News & Analysis

Court: Everyone's a winner and a loser! Attorneys' fees all around!

Numerous statutes provide for an award of reasonable attorneys' fees to the "prevailing party" in litigation. For the purpose of awarding court costs, the prevailing party is generally either the party who received a net monetary recovery or the party who was sued if the party who filed the lawsuit didn't recover any relief. Courts are not strictly bound to that definition when they award attorneys' fees pursuant to a statute, and the prevailing party is generally the one that prevails on a "practical level" by realizing its litigation objectives. Significantly, the California Court of Appeal recently held that there can be multiple prevailing parties when multiple claims were filed under separate statutes that provide for an award of attorneys' fees to the prevailing party.

Headless class action against CVS defeated

Discovery requests for information from employers in class action cases can be extremely burdensome. Not only can it be incredibly time-consuming to compile the requested information, but discovery is often directed at identifying other potential class members. That's particularly challenging for an employer because of the risk that employees who learn about the class action may seek to file individual lawsuits on their own. The following case addresses whether a former employee who was never a part of the class she sought to represent can be allowed to request information from her former employer solely to identify a new class representative.

Is an arbitration award reviewable for errors of law?

An arbitrator issued an award enforcing a noncompetition provision against a former partner of an accounting firm. The trial court tossed out the arbitration award, finding the noncompetition provision unenforceable because it didn't contain any geographic restrictions. On appeal, the appellate court had to determine whether the trial court had the authority to review the arbitrator's award for legal errors.

Issues of class manageability must be considered before certifying a class

Valerie Alberts and others filed a lawsuit against two hospitals owned and operated by Aurora Behavioral Health Care in which they argued, among other things, that Aurora had uniform practices and de facto policies that routinely denied nursing staff employees meal and rest breaks and failed to pay them for all hours worked as required by California law. The nurses also asserted that Aurora intentionally understaffed its hospitals to be more profitable.

Postmerger pilot seniority list must fairly balance interests

Travelers are well aware of the consolidation in the airline industry through several large mergers in the last few years. The rights and benefits of airline pilots are largely controlled by their seniority, and a merger can wreak havoc. Disagreements between and among pilot groups recently brought a matter for a second time to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose rulings apply to all California employers). Message to pilot unions: Remember that you represent the interests of all your members as you bargain with the new company.

Things for which an HR manager should be thankful

The challenges facing HR managers can be daunting. Amendments to the law, new and changing federal and state administrative policies, and a diverse workforce all contribute to the difficulty of appropriately resolving employee issues. As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, here are some things for which every HR manager should be thankful.

IRS issues guidance on tax treatment of identity protection in data breaches

Businesses affected by a data breach often offer some form of free credit monitoring or identity theft protection to persons affected by the breach. In fact, effective October 1, 2015, Connecticut became the first state to require businesses to provide at least one year of identity theft prevention and/or mitigation services to residents affected by a data breach.

Harassment around the house

In a lawsuit that will certainly run longer than the TV series that spawned it, the complaint brought by the most risqué of the Desperate Housewives, Nicollette Sheridan, has been revived. As longtime readers will recall, Sheridan got into an argument on the set of the show with writer/creator Marc Cherry, which ended with Cherry slapping her. It was battery, according to Sheridan; stage direction, in Cherry's view. Sheridan complained to the network and the producer, and the next year, her character, Edie Britt, was killed. She then filed a lawsuit claiming retaliation, which was twice dismissed by trial courts and, now, twice revived by the court of appeal.

Agency Action

EEOC announces $17 million verdict against farm employer. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in September 2015 announced a federal jury verdict awarding a total of $17,425,000 to five former female employees of Moreno Farms, Inc., a produce growing and packing operation in Felda, Florida, who suffered sexual harassment and retaliation. According to the EEOCs suit, two sons of the owner of Moreno Farms and a third male supervisor engaged in graphic acts of sexual harassment against female workers, including regular groping and propositioning, threatening female employees with termination if they refused the supervisors sexual advances, and attempting to rape and raping multiple female employees. All five women were ultimately fired for opposing the three mens sexual harassment.

9th Circuit revives class claims for commuting pay

Before a lawsuit can officially become a "class action," a court has to decide whether the claims fit the criteria prescribed by applicable rules. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose decisions apply to all Alaska employers) recently reviewed whether a case asserting violations of wage and hour law affecting a group of employees met the criteria. The answer in this particular case was partly yes and partly no.