Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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In the context of a demurrer by defendant Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London Subscribing To Policy Number 11EPL-20208, the trial court interpreted the term “wage and hour or overtime law(s)” to encompass all provisions of the Labor Code. Plaintiff owned and operated over 250 Pizza Hut and Wing Street restaurants. Defendant provided to plaintiff Southern California Pizza Company, LLC, an employment practices liability insurance policy, which covered certain losses arising from specified employment-related claims brought against plaintiff. The trial court sustained defendant’s demurrer, concluding all causes of action in the underlying employment lawsuit against plaintiff fell within the scope of the Policy exclusion. Using well-established insurance policy interpretation principles, the Court of Appeal found the wage and hour law language of the exclusion was more narrow in scope than stated by the trial court: it concerned laws regarding duration worked and/or remuneration received in exchange for work. Applying that interpretation, and taking into account the Policy’s general coverage, the Court concluded many of the disputed underlying lawsuit claims were potentially subject to coverage. Thus, the trial court erred in sustaining defendant’s demurrer. View "Southern Cal. Pizza Co., LLC v. Certain Underwriters, etc." on Justia Law

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Skelton sustained an ankle injury in 2012, and a shoulder injury in 2014, while working for the DMV. In the latter incident, she also claimed to have sustained an injury to her neck. Skelton filed separate workers’ compensation benefits applications. Skelton sought to be reimbursed for her wage loss for time missed at work for medical treatment and for medical evaluations (temporary disability indemnity (TDI)). Skelton’s work hours were not flexible, and she could not visit her doctors on weekends. She initially used her sick and vacation leave but eventually, her paycheck was reduced for missed time. She was then “forced to miss doctors’ appointments.” Skelton’s shoulder injury was found permanent and stationary in November 2017. Her ankle injury was not yet permanent and stationary at the time of the hearing. DMV contended that Skelton was not entitled to TDI because she had returned to work, citing Labor Code section 4600(e)(1). The Appeals Board affirmed that Skelton was not entitled to TDI for wage loss to attend medical treatment appointments following her return to work but was entitled to TDI for wage loss to attend medical-legal evaluations. The court of appeal affirmed. DMV’s obligation to pay temporary disability benefits is tied to Skelton’s actual incapacity to perform the tasks usually encountered in her employment and the resulting wage loss. View "Skelton v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against his employer, the California State Lottery, alleging retaliation in violation of the California Whistleblower Protection Act. The trial court denied the Lottery's anti-SLAPP motion to strike the complaint. The California Supreme Court subsequently decided Wilson v. Cable News Network, Inc. (2019) 7 Cal.5th 871 (Wilson), where the court disapproved of the precedent on which the trial court here relied, and held that retaliation claims arise from the adverse actions allegedly taken – here, the investigation – notwithstanding the plaintiff's allegation that the actions were taken for an improper purpose. The Court of Appeal affirmed and held, consistent with Wilson, that plaintiff's complaint arose from protected activity. The court also held that plaintiff established a probability of prevailing on the merits of his claim. View "Jeffra v. California State Lottery" on Justia Law

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Rodriguez, a Gulf War veteran, served as a Santa Cruz police officer. 1995-2007. He applied for industrial disability retirement in 2011 with the California Public Employee’s Retirement System based on his PTSD diagnosis that was caused in part by his work for the city. After litigation, the city granted Rodriguez disability retirement but denied his claim of industrial causation. He began receiving benefits in December 2016. Rodriguez requested a finding that his disability was industrial from the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board in April 2017. The Board concluded that Rodriguez’s disability was industrial, but that he was barred from receiving industrial disability retirement benefits because his claim for a finding of industrial causation was untimely under the five-year time limitation in Government Code section 21171. The court of appeal reversed. Section 21171 applies only to rescind, alter or amend an earlier industrial determination. Section 21174 applies to initial determinations and states that a retiree claiming an industrial disability that is disputed will not receive the additional benefits “unless the application for that determination is filed with the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board... within two years after the effective date of the member’s retirement.” If a claimant applies for a determination of industrial causation within two years of retirement but more than five years after the injury, the Board cannot modify its determination that an injury is industrial or not; nothing precludes the Board from making the initial determination of industrial causation. View "Rodriguez v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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In March 2018, employees of defendant Greystone Ridge Condominium, including plaintiff Victor Franco, were presented with and asked to sign an agreement requiring that each employee agree to submit to final and binding arbitration “[a]ny and all claims . . . relating to any aspect of . . . employment with Employer (pre-hire through post-termination).” About 10 days later, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants Greystone, C & A Services, John Stokke, and Maher A.A. Azer asserting employment-related claims. Two days after that, plaintiff signed the arbitration agreement and returned it to Greystone. Defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration of plaintiff’s claims which plaintiff opposed on the ground the arbitration agreement failed to expressly state that claims that had already accrued, including the claims asserted in plaintiff’s complaint, were subject to arbitration. The trial court agreed with plaintiff and denied the motion to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding the parties’ arbitration agreement was "clear, explicit, and unequivocal" with regard to the claims subject to it, and contained no qualifying language limiting its applicability to claims that had yet to accrue. On the contrary, the agreement’s reference to claims relating to “pre-hire” matters expressed an intent to cover all claims, regardless of when they accrued, that are not otherwise expressly excluded by the arbitration agreement. View "Franco v. Greystone Ridge Condominium" on Justia Law

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In 1995, Daniel Clifford began working for Quest Software Inc. (Quest). In 2012, Dell Inc. acquired Quest to form its software division, Dell Software Inc., which hired Clifford as an employee. In 2015, Clifford participated in Dell’s online “Code of Conduct” training course. According to Quest, when Clifford completed the training, he acknowledged that he read and agreed to the terms of Dell’s Arbitration Agreement and Dispute Resolution Program. In 2017, Clifford filed a complaint against Quest for: (1) failure to pay overtime; (2) failure to provide meal periods; (3) failure to provide rest periods; (4) failure to provide accurate wage statements; (5) failure to reimburse for business expenses; and (6) unfair business practices under Business and Professions Code section 17200. He based his complaint on his allegation Quest misclassified him as an exempt employee. Quest moved to compel arbitration of Clifford’s claims. The trial court found Quest had established the existence of a binding and enforceable arbitration agreement, and it compelled arbitration of Clifford’s first through fifth causes of action. However, it denied the motion on the sixth cause of action, his UCL claim, citing without discussion the California Supreme Court’s decision in Cruz v. PacifiCare Health Systems, Inc., 30 Cal.4th 303 (2003). The court stayed the prosecution of that cause of action pending the completion of the arbitration. Quest timely appealed. The question posed in this appeal was whether an employee’s claim against his employer for unfair competition under section 172001 was arbitrable. The Court of Appeal reversed that portion of the trial court’s order. "Assuming Cruz remains good law . . . Cruz at most stands for the proposition that UCL claims for 'public' injunctive relief are not arbitrable. Cruz does not bar arbitration of a UCL claim for private injunctive relief or restitution, which is precisely what the UCL claim here seeks. The employee’s UCL claim therefore is subject to arbitration, along with his other causes of action." View "Clifford v. Quest Software Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendants Merchants Building Maintenance, LLC and Merchants Building Maintenance Company (the MBM defendants) appeal from an order of the trial court denying their joint motion to compel arbitration. The MBM defendants moved to compel arbitration of a portion of plaintiff Loren Mejia's cause of action brought against them for various violations of the Labor Code under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). The MDM defendants moved to compel arbitration of that portion of Mejia's PAGA claim in which she seeks "an amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages." The Court of Appeal reduced the issue presented as whether a court could split a single PAGA claim so as to require a representative employee to arbitrate that aspect of the claim in which the plaintiff sought to recover the portion of the penalty that represented the amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages, where the representative employee has agreed to arbitrate her individual wage claims, while at the same time have a court review that aspect of the employee's claim in which the plaintiff sought to recover the additional $50 or $100 penalties provided for in section 558 of the Labor Code for each violation of the wage requirements. The Court of Appeal concluded that a single PAGA claim seeking to recover section 558 civil penalties could not be "split" between that portion of the claim seeking an "amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages" and that portion of the claim seeking the $50 or $100 per-violation, per-pay-period assessment imposed for each wage violation. The Court affirmed the trial court's order denying the MDM defendants' motion to compel arbitration in this case. View "Mejia v. Merchants Building Maintenance" on Justia Law

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California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) manages contributions made by employees and member school districts to the State Teachers’ Retirement Fund. (Ed. Code 22000.) In 2014, the Baxter petitioners, formerly employed by the Salinas Unified High School District sought to prevent CalSTRS from continuing to reduce their monthly retirement benefit payments and to restore prior monies they claimed CalSTRS had wrongfully withheld to recoup overpayments made as a result of a years-long miscalculation by the District. The trial court held that a three-year limitations period barred CalSTRS from recouping the prior overpayments. The court of appeal reversed, finding that the continuous accrual theory applied. A second suit challenged the reductions. Before the court of appeal addressed Baxter, the trial court granted relief in the second suit, finding CalSTRS’s claims time-barred. The court of appeal followed Baxter, holding that the continuous accrual theory applies. CalSTRS was time-barred from pursuing any claim against teachers as to pension benefit overpayments made more than three years before CalSTRS commenced an action but is not time-barred from pursuing any claim concerning periodic overpayments to teachers and adjustments to teachers’ future monthly benefits, where the payment accrued not more than three years prior to commencement of an action. The reduction in benefits made by CalSTRS did not constitute the commencement of an “action.” CalSTRS constructively commenced an “action” when these teachers filed their verified petition and complaint in the superior court on February 1, 2016. View "Blaser v. State Teachers' Retirement System" on Justia Law

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Defendants-appellants Catalina Restaurant Group, Inc., Carrows Restaurants, Inc., Carrows Family Restaurants, Inc., Coco’s Bakery Restaurants, Inc. and Coco’s Restaurants, Inc. (collectively, Catalina Defendants) appealed the partial denial of their motion to compel arbitration. Plaintiff-respondent Yalila Lacayo (Lacayo) was an employee of Catalina Defendants, and filed a plaintiff’s class action complaint on behalf of herself and others similarly situated (Class Members) against Catalina Defendants in superior court alleging numerous wage and hour violations under the Labor Code, and an injunctive relief claim under California’s unfair competition law (UCL). Catalina Defendants responded by filing a motion to compel arbitration of Lacayo’s individual claims, including the UCL claim, and dismissal of the class claims (Motion). The trial court granted the Motion as to Lacayo’s individual claims; refused to dismiss the class claims, instead letting the arbitrator decide if the class claims were subject to arbitration or a class action waiver; and denied the Motion as to the UCL claim; and stayed the matter until after arbitration was completed. Catalina Defendants on appeal argued the trial court erred by: (1) refusing to enforce the individual arbitration agreement according to its terms; and (2) refusing to compel arbitration of Lacayo’s UCL claim. In supplemental briefing, both parties addressed whether Catalina Defendants could appeal the trial court’s order granting arbitration of individual claims but refusing to dismiss the classwide claims, leaving the decision for the arbitrator. The Court of Appeal found Catalina Defendants could not appeal the portion of the Motion that granted arbitration for Lacayo’s individual claims and the refusal to dismiss the class claims. The Court of Appeal only addressed the order finding that the UCL claim was not subject to arbitration, and affirmed the trial court's order denying defendants' Motion as to the UCL claim. View "Lacayo v. Catalina Restaurant Group Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2015, San Diego Police Department Sergeant Arthur Scott sued the City of San Diego (City), alleging race discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Scott rejected a $7,000 offer to compromise made by the City under Code of Civil Procedure section 9981 and proceeded to trial, where the City prevailed. The trial court awarded the City a total of $51,946.96 in costs incurred after it served its Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offer, even though the trial court had found that plaintiff's FEHA claims were not frivolous. While this appeal was pending, the Legislature amended FEHA's cost provision statute to specifically state that, notwithstanding section 998 of the Code of Civil Procedure, a prevailing defendant may not recover attorney fees and costs against a plaintiff asserting non-frivolous FEHA claims. The Court of Appeal found that with this amendment, the Legislature sought to clarify existing law, rather than to change it: "A statute that merely clarifies, rather than changes, existing law is properly applied to transactions predating its enactment." The Court therefore applied the amended statute in this case and reversed the trial court's award of costs to the City. View "Scott v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law