In a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.”
What was the issue? Does Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex, also includes discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation?
The decision combines three cases, all of which revolved around an employer who allegedly fired a long-time employee for being gay or transgender.
In the first, Gerald Bostock was fired for “conduct unbecoming of its employees” after he joined a gay softball league. In the second case Aimee Stephens was fired after telling her employer she was transgender. In the third, Donald Zarda was fired from a skydiving company in New York “because he did not conform to the sex stereotype that men should be attracted only to women.The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego 95 South Market Street, Suite 520 San Jose, CA 95113 Tel. 408-293-6341 Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman, former associate of The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego.
CAN THE LABOR COMMISSIONER HOLD THE CEO OF A CORPORATION PERSONALLY LIABLE FOR UNPAID WAGES?
In Jones v. Gregory, a California Appellate Court confirmed that a Corporate CEO could not be held personally liable for corporate employees’ unpaid wages. The Labor Commissioner attempted to distinguish itself from the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Reynolds v. Bement (2005) 361075 by arguing that while an individual employee cannot sue the CEO as an “employer,” the Labor Commissioner can. The Fourth Appellate District rejected this argument. The court pointed out that the Labor Commissioner was not trying to “pierce the corporate veil,” or that the CEO was “doing business as” the employer, implying that corporate officers could be held liable for wage violations if the plaintiff can pierce the corporate veil.The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego 95 South Market Street, Suite 520 San Jose, CA 95113 Tel. 408-293-6341 Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman, former associate of The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego.
By statute (California Labor Code Section 2922) all employment is presumed to be at the will of either party, terminable with or without cause or notice. The presumption of at-will employment codified in section 2922 of the Labor Code can be overcome by an express or implied agreement to the contrary. Evidence outside the writing may sometimes be introduced to explain ambiguities in the contract establishing a “for cause” requirement overcome the at will presumption.
In Dore v. Arnold Worldwide, Inc., 39 Cal. 4th 384, the employee signed an employment letter containing an at-will provision and defining “at will” as the right to terminate the employment “at any time.” The employee argued that the verbal formulation “at any time” in the termination clause of an employment contract was ambiguous because it did not expressly speak to whether cause was required. The employee argued that he could introduce evidence that cause was required to explain the ambiguity. The Supreme Court disagreed. The court held the words “at any time” ordinarily encompassed the notion of “with or without cause.” The letter also stated that employment was “at will,” a term that, when used in an employment contract, normally conveyed an intent that employment could be ended by either party at any time without cause. Thus, no triable issues of fact existed as to breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. So the employer won summary judgment.
This case must be distinguished from those other cases where the words “at will” and other language could be interpreted as requiring cause or that do not address the issue, thus leaving the door open for other evidence outside the written document that proves a good cause requirement for termination. Unfortunately, the court’s opinion provides no clue as to how it would rule on cases that had similar language (like termination on 30-days’ notice) but did not have at will language. Only one case out of five held the language clearly called for termination without cause. The other four allowed the employee to introduce evidence that 30-day notice meant “for good cause.”
Many questions remain in this ever-changing legal landscape. Employers should ensure that their offer letters, employment contracts and employee handbooks clearly state employment is at-will and may be terminated without notice and without cause.The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego 95 South Market Street, Suite 520 San Jose, CA 95113 Tel. 408-293-6341 Original article by Phillip J. Griego of The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego.
WHAT IS OUR LEGISLATURE DOING TO CALIFORNIA EMPLOYERS?
The California legislature is currently debating the following bills. We don’t know which ones will make it to the Governor, or which was he will sign, but keep on the look-out for these proposed laws effecting California businesses:
AB 1912 – Misdemeanor to terminate an employee who brings a firearm to work in her car.
AB 2095 – Modifies sexual harassment education requirements.
AB 2186 – Bill to penalize overtime misclassifications.
AB 2217 – Individual alternative workweeks.
AB 2327 – Farm labor contractor rule changes.
AB 2334 – Janitorial service contractor rule changes.
AB 2371 – Invalidates arbitration agreements that cover FEHA violations.
AB 2536 – Overtime for in-house workers
SB 1188, 1189 – Prohibits payment of wages without a free way to cash.
The current renditions of these bills can be viewed at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.htmlThe Law Office of Phillip J. Griego 95 South Market Street, Suite 520 San Jose, CA 95113 Tel. 408-293-6341 Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman, former associate of The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego.
EMPLOYERS MAY HAVE TO DETERMINE WHETHER THEY CAN ACCOMMODATE AN EMPLOYEE EVEN IF THE EMPLOYEE IS NOT DISABLED
In Gelfo v. Lockheed Martin Corporation, the California Appellate Court upheld the trial court’s decision that the employee was not “actually” physically disabled. However, the court went on to say that the lower court “erred in failing to determine, as a matter of law, that Lockheed regarded [the employee] as physically disabled” and should have engaged in an informal interactive process aimed at effecting a reasonable accommodation. The court held that employers must provide a necessary and reasonable accommodation to an applicant or an employee whom it regards as physically disabled. The lesson: if the employer thinks an applicant or employee may be disabled, the employer should engage in the interactive process of determining what, if any, accommodation will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job.The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego 95 South Market Street, Suite 520 San Jose, CA 95113 Tel. 408-293-6341 Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman, former associate of The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego.
CAN AN EMPLOYEE SUE HIS EMPLOYEE FOR THREATS OF VIOLENCE AND INTIMIDATION?
The California Supreme Court previously held that the Unruh Act, which prohibits discrimination by businesses, does not apply to employment cases. (Rojo v. Kliger(1990) 5265). The California Appellate Court in Stamps v. Superior Court recently decided that claims previously believed barred by Rojo can be brought by disgruntled employees. Many people assumed that Civ. Code, § § 51.7 and 52.1, which prohibit discriminatory violence and intimidation and against denial of civil rights by means of threats and intimidation were part of the Unruh Act. The Stamps court clarified the issue and held that Civ. Code, § § 51.7, and 52.1 were not part of the Unruh act. Employees can sue their employers for threats of violence or intimidation on the basis of their race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability or position in a labor dispute, or for exercising any constitutional right.The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego 95 South Market Street, Suite 520 San Jose, CA 95113 Tel. 408-293-6341 Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman, a former associate of The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego.
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