Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The Ninth Circuit denied petitions for review of the FMCSA's determination that federal law preempted California’s meal and rest break rules (MRB rules), as applied to drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles who are subject to the FMCSA's own rest break regulations.The panel held that the agency's decision reflects a permissible interpretation of the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 and is not arbitrary or capricious. Applying Chevron deference to the agency's interpretation of the statute and the phrase "on commercial motor vehicle safety," the panel held that even assuming petitioners identified a potential ambiguity in the statute, the agency's reading was a permissible one. In this case, the FMCSA reasonably determined that a State law "on commercial motor vehicle safety" is one that "imposes requirements in an area of regulation that is already addressed by a regulation promulgated under [section] 31136." Furthermore, the FMCSA's 2018 preemption decision also reasonably relied on Congress's stated interest in uniformity of regulation.The panel concluded that the FMCSA permissibly determined that California's MRB rules were State regulations "on commercial motor vehicle safety," so that they were within the agency's preemption authority. The panel also concluded that the FMCSA faithfully interpreted California law in finding that California's rules were "additional to or more stringent than" federal regulations. Finally, the panel concluded that the agency did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in finding that enforcement of the MRB rules "would cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce." View "International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration" on Justia Law

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When an employee working a "one week on, one week off" schedule takes continuous leave, an employer may count both the on and off weeks against the employee's Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave entitlement. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Secretary in an action alleging that Alaska miscalculated the amount of FMLA leave that certain employees of the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) were entitled to take.The panel held that the term "workweek" in 29 U.S.C. 2612(a)(1) has the same meaning it carries under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The panel explained that it is a fixed, pre-established period of seven consecutive days in which the employer is operating. Under that reading of the term, when a rotational employee takes continuous leave, both his on and off weeks count as "workweeks of leave" under section 2612(a)(1). Thus, the panel concluded that Alaska may insist that rotational employees who take 12 workweeks of continuous leave return to work 12 weeks later. The panel also held that it need not defer to the Secretary's contrary interpretation of the statute under Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134 (1944). View "Scalia v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Bank on plaintiff's claim of gender harassment under Title VII and the Washington Law Against Discrimination. Plaintiff, a former employee of the Bank, alleged that a bank customer stalked and harassed her in her workplace and that the Bank failed to take effective action to address the harassment.The panel held that to establish sex discrimination under a hostile work environment theory, a plaintiff must show she was subjected to sex-based harassment that was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment, and that her employer is liable for this hostile work environment. Because the panel concluded that a trier of fact could find that the harassment altered the conditions of plaintiff's employment and created an abusive working environment, it turned to the question of the Bank's liability. In this case, there is more than enough evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to the sufficiency of the Bank's response. Because a jury reasonably could conclude that the Bank ratified or acquiesced in the customer's harassment, the panel held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the Bank. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Christian v. Umpqua Bank" on Justia Law

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Innova, wanting to hire a citizen of India with a bachelor’s degree as a computer programmer, sought an H-1B “specialty occupation” visa on his behalf. Under the relevant regulation, Innova had to establish that a “baccalaureate or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for entry into the particular position.” Although the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) provides that “[m]ost computer programmers have a bachelor’s degree,” and that a bachelor’s degree is the “[t]ypical level of education that most” computer programmers need, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denied the application, concluding that “the OOH does not state that at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent in a specific specialty is normally the minimum required.”The Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that USCIS’s denial was arbitrary and capricious. USCIS’s suggestion that there is “space” between "typically needed," per the OOH, and "normally required," per the regulation is "so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise." The regulation is not ambiguous and deference to such an implausible interpretation is unwarranted. USCIS misrepresented the OOH and failed to consider key evidence, namely, OOH language providing that a “bachelor’s degree” is the “[t]ypical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.” View "Innova Solutions, Inc. v. Baran" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit certified the following question to the Supreme Court of California: Does the evidentiary standard set forth in section 1102.6 of the California Labor Code replace the McDonnell Douglas test as the relevant evidentiary standard for retaliation claims brought pursuant to section 1102.5 of California’s Labor Code? View "Lawson v. PPG Architectural Finishes, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of the BPA, in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that BPA violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) by willfully interfering with her rights under the Act. The district court found that plaintiff did not prove that BPA willfully interfered with her FMLA rights and, therefore, that her claims were barred by the relevant statute of limitations.The panel held that the district court did not clearly err in determining that, even if plaintiff had proven a violation of her FMLA rights, BPA's interference was not willful. In this case, the district court applied the McLaughlin standard for willfulness, and properly concluded that there is little evidence in the record that BPA either knew or showed reckless disregard for the matter of whether its conduct was prohibited by the statute. The district court did not clearly err in finding that these facts did not constitute willfulness. Therefore, plaintiff's claim is barred by the two-year statute of limitations in 29 U.S.C. 2617(c)(1), rather than the three-year statute of limitations under section 2617(c)(2). View "Olson v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to remand the class action to state court because defendant based the claimed amount in controversy on unreasonable assumptions. Plaintiff filed a class action against his former employer, KMI, alleging that KMI violated several provisions of the California Labor Code.The panel held that KMI failed to sufficiently demonstrate that it met the Class Action Fairness Act's requirement that the amount in controversy exceed $5 million. The panel explained that, once plaintiff contested the reasonableness of KMI's assumptions, KMI had the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that its assumptions were reasonable. The court concluded that KMI did not carry its burden because it relied on assumptions regarding the Meal Period and Rest Period subclasses that were unreasonable. In this case, KMI failed to provide any evidence to support its assumption that all 442 Hourly Employee Class members were the same as the members of the Meal Period Sub-Class or the Rest Period Sub-Class or that they all worked shifts long enough to qualify for meal or rest periods. Finally, a remand to the district court for further factfinding is not required. View "Harris v. KM Industrial, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit filed: (1) an order granting a request for publication, recalling the mandate, and withdrawing a memorandum disposition and replacing it with an opinion; and (2) an opinion affirming in part the district court's judgment denying NUHS relief from a decision of the Council, and dismissing the appeal in part as moot.In this case, after NUHS's appeal of the Council's probation decision was denied, NUHS filed a complaint in federal court raising common law due process claims and seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. The district court denied relief and NUHS appealed.The panel expressed no opinion on the validity of common law due process claims challenging decisions relating to accreditation. The panel held that, because the Council's accreditation standards contemplate situations in which a program can remain accredited even if it is not fully in compliance with all accreditation standards, the Council did not act arbitrarily and capriciously when it simultaneously reaffirmed NUHS's accreditation and imposed probation. Furthermore, the Council's decision to impose probation was not arbitrary and capricious and did not violate the Council's obligation to apply review procedures consistent with due process under 20 U.S.C. 1099b. Finally, because NUHS has no further reporting obligations with respect to NBCE exams administered before the change in Illinois law, its appeal from the denial of injunctive relief prohibiting the Council from enforcing Policy 56 is moot. View "National University of Health Sciences v. Council on Chiropractic Education, Inc." on Justia Law

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Washington ballot initiative 1501 prohibits public access to certain government-controlled information, including the personal information of in-home care providers, but permits that information to be disclosed to the providers’ certified exclusive bargaining representatives. The law was challenged under 42 U.S.C. 1983 by in-home providers, required by Washington law to participate in statewide collective bargaining, who are not members of their respective unions and do not pay agency fees. They wanted to inform other individual in-home providers of their right to not pay union agency fees and were unable to obtain the necessary contact information.The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The First Amendment does not guarantee a general right of access to government-controlled information. Whether to disclose government-controlled information is generally left to the political processes but the First Amendment forbids a state from discriminating invidiously among viewpoints. A state does not engage in viewpoint discrimination by disclosing the personal information of public or quasi-public employees to the employees’ certified bargaining representative while denying equal access to the public. Initiative 1501 does not implicate the plaintiffs’ associational freedom; the plaintiffs lack standing to assert the rights of other in-home care providers. Initiative 1501 does not violate the Equal Protection Clause; the challenged provisions satisfy rational-basis review. The state has a legitimate interest in protecting seniors and other vulnerable individuals from identity theft and other financial crimes. There was no evidence that those who voted in favor of Initiative 1501 were motivated by an irrational prejudice or desire to harm the plaintiffs or their message. View "Boardman v. Inslee" on Justia Law

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This appeal involves a years-long intra-union dispute over the right to perform certain maintenance and repair (M&R) work for Kinder Morgan Terminals (Kinder Morgan) at its Bulk Terminal facility in Vancouver, Washington.The Ninth Circuit granted the petitions for review, denied the cross-petition for enforcement, vacated the Board's order, and remanded for further proceedings. First, the panel reaffirmed the well-settled rule that Section 10(k) of the National Labor Relations Act decisions are not res judicata in subsequent unfair labor practices (ULP) proceedings. Therefore, the panel held that the Board erred in deeming its 10(k) decision "dispositive" of the Longshoremen's work preservation defense. Second, the panel rejected the Board's construction of the work preservation defense, noting that the Supreme Court has twice disallowed such a narrow focus on past performance of the precise work in dispute as ill-suited to the holistic, circumstantial inquiry that is indispensable where, as here, parties strike agreements aimed at preserving union jobs in the face of technological threats to traditional union work. The panel held that the Board erred by disregarding this binding precedent and instead making past performance of the specific work at issue the beginning and end of its analysis. Third, the panel held that the 2008 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) encompasses the disputed work which both unions claim. In this case, the Board erred by using extrinsic evidence to inject ambiguity into the CBA's unambiguous terms and, by extension, assessing the Longshoremen's work preservation defense based on that erroneous construction. View "International Longshore and Warehouse Union v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law