Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Plaintiffs, wastewater collection workers employed by the city to clean its sewers, filed suit alleging that they worked in the transportation industry and the city denied them meal and rest breaks mandated by Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order No. 9. Wage Order No. 9 obligates the City of Los Angeles to provide meal and rest breaks to persons it employs in the transportation industry.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for the city. The court held that, for purposes of Industrial Welfare Commission wage orders, a sanitation worker does not become part of the transportation industry simply because the waste collected must be transported to collection sites. Therefore, Wage Order No. 9 does not apply in this case. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying leave to amend. View "Miles v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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While Michael Tilkey and his girlfriend Jacqueline Mann were at her home in Arizona, the two got into an argument. Tilkey decided to leave. When he stepped out onto the enclosed patio to collect his things, Mann locked the door behind him. Tilkey banged on the door to regain entry, but Mann called police. Police arrested Tilkey and charged him under Arizona law with criminal damage deface and other charges; domestic violence charges were attached to the criminal damage and disorderly conduct charges. Tilkey pled guilty to the disorderly conduct charge only, and the other charges were dropped. After Tilkey completed a domestic nonviolence diversion program, the disorderly conduct charge was dismissed. Before the disorderly conduct charge was dismissed, Allstate Insurance Company (Allstate), for whom Tilkey had worked for over 30 years, terminated his employment based on his arrest and his participation in the diversion program. Allstate informed Tilkey it was discharging him for threatening behavior and/or acts of physical harm or violence to another person. Following the termination, Allstate reported its reason for the termination on a Form U5, filed with Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and accessible to any firm that hired licensed broker-dealers like Tilkey. Tilkey sued Allstate for wrongful termination in violation of California Labor Code section 432.7 and compelled, self-published defamation. At trial, Allstate presented evidence that it would have terminated his employment based on after-acquired evidence that Tilkey had circulated obscene and inappropriate e-mails using company resources. A jury returned a verdict in Tilkey’s favor on all causes of action. Allstate appealed, contending: (1) it did not violate section 432.7; (2) compelled self-published defamation per se was not a viable tort theory; (3) it did not defame Tilkey because there was not substantial evidence its statement was not substantially true; (4) punitive damages were unavailable in compelled self-publication defamation causes of action; (5) the defamatory statement was not made with malice; and (6) the punitive damages awarded here were unconstitutionally excessive. The Court of Appeal agreed Allstate did not violate section 432.7 when it terminated Tilkey’s employment based on his plea and his participation in an Arizona domestic nonviolence program and reversed that judgment. However, the Court concluded compelled self-published defamation was a viable theory, and substantial evidence supported the verdict that the statement was not substantially true, so the Court affirmed that portion of the judgment. While the Court concluded punitive damages were available in this instance, the punitive damages awarded here were not proportionate to the compensatory damages for defamation. The Court remanded this matter to the trial court with directions to recalculate punitive damages. View "Tilkey v. Allstate Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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MTA's failure to count the days an employee is on California Family Rights Act (CFRA) leave when calculating the 60-day clearance period does not violate the CFRA. Plaintiff, a bus operator for MTA, was terminated from his employment after he had eight non-excluded absences. This appeal concerns the discipline provision in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between MTA and the union representing all operations employees of MTA. Under a section of that provision (the absenteeism rule), an employee is subject to progressive discipline, up to and including termination, if he or she has a certain number of absences. To avoid discipline, the employee may remove (or clear) an absence from his or her count by not having any absences for 60 consecutive calendar days. However, certain kinds of absences are expressly excluded from the absenteeism rule, such as an absence covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the CFRA.The Court of Appeal held that where, as here, an employer's no-fault absenteeism policy provides that an employee may clear absences that otherwise would count for purposes of disciplinary action by working (or being available to work) during a certain clearance period, the employer does not violate the CFRA by extending the absence clearance period by the number of days the employee was on CFRA leave during that period. The court also held that plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact that MTA treats other kinds of unpaid leave differently than CFRA leave. Therefore, the court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for MTA on plaintiff's claims for retaliation based on his use of CFRA leave, failure to prevent retaliation, and interference with CFRA leave. View "Lares v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kathleen Carroll sued her former employer, defendant California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Commission), for terminating her employment in retaliation for her reporting Commission mismanagement to the state auditor. Prior to bringing this action, plaintiff appealed her termination to the State Personnel Board (Board), claiming the Commission fired her in retaliation for her whistleblower activities. She also filed a separate whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Board. The Board denied her claims. After the Commission removed the matter to federal court, the district court dismissed the section 1983 claim and remanded the matter to state court. A jury found for plaintiff and awarded her substantial damages. The Commission appealed, contending: (1) the district court’s judgment was res judicata as to this action; (2) the Board’s decisions collaterally estopped this action; (3) the trial court abused its discretion in evidentiary matters by (a) permitting plaintiff’s counsel to question witnesses on and asking the jury to draw negative inferences from the Commission’s exercise of the attorney-client privilege, (b) denying the admission of the Board’s findings and decisions, (c) denying the admission of after-acquired evidence, and (d) denying the admission of evidence mitigating plaintiff’s emotional distress; and (4) the damages award was unlawful in numerous respects. Although the district court’s judgment was not res judicata and the Board’s decisions did not collaterally estop this action, the Court of Appeal reversed, finding the trial court committed prejudicial error when it allowed plaintiff’s counsel to question witnesses on and ask the jury to draw negative inferences from the defendants’ exercise of the attorney-client privilege and did not timely instruct the jury with the mandatory curative instruction provided in Evidence Code section 913. Because judgment was reversed on this ground, the Court did not address the Commission’s other claims of error. View "Carroll v. Commission on Teacher Credentialing" on Justia Law

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The state brought a civil enforcement action against Uber and Lyft, alleging that the companies improperly misclassify drivers using their ride-hailing platforms as independent contractors rather than employees, depriving them of benefits to which employees are entitled. This misclassification, the state alleged, also gives the defendants an unfair advantage against competitors, while costing the public significant sums in lost tax revenues and increased social-safety-net expenditures.The court of appeal affirmed the entry of a preliminary injunction that restrains the companies from classifying their drivers as independent contractors. Based on the breadth of the term “hiring entity” and the absence of an exemption for ride-sharing companies in Labor Code section 2775, there is little doubt the Legislature contemplated that rideshare drivers would be treated as employees. While the defendants’ business models are different from traditional employment, particularly with regard to drivers’ freedom to work as many hours as they wish, when and where they choose, and their ability to work on multiple apps at the same time, the mode in which the drivers are used met the elements of employment. The companies solicit riders, screen drivers, set standards for drivers' vehicles, track information on drivers using the apps, and may use negative ratings to deactivate drivers. Riders request rides and pay for them through defendants’ apps. The remuneration may be seen as flowing from riders to the defendants, then from defendants to drivers, less any fee associated with the ride. View "People v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Michelle Kramer filed a wage and hour lawsuit against her employer, defendants Traditional Escrow, Inc. (Traditional), and its alleged alter ego, Annette Scherrer-Cosner. A few months after defendants answered the initial complaint, their counsel withdrew, and defendants subsequently chose not to participate in this case. Plaintiff continued to serve defendants with all case documents, including an amended complaint, at their address of record. But, in violation of the California Rules of Court, defendants changed their mailing address without giving notice to plaintiff or the trial court. As a result, they did not receive any of the documents that plaintiff served on them after their counsel withdrew. Eventually, default and default judgment were entered against them due to their failure to answer the amended complaint. Defendants moved to set aside the default and vacate the judgment, arguing they were entitled to equitable relief because they had been prevented from responding to the amended complaint due to extrinsic fraud and extrinsic mistake. The trial court granted the motion, finding that defendants were unaware the complaint had been amended. It also found that after filing the amended complaint, plaintiff’s counsel misrepresented to Cosner’s divorce attorney, who was unaffiliated with this matter, that defendants were in default and could not file an answer. Plaintiff appealed the trial court’s ruling, arguing equitable relief was unwarranted. To this, the Court of Appeal agreed: "Defendants cannot deliberately neglect this lawsuit and go off-grid, so to speak, and then complain that they lacked notice of the proceedings." The trial court's order was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Kramer v. Traditional Escrow" on Justia Law

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Labor Code section 432.7 prohibits an employer from asking a job applicant to disclose any conviction that has been judicially dismissed and bars an employer from using any record of a dismissed conviction as a factor in the termination of employment. Molina was hired by Premier in 2010; she did not disclose a dismissed 2010 conviction for misdemeanor grand theft on her job application. She passed Premier’s criminal background check and had been working for four weeks when the DMV mistakenly reported that Molina had an active criminal conviction. Rather than investigate the discrepancy, Premier terminated Molina for “falsification of job application,” although she explained that her conviction had been dismissed. The DMV issued a corrected notice three weeks later. Molina was not rehired and filed a retaliation complaint with the Labor Commissioner, which determined that Molina had been unlawfully discharged and ordered her reinstatement with back pay. Premier’s administrative appeal was denied. When Premier did not comply, the Commissioner filed an enforcement action.The court of appeal reversed the dismissal of the suit. Premier was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The Commissioner presented sufficient evidence that Premier was aware or had reason to believe that Molina’s criminal conviction had been dismissed and to allow a jury to infer that Premier retaliated against Molina for failing to disclose her dismissed conviction and that Premier used the dismissed conviction as an impermissible factor in her termination. View "Garcia-Brower v. Premier Automotive Imports of California, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendant YourMechanic, Inc. sought to compel plaintiff Jonathan Provost to arbitrate whether he was an “aggrieved employee” within the meaning of the California Labor Code before he could proceed under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) with his single-count representative action alleging various Labor Code violations against company. The Court of Appeal determined that requiring Provost to arbitrate whether he was an “aggrieved employee” with standing to bring a representative PAGA action would have required splitting that single action into two components: an arbitrable “individual” claim and a nonarbitrable representative claim. The Court concluded that a PAGA-only representative action was not an individual action at all, but instead was one that was indivisible and belonged solely to the state. Therefore, YourMechanic could not require Provost to submit by contract any part of his representative PAGA action to arbitration. The trial court therefore properly denied YourMechanic's motion. View "Provost v. YourMechanic, Inc." on Justia Law

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Hooked developed an app for mobile devices. Hooked’s CEO and investors later wanted to sell the business. Apple showed interest. After two meetings, it was clear that Apple was not interested in buying Hooked for its technology or market share but might want to acquire Hooked so certain engineers would become Apple employees. Hooked declined but, short on cash, suggested to Apple that it “sell” three engineers to Apple and continue operating the less technical advertising aspect of its business, and provided the engineers’ resumes. Apple responded that it might consider paying a “finder’s fee” but instead contacted the engineers directly and hired them. Hooked demanded that its chief technical officer (CTO) return all Hooked confidential technical information. Hooked emailed Apple’s general counsel. Apple responded that it had no desire to use another company’s trade secrets and would facilitate the return of all confidential information.Hooked sued, alleging fraud, misappropriation of trade secrets, interference with contract and prospective economic advantage, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, unfair business practices, and unjust enrichment. The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment for Apple. No legal wrong is committed when a company solicits and hires away its competitor’s employees; absent some independent illegal act, the interests of the employee in his own mobility and betterment are paramount to the competitive business interests of the employers. Hooked cannot show Apple did something that transformed ordinary free-market competition into an actionable legal wrong. View "Hooked Media Group, Inc. v. Apple Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellant Marivel Santos was employed by respondent Crenshaw Manufacturing, Inc. (Crenshaw) in January 2017 as a machine operator on the production floor. Santos alleged that sometime in the second week of January 2017, she was instructed by her supervisor, Jose Flores, to operate a material-forming machine utilizing a die without any protective guards or cages. Ordinarily, Santos would have had to use both hands to operate the machine. This time, however, Flores instructed her to operate it “from the side using a bypass button.” Using the machine in this manner allowed Santos to operate the machine with her right hand, leaving her left hand free to reach into the machine to “press down the part” being cut. On January 12, 2017, Santos was operating the machine in this fashion when her left hand was crushed underneath the die, mutilating and severely injuring it. She filed a workers’ compensation claim against Crenshaw, and the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) investigated. In the 1980s, the California Legislature passed Labor Code section 4558's “power press exception” to the principle of workers’ compensation exclusivity, giving a right of action to employees injured by their employer’s knowing removal of or failure to install a point of operation guard on a power press when required by the manufacturer. In this case, the issue presented for the Court of Appeal's review centered on whether the power press exception applied when the manufacturer, 45 years prior to passage of the law, conveyed a more general requirement for guards which went completely unheeded by the present user. Under these unique circumstances, the Court concluded there were triable issues of material fact as to whether the employer violated the statute and reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in the employer’s favor. View "Santos v. Crenshaw Manufacturing, Inc." on Justia Law