Monday, October 06, 2014

Governor Brown Signs End of Session Employment Laws Part II

Here are some of the other employment laws that Governor Jerry Brown has signed, which will result in new obligations and liabilities in 2015.  

AB 1897 (text is here)  This new law states that employers that use temp agencies ("labor contractors") are liable for the unpaid wages and liability for failure of the contractor to secure workers' compensation insurance.  There are exceptions for certain types of labor.  Additionally, this law applies only to employers of > 25 workers, who hire more than 5 temps from agencies at a time.  So, for example, if your company hires a vendor to work in your manufacturing plant during a busy season. Then the vendor doesn't pay the employees.  You, the employer, will be liable for those payments on the same basis as the vendor.  Neat, right?  Also, employers and vendors cannot contract away this liability in the service agreement.

AB 1660. (text is here).  The California legislature is not done passing employment laws that make it illegal to take action against those applicants / employees who cannot lawfully be employed.  See, if you intentionally employ people who are unauthorized to work, it can be a federal crime. If you don't employ them, you can get sued for violating California law.  Another reason it's fun to be a California employer, eh gang?

The most recent law is AB 1660. This one addresses California's new driver's license that is specially created for "persons of undocumentation," or whatever the term is now.  If you see such a driver's license, do not take negative action against an employee for having one.  That's because:
It is a violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (Part 2.8 . . . for an employer or other covered person or entity, pursuant to Section 12940 of the Government Code and subdivision (v) of Section 12926 of the Government Code, to discriminate against a person because the person holds or presents a driver’s license issued pursuant to this section, or for an employer or other covered entity to require a
person to present a driver’s license, unless possessing a driver’s license is required by law or is required by the employer and the employer’s requirement is otherwise permitted by law. Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit or expand an employer’s authority to require a person to possess a driver’s license.
So, first, it's "national origin" discrimination to take action against someone who has one of these special driver's licenses. Therefore, if an employee can present sufficient documentation to satisfy the I-9 requirements, it's probably a FEHA violation to deny employment based on the fact that the employee cannot establish the bona fides needed for a "regular" driver's license.

Second, it's illegal to ask to see a driver's license, unless the employer requires the employee to have one.  So:  It's probably best not to inspect an employee's driver's license for driving authorization until after the employee is hired.

The law also provides that driver's license information is confidential.  That means it should not be copied and routinely given out. The law does not designate personnel files as confidential, but they are treated as such to protect employees' privacy. So, there's an argument that third party subpoenas for personnel records should not mandate automatic disclosure of driver's licenses unless there is a sufficiently important reason.

That all said, this law recognizes that the employer has the right to obtain proper authorization for an employee to work, including proper documentation to support an I-9 Form.  The law also says it's not a violation to enforce the IRCA by refusing to hire someone who cannot pass the I-9 Form requirements.  So, there's that.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

California Governor Brown Signing More New Employment Laws at End of 2014 Session (Part I)

The 2014 legislative session is over.  But employers will be remembering this one for a long time.  California Governor Jerry Brown signed a host of new laws at the end of the session.  Many deal with narrow-cast and public sector-related funding issues, which I won't cover here.  (You're welcome).

But there are several highlights among the new bills that merit your attention.  Thanks as always to Phyllis Cheng, on behalf of the California Bar's Labor and Employment Law section, for compiling the information and sending it out.

AB 1723 expands the Labor Commissioner's power to issue citations for under payment of wages to include waiting time penalties (not a new penalty, but a different method of enforcement).

AB 2617 appears to prohibit pre-dispute releases between employers and independent contractors that include waivers of claims under the "Ralph" and Bane Civil Rights Acts.  These are civil rights laws prohibiting hate crimes and violence based on protected criteria.  This law does not appear to apply to employees, but it's unclear because it's written so poorly.  But it only applies to provisions included in a contract for goods and services, and only prohibits waivers when "entering" into the contract (such as an independent contractor agreement (or offer letter if it applies to employees).  This law will take effect because the Governor also signed AB 2634.

AB 26 and AB 2272 expand prevailing wage law.  Prevailing wage is an inflated minimum wage rate that must be paid to "public works" contracts.  These laws expand what are "public works" and what is included in the term "construction" among other things. If you have state contracts, please review these with your lawyers.

Did the California Legislature Kill Arbitration?

Could be.  Certainly, arbitration services should be concerned that their services may not command the interest they once did.

Governor Brown just signed AB 802. This law applies to new arbitrations administered after 1/1/2015.

I'm going to call this law the "Slow Death to Arbitration Act."  Catchy? The plaintiff trial lawyers legislators who came up with this one are evil geniuses. If your company conducts arbitration, you are going to want to read this one.

One of the benefits of arbitration is that it's private. Not anymore. The major arbitration services, such as JAMS, AAA, etc. must publish at least quarterly a report and post it on its website.  The information will list the good and the bad, will give anyone who looks a free directory of plaintiff attorneys who have sued your companies, and more.  How about the number of mediations you've been involved in?

I'm highlighting in bold what employers should be most concerned about.

(1) Whether arbitration was demanded pursuant to a pre-dispute arbitration clause and, if so, whether the pre-dispute arbitration clause designated the administering private arbitration company.

(2) The name of the nonconsumer party, if the non consumer party is a corporation or other business entity, and whether the nonconsumer party was the initiating party or the responding party,
if known.

(3) The nature of the dispute involved as one of the following: goods; credit; other banking or finance; insurance; health care; construction; real estate; telecommunications, including software and Internet usage; debt collection; personal injury; employment; or other. If the dispute involved employment, the amount of the employee’s annual wage divided into the following ranges: less than one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000), one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) to two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000), inclusive, and over two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000). If the employee chooses not to provide wage information, it may be noted.

(4) Whether the consumer or nonconsumer party was the prevailing party. As used in this section, “prevailing party” includes the party with a net monetary recovery or an award of injunctive relief.

(5) The total number of occasions, if any, the non consumer party has previously been a party in an arbitration administered by the private arbitration company.

(6) The total number of occasions, if any, the non consumer party has previously been a party in a mediation administered by the private arbitration company.

(7) Whether the consumer party was represented by an attorney and, if so, the name of the attorney and the full name of the law firm that employs the attorney, if any.

(8) The date the private arbitration company received the demand for arbitration, the date the arbitrator was appointed, and the date of disposition by the arbitrator or private arbitration company.

(9) The type of disposition of the dispute, if known, identified as one of the following: withdrawal, abandonment, settlement, award after hearing, award without hearing, default, or dismissal without hearing. If a case was administered in a hearing, indicate whether the hearing was conducted in person, by telephone or video conference, or by documents only.

(10) The amount of the claim, whether equitable relief was requested or awarded, the amount of any monetary award, the amount of any attorney’s fees awarded, and any other relief granted, if any.

(11) The name of the arbitrator, his or her total fee for the case, the percentage of the arbitrator’s fee allocated to each party, whether a waiver of any fees was granted, and, if so, the amount of the waiver.

So, now, the enforceability of an arbitration agreement will be one issue. Whether you want the results of all your arbitrations posted online, with all the above information included, is something else.  Employers will have to consider whether to use private arbitration services, and whether this information revealed to the public makes arbitration an attractive alternative.

Good luck in 2015. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Court of Appeal: Federal OSHA preempts Unfair Competition Claims ( B&P Section 17200)

California's unfair competition law, Business and Professions Code section 17200, is quite broad.  Plaintiffs can bring claims for injunctive relief and restitution for just about anything they can prove is unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent.
California’s “UCL defines ‘unfair competition’ as ‘any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising.’ [Citation.] By proscribing ‘any unlawful’ business act or practice (ibid.), the UCL ‘“ borrows”‘ rules set out in other laws and makes violations of those rules independently actionable.”
The District Attorney of a jurisdiction also may use another section of the UCL, section 17204, to collect statutory penalties; private litigants cannot.  Such penalties are in addition to whatever other remedies are available.

Per the Court of Appeal in Solus Industrial Innovations LLC v. Superior Court, here's what happened:
Solus makes plastics at an Orange County manufacturing facility. In 2007, Solus installed an electric water heater intended for residential use at the facility. In March 2009, that water heater exploded, killing two workers instantly in what district attorney refers to as an “untimely and horrific death.”
As a result, Cal-OSHA investigated and fined Solus.  Because there was a death, Cal OSHA also referred the case to the district attorney, who prosecuted company officials.  But the DA also brought a civil action for penalties under the UCL. 

The company argued that federal OSHA preempts the UCL claim.  Federal OSHA preempts all workplace safety laws.  However, the Secretary of Labor may approve a state plan to substitute for the federal enforcement scheme, under certain conditions.

The problem for the DA is that the Secretary of Labor did not consider or approve private enforcement under the UCL by a DA.  Rather, it approved the Cal OSHA enforcement scheme.  Therefore, the Court of Appeal held that the DA could not maintain a civil claim for penalties under the UCL based on a workplace safety violation subject to Cal OSHA's jurisdiction.

Here's the money quote:
In light of our determination that state regulation of workplace safety standards is explicitly preempted by federal law under the OSH Act, and that consequently California is entitled to exercise its regulatory power only in accordance with the terms of its federally approved workplace safety plan, we conclude the district attorney cannot presently rely on the UCL to provide an additional means of penalizing an employer for its violation of workplace safety standards.
So, the Secretary of Labor would have to approve a modification to the California OSH law.  I imagine that could occur if California acts to make the change and submits it to our current administration. But we'll have to wait and see.

The opinion in Solus Industrial Innovations LLC v. Superior Court is here.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

More New California Employment Laws... Anti-Bullying Training and Unpaid Intern Harassment

The Governor has signed or is about to sign two more employment laws:

AB 1443 by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) – This new bill amends the Fair Employment and Housing Act to prohibit harassment against unpaid interns (in case they would not quality as "employees.").

The other new law requires a longer discussion.  AB 2053 by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) expands California's anti-harassment training law, AB 1825.  Employers must include as part of AB 1825 training information about "abusive conduct."   So, the Fair Employment and Housing Act is where AB 1825 sits.  And AB 1825 training originally was targeted at harassment that is illegal under FEHA, although it also must include training about discrimination and retaliation too.
Under the new law, though, employers must include information about conduct that is not covered by the Fair Employment and Housing Act.  That is because that law covers conduct that is motivated by sex, race, and other protected categories.  Here's the definition:  
For purposes of this section, “abusive conduct” means conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests. Abusive conduct may include repeated infliction of verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets, verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating, or the gratuitous sabotage or
undermining of a person’s work performance. A single act shall not constitute abusive conduct, unless especially severe and egregious.
So, no requirement of race, sex, or national origin-based hatred or bias. 

Most of the definition of abusive conduct prohibits treatment that is out of bounds, and which would be probative of a harassment claim if related to a protected status.  Training cannot hurt.  And as of now, as stated, "abusive conduct" is not prohibited by law.  

But the definition includes "derogatory remarks," that a "reasonable person" would find "humiliating."   For example, " Bob, you did a terrible job on that project.  Derogatory? Sure.  Humiliating?" Could be, right?   Perhaps the law requires repeated conduct, because it says "a single act" is not abusive conduct.  But even that proviso has a wiggle for single acts that are "especially severe and egregious."  Employers and managers will have to rely on "malice" to differentiate between harsh criticism and "abusive conduct."  Malice, though, is not defined in this statute, though it means "hatred or ill will" in other contexts.

We'll see how this shakes out. I'm sure that adding "abusive conduct" to FEHA is only one or two legislative sessions away.  Illegal harassment is not protected by the First Amendment, says the California Supreme Court. Is there a first amendment issue here?  We'll have to see that as well.   Stay tuned.  

This new law kicks in January 1, 2015.  I'm off to modify our training programs now.

Court of Appeal: Lying on Timesheets re Break Time is Misconduct: No Unemployment for You

The Court of Appeal in Irving v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board reversed a trial court ruling awarding an ex-employee unemployment benefits.

The Unemployment Ins. Appeals Board had ruled against the employee.
The administrative law judge found plaintiff exceeded the break times permitted by the district and made false entries on the time records. Plaintiff’s conduct constitutes dishonesty within the meaning of California Code of Regulations, title 22, section 1256-34, subdivision (a) which states in part, ‘“Dishonesty’ includes such acts and statements as lying, theft, making false entries on records, and other actions showing a lack of truthfulness and integrity. . . .” Here, plaintiff on four occasions took excessive breaks. And then he, by his own admission and the documentary evidence, failed to correctly state on his written timesheets how long the excessive breaks lasted. Based upon the foregoing, plaintiff committed misconduct within the meaning of section 1256.

If you read the opinion, you will see that the employee made a variety of excuses why he falsified time records to show that he took compliant breaks, while in reality he had taken overly long ones.  If you sift through it, you'll see the trial court's and employee's argument was that he had a "good faith" misunderstanding about whether he was doing something wrong.

The court of appeal rejected these arguments and the trial court's conclusions, relying on the EDD's regulations:

There is no basis for a finding that a reasonable person would have thought plaintiff’s conduct was not dishonest under the circumstances. As noted, one sentence in California Code of Regulations, title 22, section 1256-34, subdivision (b) mirrors the good faith misunderstanding language in section 1256, “Dishonesty does not exist if the employee’s act or statements arise from a good-faith misunderstanding between the employer and employee where a reasonable person would not have interpreted the acts or statements as dishonest under the circumstances.”

This rule, with its multiple uses of negatives, incorporates the following elements. For purposes of finding misconduct based upon dishonest actions, dishonesty does not exist under specified circumstances set forth in California Code of Regulations, title 22, section 1256-34, subdivision (b). For purposes of California Code of Regulations, title 22, section 1256-34, subdivision (b), the necessary circumstances must involve a dispute between the employer and the employee concerning whether conduct is dishonest. However, the dispute must arise from a good-faith misunderstanding between the employer and the employee. The good-faith misunderstanding is viewed from a reasonable person’s perspective; not from the employee or employer’s standpoint. Once the good faith dispute concerning whether the conduct is dishonest is viewed in that context, there are generally two possible outcomes. The first potential outcome is that if a reasonable person would not have interpreted the employee’s conduct as dishonest, then there has been no dishonesty. Under this first potential outcome, the employee is entitled to recover unemployment compensation benefits. By contrast, the second possible outcome arises if a reasonable person would have interpreted the employee’s conduct as dishonest. If a reasonable person concludes the employee’s conduct is dishonest, then there has been dishonesty for purposes of denying recovery of unemployment insurance benefits. Here, a reasonable person would not have interpreted plaintiff’s actions in taking four excessively long breaks and repeatedly falsifying his time records as honest. There is no evidence that a good-faith misunderstanding existed or could exist concerning plaintiff’s admitted taking of excessive breaks on four occasions and falsifying his time records.
But the court noted that this was a public employer, and that its conclusion might not apply automatically in a private sector setting.  Editorial comment: $%^&*
It bears emphasis that unlike other disputes that arise in the workplace, making false entries in a public document can be, depending on the circumstances, a crime. (Gov. Code, §§ 6200-6201; Pen. Code, § 115, subd. (a); see People v. Garfield (1985) 40 Cal.3d 192, 196.)
The court also rejected the "everybody does it" gambit:
The fact that other employees took excessive breaks is legally irrelevant. California Code of Regulations, title 22, section 1256-34, subdivision (b) addresses the situation when other employees engage in dishonest acts. When an employee engages in dishonest acts or statements and is thereby discharge, it is not an excuse that other employees engaged in an equally culpable act. (Ibid.) This rule applies even though the employer has no specific rule forbidding dishonesty. (Ibid.) 
The case is Irving v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and the opinion is here.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

9th Circuit Upholds Statistical Sampling to Determine Liability in Off the Clock Overtime Class Action

Allstate re-classified its adjusters to be non-exempt some years back.  Rather than require employees to keep their work time on time sheets or use a time clock, the employees were paid a standard eight hours per day / 40 hours per week.  However,
the manager of each local office has the power to file a timekeeping “exception” or “deviation” from the default expectation of 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week. This adjustment takes place when a claims adjuster’s request for overtime or early leave is approved. Managers do not adjust time cards based on either their own observations of work habits or on the technological records contained in computer and telephone systems. Each local office has a nonnegotiable compensation budget, which creates a functional limit on the amount of overtime a manager may approve.
Auto-punching, overtime pay only upon request, and a budget restricting overtime... What could go wrong?  

Right.  Jiminez, an adjuster, filed a class action. He claimed Allstate had an "unofficial policy" of discouraging employees from reporting overtime.  As a result, he and the class  members worked "off-the-clock" overtime for which they were not compensated.

Of note, the panel approved a district court's formulation of the elements of an off the clock work claim as follows:
Under California law, there are three elements of an off-the-clock claim of the type raised by the class here: “[A] plaintiff may establish liability for an off-the-clock claim by proving that (1) he performed work for which he did not receive compensation; (2) that defendants knew or should have known that plaintiff did so; but that (3) the defendants stood idly by.” Adoma v. Univ. of Phoenix, Inc., 270 F.R.D. 543, 548 (E.D. Cal. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Unfortunately, the court did not also cite Jong v. Kaiser Found. Hospital, a California decision (prior post here).

Anyway, the Court of Appeals here agreed with the district court that the class action should be certified.  The district court found these common questions predominated over individual ones:
(i) whether class members generally worked  overtime without receiving compensation as a result of Defendant’s unofficial policy of discouraging reporting of such overtime, Defendant’s failure to reduce class members’ workload after the reclassification, and Defendant’s policy of treating their pay as salaries for which overtime was an “exception”; (ii) whether Defendant knew or should have known that class members did so; and (iii) whether Defendant stood idly by without compensating class members for such overtime.

The Court of Appeals decided that these common questions would resolve the "common issue" of whether Allstate could be liable for off-the-clock work.  You may ask how a class can prove that its employees worked under the "unofficial" policy or the "official" policy requiring payment for all overtime?  

With statistics, that's how.  The Ninth Circuit panel held that the statistical models proposed by the plaintiff, and approved by the district court, could be used to prove liability:

the district court carefully analyzed the specific statistical methods proposed by plaintiffs. It struck some of the expert testimony offered by plaintiffs as insufficiently empirically supported and took pains to ensure that the statistical analysis it did accept conformed to the legal questions to which the analysis was being applied. Unlike the putative class in Comcast, 133 S.Ct. at 1434, which relied on
statistical analysis that was not closely tied to the relevant legal questions, or in Duran, 325 P.3d at 940, which used a sample of 20 names drawn from a hat without evidence showing that the number of names chosen or the method of selection would produce a result that could be “fairly extrapolated to the entire class,” the district court has accepted a form of statistical analysis that is capable of leading to a fair determination of Allstate’s liability, and preserved the rights of Allstate to present its damages defenses on an individual basis.
Allstate argued that the "unofficial policy" did not exist and that it had strong policies against off-the-clock work. But the court held that this argument was properly made at trial rather than certification:
Allstate argues that its formal policies which call for employees to be  paid for all overtime worked are lawful, and that the alleged informal “policy-to-violate-the-policy” does not exist. This argument is appropriately made at trial or at the summary judgment stage, as it goes to the merits of the plaintiffs’ claim. See In re Whirlpool Corp. Front-Loading Washer Products Liab. Litig. , 722 F.3d 838, 857 (6th Cir. 2013) (noting that if a defendant has a strong argument against classwide liability, it “should welcome class certification” as that allows it the opportunity to resolve claims of all class members at once). Whether any of these common questions are ultimately resolved in favor of either side is immaterial at this class certification stage, where we determine whether any answer that the questions could produce will drive resolution of the class’ claims.
So, take-aways: 
- "auto-clocking" is not a good practice if you want to avoid off-the-clock class actions.  
-  courts are continuing to certify now, ask about liability later.  
- statistical sampling can be used to determine liability without violating due process, at least for now. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on this issue.

This case is Jimenez v. Allstate Ins. Corporation and the opinion is here.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Court of Appeal: Employer's Fitness for Duty Examination Was Justified to Evaluate Workplace Threat

Professor John Kao engaged in a series of confrontations with other academics at University of San Francisco over time.  His co-workers became afraid of him.   He angrily responded to innocuous questions, and became enraged at colleagues over seemingly benign interactions.

So, the University began investigating.  It retained some specialists in workplace violence and threat assessment.  The experts recommended that Professor Kao be examined by a professional, who would render a "fitness for duty" opinion.  The University explained to Kao that he had to submit to the fitness for duty, or be placed on a leave of absence and excluded from the premises.  The University explained in detail the requirements of the FFD exam, including strict limitations on the expert evaluator's dissemination of information about Kao's condition.

Kao's lawyer got involved, and objected to the FFD.  As a result, the University placed Kao on a leave.   There were further meetings and exchanges with Kao's counsel, the faculty's union representative, and the University, to no avail.  The University then agreed to arbitration - under which the University would be bound, but Kao would not (!).  But Kao objected and would not agree to any ADR and would not submit to the exam.  Kao's attorney wanted to have a "clear the air meeting," at which Kao would assure the University he meant no harm.   The University ultimately terminated Kao's employment, about a year after all the problems started.

Kao sued for disability discrimination and defamation, among other things. A jury rejected Kao's claims and he appealed.

Kao argued at trial that the FFD was a medical examination.  Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, a medical examination of an employee is permissible if "job-related and consistent with business necessity."  And Kao argued that the FFD could not be job-related or necessary without the University's first engaging in the "interactive process" that is part of the "reasonable accommodation" process.

The Court of Appeal rejected that argument. First, the court noted that the FFD is not an accommodation, and the interactive process relates to the accommodation process.   Second, the court noted that Kao was required to initiate the interactive process, not the University:

Unless a disability is obvious, it is the employee’s burden to initiate the interactive process. (Gelfo v. Lockheed Martin Corp (2006) 140 Cal.App.4th 34, 62, fn. 22; 2 Wilcox, Cal. Employment Law (2013) § 41.51[3][b], p. 41-278.) Kao cannot plausibly claim it should have been obvious to USF that he was disabled because he never admitted any disability in the workplace. When a disability is not obvious, the employee must submit “reasonable medical documentation confirm[ing] [its] existence.” (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 11069, subd. (d)(2).) Kao did nothing of the sort. He provided no information to USF after learning of the university’s concerns other than documents at the October 2008 meeting with Philpott, which were aimed at showing that those concerns were illusory.
The court concluded that no interactive process was necessary.  For those of you wondering what "job-related and consistent with business necessity means," the court quoted from the jury instruction:
The jury was instructed in accordance with Government Code section 12940, subdivision (f): “ ‘John Kao claims that the university wrongfully required a medical and psychological examination (fitness-for-duty or FFD). [¶] . . . The University of San Francisco asserts that the medical or psychological examination (fitness-for-duty or FFD) request was lawful because it was necessary to the university’s business. To succeed, the university must prove both of the following: 1, that the purpose of the FFD was to operate its business safely and efficiently; and 2, that the FFD would substantially accomplish this business purpose. [¶] . . . If the university proves that the FFD is necessary to the university’s business, then the FFD is lawful unless John Kao proves both of the following: 1, that there was an alternative to the FFD that would have accomplished the university’s business purpose equally well; and 2, that the alternative would have had less adverse impact on John Kao.’ ”
The Court also rejected Kao's claim that the University fired him for not releasing his medical records in violation of California's Confidentiality of Medical Information Act.  The Court approved of the instruction to the jury that the University avoided liability if the jury found that the University fired Kao for refusing a lawful fitness for duty exam.

The Court upheld the trial court's granting of "non-suit" on Kao's defamation claim.  The claim was based on HR's sharing of a letter detailing Kao's conduct in connection with the FFD examination request.  The Court agreed that the "common interest" privilege applied and there was not evidence of the "malice" required to defeat the privilege.

Finally, the Court ruled that the University was entitled to put on evidence of available employment to Kao, even outside the context of a tenured University professor job.  That is important to the argument regarding mitigation of damages.   The Court of Appeal said it was up to the jury to decide if the comparable replacement employment was sufficiently similar.

This case is Kao v. University of San Francisco and the opinion is here.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Court of Appeal (Finally) Holds Workers' Compensation Act Preempts Intentional Infliction Claims

Yau was a service manager at a car dealer, claims he was fired for reporting to management that his bosses were defrauding Ford Motor Company by submitting false warranty claims.  For the most part, Yau complained about the nature of his discharge, which included deputy sheriffs lurking as he packed up his belongings.

The trial court dismissed the case.  The court of appeal reversed.  The appellate court decided Yau had adequately alleged a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy based on his allegations of warranty fraud.  But that's not really the interesting part of the case.

The interesting part is that the court of appeal decided that no cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress is available separate from the wrongful termination claim. The court finally addressed a 2008 California Supreme Court decision that I have been pushing up hill for years.  Here's how the appellate court saw it:

Physical and emotional injuries sustained in the course of employment are pre-empted by the workers’ compensation scheme and generally will not support an independent cause of action. (Cole v. Fair Oaks Fire Protection Dist. (1987) 43 Cal.3d 148, 160 (Cole).) Emotional injuries caused by workplace discipline, including termination, fall within this rule. (Ibid.; see also Shoemaker v. Myers (1990) 52 Cal.3d 1, 7.)  * * *

Yau relies on a series of cases that have found exceptions to this general rule of preemption when the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim is based on conduct that violates a fundamental public policy. (See e.g., Cabesuela v. Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc. (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 101, Leibert v. Transworld Systems, Inc. (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 1693; Phillips v. Gemini Moving Specialists (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 563.) Those cases were decided before our Supreme Court’s decision in Miklosy v. Regents of University of California (2008) 44 Cal.4th 876 (Miklosy), which held the exception to workers’ compensation preemption for employer “conduct that ‘contravenes fundamental public policy’ is aimed at permitting a Tameny action [for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy] to proceed despite the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy rule.” (Id. at pp. 902-903.) This exception does not, however, allow a “distinct cause of action, not dependent upon the violation of an express statute or violation of fundamental public policy.” (Id. at p. 902.) Miklosy held that even “‘severe emotional distress’” arising from “‘outrageous conduct’” that occurred “at the worksite, in the normal course of the employer-employee relationship” is the type of injury that falls within the exclusive province of workers’ compensation. (Ibid.) “‘An employer’s intentional misconduct in connection with actions that are a normal part of the employment relationship . . . resulting in emotional injury is considered to be encompassed within the compensation bargain, even if the misconduct could be characterized as “manifestly unfair, outrageous, harassment, or intended to cause emotional disturbance.”’ [Citation.]” (Vasquez, supra, 222 Cal.App.4th at p. 833.)
This case is Yau v. Santa Margarita Ford, Inc. and the opinion is here