Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The Department filed suit against M&N, alleging numerous causes of action stemming from defendants' operation of a business that purchased retail installment sales contracts from used car dealerships where defendants used a formula that considered the gender of the car purchaser in deciding how much to pay for the contracts. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the Department on the first and second causes of action, which alleged violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civ. Code, 51) and Civil Code section 51.5, and assessed over $6 million in statutory damages pursuant to Civil Code section 52, subdivision (a). The trial court dismissed the fifth, sixth, and seventh causes of action, which alleged violations of Government Code section 12940, subdivisions (i) and (k) of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in dismissing the fifth cause of action and otherwise affirmed the trial court's judgment. In the fifth cause of action, the Department alleged that M&N "knowingly compelled and coerced its employees to engage in practices that violated" FEHA and Civil Code sections 51 and 51.5, in violation of section 12940, subdivision (i). The court held that employees who are coerced by their employer to violate Civil Code sections 51 and 51.5 are "aggrieved" within the meaning of section 12965, subdivision (a) and have standing to sue their employer pursuant to section 12940, subdivision (i). Therefore, the employees of M&N who were coerced by M&N into violating Civil Code sections 51 and 51.5 could be individually liable for sex discrimination. The court explained that these employees would necessarily be "aggrieved" by their employer's unlawful employment practice as their personal interests would be affected by their employer's misconduct. Therefore, the Department was authorized to file a civil action on behalf of these employees and the trial court erred by dismissing the fifth cause of action. View "Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. M&N Financing Corp." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's orders denying NBA Automotive's motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and for a new trial in an action brought by plaintiff alleging wrongful termination and various causes of action under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). NBA Automotive argues that plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies under FEHA because her administrative complaint incorrectly identified Hooman Enterprises, rather than NBA Automotive, as the corporation doing business as Hooman Chevrolet of Culver City.The court concluded that plaintiff's administrative complaint sufficiently identified her employer and she exhausted her administrative remedies within the statutory limitations period. In this case, plaintiff complied with the requirements of Government Code section 12960, former subdivision (b); she provided a detailed description of her employer, the names of the individuals who engaged in the allegedly discriminatory practices, and a narrative of multiple instances of wrongful conduct spanning 15 years; she also named the supervisors and managers employed by NBA Automotive who took the adverse employment actions against her; the administrative complaint also gave NBA Automotive sufficient notice that she was naming it in her administrative complaint and would name it in her subsequent civil action, both of which, as well as the right-to-sue letter, NBA Automotive does not dispute it received; and NBA Automotive does not contend that plaintiff's failure to state its correct legal name in her original administrative complaint prejudiced its defense in any way. View "Guzman v. NBA Automotive, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Sharon Curcio, formerly a teacher with the Fontana Unified School District (the district), learned her personnel file included derogatory statements about her. When the district refused to allow Curcio to obtain or review those statements, she sought assistance from her union, the Fontana Teachers Association (FTA), and from the California Teachers Association (CTA). When the union didn't help, Curcio initiated proceedings before the Public Employees Relations Board (the board), claiming FTA and CTA breached their duties of fair representation and engaged in unfair practices in violation of the Educational Employment Relations Act (the Act). When the board decided not to issue a complaint, Curcio filed this lawsuit and appealed when the superior court sustained FTA and CTA’s demurrer, without leave to amend, to Curcio’s second amended petition for writ of mandate. The demurrer was grounded on FTA and CTA’s claims that the board had the exclusive jurisdiction to decide whether Curcio had or had not stated an unfair practice and, therefore, the superior court lacked jurisdiction. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Curcio v. Fontana Teachers Assn. CTA/NEA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Santiago Medina appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of his putative joint employer, defendant Equilon Enterprises, LLC (Shell), which was a Shell Oil Company subsidiary doing business as Shell Oil Products US. Shell owned gas stations and operated them through contracts with separate companies called MSO operators, one of which employed plaintiff as a gas station cashier and manager. Plaintiff sued the MSO operator and Shell, alleging violations of the California Labor Code, arguing that Shell was his joint employer, based upon Shell’s strict control over the operations of its gas stations. Relying on two prior published decisions of sister courts of appeal involving similar claims, Shell moved for summary judgment, arguing Shell was not plaintiff’s employer as a matter of law. The trial court concluded it was bound by these prior decisions and granted the motion. The Court of Appeal reversed, however, finding that the facts presented by plaintiff in this case, particularly with respect to the degree of Shell’s control over the MSO operators and gas station employees like plaintiff, differed meaningfully from the facts set forth in the two prior opinions. "In addition to these factual distinctions, we also disagree with the analysis of our sister courts on the application of the relevant tests for joint employer status to Shell’s operation. We conclude the undisputed facts presented in Shell’s motion show Shell both indirectly controlled plaintiff’s wages and working conditions and suffered or permitted plaintiff to work at Shell’s stations, either of which is enough to make Shell plaintiff’s joint employer." View "Medina v. Equilon Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the University, alleging a claim for retaliation, as well as age and gender discrimination. The trial court granted the University's motion for summary judgment but erroneously excluded evidence that a University employee rejected a job candidate because she "wanted someone younger."The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for the University and concluded that the trial court erroneously excluded evidence. The court stated that Reid v. Google, Inc., (2010) 50 Cal.4th 512, 535–545, explained that such remarks can be relevant in age discrimination suits. The court examined the record as a whole to see if the previous comment changes the propriety of summary judgment under governing law. Applying the three-part burden-shifting Bechtel test, the court concluded that summary judgment was inappropriate in this case where three factors show that the remark changed the pretext analysis: first, the remark evidence is relatively strong; second, the dean created a pay differential between male and female Associate Deans hired concurrently; and sources unrelated to plaintiff criticized the Dean's management. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Jorgensen v. Loyola Marymount University" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that trial courts have inherent authority to ensure that Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) claims will be manageable at trial, and to strike such claims if they cannot be managed. In this case, plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, Staples, alleging a representative claim under PAGA on behalf of himself and 345 other current and former Staples General Managers (GMs) in California. Plaintiff sought almost $36 million in civil penalties for alleged Labor Code violations, all premised on the theory that Staples had misclassified its GMs as exempt executives.In the published portion of the opinion, the court drew on established principles of the trial courts' inherent authority to manage litigation, including ensuring the manageability of representative claims, and concluded that: (1) trial courts have inherent authority to ensure that PAGA claims can be fairly and efficiently tried and, if necessary, may strike claims that cannot be rendered manageable; (2) as a matter of due process, defendants are entitled to a fair opportunity to litigate available affirmative defenses, and a trial court's manageability assessment should account for them; and (3) given the state of the record and plaintiff's lack of cooperation with the trial court's manageability inquiry, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in striking his PAGA claim as unmanageable. View "Wesson v. Staples the Office Superstore, LLC" on Justia Law

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For 28 years, the employees managed the Kazalis's motel. They were paid salaries and annual bonuses. In 2017, the Kazalis terminated the employees and paid their salaries, but not the 2017 bonuses, despite conceding that they were owed. The employees filed suit. The Kazalis made a Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offer to pay $300,000 in “settlement of all claims ... costs, expenses, attorneys’ fees, interest, and any other damages.“ After that offer expired, the Kazalis sent Wasito and Soenjoto checks for $75,876.90 for the 2017 bonuses including interest and penalties. The employees accepted the checks.The case proceeded to trial. A jury ruled in favor of the employees and awarded about $1200. The Kazalis sought post-offer costs under section 998 because the employees failed to obtain a better result at trial. The court found section 988's cost-shifting provisions violated Labor Code 206.5 by withholding undisputed compensation while attempting to settle all claims. The court awarded costs plus $66,700 in attorney fees, finding that the employees were the “prevailing party” (Lab. Code, 218.5) because they “were paid substantially more . . . after filing the case.” The court of appeal affirmed. The cost-shifting provision of section 998 did not apply. Labor Code sections 206 and 206.5 preclude a section 998 offer that resolves disputed wage claims if there are undisputed wages due at the time of the offer. View "Wasito v. Kazali" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants Will Taylor, Ken Gorman and Nicholas Wayman, individuals who formerly conducted bail fugitive recovery, appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant-respondent Financial Casualty & Surety, Inc (FCS), a surety admitted to write bail in California. Plaintiffs sued FCS and other bail-agent entities and individuals for, among other things, fraud, various Labor Code violations, as well as statutory damages under the Labor Code, conversion, unfair competition, discrimination and wrongful termination, alleging in part that FCS was a co-employer with the right to control the manner in which they performed their assignments. FCS moved for summary judgment on grounds plaintiffs were not FCS employees as a matter of law, disposing of their claims based on the Labor Code as well as for fraud and conversion, which related to misrepresentations of their employment status or withholding final paychecks. The trial court granted the motion, in part ruling FCS did not employ plaintiffs for purposes of causes of action based on the Labor Code or dependent on an employment relationship; plaintiffs’ claims for fraud and conversion were barred by the “new right-exclusive remedy doctrine”; and plaintiffs could not make out a claim for unfair competition on their allegations that FCS violated the law. Plaintiffs contend the trial court erred by its ruling. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Taylor v. Financial Casualty & Surety" on Justia Law

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Burlington appealed the trial court's order granting in part and denying in part its special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 (the antiSLAPP statute). A former employee had filed a putative class action complaint alleging that Burlington forces its employees to pay for business losses incurred for common on-the-job mistakes by misusing California's shoplifting statute. In a prior opinion, the court reversed the lower court's determination that Burlington's conduct amounted to extortion as a matter of law and was therefore unprotected by the anti-SLAPP statute. On remand, the trial court sustained Burlington's motion to strike two of the four causes of action in the complaint, and denied the motion with respect to the other two causes of action.In the published portion of the opinion, the court concluded that the employee's pleadings, declaration, and accompanying evidence support her Labor Code section 2802 claim that she personally incurred a necessary loss in direct consequence of the discharge of her duties or obedience to the directions of her employer. Therefore, plaintiff has stated a legally sufficient claim and made a prima facie factual showing sufficient to survive Burlington's special motion to strike. The court affirmed the order in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Gallano v. Burlington Coat Factory of California, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer, AmeriHome, in a putative class action lawsuit for unpaid overtime compensation and unlawful business practices. The superior court granted AmeriHome's motion to compel arbitration, ordered arbitration of plaintiff's individual claims, and dismissed the class claims.In light of the uncertainty of the Court of Appeal's jurisdiction to consider plaintiff's appeal from the order compelling arbitration and the absence of any delay or prejudice our intervention at this stage would cause, the court found this an appropriate case in which to exercise its discretion to treat the appeal from that order as a petition for writ of mandate. The court denied the petition on the merits, concluding that Labor Code section 229 does not exempt plaintiff's wage claim from arbitration. In this case, neither the choice-of-law provision nor the arbitration agreement contains "unambiguous language" making it "unmistakably clear" that the parties intended to incorporate section 229 while agreeing to arbitrate "any dispute or controversy arising out of or relating to" plaintiff's employment at AmeriHome.The court also concluded that the superior court properly exercised its discretion under Code of Civil Procedure 1281.2 to order arbitration of plaintiff's individual claims. The court explained that the superior court reasonably concluded the conditions for invoking the third-party litigation exception did not exist because plaintiff's lawsuit did not arise out of the same transaction as the Brooks action, and there was no likelihood of conflicting rulings on a common issue of law or fact. Furthermore, even when the third-party litigation exception applies, the superior court has discretion to "order arbitration among the parties who have agreed to arbitration." Therefore, the court affirmed the order dismissing the putative class claims, dismissed the order compelling arbitration, and denied the petition for writ of mandate. View "Nixon v. AmeriHome Mortgage Co., LLC" on Justia Law