Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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D.C. was employed by Applied, 1996-2008, and claimed three industrial injuries: a specific injury to her neck and right upper extremity in 2001, a specific injury to her neck and both upper extremities in 2005, and a cumulative trauma injury to her neck, both upper extremities, and psyche ending on her last day working. D.C. claimed her injuries were due to the constant use of a computer keyboard. In 2006, she developed a pain disorder, anxiety, and depression, which she claimed were compensable consequences of her physical injuries. She later claimed that she was sexually exploited by Dr. Massey, the physician primarily responsible for the treatment of her industrial injuries. D.C. was diagnosed with PTSD. Applied's workers’ compensation carriers disputed liability for her psychiatric injuries.A workers’ compensation judge found that all of D.C.’s injury claims were industrial; awarded D.C. 100 percent permanent disability (PD) based on her PTSD alone; found no apportionment; and concluded that the insurers were jointly and severally liable for that award since Dr. Massey treated all three of her industrial injuries. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board generally affirmed.The court of appeal concluded there was substantial evidence of repeated exposure to injury-causing events and new injuries after 2005 that supported the finding of cumulative trauma ending in 2008. D.C. met her burden of proving that her PTSD was a compensable consequence injury that resulted from the treatment for her industrial injuries and that her employment was a contributing cause; as a matter of law, a patient cannot consent to sexual contact with her physician. The court rejected several challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence. The 100 percent PD award must be annulled as based on an incorrect legal theory, the alternative path theory. View "Applied Materials v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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Tracy Green sued her employer, General Atomics, based on its alleged failure to provide accurate, itemized wage statements showing “all applicable hourly rates in effect during the pay period and the corresponding number of hours worked at each hourly rate by the employee.” Green maintained that General Atomics “failed to identify the correct rate of pay for overtime wages” because its wage statements showed “0.5 times the regular rate of pay rather than 1.5.” General Atomics moved for summary judgment, contending its wage statements complied with the statute because they showed the total hours worked, with their standard rate or rates, and the overtime hours worked, with their additional premium rate. The trial court issued an order denying the motion. General Atomics challenged that order by petition for writ of mandate. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred by determining that General Atomics’ wage statements violated Labor Code section 226: “While other formats may also be acceptable, given the complexities of determining overtime compensation in various contexts, the format adopted by General Atomics adequately conveys the information required by statute. It also allows employees to readily determine whether their wages were correctly calculated, which is the central purpose of section 226.” The Court therefore granted the petition for writ of mandate. View "General Atomics v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Jackie Usher and Eric Leung, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated (sometimes collectively, plaintiffs), appealed a judgment in favor of defendant Shirley White (Shirley). In 2014, plaintiffs brought a putative wage-and-hour class action lawsuit against defendants White Communications, LLC (White Communications or the company) and DirecTV, LLC (DirecTV). Under California Labor Code section 558.1, a “natural person who is an owner, director, officer, or managing agent” of an employer may be personally liable if that person, on behalf of the employer, “violates, or causes to be violated” certain wage and hour laws as provided in the statute. The court granted summary judgment for defendant, concluding as a matter of law she was not liable under section 558.1 because it found undisputed evidence that she did not participate in the determination to classify plaintiffs as independent contractors. The court therefore held defendant did not “cause[]” any violation of the enumerated sections of the Labor Code, as set forth in section 558.1 and in plaintiffs’ operative complaint. The Court of Appeal concurred with the trial court’s analysis and affirmed its judgment. View "Usher v. White" on Justia Law

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Bannister worked in the administrative offices at a skilled nursing facility, for approximately three decades before Marinidence purchased the facility. A year later, Marinidence terminated Bannister. She sued, alleging discrimination, retaliation, and defamation. Marinidence moved to compel arbitration, alleging that, when it took over the facility, Bannister electronically signed an arbitration agreement while completing the paperwork for new Marinidence employees. After Bannister presented evidence that she never saw the agreement during the onboarding process, the trial court denied the motion.The court of appeal affirmed. Because the existence of the agreement is a statutory prerequisite to granting the petition, the petitioner bears the burden of proving its existence by a preponderance of the evidence. The party seeking arbitration can meet its initial burden by attaching to the petition a copy of the arbitration agreement purporting to bear the respondent’s signature. Where, as here, the respondent challenges the validity of the signature, the petitioner must “establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the signature was authentic.” The court noted conflicting evidence, including Bannister’s evidence that she was not the only person who could have executed the arbitration agreement and the onboarding process was completed for other employees without their participation. View "Banister v. Marinidence Opco, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a restaurant server, filed suit alleging that he was laid off after about four months when his employer, the Hotel, eliminated all part-time positions. Plaintiff alleged a violation of Santa Monica Municipal Code section 4.66.010 et seq. (the recall ordinance), which provides laid off employees that have been employed by the employer for six months or more with a right to be rehired in certain circumstances.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of a judgment of dismissal following the sustaining of a demurrer by defendants, the Hotel. The court concluded, as did the trial court, that the right of recall does not apply here because plaintiff did not work for the Hotel for "six months or more" before he was involuntarily separated from employment for economic reasons. In this case, plaintiff had a prior stint of employment with the Hotel that lasted about ten months, which ended when he voluntarily resigned due to scheduling difficulties. The court explained that the purpose of the recall ordinance is to protect employees who were involuntarily laid off due to economic circumstances—not to protect employees who quit for personal reasons. Therefore, the court concluded that plaintiff's earlier period of employment that ended with his voluntary resignation does not count toward the six-month minimum period of employment, leaving him ineligible for recall under the ordinance. Accordingly, plaintiff failed to state a cause of action under the recall ordinance. Finally, the court concluded that the Tameny claim was not well pled because there was no violation of the recall ordinance on which the Tameny claim was based. Furthermore, a Tameny claim must be predicated on a fundamental public policy that is expressed in a constitutional or statutory provision, as opposed to a public policy that finds expression in a municipal ordinance. View "Bruni v. The Edward Thomas Hospitality Corp." on Justia Law

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Rudy Alarcon filed a petition for writ of mandate seeking to invalidate hearing officer Robert Bergeson’s decision upholding the City of Calexico’s (City) termination of Alarcon’s employment as a City police officer. The City filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging Bergeson’s decision to award Alarcon back pay based on his finding that the City failed to provide Alarcon with sufficient predisciplinary notice of allegations that Alarcon had been dishonest during the investigation that led to his termination. The trial court consolidated the petitions and issued a written ruling that denied both petitions. As to Alarcon’s petition, the trial court determined that Alarcon had not met his burden to establish the charges against him were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court also found that the weight of the evidence demonstrated that Alarcon had “used force” and “discourteous language” during the arrest that led to his termination. With respect to the City’s petition, the trial court determined that “the hearing officer’s lengthy finding that the dishonesty charges were not properly noticed does not rise to the level of an abuse of discretion.” After review, the Court of Appeal found no reversible error in the trial court’s judgment with respect to Alarcon; the Court determined the City’s cross- appeal was untimely and should have been dismissed. View "City of Calexico v. Bergeson" on Justia Law

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Robert Smith’s employer, Najjar Lube Centers, Inc. dba Jiffy Lube, held a presentation for its employees to learn about a new Castrol product. Castrol employee Gus Pumarol led the presentation. Smith alleges that Pumarol made several comments to Smith during the presentation that he considered racist and offensive. Smith sued BP Lubricants USA, Inc. dba Castrol (BP) and Pumarol for harassment under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and for discrimination under the Unruh Act. Smith also sued Pumarol for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). The trial court sustained BP and Pumarol’s demurrer without leave to amend, and Smith timely appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment. The Court affirmed the trial court’s order sustaining BP and Pumarol’s demurrer to Smith’s FEHA claim without leave to amend, but concluded, however, that Smith sufficiently alleged claims for IIED and violation of the Unruh Act. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Smith v. BP Lubricants USA Inc." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of plaintiff's motion to certify a class of employees of See's. Plaintiff alleges that See's did not provide required second meal breaks to shop employees who worked shifts longer than 10 hours.The court concluded that the trial court properly exercised its discretion in denying class certification where substantial evidence supports the trial court's conclusion that individual issues would predominate at trial. The court explained that the trial court carefully analyzed the evidence that plaintiff presented in support of her claim that she could establish liability through common proof. In light of evidence including time records showing that 24 percent of shifts longer than 10 hours actually included a second meal period, the trial court reasonably determined that at least some class members were offered a second meal period in accordance with the law. Therefore, the court explained that individual testimony would be necessary to show that See's consistently applied an unlawful practice. The court also concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in deciding that plaintiff's trial plan was inadequate to manage individual issues. View "Salazar v. See's Candy Shops, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of Uber's motion to compel arbitration in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging a single cause of action for wage violations under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), Lab. Code, 2698 et seq. Plaintiff was an Uber driver under a written agreement stating she was an independent contractor and all disputes would be resolved by arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), and the agreement delegated to the arbitrator decisions on the enforceability or validity of the arbitration provision.The court concluded, as has every other California court presented with this or similar issues, that the threshold question of whether plaintiff is an employee or an independent contractor cannot be delegated to an arbitrator. The court found that this issue has been resolved adversely to Uber in two cases decided during and after briefing in this case: Provost v. YourMechanic, Inc. (2020) 55 Cal.App.5th 982, and Contreras v. Superior Court (2021) 61 Cal.App.5th 461. The court was not persuaded to depart from the analyses in Provost and Contreras and all the authorities they cite. The court rejected Uber's claims to the contrary and affirmed the trial court's order. View "Rosales v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2008, plaintiff filed suit against her former employer, Rite Aid, and her former supervisor. In 2010, a jury returned a special verdict in plaintiff's favor and awarded her $3.4 million in compensatory damages and $4.8 million in punitive damages. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment and remanded the case for a new trial on compensatory damages on plaintiff's causes of action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy against Rite Aid and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Rite Aid and the supervisor. In 2014, on retrial, the jury awarded plaintiff $321,000 on her wrongful termination cause of action against Rite Aid, $0 on her intentional infliction of emotional distress cause of action against Rite Aid, and $20,000 on her intentional infliction of emotional distress cause of action against the supervisor. The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded the case for another new trial on compensatory damages on plaintiff's wrongful termination cause of action against Rite Aid and her intentional infliction of emotional distress causes of action against Rite Aid and the supervisor. In 2018, at another retrial, the jury awarded plaintiff $2,012,258 on her wrongful termination cause of action against Rite Aid and $4 million on her intentional infliction of emotional distress causes of action against Rite Aid and the supervisor.In regard to the award of past noneconomic damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court's rejection of the Martinez II guidance does not require reversal of the judgment and the trial court did not instruct the jury to award duplicative damages. In regard to the award of past economic damages for wrongful termination, the court agreed with Rite Aid that plaintiff's actual post-termination earnings must be deducted from the past economic damages award for wrongful termination. Accordingly, the court modified the judgment to reduce the award of past economic damages to plaintiff for wrongful termination by $140,840 to $323,418. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "Martinez v. Rite Aid Corp." on Justia Law