June and July 2020 employment law decisions
Receipt of government funds conditioned on compliance with the law does not make a private employer a state actor for purposes of constitutional claims.
July 20, 2020, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, John M. Heineke v. Santa Clara University: Mr. Heineke sued Santa Clara University for violations of the Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection rights after it terminated him for sexually harassing a former student. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the constitutional claims on grounds the university is not a state actor: the university’s receipt of government funds conditioned on compliance with generally applicable laws was insufficient to transform a private university into a state actor.
Business is subject to liability for wage and hour violations despite lending its signatory status in a work contract to a third party.
July 14, 2020, Second District Court of Appeal, Alyosha Mattei v. Corporate Management Solutions, Inc.: Mr. Mattei and three co-workers sued Corporate Management Solutions, Inc. (CMS) for wage and hour violations while working on a television commercial. The trial court dismissed the case on grounds CMS was not the employer of the four plaintiffs. The appellate court reversed. It pointed to the fact that CMS was a signatory to a Commercial Production Agreement that governed the television commercial, the language of which did not show that CMS’s lending of its signatory status to a third party relieved CMS of its liability for wage and hour violations. In addition, CMS’s contract with the third party provided that CMS was obligated to ensure timely payment of wages.
Individual sentenced to perform work duties without pay in lieu of incarceration cannot sue the county for employment discrimination.
July 10, 2020, Fifth District Court of Appeal, Ronald Talley v. County of Fresno: Mr. Talley served a criminal sentence by participation in an Adult Offender Work Program. After getting injured while working in this program, Mr. Talley sued Fresno County for, among other things, disability-related claims under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The trial court dismissed the case (summary judgment) after finding that Mr. Talley could not be an employee under the FEHA. The court of appeal reviewed federal and state court precedent and concluded that compensation is a threshold test for determining whether an employment relationship exists. It concluded that the benefit Mr. Talley received for participating in the program, staying out of jail, did not constitute compensation to him an employee because it was not financially significant or quantifiable.
Catholic school teachers cannot sue for employment discrimination.
July 8, 2020, U.S. Supreme Court, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru: Two elementary school teachers at Catholic schools brought discrimination claims against their employer. The Supreme Court concluded that the claims were barred by the “ministerial exception” to federal laws governing the employment relationship between a religious institution and certain employees. The court pointed to the teachers’ performance of vital religious duties including educating students in the Catholic faith and participating in religious activities with students. Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg dissented on grounds that the teachers taught primarily secular subjects, lacked substantial religious titles and training, and were not required to be Catholic.
Supervisors looking at a clock during meal or rest breaks not sufficient to show a violation of break laws.
June 30, 2020, First District Court of Appeal, Joana David v. Queen of the Valley Medical Center: Ms. David filed an action against her employer contending she was denied meal and rest periods. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of those claims (summary judgment). Ms. David’s evidence that her supervisors looked at the clock while she was on breaks did not create a dispute of fact: there is a lack of precedent that this constitutes coercion or pressure to undermine a formal policy of providing breaks; and Ms. David testified in deposition that she did not recall missing a meal period, a supervisor interrupting a meal period with work-related questions, or being told to end meal or rest breaks early.