August and September 2019 employment law decisions
Retaliation claim can be proved with evidence concerning a comparator who need only be similarly situated to the plaintiff employee in all relevant respects.
September 26, 2019, First District Court of Appeal, Rashmi Gupta v. Trustees of the California State University: The court of appeal affirmed a jury verdict finding San Francisco State University retaliated against Dr. Gupta in denying her tenure and terminating her employment. The trial court did not err by allowing Dr. Gupta to present evidence of a comparator professor because the other professor was similarly situated in all relevant respects and Dr. Gupta did not have to show that she was clearly superior to him.
Premium wages required for on-duty meal periods unless there is written agreement to such meal periods.
September 26, 2019, Second District Court of Appeal, Gustavo Naranjo v. Spectrum Security Services, Inc.: The court of appeal determined that at-will, on-call, hourly, nonexempt employees who are paid for on-duty meal periods are also entitled to premium wages (one hour of wages for each off-duty meal period not provided) if the employer does not have a written agreement that includes an on-duty meal period revocation clause.
Employees entitled to penalties and attorney’s fees in whistleblower retaliation case.
September 25, 2019, Second District Court of Appeal, Todd Hawkins v. City of Los Angeles: A jury found in favor of Mr. Hawkins and his co-plaintiff Hyung Kim who claimed retaliation for whistleblowing. The court of appeal affirmed the jury verdict and the trial court’s award of a Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) penalty because the plaintiffs’ pre-lawsuit notice referred to their employer’s conduct directed toward them and other employees that also impacted the public. The court of appeal also affirmed the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees under PAGA, and under a law concerning enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest (Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5) because the case concerned claims that the plaintiffs were retaliated against for reporting pressure on hearing examiners to change decisions concerning parking citations.
Common law failure to hire claim is not available.
September 24, 2019, Third District Court of Appeal, Wilfert Williams v. Sacramento River Cats Baseball Club, LLC: The court of appeal determined that Mr. Williams’s failure to hire claim is not cognizable under a common law doctrine (Tameny claim) because the doctrine requires the prior existence of an employment relationship that gives rise to an employer’s duty to not violate fundamental public policy with respect to its employees.
Employee’s whistleblower case survives anti-SLAPP motion.
August 29, 2019, Second District Court of Appeal, James Jeffra v. California State Lottery: The court of appeal disagreed with the trial court’s denial of an anti-SLAPP motion on grounds Mr. Jeffra’s whistleblower case arises from non-protected retaliation. The Second District applied a recent California Supreme Court decision that whether a case arises from protected activity depends on the elements of the claim that need to be proven. In this retaliation case, Mr. Jeffra had to prove he was subjected to an adverse employment action, which he claimed was an investigation of alleged wrongdoing (followed by administrative leave and forced retirement). Nevertheless, the court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion because Mr. Jeffra presented sufficient evidence to establish a probability of prevailing on the merits.
Whether morbid obesity is a disability under federal law in the absence of an underlying physiological condition is an open question.
August 20, 2019, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Jose Valtierra v. Medtronic Inc.: After acknowledging that four other circuits have concluded that morbid obesity is not a disability unless caused by an underlying physiological condition, the Ninth Circuit did not take a stand on that issue. Instead it affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Mr. Valtierra’s federal disability discrimination case on grounds he did not have evidence to suggest a causal connection between his obesity and his termination.
The causation standard for federal disability discrimination claims is “but for.”
August 20, 2019, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Michael J. Murray, M.D. v. Mayo Clinic: In light of two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s jury instruction for Mr. Murray’s federal disability discrimination claim that used a but for causation standard as opposed to a motivating factor standard.
Unfair Competition Law claims seeking private injunctive relief are subject to arbitration agreements.
August 14, 2019, Fourth District Court of Appeal, Daniel Clifford v. Quest Software Inc.: Mr. Clifford brought various wage and hour claims against his employer. Quest Software moved to compel arbitration. The trial court ordered the case to arbitration except Mr. Clifford’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) claim. The court of appeal reversed after finding that a California Supreme Court decision did not bar arbitration of a UCL claim for private (as opposed to public) injunctive relief.
The change in law for awards of attorney’s fees and costs to employers in Fair Employment and Housing Act cases applies retroactively.
August 1, 2019, Fourth District Court of Appeal, Arthur Scott v. City of San Diego: Mr. Scott rejected a $7,000 settlement offer under Code of Civil Procedure section 998. After the case went to trial and a jury found in favor of San Diego, the trial court awarded the city $51,946.96 in costs even though it found that the plaintiff’s case was not frivolous. While the appeal was pending, the California Legislature amended the governing costs statute to provide that a prevailing defendant may not recover attorney’s fees and costs, notwithstanding a section 998 offer, against a plaintiff with non-frivolous claims. The court of appeal decided that this amendment clarified existing law, meaning that the change in law applies retroactively. On this basis, it reversed the trial court’s award of costs.