Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
by
Sargent began working for the University in 1991 as an environmental health-and-safety technician. Sargent was the campus’s licensed asbestos consultant. Sargent sued, presenting abundant evidence about retaliation after he raised concerns about environmental hazards. A jury found in his favor on claims alleging unlawful retaliation and on a claim under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (Labor Code 2698, PAGA), which was premised almost entirely on violations of the California Occupational Safety and Health Act (Labor Code 6300, CalOSHA). He was awarded more than $2.9 million in PAGA penalties and more than $7.8 million in attorney fees.The court of appeal affirmed the award of attorney fees but reversed the award of PAGA penalties. Education Code 66606.2 does not bar PAGA claims against the California State University (CSU) system; CSU is not categorically immune from PAGA penalties because it is a public entity. Viable PAGA claims can be asserted against CSU only when the statutes upon which the claims are premised themselves provide for penalties. Here, Sargent brought some viable PAGA claims but ultimately failed to establish CSU’s liability for them because the jury found that he was not personally affected by the underlying statutory violations. View "Sargent v. Board of Trustees of the California State University" on Justia Law

by
A Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) plaintiff may not be compelled to arbitrate whether he or she is an aggrieved employee. Petitioners filed suit against Zum under PAGA, alleging that Zum misclassified them and others as independent contractors and thus violated multiple provisions of the California Labor Code. The trial court granted Zum's motion to compel arbitration and ordered into arbitration the issue of arbitrability of petitioners' suit.The Court of Appeal reversed the order compelling arbitration, concluding that the delegation of the question of arbitrability to an arbitrator frustrates the purpose of PAGA and is therefore prohibited under California law. The court explained that the California Supreme Court in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC (2014) 59 Cal.4th 348, and several Courts of Appeal are uniform in holding that PAGA claims are not waivable and are not arbitrable. Furthermore, under that case law and in light of the very nature of a PAGA claim, a court – not an arbitrator – must decide all aspects of the claim. The court further explained that the only exception is when the state, as real party in interest, has consented to arbitration. However, the state did not consent here. The court concluded that the "preliminary" question of whether petitioners are "aggrieved employees" under PAGA may not be decided in private party arbitration. View "Contreras v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed a petition for a writ of mandate as well as a complaint for due process violations against LAUSD and Defendant Sohn, seeking reinstatement and damages. Plaintiff contends that under Education Code section 44466, which governs tenure for university interns, he had acquired permanent status at the commencement of the 2018–2019 school year. Plaintiff argued that he had satisfied the requirements of section 44466 by completing his university coursework in advance of the 2017–2018 school year, serving that school year in a credentialed teaching position (first under his intern credential, and then his regular credential), then beginning the 2018–2019 school year under his regular credential.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment concluding that section 44466 contemplates that former university interns serve a complete year under a regular credential before acquiring tenure. The court explained that plaintiff did not acquire tenure under section 44466 because the post-internship year under section 44466 does not begin until the former intern is reemployed under a regular credential by the school district that employed him as an intern. Therefore, the trial court correctly ruled that plaintiff did not acquire tenure at the commencement of the 2018–2019 school year. View "McGroarty v. Los Angeles Unified School District" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit alleging that LAUSD discriminated against her based on her "electromagnetic hypersensitivity," failed to accommodate her condition, and retaliated against her—in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Gov. Code, section 12900 et seq. The trial court sustained LAUSD's demurrer to plaintiff's first amended complaint (FAC) without leave to amend.The Court of Appeal concluded that plaintiff adequately pled her cause of action for failure to provide reasonable accommodation for her disability. The court explained that the FEHA protections against torts based on disability are independent of those under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The FAC alleges that plaintiff could not work because she experienced "the various symptoms of which LAUSD had been warned could occur, namely, chronic pain, headaches, nausea, itching, burning sensations on her skin, ear issues, shortness of breath, inflammation, heart palpitations, respiratory complications, foggy headedness, and fatigue, all symptoms of Microwave Sickness or EHS." In this case, plaintiff adequately pled physical disability within the four corners of the statute. The court concluded that plaintiff failed to allege adverse employment action taken against her with discriminatory or retaliatory motive; plaintiff adequately pled a cause of action for failure to prove reasonable accommodation for a physical disability; plaintiff failed to allege failure to engage in the interactive process; and the trial court did not err in sustaining the demurrer without leave to amend. Accordingly, the court reversed in part and affirmed in part. View "Brown v. L.A. Unified School District" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner-appellant Anthony Hernandez was convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence after choking his girlfriend. The California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (Department) terminated him from his position as a correctional officer, stating that because of his domestic violence conviction, federal law prohibited him from carrying a firearm, which he needed for the job. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review was whether the Department acted reasonably in terminating Hernandez. It was undisputed that federal law makes it a felony to possess a firearm after being convicted in any court of misdemeanor domestic violence, which was defined in part as the use of physical force by “a person similarly situated to a spouse” of a victim. Disputed here was whether Hernandez was “similarly situated to a spouse” of his girlfriend, given that he had been dating her five or six months and did not share a permanent residence with her. In line with the federal case law, the Court found the evidence was sufficient to support the Department’s determination that Hernandez was “similarly situated to a spouse” of his victim under these circumstances. Accordingly, the Department acted reasonably in terminating him. View "Hernandez v. State Personnel Board" on Justia Law

by
A county employee decided to retire. In December 2012, he submitted his application for retirement to the county’s retirement authority. In January 2013, the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act took effect, mandating the forfeiture of pension benefits/payments if a public employee is convicted of any felony under state or federal law for conduct arising out of or in the performance of his official duties (Gov. Code 7522.72(b)(l)). In February 2013, the employee was indicted for stealing county property. In April 2013, the county pension authority approved the employee’s retirement application, fixing the employee’s actual retirement on the December 2012 day he submitted his application. The employee began receiving monthly pension checks starting from December 2012. In December 2015, the employee pled guilty to embezzling county property.The county pension authority reduced the employee’s monthly check in accordance with the forfeiture provision. The court of appeal concluded the provision does apply to the employee because the employee merely initiated the process of retiring. Even if the employee was retired, and the forfeiture provision was applied to him, there would be no violation of the California Constitution’s provision against the undue impairment of the employee’s contract with his governmental employer, nor would that application constitute an ex post facto law. View "Wilmot v. Contra Costa County Employee's Retirement Association" on Justia Law

by
In 2012, Barracuda hired Choochagi. In 2013, Choochagi reported to Human Resources that his supervisor made inappropriate sexual comments. The company investigated. In 2014, Choochagi began experiencing severe migraine headaches and eye irritation, which required medical treatment. Choochagi was permitted to take time off as requested. Choochagi was later terminated. Barracuda characterized Choochagi as a “poorly performing employee” who made “baseless discrimination claims” after he was terminated. Choochagi filed suit under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), and alleged wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The trial court granted summary adjudication on most of Choochagi’s claims. A jury returned a defense verdict for Barracuda on the remaining claims.The court of appeal affirmed. Choochagi’s evidence was insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether Choochagi was informed of his right to CFRA leave, whether he requested CFRA leave, and whether any such request was denied. Absent evidence of such a request, Choochagi could not have suffered an adverse employment action because he exercised his right to take CFRA leave. Barracuda submitted evidence that it had policies and procedures in place to prevent discrimination and harassment and that the HR department directed an immediate investigation of Choochagi’s complaint. View "Choochagi v. Barracuda Networks, Inc." on Justia Law

by
ALADs sought a writ of mandate and declaration that a provision of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between ALADS and the County of Los Angeles is unenforceable based on the ground that it violates wage garnishment law and the Labor Code. The trial court sustained the county's demurrer to the petition on the ground that ALADS did not exhaust administrative remedies.The Court of Appeal concluded, in light of Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs v. County of Los Angeles (2019) 42 Cal.App.5th 918, that ALADS's administrative remedies are inadequate, and thus dismissal on that ground was improper. However, the court concluded that dismissal was proper because ALADS's petition does not state valid claims against the county. The court explained that the home rule doctrine gives the county the exclusive right to regulate matters relating to its employees' compensation. In this case, the county's MOU with ALADS, approved by the board of supervisors, is a lawful exercise of that exclusive right, and the Labor Code provision at issue does not apply to a charter county. Therefore, ALADS cannot allege sufficient facts to state a cause of action. View "Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

by
Daylight, an expedited less-than-truckload carrier, contracts with independent truck drivers. Daylight’s California drivers only provided services within California. The plaintiffs each entered into an “Independent Contractor Service Agreement” before beginning to drive for Daylight and regularly signed materially identical contract extensions while driving for Daylight. All of those Agreements contained an identical arbitration provision. The plaintiffs filed a putative class action, requesting relief from Daylight’s “unlawful misclassification of former and current Daylight delivery drivers as ‘Independent Contractors,’ ” and alleging violations of Labor Code and wage order provisions, and the law against unfair competition.The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Daylight’s motion to compel arbitration, applying California law and finding the agreement procedurally and substantively unconscionable, and that severance of the unconscionable terms is not possible. Daylight was in a superior bargaining position and presented the contracts on a take it or leave it basis. The Agreement’s 120-day limitations period is substantially shorter than the statutory limits. The Agreement permits Daylight to seek a provisional judicial remedy but precludes plaintiffs from equivalent access and requires that the parties split the cost of arbitration, a cost greater than litigation filing fees. Because Daylight had waived its argument, the court did not address preemption under the Federal Arbitration Act, which“provides a limited exemption from FAA coverage to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce (9 U.S.C. 1). View "Ali v. Daylight Transport, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The District appeals from a judgment following a jury verdict in favor of plaintiff, a former employee of the District, on her Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) claims. Plaintiff's claims were based on the District's alleged failure to provide reasonable accommodations for and/or engage in an interactive process to identify reasonable accommodations for two injuries, each of which was sufficient to render plaintiff disabled for the purposes of FEHA.The Court of Appeal agreed with the District that a Government Code section 12940, subdivision (n) plaintiff must prove an available reasonable accommodation. The court also concluded that the evidence presented is sufficient to establish only that a reasonable accommodation of plaintiff's wrist injury, not her shoulder injury, was available. In this case, the jury did not indicate whether it relied on the District's response to one or both of these disabilities in reaching its verdict, and the record does not permit the court to make such a determination. Therefore, the court reversed with instructions that the trial court conduct a new trial on plaintiff's failure to accommodate and interactive process claims based solely on the District's handling of her wrist injury. The court also concluded that the Workers' Compensation Act does not bar such claims, because they seek recovery for a harm that is distinct from the harms for which the Workers' Compensation Act provides a remedy. To the extent plaintiff prevails on limited retrial, the trial court must reassess attorney fees. View "Shirvanyan v. Los Angeles Community College District" on Justia Law