Labor and Employment Law

Newly-Published Labor and Employment Cases

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Lehman v. Nelson (9th Cir. 18-35321 12/3/19) ERISA 
Plaintiff Richard Lehman, an electrician, filed a class action against the Trustees of IBEW under ERISA. Plaintiff was a member of a different local union pension fund. When he was temporarily employed outside his home fund, his employer contributed to the local fund in the place where the work was performed. Plaintiff’s home fund and the Pacific Cost Fund were signatories to the Electrical Industry Pension Reciprocal Agreement, under which “travelers” like plaintiff could elect to have employer contributions from other jurisdictions electronically transferred to their designated home pension fund.

The 9th Circuit panel affirmed the decision of the district court who granted summary judgment in favor of the class, determining that Amendment 24 violated the plain language of Article 5 of the Pacific Coast Pension Plan, which mandated that the Plan collect and transfer all contributions received on behalf of travelers. 

Luke v. Sonoma County (CA1/5 A155286 12/12/19) Pension Benefits
Plaintiff George W. Luke, a Sonoma County resident and taxpayer, appeals from the trial court’s orders sustaining the demurrers of Sonoma County (the County) and certain County officials, the Sonoma County Employees’ Retirement Association, and the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association (collectively, Respondents).  Plaintiff argues the trial court erred in finding his claims challenging the payment of increased public employee pension benefits barred by the statute of limitations.  The Court of Appeal Affirmed.

Long Beach Unified School Dist. v. Margaret Williams, LLC (CA2/4 B290069 12/9/19) Retaliatory Termination of Contract/Anti-SLAPP
Long Beach Unified School District (the District) appeals from the dismissal of its cross-complaint under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, commonly known as the anti-SLAPP statute.  (See Wilson v. Cable News Network, Inc. (2019) 7 Cal.5th 871, 880 (Wilson).)

In 2006, the District entered into a contract with respondent Margaret Williams, LLC (Williams LLC), which had been formed by Margaret Williams that year for the purpose of working for the District.  According to Williams, the District required her to form a business entity to enter the contract, which was a standardized form agreement with terms she could not negotiate.  For nearly a decade, Williams worked full-time for the District, through her LLC, on construction management and environmental compliance, including work under the District’s agreement with a state agency to clean up material at a school construction site contaminated with arsenic.  After a dispute arose between Williams and the District about alleged violations of the cleanup agreement, Williams was diagnosed with arsenic poisoning, and the District terminated Williams LLC’s then-current contract, which included an indemnity provision.

Williams and her LLC filed a lawsuit against the District (the Underlying Action).  Each plaintiff brought claims alleging the termination was retaliatory, and Williams brought claims alleging the District unlawfully caused her arsenic poisoning.  The District invoked the indemnity provision to demand that Williams LLC defend and indemnify the District in the Underlying Action.  After Williams LLC refused to defend the District against the LLC’s own and Williams’s claims, the District filed a cross-complaint alleging, inter alia, that this refusal breached the contract.  Williams LLC filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike the cross-complaint, arguing, inter alia, that the District could not prevail on its cross-claims because the indemnity provision is unconscionable.

On appeal, the District contends the trial court erred in striking its cross-complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute.  In the alternative, it contends the trial court erred in denying the District leave to include nine additional pages in its brief opposing the anti-SLAPP motion. The Court of Appeal affirmed.

Safeway Wage and Hour Cases (CA2/4 B287103 12/18/19) Wage & Hour/Misclassification
Former managers of Safeway supermarket stores sought unpaid overtime wages, claiming they had been misclassified as exempt executives under regulations applicable to the mercantile industry.  Following trial, a jury found respondent Safeway, Inc. had proven that appellant William Cunningham had been an exempt employee (and thus was not entitled to overtime pay).  On appeal, appellant asserts the trial court committed instructional error.  In particular, he challenges an instruction based on language in this court’s decisions in Batze v. Safeway, Inc. (2017) 10 Cal.App.5th 440 (Batze) and Heyen v. Safeway Inc. (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 795 (Heyen), directing the jury to classify any given task as exempt work whenever a manager engages in it “because it is helpful in supervising employees in the store or because it contributes to the smooth functioning of the store . . . .”  Appellant also claims the court abused its discretion in admitting certain expert testimony, arguing it was speculative. 

The Court of Appeal clarified that a task does not become exempt merely because the manager undertakes it in order to contribute to the smooth functioning of the store.  An instruction on the consideration of the manager’s purpose, where appropriate, must inform the jury of relevant limiting principles outlined in the applicable regulations and recognized by our prior decisions.  However, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court’s instruction did not affect the jury’s verdict.

Rall v. Tribune 365, LLC (CA2/8 B284566A 12/18/19) Wrongful Termination/Defamation
Plaintiff Frederick Theodore Rall III, a political cartoonist and blogger, sued Los Angeles Times Communications LLC (The Times) after it published a “note to readers” and a later more detailed report questioning the accuracy of a blog post plaintiff wrote for The Times.  The Times told its readers that it had serious questions about the accuracy of the blog post; that the piece should not have been published; and that plaintiff’s future work would not appear in The Times.  Plaintiff sued The Times, related entities, and several individual defendants, alleging causes of action for defamation and for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, among other claims.

All defendants filed anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motions to strike plaintiff’s complaint (Code Civ. Proc., § 425.16).  The trial court granted the motions.  In our original published opinion filed January 17, 2019, we affirmed the trial court’s orders.  Plaintiff filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court granted review and deferred further consideration pending its disposition in Wilson v. Cable News Network, Inc. (2019) 7 Cal.5th 871 (Wilson). 

After the issuance of its decision in Wilson, the Supreme Court, by order dated September 25, 2019, transferred the matter to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration in light of Wilson. The Court of Appeal affirmed.

Assn. for L.A. Deputy Sheriffs v. County of L.A. (CA2/2 B289597 12/2/19) Breach of Labor Agreement/Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) appeals from a judgment following the trial court’s ruling sustaining a demurrer to ALADS’s complaint without leave to amend.  ALADS sued respondent County of Los Angeles (County) concerning the County’s alleged breach of a labor agreement.  The trial court sustained the County’s demurrer on the sole ground that ALADS failed to exhaust the administrative remedies available under the labor agreement before filing suit.

The Court of Appeal reversed.  ALADS’s complaint alleges that the County failed to comply with compensation provisions described in a November 2015 memorandum of understanding between ALADS and the County (the MOU).  Those provisions required the County to match compensation increases given to other County safety employee unions.  Thus, the issues that ALADS raises in this action and the relief that it seeks apply to all its members.

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