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International Airport Centers v. Citrin: Employment Issues

Jun 29, 2006 | By: Michael J. Hassen

“Transmission” Under CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) Includes Deleting Files From Company Laptop Computer To Hide Improper Conduct

On March 8, 2006, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals considered whether an employer could pursue an action under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. § 1030, against a former employee for securely erasing files from a company laptop computer before quitting and going into competition with his former employer. International Airport Centers, L.L.C. v. Citrin, 440 F.3d 418 (7th Cir. 2006). The provision at issue states that one violates CFAA if one “knowingly causes the transmission of a program, information, code, or command, and as a result of such conduct, intentionally causes damage without authorization, to a protected computer,” which includes company laptop computers. 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(5)(A)(i); Citrin, at 419. In his defense, the employee argued that his action of simply deleting computer files did not fall within the class of acts that would constitute a “transmission” within the meaning of CFAA. The district court agreed and dismissed the employer’s lawsuit. Id., at 418-19.

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Starbucks Faces California Employment Class Action

Jun 27, 2006 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Former California Manager Seeks Class Action Status in Lawsuit Alleging Failure to Pay Overtime and Failure to Provide Meal and Rest Breaks In prior articles, we have discussed the prevalence of class actions against employers alleging labor law violations. These are among the “favorites” of plaintiff class action attorneys. Henry Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle reports today that a putative class action has been filed against Starbucks in federal court by a former manager who worked in two California Starbucks shops.

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Verizon Pays Record Amount To Settle Pregnancy Discrimination Class Action

Jun 26, 2006 | By: Michael J. Hassen

The defense of class actions can span several years, and generally class action complaints allege damages dating back many years. That combination played a part in the record settlement of a pregnancy discrimination class action lawsuit, according to Amy Joyce of the Washington Post. By way of background, Nynex Corporation was formed in 1984 to provide telephone service to the states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

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Violante v. Communities Southwest — California Class Action Defense Cases

Jun 26, 2006 | By: Michael J. Hassen

California Holds in Class Actions Case That Liability for Failure to Pay Prevailing Wages on Public Works Projects is Limited to Direct Employer

On April 18, 2006, a California court published its opinion in a class action case that addressed an issue of first impression in California: whether employees on public works projects may sue parties other than their direct employer for alleged violations of the prevailing wage law. Violante v. Communities Southwest Dev. & Constr. Co., 138 Cal.App.4th 972 (Cal.App. 2006). There, construction workers filed a putative class action in California state court for recovery of prevailing wages, alleging that perhaps thousands of workers “were paid less than prevailing wages as required by California Labor Code section 1770 et seq. for public works projects.” The class action complaint alleged violations of Labor Code section 1774, breach of contract and unfair business practices against numerous defendants including S. J. Burkhardt, Inc., the contractor that hired Raymond David Paci, doing business as Pacific Structures; Pacific Structures had employed plaintiffs directly. The trial court sustained the demurrers of three other defendants – Chapman Heights (a contractor), Communities Southwest Development and Construction Company (a developer and general partner of Chapman Heights), and Yucaipa Valley Acres (a developer and contractor) – without leave to amend and plaintiffs appealed. 138 Cal.App.4th at 975-76.

After a careful analysis of the statutory scheme, the Court held at page 979, “Plaintiffs have a right of action against the subcontractor, their direct employer [citations]. . . . But the Labor Code nowhere requires the contractor to pay prevailing wages to a subcontractor’s employee or permits a subcontractor’s employee to sue the prime contractor when the subcontractor fails to pay prevailing wages.”

Plaintiffs contend defendants violated section 1774 because plaintiffs were not paid prevailing wages by their direct employer, a subcontractor. ** This is an untenable interpretation.** The Labor Code provides a contractor and a subcontractor must pay prevailing wages **_to their respective employees_** on a public works project, not that a contractor must pay prevailing wages to a subcontractor’s employees. 138 Cal.App.4th at 978 (italics added).

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Melena v. Anheuser-Busch — Class Action Defense Issues

Jun 26, 2006 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Employment Arbitration Agreement Under FAA (Federal Arbitration Act) Enforceable By Employer Illinois Supreme Court Holds

As discussed in a separate article, Circuit Courts of Appeal and state courts do not agree on the enforceability of arbitration agreements in employment contracts. This issue may be of critical importance in the defense of class actions, because a class action waiver in an employment arbitration agreement cannot possible be enforceable if the court would refuse to enforce the arbitral forum even without a class action restriction. On March 23, 2006, in an opinion that should have direct and positive impact in the defense of class action waivers in arbitration agreements in the state, the Illinois Supreme Court cast its vote on the issue, holding that under the FAA (Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. (1994)), employment arbitration agreements are enforceable under “principles of fundamental contract law because we believe that approach is more faithful to the FAA.” Melena v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 847 N.E.2d 99, 107 (Ill. 2006).

In Melena, Anheuser-Busch hired plaintiff in February 1999. One year later, it mailed to employees a letter announcing a new “Dispute Resolution Program” that included a requirement for arbitration under the FAA. Employees were informed that “’by continuing or accepting an offer of employment’ with Anheuser-Busch, all employees to whom the policy was applicable ‘agree as a condition of employment to submit all covered claims to the dispute resolution program.’” 847 N.E.2d at 101. Plaintiff was injured in September 2002, and fired in March 2003. She filed suit against Anheuser-Busch in state court in May 2003. ANHEUSER-BUSCH moved to compel arbitration, but the trial court denied the motion without explanation. The appellate court affirmed, concluding that “’even if the plaintiff entered into the agreement knowingly, she did not do so voluntarily,’” and expressing doubt “about whether an agreement to arbitrate, offered as a condition of employment, ‘is ever voluntary.’” Id., at 102 (quoting appellate court opinion).

The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, holding: “In our view, the FAA’s plain language makes clear that arbitration agreements are enforceable except for state-law grounds for ordinary contract revocation.” 847 N.E.2d at 107 (italics added, citations omitted). Importantly, the Illinois Supreme Court did not make any distinction between arbitration agreements in an employment context or in a commercial setting, and did not suggest that a class action waiver provision would be interpreted under different contract principles.

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Burlington Northern v. White — Class Action Defense Issues

Jun 23, 2006 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Supreme Court Expands Breadth of Potential Employee Claims for Alleged Retaliation

In a prior article on class actions and class action defense, we discussed the rise of employment law class actions. One area that had not yet been widely subject to class actions consists of alleged retaliation claims. Every employment law practioner knows that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). To protect employees who seek to establish such employment discrimination, Congress included an “anti-retaliation” provision in Title VII that prohibits discrimination against one who has “made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated” in a Title VII matter, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). By their nature, such claims are “class action resistant” because they are based on the case-by-case treatment of the employee and the specific conduct against which the employer alleges seeks to retaliate. That may change.

On June 22, 2006, the United States Supreme Court fundamentally altered the landscape of employment law retaliation claims. See Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, 548 U.S. _\_, __ S.Ct. ___ (2006). Title VII retaliation claims require proof of an “adverse employment action” but courts have disagreed on what satisfies this requirement. The Supreme Court summarized the issues presented and its answers as follows:

The Courts of Appeals have come to different conclusions about the scope of the Act’s anti-retaliation provision, particularly the reach of its phrase “discriminate against.” Does that provision confine actionable retaliation to activity that affects the terms and conditions of employment? And how harmful must the adverse actions be to fall within its scope?

We conclude that the anti-retaliation provision does not confine the actions and harms it forbids to those that are related to employment or occur at the workplace. We also conclude that the provision covers those (and only those)employer actions that would have been materially adverse to a reasonable employee or job applicant. In the present context that means that the employer’s actions must be harmful to the point that they could well dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. Slip Opn., at 1-2.

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California Class Action Defense Cases–Gentry v. Superior Court: Class Action Waiver In Employment Contract’s Arbitration Provision Held Enforceable

Jan 19, 2006 | By: Michael J. Hassen

California Court Upholds Arbitration Clause With Class Action Waiver In Employment Agreement On January 19, 2006, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District, Division 5, addressed “the enforceability of a pre-employment arbitration agreement containing a class action waiver.” Gentry v. Superior Court, 135 Cal.App.4th944, 37 Cal.Rptr.3d 790, 791 (Cal.App. 2006). In 1995, while employed by Circuit City, Gentry received an “Associate Issue Resolution Package” and a copy of the company’s “Dispute Resolution Rules and Procedures” setting forth various procedures for resolving employment-related disputes.

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