On May 21, 2018, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision holding that class action waivers in employment arbitration agreements were valid and enforceable in the face of a challenge under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), resolving a significant disagreement among lower federal courts. By way of background, the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), passed in 1925, provides for enforcement of agreements between parties to resolve disputes through private arbitration, rather than in court. Under the FAA’s “savings clause,” arbitration agreements may generally only be voided under traditional contract principles (for example, in cases of duress or unconscionability).
“It’s a New Dawn; It’s a New Day; It’s a New Life for Me; and I’m Feeling [not so] Good”
While Nina Simone’s song captures the power of “feeling good,” the effects of an employee’s disability do not feel good for the employee or employer. And if your organization offers employee benefits that require the plan administrator to determine whether a plan participant is disabled, you should confirm that your plans reflect updated claims and appeal procedures. Regulations finalized back in 2016 are now in effect.
Personnel policies are designed to inform employees of the types of conduct that are acceptable or unacceptable. They, obviously, can only give a general overview and are subject to interpretation and application by the employer on a case-by-case basis. A recent decision arising out of a Tweet by a Vice President of Human Resources shows that such policies will be strictly construed against employers in Pennsylvania.
In a win for employers in the State of West Virginia, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia overturned a lower court’s decision that an employment arbitration agreement was unenforceable in Hamden Coal, LLC v. Varney. The lower court agreed with the employee on every relevant issue, finding that arbitration claims are viewed differently in an employment context, that the agreement was a contract of adhesion, that the agreement lacked consideration, that the agreement was unconscionable, and that the employee’s claims fell outside the agreement. The Supreme Court, however, overturned each finding and took the additional step of directing the court to enter an order dismissing the civil action and compelling arbitration.
West Virginia Code § 23-4-10 provides that when a personal injury suffered by an employee in the course of and resulting from his or her employment causes death, and the disability is continuous from the date of injury until the date of death, the decedent’s dependents may receive benefits. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals recently affirmed an award of these death benefits, even though the claimant’s disability was not obviously continuous from the time of his work-related injury as he was not in active treatment for any disability at the time of his death.
California’s intermediate appellate state court recently ruled in Terris v. County of Santa Barbara that a county employee failed to demonstrate that alleged vulgar, derogatory remarks about homosexuals made by her former employer’s CEO were connected to her termination of employment. As a result, the court upheld summary judgment in favor of the employer and against the former employee in her wrongful termination action.
The area of LGBT rights in the workplace has garnered a great deal of attention in recent years as a split has grown among the courts and among federal agencies as to whether Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination. Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice argued that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination also included sexual orientation and gender identity. Recently, however, the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice filed an appellate brief in the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in which it argued that Title VII does not apply to sexual orientation.
Recently, the Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) of the federal Department of Labor announced a new pilot program called the Payroll Audit Independent Determination (“PAID”) program. The program is intended to facilitate quick resolution of potential overtime and minimum wage violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The WHD hopes that the program will be used by employers to resolve claims without litigation and that the program will improve employer compliance with the FLSA. The WHD intends to implement this pilot program for a period of six months. After six months, the WHD will evaluate the effectiveness of the program and determine whether any modifications may be necessary.