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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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California’s AB 5 codified the “ABC test” for ascertaining whether workers are classified as employees or independent contractors. The ABC test permits businesses to classify workers as independent contractors only if they meet certain conditions. If a business cannot make that showing, its workers are deemed employees, and the business must comply with specific requirements and state and federal labor laws. AB5 and its amendments, California Labor Code 2778, establishes certain occupational exemptions. Freelance writers, photographers, and others received a narrower exemption than offered to certain other professionals. The Association sued, asserting that AB5 effectuates content-based preferences for certain kinds of speech, burdens journalism, and burdens the right to film matters of public interest.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Section 2778 regulates economic activity rather than speech. It does not, on its face, limit what someone can or cannot communicate. Nor does it restrict when, where, or how someone can speak. The statute is aimed at the employment relationship—a traditional sphere of state regulation. Although the ABC classification may impose greater costs on hiring entities, which could mean fewer overall job opportunities for certain workers, such an indirect impact on speech does not necessarily rise to the level of a First Amendment violation. The court rejected an assertion that the law singled out the press as an institution and was not generally applicable. The legislature’s occupational distinctions were rationally related to a legitimate state purpose. View "American Society of Journalists and Authors, Inc. v. Bonta" on Justia Law

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Hawkins, a Navy veteran, suffered a mental breakdown at work. She was escorted from her workplace in handcuffs and hospitalized for observation. She sought follow-up psychiatric care at a VA hospital. According to Hawkins, the VA doctors who treated her negligently failed to prescribe medication to address severe insomnia and anxiety, despite her complaints that the antidepressant she had been prescribed was not helping. Hawkins suffered another psychotic break during which she attacked and seriously wounded her mother. Hawkins spent a year in jail, lost her job as an RN, and has been unable to return to work.Hawkins sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging medical malpractice. Hawkins claimed that her mental breakdown, which prompted her to seek medical care, was caused by years of workplace bullying and harassment by her supervisor. The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, 5 U.S.C. 8101(1), bars a suit against the government for damages under any other law, including the FTCA. Before filing this action, Hawkins pursued a claim under FECA; the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs determined that the alleged workplace bullying and harassment did not occur. If the OWCP had determined that the injury for which Hawkins sought medical care was sustained during the course of her employment, her FTCA action would have been barred. View "Hawkins v. United States" on Justia Law

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Ballou filed suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting that Police Chief McElvain discriminated against her because of her gender by intentionally subjecting her to internal affairs investigations to preclude her eligibility for promotion and then declining to promote her to sergeant even though she was the most qualified candidate.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of McElvain’s qualified immunity summary judgment motion. Ballou sufficiently alleged unconstitutional sex discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and established a prima facie claim for disparate treatment. McElvain’s articulated reasons for not promoting Ballou were pretextual. The court rejected, as “profoundly mistaken,” McElvain’s argument that to state an equal protection claim, proof of discriminatory animus alone was insufficient. The existence of a comparator is not a prerequisite to stating a disparate treatment claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. Based on Circuit precedent, any reasonable officer would recognize that discriminatorily conducting an investigation to stall a promotion is unconstitutional. The court held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider whether McElvain was entitled to qualified immunity on the Equal Protection claim that she suffered retaliation for opposing sex discrimination. The court affirmed the denial of qualified immunity on Ballou’s First Amendment retaliation claim. Ballou’s speech opposing sex discrimination in the workplace was inherently speech on a matter of public concern, protected by the First Amendment. View "Ballou v. McElvain" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of class certification in an action alleging minimum wage, overtime, and expense reimbursement claims against Grubhub. Plaintiff contends that he was misclassified as an independent contractor rather than an employee when he worked for Grubhub as a food delivery driver.The panel concluded that the district court properly denied certification to plaintiff's proposed class of delivery drivers in California where all members of plaintiff's putative class—except plaintiff and one other—signed agreements waiving their right to participate in a class action. The panel explained that the district court correctly held plaintiff did not satisfy the requirements in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) because he is neither typical of the class nor an adequate representative, and because the proceedings would be unlikely to generate common answers. The panel rejected Grubhub's claim that California Proposition 22 abated the application of the ABC test to plaintiff's pending class claim. In this case, there is no dispute that plaintiff’s minimum wage and overtime claims are rooted in wage orders. The panel concluded that, because the district court rendered its judgment before the California Supreme Court decided Dynamex Operations W., Inc. v. Superior Court, 416 P.3d 1, 33–40 (Cal. 2018), it had no occasion to apply the ABC test to plaintiff's claims. The panel remanded for the district court to apply the ABC test in the first instance to plaintiff's expense reimbursement claim. View "Lawson v. Grubhub, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for review of the BRB's decision affirming an IJ's award of benefits to claimant under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). In this case, claimant sought disability and medical benefits under the LHWCA after injuring both knees while working for Sundial.The panel held that the ALJ did not err in applying section 910(a) of the LHWCA to calculate claimant's average weekly wage at the time of injury. The panel explained that the section 910(a) formula presumptively applies to calculating a five-day workers' average weekly wage, and the statutory presumption is not rebutted as a matter of law simply because section 910(a) would slightly underestimate earning capacity because the claimant worked in excess of 260 days. Rather, the statute plainly contemplates some inaccuracy in calculating the average weekly wage, and it does not provide that section 910(a) is inapplicable if more than 260 days were worked. Nor does the fact that claimant worked 264 days by itself make use of the section 910(a) formula unreasonable or unfair. In this case, claimant is incorrect that the section 910(a) formula entirely fails to account for his increased earnings, as the starting point for the section 910(a) calculation is the total amount of compensation earned in the previous year. Furthermore, the legislative history of the Act suggests that Congress did not envision application of section 910(c) under these circumstances. View "Martin v. Sundial Marine Tug and Barge Works, Inc." on Justia Law

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Ohlson was a forensic scientist with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and analyzed blood samples for alcohol content, reported the findings, and testified about those findings in court proceedings. Ohlson advocated for changes in how the lab disclosed batched test results and, contrary to his superiors’ orders, communicated his opinions within the Department, with defense attorneys, and in court hearings. He was disciplined and eventually forced to retire.The district court rejected Ohlson’s allegations of First Amendment retaliation. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Ohlson’s advocacy in the course of his employment duties could conceivably have adversely affected confidence in the accuracy of the Department’s test results, as well as in the Department. The defendants did not violate any clearly established law; where, as in this case, an employee, in the course of doing the job, has expressed views the employer regards as contrary to its interests, controlling legal principles remain particularly uncertain, so the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. View "Ohlson v. Brady" on Justia Law

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Maner worked as a biomedical engineer in the laboratory of Dr. Garfield for several decades. Maner learned that Garfield and another employee, Shi, were engaged in a long-term romantic relationship. Garfield brought Shi with him to research conferences to which other employees were not invited and conferred upon Shi a greater share of workplace opportunities related to publications and intellectual property than Maner felt she should have received. In 2008, Maner was arrested at work for alleged aggravated sexual assault; he pleaded guilty to a lesser state law offense. Maner subsequently received positive performance reviews and merit pay increases. Garfield approved a remote work arrangement to enable Maner to serve his probation. Garfield’s lab began to suffer a decline in grant funding. In 2011, Garfield submitted a highly negative review of Maner’s performance under the remote work arrangement. Maner’s position was eliminated based on the poor performance review and lack of funding.Maner brought a Title VII sex discrimination claim, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1), and a Title VII retaliation claim alleging that his termination was for protesting Garfield’s favoritism toward Shi. The Ninth Circuit affirmed judgment for the employer. Maner’s “paramour preference” reading of Title VII fails the Supreme Court’s test for assessing whether an adverse employment action violated Title VII—whether changing the employee’s sex would have yielded a different choice by the employer. Maner failed to establish any causal connection between the claimed protected activity and the termination decision. View "Maner v. Dignity Health" on Justia Law

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Romero, a truck driver employed by Watkins, an interstate trucking business, made deliveries only to retail stores in California. To complete paperwork and training, Romero periodically logged in to an online portal that required a unique employee identification number and password. Romero’s unique user account completed a set of “Associate Acknowledgements,” through which he clicked “I Agree,” signifying that he read and agreed to the Arbitration Policy, a stand-alone agreement that purports to waive any right to bring or participate in a class action; it states that the agreement is “governed by the Federal Arbitration Act,” and purports to waive "any provision of the FAA which would otherwise exclude [the agreement] from its coverage.” However, if "this [agreement] and/or its Waiver Provisions are not subject to and governed by the FAA, then the laws of the State of Nevada . . . will be the applicable state law.” The Arbitration Policy was not a condition of employment. Romero did not opt-out. In August 2019, Watkins announced it would cease operations. Romero and other employees were laid off.Romero filed a putative class action under the California and federal WARN Acts, 29 U.S.C. 2101, which require advance notice to employees before being laid off. The district court granted a motion to compel arbitration. The NInth Circuit affirmed, while noting that the Federal FAA exemption of employment contracts for transportation workers applies and cannot be waived by private contract. View "Romero v. Watkins & Shepard Trucking, Inc." on Justia Law

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Lim, formerly a TForce California delivery driver, alleged that TForce employs delivery drivers and misclassifies them as independent contractors in violation of California law. The drivers sign an Independent Contractor Operating Agreement, providing that the agreement is governed by the laws of Texas, that “any legal proceedings … shall be filed and/or maintained in Dallas, Texas,” that all disputes “arising under, out of, or relating to this Agreement … including any claims or disputes arising under any state or federal laws, statutes or regulations, … including the arbitrability of disputes … shall be fully resolved by arbitration," that any arbitration will be governed by the Commercial Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association, that class actions are prohibited, and that the parties shall share the costs except in the case of substantial financial hardship--the prevailing party is entitled to recover its attorney’s fees and costs.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion to compel arbitration, referring to the Agreement as an adhesion contract. Based on the cost-splitting, fee-shifting, and Texas venue provisions, the district court correctly concluded the delegation clause, which requires the arbitrator to determine the gateway issue of arbitrability, the agreement was substantively unconscionable as to Lim. View "Lim v. TForce Logistics, LLC" on Justia Law

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L.B. lived within the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. L.B. and her mother went to a bar and had alcoholic drinks. After they returned home, L.B.’s mother went for a drive. L.B. called the police and reported that her mother was driving while intoxicated. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Officer Bullcoming determined that L.B.’s mother was safe and then went to L.B.’s residence, where her children were asleep in the other room. L.B. admitted to consuming alcoholic drinks. Bullcoming threatened to arrest L.B. for child endangerment because she was intoxicated while in the presence of her children. L.B. pleaded with Bullcoming not to arrest her because she would lose her job as a school bus driver. Bullcoming took L.B. outside for a breathalyzer test. L.B. believed that her choices were to go to jail or have sex with Bullcoming. L.B. and Bullcoming had unprotected sexual intercourse. L.B. became pregnant as a result of the encounter and gave birth.L.B. brought a Federal Tort Claims Act suit, seeking to hold the government liable for Bullcoming’s misconduct. The government asserted that Bullcoming was not acting within the scope of his employment when he sexually assaulted L.B so his actions fell outside the scope of the FTCA’s limited waiver of sovereign immunity. The Ninth Circuit certified the question to the Montana Supreme Court: whether, under Montana law, OBullcoming’s sexual assault of L.B. was within the scope of his employment as a law enforcement officer. View "L. B. v. United States" on Justia Law