Sunday, March 01, 2015

Ninth Circuit: Summary Judgment in Employment Discrimination Cases Should Not Happen Much

The Ninth Circuit reversed summary judgment in a disability discrimination case alleged under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.  We can't even say what the facts are, because the court does not recite them.

What we do know is:
To establish that he was terminated by Sears because of his disability, Nigro submitted a declaration stating that on June 29, 2009, he had a phone conversation with Larry Foerster, General Manager of the Sears Carlsbad store at which Nigro worked, and Foerster told him that “[i]f you're going to stick with being sick, it's not helping your situation. It is what it is. You're not getting paid, and you're not going to be accommodated.” Nigro also testified in his deposition that Sears's District Facilities Manager Alan Kamisugu told him not to be concerned about his pay issue because Chris Adams, Sears's District General Manager, had indicated to Kamisugu that Nigro was “not going to be here anymore.” The district court disregarded the evidence proffered by Nigro, on the basis that “the source of this evidence is Nigro's own self-serving testimony.”
* * * *
Nigro's direct supervisor Jason Foss also testified that Chris Adams said to him—referring to Nigro—that “I'm done with that guy .” 

What's so unusual about this case, warranting the court to publish the opinion?  Maybe it's because the district court found that Nigro's declaration could be disregarded as "self-serving."  The court explained that is not a basis to ignore the plaintiff's declaration:

We have previously acknowledged that declarations are often self-serving, and this is properly so because the party submitting it would use the declaration to support his or her position. S.E.C. v. Phan, 500 F.3d 895, 909 (9th Cir.2007) (holding that district court erred in disregarding declarations as “uncorroborated and self-serving”). The source of the evidence may have some bearing on its credibility, and thus on the weight it may be given by a trier of fact. But that evidence is to a degree self-serving is not a basis for the district court to disregard the evidence at the summary judgment stage. See 10A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2727 (3d ed. 2011) (“[F]acts asserted by the party opposing the [summary judgment] motion, if supported by affidavits or other evidentiary material, are regarded as true.”). Here, Nigro's declaration and deposition testimony, albeit uncorroborated and self-serving, were sufficient to establish a genuine dispute of material fact on Sears's discriminatory animus. We conclude that the district court erred in disregarding Nigro's testimony in granting Sears's motion for summary judgment. 
The Court also reversed summary judgment on the plaintiff's claims for denial of accommodation and failure to engage in the interactive process, also on the basis of alleged hostility by General Manager, Foerster. 

The Court then commented about summary judgment in discrimination cases as follows, which is why I entitled this post the way I did:

We have previously held in several cases that it should not take much for plaintiff in a discrimination case to overcome a summary judgment motion. See, e.g., Diaz v. Eagle Produce Ltd. P'ship, 521 F.3d 1201, 1207 (9th Cir.2008); Davis v. Team Elec. Co., 520 F.3d 1080, 1089 (9th Cir.2008); Metoyer v. Chassman, 504 F.3d 919, 939 (9th Cir.2007); Dominguez–Curry v. Nevada Transp. Dep't, 424 F.3d 1027, 1042 (9th Cir.2005); Chuang v. Univ. of Cal. Davis, Bd. of Trustees, 225 F.3d 1115, 1124 (9th Cir.2000). “This is because the ultimate question is one that can only be resolved through a searching inquiry—one that is most appropriately conducted by a factfinder, upon a full record.” Id.

Here, Nigro presented several state law claims that deserved trial. It should not take a whole lot of evidence to establish a genuine issue of material fact in a disability discrimination case, at least where the fact issue on discrimination is genuine and the disability would not preclude gainful employment of a person working with accommodation. We acknowledge that this is not a wholly one-sided case on the side of Nigro, and Sears put forward substantial evidence showing that it had a non-discriminatory reason for terminating Nigro's employment, i.e., Sears's position that Nigro did not comply with Sears's attendance and leave policies resulting in job abandonment. It is possible that Sears will prevail at trial, but the statements attributed to Sears's supervisors by Nigro are, if not dispositive, sufficient to raise a genuine issue for the trier of fact. See Metoyer, 504 F.3d at 939 (holding that an employer's evidence of a non-discriminatory motive does not warrant entry of summary judgment when the employee also proffered evidence to the contrary).
Sure, it's still possible to win summary judgment in state and federal court.  However, there of late has been a shift in courts' willingness to grant summary judgment, at least in my opinion.  The trial courts may fear reversal, as appellate courts frequently do.  Trial courts may perceive that employers rarely take cases to trial and settle, which makes it unlikely that a courtroom will be clogged with cases that cannot be won at trial.  Who knows why the pendulum is shifting.  But it is.  

Employers and their lawyers are going to have to decide how to address this shift, whether it be arbitration in lieu of the court system, taking every case to trial until the courts shift back towards summary judgment, lobbying for a change in the law, or something else. 

This case is Nigro v. Sears Roebuck & Co. and the opinion is here



Saturday, February 28, 2015

Court of Appeal Finds Insufficient Evidence Attributing Electronic Signature to Employee

Employers increasingly rely on electronic acknowledgements of policies and procedures.  An "electronic signature" is valid under California law.  But the reason those signatures exist is so that employers can prove the employee read and signed the document.  That's what Moss Bros. Auto found out in a recent case.

The document was an arbitration agreement, which Moss Bros. claimed that its employee, Ruiz, signed.  However, Ruiz claimed he did not "remember" signing it.  So, Moss Bros. had to establish that he did when it moved to compel Ruiz to arbitrate his wage-hour claims.


Moss Bros. adduced the declaration of its business manager, Mary K. Main, who was “required to be familiar with the generation and maintenance” of employee personnel records. Main summarily asserted that Ruiz “electronically signed” the 2011 agreement “on or about September 21, 2011,and that the same agreement was presented to all persons who seek or seek to maintain employmentwith Moss Bros. or its affiliated dealerships and service/parts centers. Main did not explain how Moss Bros. verified that Ruiz, or other Moss Bros. employees, electronically signed the 2011 agreement. 
The 2011 agreement is just over two pages in length. “Ernesto Zamora Ruiz” appears in print on the first page, under the title, “Employee Acknowledgment and Agreement,and the phrases “Ernesto Zamora Ruiz (Electronic Signature)” and “9/21/2011 11:47:27 AM” appear in print on the third page, under the signature and date lines of the 2011 agreement. 
In a supplemental declaration, Main testified that Ruiz had to log in using a unique user name and password. 

The court of appeal decided that was not enough because Main did not "authenticate" the electronic signature.  here is the standard for doing so:
Civil Code section 1633.9 addresses how a proponent of an electronic signature may authenticate the signaturethat is, show the signature is, in fact, the signature of the person the proponent claims it is. The statute states: “(a) An electronic record or electronic signature is attributable to a person if it was the act of the person. The act of the person may be shown in any manner, including a showing of the efficacy of any security procedure applied to determine the person to which the electronic record or electronic signature was attributable.” (Civ. Code, § 1633.9, subd. (a), italics added.) 
Here, the court found that Main's testimony about the general procedures applicable to electronically signing the arbitration agreement was insufficient.  The court provided some hints as to what would have been enough:


Main did not explain that an electronic signature in the name of “Ernesto Zamora Ruiz” could only have been placed on the 2011 agreement (i.e., on the Employee Acknowledgement form) by a person using Ruiz’s “unique login ID and password”; that the date and time printed next to the electronic signature indicated the date and time the electronic signature was made; that all Moss Bros. employees were required to use their unique login ID and password when they logged into the HR system and signed electronic forms and agreements; and the electronic signature on the 2011 agreement was, therefore, apparently made by Ruiz on September 21, 2011, at 11:47 a.m. Rather than offer this or any other explanation of how she inferred the electronic signature on the 2011 agreement was the act of Ruiz, Main only offered her unsupported assertion that Ruiz was the person who electronically signed the 2011 agreement. In the face of Ruiz’s failure to recall electronically signing the 2011 agreement, the fact the 2011 agreement had an electronic signature on it in the name of Ruiz, and a date and time stamp for the signature, was insufficient to support a finding that the electronic signature was, in fact, the act ofRuiz. (Civ. Code, § 1633.9, subd. (a).) For the same reason, the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that the electronic signature was what Moss Bros. claimed it was: the electronic signature of Ruiz. (Evid. Code, § 1400, cl. (a).) This was not a difficult evidentiary burden to meet, but it was not met here. 
As a result, the court found there was insufficient evidence of an agreement to arbitrate and upheld the trial court's denial of Moss Bros.'s petition to compel arbitration.

Yes, it may be that Moss Bros. failed to compel Ruiz to arbitrate due to a poorly drafted declaration, rather than some flaw in the electronic signing protocol.  But litigators need proof that an employee signed handbook acknowledgements, training attendance forms, etc. Although an arbitration agreement was involved here, this decision applies to all sorts of electronically signed documents.  The average manager has no idea how the electronic signing process works, cannot testify that he or she actually saw the employee at the computer electronically signing, etc.

Therefore, when implementing electronic versions of documents, employers must have their IT professionals build in ways to do so.  For example, there could be an acknowledgment email sent to the employee, with a copy to the employer.  Or  the IT management could create a step-by-step explanation of how the system ensures that the  name appearing on the electronic application is attributable to the actual person and not merely inserted later. 

This case is Ruiz v. Moss Bros. Auto and the decision is here.





Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ninth Circuit to California Supreme Court: About that One Day's Rest in Seven Law?

If only I could ask the California Supreme Court to answer some wage and hour questions for my clients and me. Fortunately, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has that authority.
In this instance, the Ninth Circuit has asked the California Court to take up three questions pertaining to California's rarely litigated "day of rest" laws.   In California, there is a statute requiring "one day's rest" in seven. There are some exceptions too.

Here are the questions the Court asked about these statutes:

"Rolling v. Workweek" 

(A) California Labor Code section 551 provides that “[e]very person employed in any occupation of labor is entitled to one day’s rest therefrom in seven.” Is the required day of rest calculated by the workweek, or is it calculated on a rolling basis for any consecutive seven- day period?
This question is very important.  Sometimes employees may work seven days in a row, but across two different work weeks.  If the rule is any consecutive seven days, that could cause significant scheduling issues.

Exemption for Part Timers?
(B) California Labor Code section 556 exempts employers from providing such a day of rest “when the total hours of employment do not exceed 30 hours in any week or six hours in any one day thereof.” (Emphasis added.) Does that exemption apply when an employee works less than six hours in any one day of the applicable week, or does it apply only when an employee works less than six hours in each day of the week?
The Court wants to know:  may an employee work 7 days if he works 8-8-8-5-8-8-8 without causing a violation?  Or must the hours be under 6 for each day worked in the seven consecutive days, e.g., 5-5-5-5-5-5-5?

Switching / Trading Shifts 
(C) California Labor Code section 552 provides that an employer may not “cause his employees to work more than six days in seven.” What does it mean for an employer to “cause” an employee to work more than six days in seven: force, coerce, pressure, schedule, encourage, reward, permit, or something else? 
Here the Court wants to know whether an employer violates the law merely by allowing a worker to work 7 days in a row?  For example, what if an employee is scheduled to work only 6 days per week. But the employee 'picks up" a shift because a co-worker asks him or her to do so?

* * * *

The Supreme Court may decline to answer the questions, but may choose to do so.   If the Court rules in favor of the employee-friendly interpretation presented as an alternative in the Ninth Circuit's order, it would completely change the way employers schedule employees, and likely would result in fewer hours worked per employee.   So, this is a very important case for the Supreme Court to rule on.

The case is Mendoza v. Nordstrom, and the opinion is here.  Interesting reading, employers and lawyers.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Court of Appeal Limits Meal Break Waivers in Healthcare Industry

Here's one of those cases where California's labyrinth of employment laws conflict, the employer chooses to rely on one of them, and the employer finds out it made the wrong choice.  The lesson arises in the context of a meal break class action.

Many health care workers work 12-hour shifts, often as part of an alternative workweek arrangement.  And many of this 12-hour shift workers prefer to keep the day 1/2 hour shorter, and, therefore, waive a second meal period.  Otherwise, they are going to be at work for at least 13 hours for each 12-hour shift, because they have to take two meal periods of at least 30-minutes each.  It seems to me the employer does not gain financially from permitting employees to waive the second meal period; the meal period is unpaid.  Only the employee benefits, because the employee can go home 1/2 hour earlier.  

Fortunately, the Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders include one applicable to the health care industry.  This is Wage Order 5-2001.  Section 11(D) of that Wage Order says:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this order, employees in the health care industry who work shifts in excess of eight (8) total hours in a workday may voluntarily waive their right to one of their two meal periods.” 
Relying on that provision, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center issued a policy allowing health care workers to voluntarily waive second meal periods. Employees duly signed waivers authorizing this waiver. However, because of the language in Section 11(D), the waiver applied even when employees occasionally worked more than 12 hours. 

So, what's the problem?  Well, the Labor Code also contains meal period requirements, enacted as part of AB 60, that 1999 law that created the penalties for meal period violations, among other things.


Labor Code Section 512(a) provides in pertinent part:
 “An employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than 10 hours per day without providing the employee with a second meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee only if the first meal period was not waived.” (Italics added.) 
Furthermore, section 516 explains: “Except as provided in Section 512, the [IWC] may adopt or amend working condition orders with respect to break periods, meal periods, and days of rest for any workers in California consistent with the health and welfare of those workers.” (Italics added.) 
Rejecting the hospital's arguments, the Court of Appeal held that Section 11(D) of the Wage Order could not stand because section 512 of the Labor Code was controlling.  Therefore, under Section 512 and 11(D) employees could waive second meal periods. But, because of Section 512's limitations, the waiver is valid only if the total hours worked were 12 or less. 

That means 

- if an employee has to work 12 1/2 hours, the meal period waiver is invalid, and
- the employee must either take a second meal period or be paid one extra hour of premium pay.

Given that employees' shifts sometimes will go longer than 12 hours because of unanticipated issues that arise after the 10th hour of work, employers will have to be nimble to schedule second meal periods or pay the one-hour premium.

More bad news, the hospital argued that the decision should not be retroactive, because the hospital relied on the Wage Order, which has the force of law.   The Court of Appeal decided that prior decisions of the courts held that no Wage Order could grant any waivers or vary the meal period structure set forth in section 512.  Therefore, Section 11(D) of the Wage Order was invalid from the beginning, waiting only for a court to expressly say so.  The Court held that the hospital would be liable for meal period premiums resulting from its employing health care workers for more than 12 hours without providing a second meal period.

So, this case applies only to the health care industry, and only to meal period waivers allowing a waiver for shifts > 12 hours.  But it's also precedent that precludes employers from relying on Wage Order provisions that are more employer-friendly than AB 60 allows.

This case is Gerard v. Orange Coast Memorial Med. Ctr. and the opinion is here. 



Friday, January 30, 2015

Court of Appeal Finds Rest Periods Valid Even If Employees Potentially Could be Interrupted

The Court of Appeal ruled that security guards' rest periods were lawful, even though employees might have to respond to an emergency call during a rest period.  We're especially happy about this decision because we wrote an amicus curiae brief supporting the employer on behalf of the California Chamber of Commerce.

As explained by the Court:

Plaintiff Jennifer Augustus and others, formerly security guards employed by defendant ABM Security Services, Inc. (hereafter ABM), allege on behalf of themselves and a class of similarly situated individuals that ABM failed to provide rest periods required by California law in that it failed to relieve security guards of all duties during rest breaks, instead requiring its guards to remain on call during breaks. 
So, the security guards were posted a job sites, where they were responsible for ensuring the security of the property, responding to calls, etc.  They were provided rest periods in accordance with the law (at least 10 minutes, paid, for each four hours of work).  But

ABM admitted it requires its security guards to keep their radios and pagers on during rest breaks, to remain vigilant, and to respond when needs arise, such as when a tenant wishes to be escorted to the parking lot, a building manager must be notified of a mechanical problem, or an emergency situation occurs. 
Of note, the plaintiffs did not provide any evidence that an employee's rest period was actually interrupted. Ever. However, The trial court ruled that the Plaintiffs' rest periods were not valid, because of the potential for interruption.  The trial court also awarded the class $90 million in rest period premiums and penalties because every rest period was noncompliant.

The Court of Appeal disagreed.  In doing so, it analyzed what the employer must do to authorize and permit a valid rest period.  Here's the meat of the analysis:


The text of the wage order does not describe the nature of a rest period, but section 226.7 offers a partial definition: An employer shall not require an employee to work during a meal or rest or recovery period.(Italics added.)   *** Section 226.7 therefore provides our only guidance as to the nature of a rest break, and it says only that an employee cannot be required to workduring a break. ***

Not only did the IWC decline to distinguish between on- and off-duty rest periods, its prescription that on-duty meal periods be paid, coupled with the mandate that all rest periods be paid, implies rest periods are normally taken while on duty, i.e., while subject to employer control. There is no support, therefore, in the text of Wage Order No. 4, the Labor Code, or any DLSE opinion letter for plaintiffsclaim that a rest break is valid only if the employee is relieved of all duties. ***
After a petition for rehearing, the Court considered the effect of Mendiola v. CPS Security Solutions, a recent California Supreme Court decision that we blogged here.  There, the Supreme Court held that time an employee was required to remain on premises was compensable as hours worked, even though the employees were permitted to sleep and were not formally "on duty."  The Court rejected the plaintiff's argument that Mendiola required the court to hold that being on-call means no rest period:
On-call status is a state of being, not an action. But section 226.7 prohibits only the action, not the status. In other words, it prohibits only working during a rest break, not remaining available to work. * * *
In sum, although on-call hours constitute “hours worked,remaining available to work is not the same as performing work. (See Mendiola, supra, 2015 Cal. LEXIS at p. 9 [distinguishing readiness to serve from service itself]; see also Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11040, subd. 2(K) [distinguishing “hours worked” from work actually performed].) Section 226.7 proscribes only work on a rest break. 
The Court then held that the trial court properly certified the class. However, the effect of that part of the ruling is to doom the entire class's claim.
This case is Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc. and the opinion is here.  Please note, however, that the court modified the opinion at the end, and the modifications have not yet been integrated into the main opinion.

Have a restful weekend!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

CA Supreme Court: Employer Lawfully Fired Employee on CFRA Leave Who Violated Employer's Policy

The California Supreme Court did not decide whether an employer's "honest belief" that an employee is misusing family or medical leave is a defense to a claim against an employer for violating the California Family Rights Act.  Instead, the Court decided whether a court had the power to vacate an arbitrator's decision because the arbitrator's ruling adopted the "honest belief" defense.  BUT, if you get through the arbitration portion of this post, you'll see that the high Court announced an important rule regarding CFRA leave. 

First, arbitrators' decisions generally are NOT reviewable for legal error, because arbitration is supposed to be quick and less expensive than litigation. But a few years ago, the California Supreme Court carved out an exception for statutory claims based on "unwaivable" rights (such as the Fair Employment and Housing Act, or the California Family Rights Act).  The Court held in Pearson Dental Supply v. Superior Court (my post is here.) that an appellate court may vacate an arbitration award when the arbitrator's legal error denies the plaintiff a hearing. 

In the present case, Richey v. Autonation, the Supreme Court held that the court of appeal did NOT have the power to vacate an arbitrator's decision that Automation lawfully fired Richey, based on its honest belief that Richey was abusing CFRA leave. Regardless of whether the honest belief defense is valid in California, the arbitrator's decision is unreviewable for that kind of claimed legal error.
The error addressed in Pearson Dental therefore kept the parties from receiving a review on the merits. Its narrow rule was sufficient to resolve the case. (Ibid.) Plaintiff here has not advocated for a greater scope of judicial review in cases involving unwaivable statutory rights, and thus, there is no reason to go beyond the framework Pearson Dental established.
But that's only half the story.

The Court also ruled that even if the arbitrator relied on the "honest belief" defense erroneously, Richey would have lost anyway.  That is because, the Court found, Automation justifiably fired Richey while he was on CFRA leave, because Richey violated Automation's policy prohibiting work during CFRA leave:


Even if the arbitrator erred, and even if such an error could serve as a basis for vacating an arbitration award, plaintiff has not shown that the error was prejudicial.  


Here, the arbitrator found plaintiff was fired because he violated Power Toyota‘s employment policy against outside work while on approved CFRA medical leave, not because he was on approved leave. 3 The evidence to support that finding, as reflected in the arbitrator‘s factual findings, was overwhelming. Power Toyota explicitly warned plaintiff that its policy prohibited any outside employment, including self-employment, while on leave. Plaintiff knowingly ignored the warnings. Power Toyota invited plaintiff to communicate regarding his outside employment, and he deliberately avoided any such communication. ***
[P]laintiff blatantly ignored his superiors‘ clear instructions not to work at the restaurant while on CFRA leave. To ignore this fact and to hold that Power Toyota could not have fired plaintiff under any circumstances for violating company policy while on leave would ignore the rule that plaintiff had ―no greater right to reinstatement or to other benefits and conditions of employment than if [he] had been continuously employedduring the statutory leave period. (29 C.F.R. § 825.216(a).)
The arbitrator found plaintiff‘s firing was based on a clear violation of company policy — a legally sound basis for upholding the arbitrator‘s award — and would likely have made that finding regardless of the evidence or findings as to the employer‘s honest belief plaintiff was misrepresenting his medical condition. 
So, you thought it was an arbitration case, but it's really a very significant CFRA case.  Richey v. Automation is here.

California Employers: A Reminder from CalOSHA

CalOSHA reminds employers to post their Form 300A, which must include any reportable injury or death during the previous reporting period.  See the handy press release here, which contains links to forms and other information

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Pot Pourri of Recent Employment Law Decisions

Here are some recent significant California employment law developments I missed. Long post, but chock full of employment law goodness. Or something:

Employer's Summary Judgment on Disability Discrimination and Related Claims
The court of appeal in Swanson v. Morongo Unified School District (opinion here) reversed summary judgment in favor of the school district.

Swanson was a teacher who was treated with breast cancer.  The school district voted not to renew her contract based on her performance.  Swanson believed the district's vote was based on her cancer and treatment.  She also claimed that the district failed to accommodate her by refusing to allow her to teach a second grade class rather than the assignment they gave her, and failed to adequately engage in the "interactive process."

On the discrimination claim, the court of appeal acknowledged the district demonstrated Swanson's poor performance as a legitimate reason.  That shifted the burden to Swanson to raise a triable issue of fact regarding whether discrimination motivated the district, rather than performance. Here is the pretext analysis:


Swanson had to present evidence showing (1) the District’s stated reason for not renewing her contract was untrue or pretextual; (2) the District acted with a discriminatory animus in not renewing her contract; or (3) a combination of the two. *** We conclude Swanson met this burden by presenting evidence establishing a triable issue of fact on whether the District intentionally discriminated against her when making its teaching assignments and its treatment of her after her cancer diagnosis and medical leaves. ***We conclude Swanson met this burden by presenting evidence establishing a triable issue of fact on whether the District intentionally discriminated against her when making its teaching assignments and its treatment of her after her cancer diagnosis and medical leaves. 
Here's the evidence the court found significant:

The evidence the parties presented establishes the following disputed facts creating a triable issue on Swanson’s liability theory: (1) Swanson performed well in the teaching assignments she held during her first two years with the District, but the District gave her a new teaching assignment for the first full school year after she completed her cancer treatments; (2) the District gave Swanson the new assignment knowing it would require her to spend additional time planning and preparing to teach her new class and Swanson’s weakened health condition impaired her ability to do so; (3) the District denied Swanson’s request to teach a second grade class similar to one she recently had taught at her previous school, and instead assigned the available second grade class to another teacher; (4) the District assigned Swanson to teach a kindergarten class even though she had not taught kindergarten in nearly 30 years and expressed concern her weakened immune system could not protect her from the many illnesses prevalent in kindergarten classes; (5) although promising to do so, Lowe did not provide Swanson the preevaluation format she needed to prepare for her first series of teacher observations; (6) the District did not provide Swanson the mentor teacher she requested after receiving the remediation plan or any of the other training or assistance she requested; (7) Lowe told Swanson the District wanted him to make a determination on her employment status before he had time to complete the second series of teacher observations; (8) Lowe asked Swanson to resign her teaching position even though he gave her a positive review on the first teaching observation following the remediation plan and implied her review on the second observation also would be positive; and (9) the District’s Board of Education voted not to renew Swanson’s contract before she completed the remediation plan and all of the observations were conducted.
This is to say that the court of appeal felt that a jury should decide whether the district's personnel actions against Swanson that led to her poor performance were motivated by her disability. Therefore, to win these cases, the employer should show on summary judgment that it treated the plaintiff the same as the other, similarly situated, employees.

On the failure to accommodate claim, the plaintiff claimed she would have been able to perform her essential job functions if she was assigned to teach a second grade class, rather than the kindergarten class she was assigned. Although the district showed the court several accommodations it provided, the court was unpersuaded that the district was entitled to summary judgment:
Swanson does not claim the District failed to grant her leave or any other scheduling accommodation. Instead, she alleges the District failed to reasonably accommodate her cancer-related conditions because it refused to provide her the accommodation she sought after the District decided to move her out of the reading specialist position she held during the 2007/2008 school year. Specifically, she alleges the District refused her request to teach an available second grade class. According to Swanson, the second grade class assignment was a reasonable accommodation that would allow her to perform her essential job functions because she recently had taught a second grade class when working in another district, and therefore was familiar with the curriculum and children of that age. Swanson alleged any other new teaching assignment would require additional time to prepare and plan lessons, but the effect of her cancer treatments jeopardized her ability to prepare for her new assignment. 
         *  *  *
To meet its initial burden on Swanson’s failure to accommodate claims, the District therefore had to present evidence showing the second grade position Swanson sought was not available or otherwise was not a reasonable accommodation, or the fifth grade or kindergarten assignments the District offered were reasonable accommodations that would have allowed Swanson to adequately perform her essential job functions. The District produced no such evidence. 
The court also held that the district did not adequately engage in the interactive process to determine an accommodation:
The District contends Swanson’s interactive process claims fail because it engaged in the interactive process by switching her from fifth grade to kindergarten when she objected to the fifth grade assignment. That contention is not adequate to satisfy the District’s initial burden on summary judgment. The FEHA required the District to engage in an ongoing dialogue regarding the accommodations Swanson believed she needed to mitigate her cancer-related conditions, but the District failed to present any evidence to show it engaged Swanson in such a dialogue. For example, the District offers no evidence to show it discussed with Swanson the second grade assignment she sought or provided any explanation why it could not grant her request as a reasonable accommodation. To the contrary, the evidence shows the District simply assigned Swanson to teach kindergarten and failed to engage in any further discussion with her. Accordingly, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the interactive process claims. 

Arbitration Compelled Even Though Insufficient Proof Unsigned Arbitration Policy Was in Effect

Stephanie Cruise signed an employment application with Kroger Corporation, in which she agreed to mandatory, final, binding arbitration. The application referenced a separate mediation and arbitration policy, which was "incorporated by reference."  After her termination, Cruise sued Kroger. Kroger moved to compel arbitration. The trial court denied the motion, holding that Kroger had not proved that Cruise had received the arbitration policy, or that the one attached to the motion was the one she had allegedly received.

The court of appeal reversed the trial court and ordered arbitration. The court held that the following language in the application "eliminate[d]" Cruise's argument there was no agreement to arbitrate:
“MANDATORY FINAL & BINDING ARBITRATION: I acknowledge and understand that the Company has a Dispute Resolution Program that includes a Mediation & Binding Arbitration Policy (the ‘Policy’) applicable to all employees and applicants for employment . . . . I acknowledge, understand and agree that the Policy is incorporated into this Employment Application by this reference as though it is set forth in full, . . . the Policy applies to any employment-related disputes that exist or arise between Employees and the Company . . . and that the Policy requires that any Employee who wishes to initiate or participate in formal proceedings to resolve any Covered Disputes must submit the claims or disputes to final and binding arbitration in accordance with the Policy.” (Italics added.)
The court rejected Cruise's argument that the employer did not sign the application, reasoning that the employer submitted the application to Cruise of signature, and that it was Kroger's own application, after all.

BUT, what of the policy?  The court of appeal accepted the trial court's conclusion that the employer had not established the existence of the policy, which governed the terms and procedures re arbitration. The court of appeal, however, ruled that Cruise was still obligated to arbitrate, only under the California Arbitration Act.

The only impact of Kroger‟s inability to establish the contents of the 2007 Arbitration Policy is that Kroger failed to establish that the parties agreed to govern their arbitration by procedures different from those prescribed in the CAA (§ 1280 et seq.). Unless the parties otherwise agree, the conduct of an arbitration proceeding is controlled by the CAA. (See, e.g., §§ 1281.6, 1282, 1282.2.) Here, because Kroger failed to establish an agreement to the contrary, the instant arbitration proceeding is to be governed by the procedures set forth in the CAA. Because this arbitration is controlled by California statutory and case law, Cruise‟s arguments that Kroger‟s Arbitration Policy is unconscionable, both procedurally and substantively, are meritless.
If this case remains good law, then (1) employers can include clear agreements to arbitrate in applications and (2) they can rely on the California Arbitration Act rather than prescribe specific procedures.

This case is Cruise v. Kroger Co .and the opinion is here.

                                                                 * * *
Here are some narrow decisions, but which may contain helpful holdings for other cases.

LA Hotel Service Charge Ordinance - Class Action - UCL Claim 

The court of appeal in Audio Visual Services Group, Inc. v. Superior Court opinion here, handled a narrow issue: whether Los Angeles's Hotel Service Charge Reform Ordinance applied to third party employees who do not traditionally depend on tips.  The Ordinance requires certain hotels to pay certain employees all service charges added to customers bills.  The Audio Visual employees provided AV services to hotels, for which they charged a fee plus a service charge. The plaintiffs sued, claiming they were owed that service charge. The Court of Appeal issued a writ, sustaining the employer's demurrer to the class complaint (extraordinary in and of itself). The court of appeal decided that the ordinance does not apply to Audio Visual's employees.  Of note, the court clearly held that the employees "unfair competition claim" under Business and Professions Code section 17200 was not actionable because the statutory claim also was without merit. So, this case can help in other UCL actions. Money quote:

In light of our construction of the Ordinance that Solares, an audio-visual technician, is not among the class of hotel workers entitled to be paid service charges pursuant to the Ordinance, Solares cannot assert a UCL claim against PSAV. Business and Professions Code section 17200 defines “unfair competition” as “any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising and any act prohibited by Chapter 1 (commencing with [Business and Professions Code ] Section 17500) of Part 3 of Division 7 of the Business and Professions Code.” The UCL claim is dependent upon a violation of the Ordinance. Thus, the class action complaint failed to state a cause of action.
U.S. Supreme Court: Whistle Blower Under Homeland Security Act Protected

Department of Homeland Security v. MacLean (opinion here)  involves an Air Marshall who reported  to MSNBC that the TSA had canceled Air Marshall missions during a time when there was a heightened security alert regarding possible Al Qaeda highjackings.  He had been told that TSA canceled missions to save money.  After MacLean made the disclosure, TSA reversed its position under pressure from Congress.

The TSA discovered MacLean was the leaker and fired him in 2006.  He sued for whistleblower retaliation. TSA argued that MacLean's disclosure was "specifically prohibited" by its regulation, which was as good as "law." TSA had issued regulations prohibiting disclosure of what they called "sensitive security information." That information could include "information concerning specific numbers of Federal Air Marshals, deployments or missions, and the methods involved in such operations.”

Federal law generally provides whistleblower protections to an employee who discloses information revealing “any violation of any law, rule, or regulation,” or “a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.” 5 U. S. C. §2302(b)(8)(A). An exception exists, however, for disclosures that are “specifically prohibited by law.”
So, the question for the Court was whether MacLean's disclosure was prohibited by law.  The Court held (7-2) that the statute's use of "specifically prohibited by law" meant statutory law, rather than regulations.  The Court reasoned that Congress had used "law, rule or regulation" throughout the whistleblower law, but limited the disclosure exception only to "law."