Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Justice, employed as a workers’ compensation claims adjuster since 1991, fell at work in 2011 and injured her left knee. She later developed problems in her right knee, which was found to be a compensable consequence of the first injury. In 2012-2013 Justice had total bilateral knee replacement. Dr. Anderson, an orthopedic surgeon, testified that there was significant preinjury degeneration in both knees, that knee replacement was not required because of the meniscus tear, and that the fall “hasten[ed]” the need for knee replacement by “lighting up the underlying pathology.” Anderson apportioned 50 percent of the bilateral knee disability to the nonindustrial, preexisting degeneration. The workers’ compensation judge determined that Justice had sustained permanent partial disability of 48 percent, worth $59,110.00, stating that “the need for these surgeries was at least partially non-industrial. … the surgeries appear to have significantly increased [Justice’s] ability to walk and engage in weight-bearing activities. The judge stated that before the 2017 Hikida decision, he would have awarded permanent disability with 50% apportionment but that Hikida precluded apportionment. The Appeals Board affirmed. The court of appeal annulled the decision. Justice's permanent disability should have been apportioned between industrial and nonindustrial causes. Hikida, in which a medical treatment resulted in a new compensable consequential injury, is distinguishable. Here, there was unrebutted substantial medical evidence that Justice’s permanent disability was caused, in part, by preexisting pathology. Apportionment was required. Whether or not the workplace injury “directly caused” the need for surgery, the apportionment statutes demand that the disability be sorted among direct and indirect causal factors. View "County of Santa Clara v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding any attorney fees to plaintiff. Labor Code section 218.5 mandates an attorney fee award in any action brought for the nonpayment of wages, if any party requests them at the initiation of the action. Furthermore, Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection, Inc. (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1244, 1255, held that a plaintiff cannot obtain attorney fees in an action for failure to provide rest breaks or meal periods. In this case, there was no basis for the trial court's award of fees where the only wage and hour claims alleged and litigated were for rest break and meal period violations. The court held that plaintiff's claim that it must affirm the judgment because defendants presented an inadequate record for judicial review is unfounded. The court also rejected plaintiff's contention that the predicate misconduct of her wage and hour claims was not rest period violations, but rather failure to pay earned wages. The court explained that this theory was reflected nowhere in the record of the attorney fee proceedings—until plaintiff filed her reply papers. In those reply papers, plaintiff cited no evidence of any work performed before the settlement that referred to or suggested the existence of a claim or cause of action for failure to pay earned wages. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment to the extent it awarded attorney fees to plaintiff, remanding for entry of a new and different judgment denying recovery of attorney fees. View "Betancourt v. OS Restaurant Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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Younan worked for Fleming, 2009-2016. In 2017, he filed a complaint with the Labor Commission, seeking $22,000 in commissions, plus penalties and interest. Fleming asserted to the Labor Commissioner that the complaint should be dismissed because the parties signed an (attached) arbitration agreement. The Commissioner did not dismiss the complaint but Fleming did not file a petition to compel arbitration. A hearing was set for August 2018. In July, Fleming filed an Answer that contained affirmative defenses, including that arbitration was the proper forum. On August 7, Fleming moved to vacate the August 13 hearing and dismiss the complaint because Younan’s employment application and agreement required arbitration, again stating that “[Fleming] is prepared to file a motion with the Superior Court seeking to compel arbitration.” Both parties appeared at the August 13 hearing. Fleming’s motion was denied because Fleming had failed to obtain a stay from the superior court. In December, the Labor Commissioner awarded Younan commissions plus interest and liquidated damages. Fleming filed a notice of appeal; a de novo trial was scheduled for March 2019. In February, Fleming filed an unsuccessful petition to compel arbitration, stay proceedings and vacate the order. The court of appeal affirmed, finding that Fleming waived its right to arbitration by taking steps inconsistent with an intent to invoke arbitration, including delaying its request to the superior court until after a full hearing. Fleming also failed to establish an agreement to arbitrate existed. View "Younan v. Fleming Distribution Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant James Willis, a peace officer employed by the Carlsbad Police Department (Department), sued defendant-respondent City of Carlsbad (City) alleging in part that it engaged in whistleblower retaliation against him in violation of Labor Code section 1102.5 (b) by denying him promotions after he reported what he perceived was misconduct by another officer and complained about a Department program he believed was an unlawful quota system. Before trial, City successfully moved to strike allegations of other retaliatory acts within Willis's cause of action on grounds he had not timely presented a government tort claim within six months of the acts as required by the Government Claims Act. The trial court in limine excluded evidence of any violations by City of the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act while at the same time permitting City to present evidence Department had denied Willis promotion because of a June 2012 e-mail he wrote under an assumed name lodging the officer misconduct accusations. The jury returned a verdict finding in favor of Willis that his reporting of City's violation of law was a contributing factor in City's decision to deny him the promotion. However, it also found City would have denied Willis his promotion anyway for legitimate independent reasons. Accordingly, the court entered judgment in City's favor on the whistleblower retaliation claim. On appeal, Willis argued the trial court erred as a matter of law by striking those portions of his section 1102.5 cause of action because the Government Claims Act's six-month statute of limitations was either equitably tolled or his cause of action had not accrued by reason of the continuing tort/continuing violation doctrine. Furthermore, he argued the court's evidentiary rulings were a prejudicial abuse of discretion. We conclude the trial court did not err, and accordingly affirm the judgment. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Willis v. City of Carlsbad" on Justia Law

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Galeotti, a former Union Local 3 employee, filed a complaint against Local 3 and three of individual union leaders, alleging that the individual defendants required union employees to pay them money to keep their jobs, lied about the reason for collecting the money, and caused Local 3 to terminate Galeotti’s employment when he failed to pay the full amount demanded. The trial court dismissed his second amended complaint without leave to amend. The court of appeal reversed in part, reasoning that a threat to terminate employment can provide a basis for an extortion claim and that the allegations of the second amended complaint stated a cause of action for wrongful termination in violation of the public policy underlying the extortion statutes. The complaint stated a cause of action for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO; 18 U.S.C. 1961), based on the predicate acts of extortion, but did not state a cause of action for interference with prospective economic advantage. View "Galeotti v. International Union of Operating Engineers" on Justia Law

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Augustine Caldera was a prison correctional officer who sometimes stuttered when he spoke. In 2010, Caldera filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and his supervisor alleging disability discrimination. The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding a stutter constituted a disability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). A jury found in Caldera’s favor and awarded $500,000. The court granted a motion for new trial because it found the damage award excessive. The Court of Appeal reversed on procedural grounds. After nearly a decade of litigation, Caldera sought about $2.4 million in statutory attorney fees (a $1.2 million “lodestar” and a 2.0 “multiplier”). The court awarded a little over $800,000. Caldera appealed. The Court of Appeal determined Caldera could not find a local attorney to take his discrimination lawsuit, so he hired an out-of-town firm. But when calculating attorney fees, the court set the attorneys’ hourly rate based on a lower local rate, rather than a higher out-of-town rate. The court then applied the extrinsic "Ketchum" factors to the hourly rate, rather than applying a multiplier to the lodestar. "In sum, Caldera’s attorneys were not adequately compensated consistent with the purposes of the FEHA." Thus, the Court reversed the trial court’s order for attorney fees. View "Caldera v. Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation" on Justia Law

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Gaurano, driving home from a day of working at the convention center in a vehicle rented through Lyft’s “Express Drive program,” struck the plaintiffs’ vehicles and caused significant injuries. The trial court granted Lyft summary judgment. The court of appeal affirmed. Gaurano was not acting within the scope of his employment with Lyft at the time of the accident. The court rejected arguments that Lyft required drivers to drive the rental, that driving the rental was “ ‘incident to [Gaurano’s] duties’ ” because he had to be in the rental to pick up rides, and that Lyft’s encouragement of personal driving in the rental made accidents more likely. As a matter of law, Gaurano had substantially deviated from any duties he performed for Lyft at the time of the accident. Gaurano had not worked for Lyft on that day and had no intention of doing so. The potential for Gaurano to log onto the Lyft platform, alone, is insufficient to bring all of his personal driving within the scope of his Lyft employment. Gaurano’s conduct was not foreseeable and Lyft derived no benefit from it. The court also rejected an argument that the trial court abused its discretion in limiting the scope of a person most qualified (PMQ) deposition. View "Marez v. Lyft, Inc." on Justia Law

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T-Mobile USA, Inc. (T-Mobile) appeals a judgment entered on a $5 million jury verdict in favor of former employee Stephen Colucci in a workplace retaliation case. T-Mobile primarily challenged the punitive damages award, arguing insufficient evidence was presented at trial that a T-Mobile agent engaged in retaliatory conduct, or that the agent's actions were malicious or oppressive. Alternatively, T-Mobile argued the $4 million punitive damages award was constitutionally excessive. Stephen Colucci worked for T-Mobile from 2007 until 2014 as the manager of a store in Ontario, California. A series of incidents ranging from a medical accommodation request, defamatory comments made by co-workers, and an allegation that Colucci was running a side business while on duty for his T-Mobile store. On day, complaining of back pain, Colucci was permitted to leave work for the day; while away, Robson recommended to HR that T-Mobile terminate Colucci for "cause" (conflict of interest), notwithstanding no loss prevention investigator interviewed Colucci or any co-workers about Colucci's alleged side-dealings while on T-Mobile time. In making this decision, Robson admittedly bypassed T-Mobile's progressive discipline policy, which might have included a warning or less severe consequence before resorting to termination. Information about the alleged conflict of interest had come almost entirely from the associate; at no point did anyone speak to Colucci about a purported conflict. Unaware of any pending termination, Colucci submitted a formal request to HR for a medical leave of absence. Colucci also lodged a second complaint to T-Mobile's integrity line, reporting that Robson was discriminating against him and neglecting to resolve the defamation incident. Undeterred, Robson proceeded with processing Colucci's termination. Ultimately, a jury returned a unanimous verdict in Colucci's favor on his claim of retaliation, awarding $1,020,042 in total compensatory damages for past and future economic losses, and past and future noneconomic damages and/or emotional distress. After review, the Court of Appeal reduced the punitive damages award to an amount one and one-half times the amount of compensatory damages, but otherwise affirmed the judgment. View "Colucci v. T-Mobile USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought unpaid overtime wages, liquidated damages, and waiting time penalties from two residential care facilities with a sole member, Chou. A hearing officer awarded $2.5 million. Chou’s liability was $2.2 million. The trial court allowed the defendants to file appeals conditionally, subject to being stricken if their petition to waive the bond requirement was denied. Chou submitted a declaration stating that he and the businesses lacked the financial ability to pay the awards or to make the deposit; that he had contacted bonding companies but could not provide required security; and that he was willing to provide financial statements, for the court’s in camera review, citing his bankruptcy and divorce. Plaintiffs submitted evidence that, while the action was pending, Chou had transferred title to four residential care facilities, and another property to trusts and LLCs of which Chou’s wife was the sole manager; that the value of the four properties collectively exceeded five million dollars; and that a fifth property had been purchased for $1,050,000. Chou cited mortgage debt, claiming that the properties were transferred for “an estate plan.” Chou was not present at the hearing. The trial court stated that there were no witnesses regarding the defendants’ financial position and found Chou’s assertions not credible. The court rejected, as untimely, Chou’s attorney’s offer to arrange for Chou to come to court and denied the request for a waiver of the requirement of an undertaking, dismissing the appeals from the award. The court of appeal affirmed. The trial court provided an adequate hearing, consistent with due process. View "Cardinal Care Management, LLC v. Afable" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Ducksworth and Pollock filed suit alleging claims of race discrimination, and Pollock also alleged a sexual harassment claim. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for Scotts and Pacific, holding that the staffing agencies were not involved in Tri-Modal's decisionmaking about whom to promote. The court also affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Tri-Modal's executive vice president, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in overruling Pollock's hearsay objection to a declaration. The court also held that the trial court correctly concluded that Government Code section 12960, former subdivision (d) bars Pollock's claims because she did not file her administrative complaint within one year of March 2017, the time that those claims accrued. View "Ducksworth v. Tri-Modal Distribution Services" on Justia Law