$300,000 punitive damages award to sexual harassment victim

Court upholds $300,000 punitive damages award to sexual harassment victim under Title VII.

Angela Aguilar was employed by Asarco, LLC at the Mission Mine complex near Tucson, Arizona from December 2005 through November 2006. The Mission Mine includes a copper mine from which copper ore is extracted and a mill facility in which the ore is crushed, filtered, and refined. Ms. Aguilar started as a mill laborer and became a car loader operator in March 2006. She then became a filter operator in the filter plant and later, a rod and ball mill person. Angela Aguilar claimed that during her time at Asarco, she was subjected to sexual harassment, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and was ultimately forced to resign from her employment. She filed a lawsuit against Asarco, alleging harassment, constructive termination, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).

After the conclusion of an eight-day trial, the jury found Asarco liable on Aguilar’s sexual harassment claims. Although Angela Aguilar was awarded only $1 in actual damages, she was awarded the maximum of $300,000 in punitive damages against Asarco. In addition, the Court awarded Angela Aguilar $350,902.75 in attorneys’ fees and costs. These awards were later determined to be appropriate by the Federal Court of Appeals.

In upholding theses amounts, the Court of Appeals concluded that an award of $300,000 in punitive damages — the maximum amount permitted under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a — comports with due process even though the jury only awarded $1 in actual damages.  

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Security guards entitled to compensation for on-call hours

Security guards entitled to compensation for on-call hours

CPS Security Solutions, Inc., employed on-call guards to provide security at construction worksites. Part of each guard’s day was spent on active patrol. Each evening, guards were required to be on call at the worksite and to respond to disturbances should the need arise.

While on-call, the guards were required to reside in onsite trailers provided by CPS.  An on-call guard who wanted to leave the worksite had to first notify a dispatcher where he or she would be and for how long. The on-call guard would only be permitted to leave if another employee was available for relief.  If no reliever was available, the on-call guard was required to remain onsite, even in the case of a personal emergency. Even if relieved, an on-call guard was required to stay close enough to the site to be able return within 30 minutes, and had to be available by pager or telephone.

The CPS security guards were paid hourly for time spent patrolling the worksite, however, they received no compensation for on-call time unless they were required to perform certain work duties during their on-call period, such as responding to an alarm or conducting an investigation.

The CPS security guards filed suit, alleging that CPS’s on-call compensation policy violated minimum wage and overtime obligations. 

The California Supreme Court concluded that the security guards’ on-call time constituted hours worked within the meaning of California’s labor laws and was subject to minimum wage and overtime requirements. The  Supreme Court ruled that security guards are entitled to compensation for on-call hours spent at their assigned worksites under their employer’s control, including sleep time. 

Mendiola v. CPS Security Solutions (SC S212704 En Banc 1/8/15)

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Supreme Court denies wage claims by Amazon.com warehouse workers

The United States Supreme Court denies wage claims by Amazon.com warehouse workers. 

In a unanimous decision, the United States Supreme Court held that warehouse workers who packaged deliveries for Amazon.com customers, were not entitled to compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) for time spent undergo­ing security screenings before leaving the warehouse each day. 

Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., required its hourly warehouse workers, who retrieved products from warehouse shelves and packaged them for delivery to Amazon.com customers, to undergo a security screening before leaving the warehouse each day. Several former employees sued Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. alleging they were entitled to compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act for the time they spent each day waiting to undergo and undergoing those screenings. The former employees further alleged that the screenings were for the sole benefit of the employers and their customers, rather than the employees, as they were intended to prevent employee theft.

Applying the Portal-to-Portal Act, which exempts employers from liability for certain work-related activities, including preliminary or postliminary activities, “which occur either prior to the time on any particular workday at which such employee commences, or subsequent to the time on any particular workday at which he ceases, such principal activity or activities” (29 U. S. C. §254(a)), the Court held the security screenings at issue in the case were not compensable postliminary activities, since they were not integral and indispensable to the employee’s job duties.

The Court explained that “an activity is integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform—and thus compensable under the FLSA—if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.”

Relative to the security screenings at issue in the case, the Court determined they were not the “principal activity or activities which [the] employee is employed to perform,” as “Integrity Staffing did not employ its workers to undergo security screenings, but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers.”  Indeed, “Integrity Staffing could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work.”

Since the Court concluded the employees’ time spent waiting to undergo and undergoing Integrity Staffing’s security screenings is not “an activity is integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform,” the Supreme Court denied the employees’ claims for compensation for such time under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Resources

Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk 574 U.S. ___ (2014)

Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938

Los Angeles Employment Lawyers

 

 

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The Healthy Workplaces Healthy Families Act 2014

The Healthy Workplaces Healthy Families Act 2014

California enacted The Healthy Workplaces Healthy Families Act of 2014 granting employees mandatory paid sick days.

Beginning on July 1, 2015, California employers will be required to provide paid sick days to certain California employees. Employees who work for 30 or more days within a year from the date of commencement of employment are entitled to receive paid sick days. The paid sick days accrue at a rate of no less than one hour for every 30 hours worked. Employees will be entitled to use accrued sick days beginning on the 90th day of employment. An employee’s accrued paid sick days will carry over to the following year of employment.

An employer may limit use of paid sick days to 24 hours or three days in each year of employment. However, employer’s are prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against an employee who requests paid sick days.

Purpose of the Law

The Healthy Workplaces Healthy Families Act of 2014 was enacted to provide protection to California employees. The law accomplishes this purpose by doing the following: 

  1. Ensuring that California workers can address their own health needs and the health needs of their families with paid sick days;
  2. Decreasing health care costs by enabling workers to seek early and routine medical care for themselves and their family members;
  3. Protecting California workers from losing their jobs while using sick days; and 
  4. Providing economic security to California employees who take time off from work for reasons related to domestic violence or sexual assault.
Sick days may be used for “diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition of, or preventive care for, an employee or an employee’s family member.” Family members who are covered by the law include children, parents, spouses, domestic partners, siblings, as well as grandchildren and grandparents. Sick days may also be used for an employee who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
An employer may satisfy the requirements of the The Healthy Workplaces Healthy Families Act of 2014 if the employer has a paid leave policy or paid time off policy that satisfies the accrual, carry over, and use requirements of the Act.  

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FedEx Drivers are Employees Not Independent Contractors

FedEx Drivers are Employees Not Independent Contractors

In a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of approximately 2300 full-time FedEx delivery drivers in California between 2000 and 2007, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that by law the FedEx drivers were employees under California’s right-to-control test.  The Court held that labeling of the drivers as independent contractors in FedEx’s Operating Agreement did not make them so.

The Court explained that the most important factor in determining employee versus independent contractor status is the right-to-control test. The Court held that since FedEx had broad rights to control the manner in which its drivers perform their work under, the right-to-control test strongly favored employee over independent contractor status   On that basis, the Court held the drivers were employees as a matter of law.  

For the Full Court Opinion click here

Employee v. Independent Contractor

 

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Employees must be reimbursed for cell phone use

Employees must be reimbursed for cell phone use

The California Court of Appeals ruled that an employee who is required to use a personal cell phone for work-related calls, must be reimbursed by their employer. This applies even when an employee has a cell phone plan with unlimited minutes. The reimbursement amount owed by the employer is a reasonable percentage of the employee’s cell phone bill.

The Court’s ruling is based on Section 2802(a) of the California Labor Code, which provides that “An employer shall indemnify his or her employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties, or of his or her obedience to the directions of the employer, even though unlawful, unless the employee, at the time of obeying the directions, believed them to be unlawful.”

This decisions confirms that employees must be reimbursed for cell phone use when required to use a personal cell phone for work-related calls, even if the employee has an unlimited cell phone plan.

Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service, Inc.

 

 

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Court upholds $60,000 award to victim of sexual harassment wrongful termination

Sexual harassment Wrongful termination

Plaintiff Esther Kim was hired in 2006 to work as an account manager, processing phone and email orders for defendant, Konad USA Distribution, Inc. From 2007 to 2010 Kim was subjected to numerous incidents of sexual harassment by her boss Dong Whang. Kim was terminated in 2010.  Following her termination, Kim filed a lawsuit against her employer for, among other things, sexual harassment and wrongful termination.

Following trial, the court awarded plaintiff Esther Kim $60,000 in damages against her former employer and her former boss for her claims of sexual harassment and wrongful termination. Defendants appealed the award of damages, however, the California Court of Appeals upheld the award of $60,000 to Ms. Kim.

Kim v. Konad USA Distribution, Inc.

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Summary of California's Equal Pay Act

An Employee’s Right to Equal Pay

California and Federal laws generally prohibit an employer from paying its employees less than the rates paid to employees of the opposite sex. This applies when the employees’ jobs require substantially similar work, when considering their skill, effort, and responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions. (Cal. Labor Code section 1197.5.) As an example, an employer would not be permitted to pay a female secretary less than a male secretary working in the same office and performing the same job duties. To do so would violate the equal pay laws.

Exceptions to the Equal Pay Rule

While prohibiting wage discrimination, the equal pay laws, do not prevent employers from compensating employees of the opposite sex differently for legitimate reasons, including based on a seniority system, a merit system, a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or another system based on any bona fide factor other than sex, such as education, training, or experience. In other words, an employer can still reward its employees for good work performance without violating the equal pay laws. To qualify for an exception, it is the employer’s burden to prove that a wage disparity is based on a legitimate reason entirely unrelated to the sex of the respective employees.

Prohibition against Retaliation by Employer

Under California law, an employer is prohibited from retaliating or discriminating against an employee in any way for enforcing his or her rights under the equal pay laws. An employer also cannot prevent an employee from disclosing his or her own wages, discussing the wages of other employees, inquiring about the wages of other employees, or assisting or encouraging other employees to exercise their rights under the equal pay laws.

An Employee’s Remedies for Wage Discrimination

Wage discrimination is viewed as a very serious matter in California, which is reflected in the remedies available to an aggrieved employee. An employee who was the victim of wage discrimination in violation of the equal pay laws is entitled to recover the wages he or she lost due to the discrimination, plus interest. The employee is also entitled to recover an additional equal amount from the employer as liquidated damages. For example, this means that an employee who was deprived of $15,000 in wages due to his or her employer’s violation of the equal pay laws would be entitled to recover the unpaid $15,000 with interest, plus an additional $15,000 with interest, for a total recovery in excess of $30,000. In the event a law suit is necessary to recover these damages, an employee may also be entitled to an award of attorney’s fees. An employee who was subjected to retaliation for enforcing the right to equal pay may also be entitled to reinstatement and reimbursement for lost wages and work benefits resulting from the retaliation.

Conclusion

Wage discrimination is a serious matter that should not be overlooked by California employers or employees. California employers should be cognizant of the applicable laws when setting a pay scale for its employees. Similarly, California employees should be aware of their rights to equal pay and when those rights have been violated. When in doubt, it is important to consult with an experienced employment attorney.

Additional Resources:

California Labor Code

California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE)

California Department of Fair Employment and Housing

Wage Discrimination

 

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