretionary authority over decisions that determine corporate policy—engaged in oppression or malice. The appellate court pointed to a district manager responsible for managing nine retail stores and 100 employees who had independent authority to hire or fire employees and over daily store operations. The Fourth District determined that the jury could reasonably infer from the evidence that the district manager became angered by Mr. Colucci’s complaints and decided to concoct a reason for termination knowing that Mr. Colucci was in a weak physical and mental state. Finally, the court of appeal determined that T-Mobile’s conduct warranted imposition of punitive damages but the reprehensibility of conduct was in the low to moderate range of wrongdoing. Therefore, it decided that a punitive damages award equal to 1.5 times that of the compensatory damages aware of $1,020,042 was appropriate.