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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Several public-sector employees filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 seeking to recover any agency fees taken from their paychecks by the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association and Santa Clara County. Specifically, Plaintiffs sought a refund for fees paid before the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Janus v. Am. Fed’n of State, Cnty., & Mun. Emps., Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018) (prohibiting public-sector unions from collecting compulsory agency fees).In the district court, Defendants successfully moved for summary judgment, claiming they were entitled to a good-faith defense because their actions were expressly authorized by then-applicable United States Supreme Court law and state law. Plaintiffs appealed.On appeal, Plaintiffs acknowledge that Danielson v. Inslee, 945 F.3d 1096 (9th Cir. 2019) precludes their claim against the Union. The Ninth Circuit held that the rule announced in Danielson also applies to municipalities because "precedent recognizes that municipalities are generally liable in the same way as private corporations in sec. 1983 actions." Thus, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' claim against both the Union and the County. View "SEAN ALLEN V. SANTA CLARA CNTY CORR. POA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, employees of WinCo Foods, LLC alleged violations of the California Labor Code relating to the payment of wages and business-related expenses and the California Business & Professions Code Sections. Plaintiffs' claimed compensation as an employee for the time and expense of taking a drug test as a successful applicant for employment. Plaintiffs argued that because the tests were administered under the control of the employer, Plaintiffs must be regarded as employees.The district court granted Plaintiff’s motion for class certification and both sides then moved for summary judgment. The district court held that Plaintiff and class members were not employees of WinCo Foods when they underwent drug testing and the court granted WinCo’s motion for summary judgment. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of WinCo Foods. The court rejected Plaintiffs’ contentions because control over a drug test as part of the job application process is not control over the performance of the job. In this case, the class members were not performing work for an employer when they took the pre-employment drug test; they were instead applying for the job, and they were not yet employees. Plaintiffs also contended under California law that class members were employees under a “contract theory,” and that the drug test should be regarded as a “condition subsequent” to their hiring as employees pursuant to Cal. Civil Code Section 143. The court held that there was no condition subsequent because here there was no written contract, and the drug test was a condition precedent. View "ALFRED JOHNSON V. WINCO FOODS, LLC" on Justia Law

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The California Insurance Commissioner filed an ex parte conservation application to place the California Insurance Company (“CIC I”) in a conservatorship after CIC I’s president attempted to consummate a purchase transaction with Berkshire Hathaway without the Commissioner’s approval, and then attempted to bypass the California insurance regulatory scheme by merging CIC I with the California Insurance Company (“CIC II”), a New Mexico-domesticated shell company formed by the president. The Superior Court granted the Commissioner’s conservatorship application and appointed the Commissioner as Conservator of CIC I. Applied Underwriters, of which the president is the Chief Executive Officer, and CIC II filed separate actions in federal court asserting causes of actions under Section 1983.   The district court dismissed both actions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). The Ninth Circuit held that because important considerations of federalism were at stake, the district court’s reliance on Younger abstention as a ground for dismissal was in error. The court held that an insurance conservatorship is not sufficiently akin to criminal prosecution to bring it within the purview of what constitutes a similar, Younger-eligible “civil enforcement proceeding.”   The court held that dismissal of Appellants’ claims was warranted on account of the prior exclusive jurisdiction rule. Further, Appellants’ interests were well represented in the conservatorship action; they had an adequate opportunity to raise constitutional challenges; they failed to sufficiently allege that the conservatorship action was brought in bad faith; they failed to demonstrate irreparable injury arising from extraordinary circumstances which might justify an exception to the prior exclusive jurisdiction rule. View "APPLIED UNDERWRITERS, INC. V. RICARDO LARA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sought promotion to the position he claimed he likely would have attained had he not served in the military. The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Defendants in an action brought under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act by a longshore worker who returned to employment following service in the U.S. Air Force, and remanded.   The court held that certain hours credits and elevation in longshore worker status, as set forth in a collective bargaining agreement, qualified as “benefits of employment” under USERRA. The court further held that, under the “escalator principle,” Plaintiff could pursue a USERRA discrimination claim based on Defendants’ alleged failure to reinstate him to the “Class B” position he was reasonably certain to have attained absent his military service. The court left to the district court to decide in the first instance whether a five-year statutory limitation based on the duration of Plaintiff’s military service applied. View "LEON BELAUSTEGUI V. ILWU" on Justia Law

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The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation (“Sycuan” or “Tribe”), a federally recognized Indian tribe, sought the reversal of the district court’s order granting labor union, Unite Here Local 30’s (“Unite Here”), motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to its own complaint and motion to dismiss Sycuan’s counterclaim. Unite Here alleged that Sycuan violated the labor provisions of a contract between the two parties respecting the operation of a casino. The union brought suit to compel arbitration of that dispute pursuant to a clause contained in the contract. Sycuan opposed arbitration.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment on the pleadings in favor of Unite Here and the district court’s dismissal of a counterclaim brought by Sycuan. The court held the district court had original jurisdiction over Unite Here’s claims. Further, the court held that the district court had supplemental, but not original, jurisdiction over Sycuan’s counterclaim because the Declaratory Judgment Act does not confer jurisdiction, and Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act could not confer federal question jurisdiction.   The court concluded that the arbitrator should decide issues of contract validity, and the counterclaim rested on an issue of contract validity. Accordingly, the district court’s declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction served economy, convenience, and fairness. The court also held that Unite Here and Sycuan formed an agreement to arbitrate because Sycuan promised California that if any union made certain promises to the tribe, Sycuan would automatically enter into a bilateral contract with that union adopting the TLRO’s terms. View "UNITE HERE LOCAL 30 V. SYCUAN BAND" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that her former employer violated the ADA by failing to accommodate her disability and instead terminating her from her human resources job after she underwent a bone biopsy surgery on her right shoulder and arm. The district court concluded that Plaintiff failed to plead a “disability” because she did not adequately allege that she had “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limit[ed] one or more major life activities.” The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s employment discrimination action. The court concluded that Plaintiff pleaded facts plausibly establishing that she had a physical impairment both during an immediate post-surgical period and during an extension period in which her surgeon concluded that her injuries had not sufficiently healed to permit her to return to work. The court also found that the activities that Plaintiff pleaded she was unable to perform qualified as “major life activities,” which included caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, lifting, and working. Finally, the complaint adequately alleged that Plaintiff’s impairment substantially limited her ability to perform at least one major life activity. View "KAREN SHIELDS V. CREDIT ONE BANK, N.A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appeared in ten photoshoots organized by Walmart for a total of fifteen days, in non-consecutive periods of one or two days. Plaintiff sued Walmart for its failure to pay her immediately after each photoshoot ended, seeking more than $540,000 in penalties. The district court denied summary judgment on Walmart’s defense that Plaintiff was an independent contractor outside the protection of the relevant Labor Code provisions due to disputes of material fact. However, it granted summary judgment on Walmart’s good-faith defense. The district court concluded that there was a good faith dispute about whether Plaintiff was an independent contractor that made it objectively reasonable for Walmart to believe Plaintiff was not an employee.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Walmart. The court rejected Plaintiff’s contention that Walmart was foreclosed from raising a good faith defense based on mistakenly classifying an employee as an independent contractor. The court held that Walmart’s argument that Plaintiff was an independent contractor was a good-faith dispute that any wages are due. The court further held that nothing in the record indicated bad faith on Walmart’s part and that there were some reasonable grounds for Walmart to believe that Plaintiff was an independent contractor. View "BIJON HILL V. WALMART INC." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit certified a question to the Supreme Court of California to decide the certified questions:1.) If an employee contracts COVID-19 at his workplace and brings the virus home to his spouse, does California’s derivative injury doctrine bar the spouse’s claim against the employer?2.) Under California law, does an employer owe a duty to the households of its employees to exercise ordinary care to prevent the spread of COVID-19?A married couple alleged that the husband’s employer negligently allowed COVID-19 to spread from its worksite into the couple’s household. The Plaintiffs contend that the employer knowingly disobeyed the San Francisco Health Order (the “Health Order”) by transferring workers from an infected site to the husband’s job site in disregard of the Health Order’s policies. According to Plaintiffs, the husband was forced to work in close contact with employees from the infected job site and developed COVID-19 which he brought back home. His wife contracted COVID-10 and was hospitalized for a month and kept alive on a respirator.The employer claimed that California law does not recognize the couple’s cause of action. Specifically, the employer argued that the wife’s matter is barred by the derivative injury doctrine, and even if the doctrine does not apply, the employer did not owe her a duty of care. The court concluded that the case presents questions for the California Supreme Court to address. View "CORBY KUCIEMBA V. VICTORY WOODWORKS, INC." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were six citizens of Mexico who were recruited to work as “Animal Scientists” at Funk Dairy in Idaho under the “TN Visa” program for “professional” employees established under the North American Free Trade Agreement. When Plaintiffs arrived at the dairy, they were instead required to work primarily as general laborers. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants’ bait-and-switch tactics violated applicable federal statutory prohibitions on forced labor by, among other things, abusing the TN Visa program in order to coerce Plaintiffs to provide menial physical labor.Defendants conceded that all Plaintiffs believed that their ability to remain lawfully in the U.S. depended on their continued employment at Funk Dairy. The court concluded that in light of that concession and its obligation, a reasonable jury could find that Funk Dairy knowingly obtained Plaintiffs’ labor by abusing the TN Visa process in order to exert pressure on Plaintiffs to provide labor that was substantially different from what had been represented to them and to federal consular officials.The court held that Funk Dairy’s conduct violated provisions of 18 U.S.C. Chapter 77, prohibiting forced labor and trafficking of persons into forced labor. Plaintiffs, therefore, asserted triable causes of action under the civil suit provision of Chapter 77, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1595(a). The court held that the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiffs’ federal claims, it also reversed the district court’s decision to decline supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claims under state law. View "CESAR MARTINEZ-RODRIGUEZ V. CURTIS GILES" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against defendant, a Nevada limited liability partnership (“W&L Nevada”) under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The district court granted summary judgment for W&L Nevada on plaintiff’s ADA claims. The district court held that, as a matter of law, W&L Nevada was not a covered employer under the ADA because (1) it had fewer than 15 employees and (2) plaintiff did not present sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact whether W&L Nevada was an “integrated enterprise” with W&L California.The circuit court held that even when a defendant has fewer than 15 employees, a plaintiff can bring a statutory claim if she can establish that (1) defendant is “so interconnected with another employer that the two form an integrated enterprise” and (2) the integrated enterprise collectively has at least 15 employees. Here, the circuit court found that plaintiff established a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether defendant’s two offices were an integrated enterprise. Further, defendant did not present evidence that the Nevada and California offices were separate operations and maintained separate books. Accordingly, the circuit court reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for defendant on plaintiff’s ADA claims. Further, the circuit court remanded the district court to address whether the integrated enterprise had fewer than 15 employees. View "AMY BUCHANAN V. WATKINS & LETOFSKY, LLP" on Justia Law