Yes, You Can Fire an Employee Because She is Hot, Iowa Supreme Court Affirms


Last year we reported on the Iowa Supreme Court's decision in Nelson v. James H. Knight, DDS (Iowa, December 21, 2012), in which the court held that a dental practice did not discriminate against a female assistant by terminating her because her good looks and personal relationship with the dentist triggered jealousy on the part of the dentist's wife.  The court rejected the claim of Melissa Nelson that her boss, Dr. Knight, terminated her because of her gender and would not have terminated her if she had been male.

Recently, after some negative media coverage and a petition for rehearing filed by Nelson, the Iowa Supreme Court reconsidered its decision and issued a revised opinion. But the result was the same. The court affirmed the district court's decision to dismiss Nelson's claim. 

On first blush the court's decision may seem unjust.  But, in fact, it is well-supported by precedent and consistent with the purpose of Title VII – to prevent discrimination on the basis of certain protected statuses, not on the basis of personal relationships. The court noted that there is a substantial body of case law holding that sexual favoritism, where one employee is treated more favorably than members of the opposite sex because of a consensual relationship with the boss, does not violate Title VII.  Following the same logic, treating an employee unfavorably because of such a relationship does not violate the law, either.  

The court acknowledged the unfairness of the situation to Nelson, who did not initiate any sexually suggestive conduct with Dr. Knight or do anything wrong.  But the court noted that "Title VII and the Iowa Civil Rights Act are not general fairness laws, and an employer does not violate them by treating an employee unfairly so long as the employer does not engage in discrimination based upon the employee's protected status."  The court concluded that Nelson was fired not because of her gender – there were several other women in the office who were not let go – but because of her good looks and personal relationship with Dr. Knight.  Nelson's termination was undoubtedly unfair, but it was not illegal.


Employer Affordable Care Act Mandate Delayed


The Treasury Department has just announced that the employer penalty provisions of Health Care Reform, which were set to go into effect on January 1, 2014, will now be delayed until 2015. The delay applies only to the employer penalty provisions and certain related information reporting requirements. At least for now, the implementation of the Health Insurance Marketplaces (Exchanges) and the requirement that individuals obtain coverage (the Individual Mandate) are still scheduled to go into effect in 2014, along with other scheduled requirements. It also appears that, as of now, employers will still be required to provide Marketplace Notices to employees as of October 1.
The delay will be welcome news for employers that have been struggling with the complexities of the penalty provisions and the lack of guidance on key issues. We are expecting further guidance on how the rest of Health Care Reform will work before the end of summer. For more information about the announcement, please see Health Law RX Blog.


Employees Asserting Retaliation Must Meet Higher Causation Standard, Supreme Court Rules


The explosion of retaliation claims may skid to a halt or at least slow down after the Supreme Court's decision this week holding that plaintiffs making Title VII retaliation claims must establish that their protected activity was a "but-for" cause of the alleged adverse action by the employer.

In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the Supreme Court held that the text, structure, and history of Title VII demonstrated that merely showing that an employee's conduct in engaging in protected activity was "a motivating factor" in the employer's action was not enough.

That holding should eliminate what's become a standard practice from the employee playbook: when the employee senses discipline or termination on the horizon, the employee files a claim of discrimination based on a protected category/status such as age, sex, or race. Then, when the discipline or termination comes to pass, the employee asserts it was in retaliation for complaining of discrimination.

Employers should be thrilled that the Supreme Court saw that play clearly and removed it from the employee arsenal.  As the Court noted, the number of retaliation claims has nearly doubled in the last 15 years and has outstripped every kind of status-based discrimination except race.  The Court paid heed to the burden those claims place on employer and court resources, noting that the "proper interpretation" of the causation standard is "of central importance to the fair and responsible allocation of in the judicial litigation systems."

The Supreme Court also refused to give credence to the EEOC guidance manual's interpretation of Title VII that an employee could show retaliation merely by establishing that engaging in protected activity was "a" motivating factor. The Court said the agency's guidance on this issue was not entitled to deference under applicable law because it failed to address the statutory scheme, lacked a persuasive discussion and involved circular reasoning.  This could open the door to further challenges to claims that the EEOC's guidance on an issue is entitled to deference from the courts.


Supreme Court Affirms Narrow Definition of Supervisor Under Title VII


The Supreme Court has ruled in Vance v. Ball State University that the authority to take tangible employment actions is the defining characteristic of a supervisor, and that without such authority an employee is not a supervisor for purposes of analyzing an employer's liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

The significance of the Vance case turns on the fact that under Title VII, the analysis of an employer's liability for unlawful harassment depends on the status of the harasser. If the harassing employee is a co-worker, the employer is liable only if it was negligent in controlling working conditions. But a different analysis applies if the harasser is a supervisor. If the supervisor's harassment results in a tangible employment action, the employer is strictly liable. If no tangible employment action is taken, the employer may escape liability by establishing, as an affirmative defense, that: (1) the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct any harassing behavior; and (2) that the plaintiff unreasonably failed to take advantage of the preventive or corrective opportunities that the employer provided.

Maetta Vance is an African-American woman who worked for Ball State University (BSU). She alleged that a fellow BSU employee, a white woman named Saundra Davis, subjected her to a racially hostile work environment in violation of Title VII. Although Vance alleged that Davis was her supervisor, it was undisputed that Davis did not have the power to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline Vance. The trial court ruled that a negligence standard governed the case because Davis was not a supervisor as the Seventh Circuit had defined that term in previous decisions. Applying the negligence standard, the trial court ruled that BSU could not be found liable because the evidence showed that BSU was not negligent – it had responded reasonably to the allegations of racial harassment. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the case. 

The Supreme Court affirmed the Seventh Circuit's bright-line test for defining a supervisor:

We hold that an employer may be vicariously liable for an employee's unlawful harassment only when the employer has empowered that employee to take tangible employment actions against the victim, i.e., to effect a "significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.

In so holding, the Court rejected as "nebulous" the "open-ended approach advocated by the EEOC's Enforcement Guidance, which ties supervisor status to the ability to exercise significant direction over another's daily work." The Court also addressed the dissenting justices' concern that the majority opinion will leave employees unprotected against harassment by co-workers who, though they are not supervisors, still have the authority to assign unpleasant tasks or alter the work environment in objectionable ways. In these cases, the majority noted, a victim of harassment can still prevail by showing that the employer was negligent in preventing the harassment. Negligence can be shown by evidence that an employer did not monitor the workplace, failed to respond to complaints, failed to provide a system for registering complaints, or effectively discouraged complaints from being filed. The negligence standard, the court noted, "is thought to provide adequate protection for tort plaintiffs in many other situations."

Here are a few quick takeaways for employers in understanding the Vance decision:

  • For employers in the First, Seventh and Eighth Circuits, Vance reaffirms the existing, narrow definition of supervisor that applied in those circuits before the Supreme Court decided Vance.
  • For employers in the Second and Fourth Circuits, and in other circuits that had not addressed the issue squarely, the Vance decision's narrow definition of supervisor is good news and makes a finding of employer liability for harassment less likely. 
  • All employers should nevertheless remain vigilant against unlawful harassment, as even co-worker harassment can result in employer liability if the employer is found negligent. Indeed, the Court in Vance expressed skepticism that there are many cases in which the actions of a co-worker who is able to direct the victim's daily work activities in a meaningful way, and who creates an unlawful hostile environment, would not result in a finding of negligence by the employer. 
  • Vance may not be the final word on who is a supervisor under Title VII. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg stated that "[t]he ball is once again in Congress' court to correct the error into which this Court has fallen, and to restore the robust protections against workplace harassment the Court weakens today." The last time Justice Ginsburg said that, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was born.


Email Policy Cannot Be Used to Squelch Protected, Concerted Activity


Employers must ensure that their email policies advise employees of the appropriate use of email.  Likewise, employers must enforce appropriate use policies in a consistent matter.  However, employers do not have unfettered discretion to discipline employees for "inappropriate" email content.  In a recent ruling, the NLRB found that an employer had committed an unfair labor practice when disciplining employees over emails that constituted concerted activity protected by section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.   

The underlying facts date back to April 2007, when NASA advised all of its facilities, including its Jet Propulsion Laboratory ("JPL") operated by Caltech, that employees would have to undergo background checks or they would be terminated.  In 2007, 28 employees filed suit against NASA and other entities seeking to enjoin the background check procedure.  In January 2011, the court ruled JPL could proceed with the background checks.  JPL notified employees of the court's ruling and advised them they would need to complete the background checks to obtain the badges required to enter the Pasadena facility.  

Following JPL's email concerning the lawsuit, several employees emailed co-workers about the court's ruling.  JPL concluded that several of these employees' emails violated its email policies and issued written warnings.  The written warnings prompted a barrage of subsequent emails from employees objecting to the discipline.  JPL eventually had to send an email requesting that the employees cease hitting "reply all" -- because 4600 individuals were receiving emails about disciplining certain employees over email content.  In one email, JPL practically begged: "Out of respect for people's time, the … management team would like to ask you not to reply to this email address until we can fix the situation."  Unfortunately, this only prompted more employee responses.  One employee shot back (hitting "reply all") -  "I for one have found the responses enlightening."   

The employees who received the written warnings filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB.  Caltech was found to have committed unfair labor practices for issuing warnings to employees over emails expressing objections to the mandatory background check process or the court's ruling.  Caltech appealed the outcome but it was affirmed by an Administrative Law Judge, who noted that the employer had offered no evidence of disciplining employees following other mass emails, involving the sale of Girl Scout cookies, lunch specials at a local restaurant, United Way campaigns, etc.  "[A]n employer may not allow use of its computers for non-work related activities and discriminate against use of the computers for similar Section 7 activities[,]" the ALJ noted.



Silence is Golden for Employee Suspended Without Pay


Employers:  Read and understand your employment agreements with your employees, and don't assume you have contractual rights that are not spelled out in the agreements.  Those are among the lessons to take from a recent decision by Florida's Second District Court of Appeal, Nancy Havens, D.D.S. v. Coast Florida, P.A., Case No. 2D12-1047 (June 12, 2013).

Nancy Havens is a dentist who had a five year employment agreement with Coast Florida, P.A. ("Coast"). Three years into the agreement, Coast suspended her without pay pending an internal investigation.  Havens demanded that her compensation be reinstated during her suspension.  When Coast refused, Havens resigned her employment and sued Coast.  The trial court dismissed the complaint, but the Second DCA reversed and remanded the case to the trial court, ruling that Havens stated a claim for breach of the agreement.  The result is that Coast may have to pay Havens out for the remaining two years of the agreement.

The reason?  The agreement was silent on the issue of suspension.  Ruling that the substantive right to suspend could not be read into the contract, the Second DCA noted that if there was an ambiguity on the right to suspend, the ambiguity must be construed against Coast, the drafter of the agreement.  

So what did Dr. Havens do to prompt an internal investigation?  The Second DCA's opinion does not say, and it does not matter.  Even if Dr. Havens engaged in egregious wrongdoing, her employment agreement did not give Coast the right to suspend her without pay.  It is that simple.  The employment agreement contained a "cause" termination provision.  If Coast had cause to terminate Havens, it should have invoked that provision rather than suspending her without pay.  Coast's decision to suspend Havens without pay despite the agreement's silence on this issue may cost the dental practice dearly.  Employers should take heed.


An Ounce of Prevention: Employers Should Take Precautions Now to Prepare for the 2013 Hurricane Season


In the wake of Hurricane Sandy last Fall and the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma, forecasters are predicting an aggressive 2013 hurricane season, which started on June 1st.  Employers should take time before the storm hits to review and update workplace pay and leave policies:  

Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA")

The most frequent issues that arise from hurricanes and other natural disasters relate to the circumstances under which employers must pay employees during or after the storm. 

  • Exempt Employees: Employees (such as executives, managers, and professionals) who are exempt from the FLSA's overtime requirements must generally be paid their regular salary regardless of the number of hours worked in a particular work week. One of the limited permissible deductions is the occasion when an employer remains open in the wake of a natural disaster but the employee chooses not to report to work – in which case full-day wage deductions are allowable.  On the other hand, exempt employees who are ready and willing to work, but are prevented from working because of an employer's decision not to operate must be paid.  If an employer is forced to cease operations for a full work week, however, exempt employees do not have to be paid in those weeks when they perform no work.
  • Non-Exempt Employees: Under the FLSA, employees who are paid on an hourly basis and who are entitled to overtime wages only have to be paid for actual time worked. Therefore, if an employee is unable or refuses to report to work because of a natural disaster, these employees do not have to be paid. Likewise, if an employer is unable to open its doors or operate, non-exempt employees do not have to be paid.  
  • Working From Home: Exempt employees who work from home during or after a storm must be paid for that day. Non-exempt employees who work from home during or after a storm must also be paid, but only for actual time worked.  For example, non-exempt employees should be paid for time spent responding to emails, participating in conference calls, or returning telephone calls. Employers should implement a timekeeping system for non-exempt employees who are unable to clock-in and out in the office.

Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA")

In addition to wage issues, employers must commonly address employee leave requests in the wake of a hurricane or other natural disaster.  Employees requesting leave following a storm may qualify for leave under the FMLA – either for their own serious health conditions or to care for the serious health conditions of FMLA-covered family members. For example, employees may sustain injuries during or after the storm and need to take an FMLA-qualifying leave. Additionally, employees may qualify for FMLA leave to care for a child, spouse, or parent who suffers an injury caused by a hurricane or other natural disaster.  All such leave requests should be addressed in the same manner as non-storm-related leave requests.  

Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA")

If employees sustain injuries resulting from a hurricane or other natural disaster, they may be entitled to protection under the ADA – especially in light of the expansive nature of medical conditions covered by the ADAAA amendments.  Employers must continue to make provisions for reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with a disability after a storm, unless undue hardship is shown.  In some instances, extended leave may constitute a reasonable accommodation; however, employers may also be required to consider accommodations other than leave. 

Inclement Weather Policy

An effective inclement weather policy will aid employers in addressing these and other workplace issues that arise before, during, and after a natural disaster.

Tags: ,

Skinsmart Dermatology Avoids a Legal Blemish Over Facebook Posting


The "Facebook Firing" cases continue with the NLRB deciding more often than not that employees fired for Facebook postings engaged in "protected concerted activity" under the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") and are entitled to reinstatement.  

However, a break from the typical outcome occurred in May, 2013, when an NLRB Associate Counsel sent an Advice Memorandum to his Regional Director upholding the firing of an employee who had made derogatory remarks about her job in a group message on Facebook. In Tasker Healthcare Group d/b/a Skinsmart Dermatology, NLRB Div. of Advice, No. 4-CA-94222 (May 8, 2013), the group of ten individuals included seven current and three former Skinsmart employees.

Initially, the postings involved a social event. Then, one of the current employees commented on a conversation she had with a supervisor where she told the latter to "back the freak off." The employee went on to say that certain supervisors "are full of shit" and "FIRE ME . . . Make my day. . . .". No other current employees participated in this portion of the conversation. 

The next day one of the group's other current employees showed the conversation to the employer. Skinsmart fired the employee who made the derogatory comments. Following the termination, the employee filed an unfair labor charge, claiming her termination violated federal law. As expressed by the Associate Counsel: "[t]he Board's test for concert is whether the activity is engaged 'in with or on the authority of other employees, and not solely by and on behalf of the employee himself." In reviewing the claim, an Associate Counsel issued an Advice Opinion in which he characterized the employee's actions as "merely express[ing] an individual gripe" – as opposed to conveying "shared concerns."

Note that while the outcome in Skinsmart was favorable to the employer, it was because the employee's postings failed to include communications showing any "shared employee concerns," such as wages, work schedules, and or "other terms and conditions of employment."

Tags: ,

Supreme Court's Refusal to Hear Appeal Suggests Companies Must Transfer Newly Disabled Employees to Open Positions as a Reasonable Accommodation, Regardless of Whether There Are More Qualified Candidates


This week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review EEOC v. United Airlines, Inc., a Seventh Circuit decision (which overruled its prior precedent) holding that the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") obligates employers to reassign newly disabled workers to open job positions, thus reviving a class action the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission filed against an airline alleging it violated the ADA by failing to automatically assign disabled workers to vacant positions they were minimally capable of filling.  The Seventh Circuit, agreeing with earlier decisions by the Tenth Circuit and the D.C. Circuit, ruled that the ADA mandates that an employer appoint employees with disabilities to vacant positions for which they are qualified, provided that such accommodations would be ordinarily reasonable and would not present an undue hardship to that employer.  The airline's position in the appeal was that the Seventh Circuit misunderstood Supreme Court precedent and, in doing so, found that employers had to take affirmative action on behalf of their disabled workers, which was a greater requirement than the laws from which the ADA was modeled.  The initial suit sought an injunction barring the airline from making disabled employees compete with other applicants for jobs they were minimally qualified for and asked the court to force the company to institute new policies, as well as to pay the workers lost income, prejudgment interest, past and future pecuniary losses including medical expenses and compensation for emotional distress and humiliation.  

The takeaway from the Supreme Court's denial of review is that the Seventh Circuit's ruling will stand, at least for now, and may limit an employer's ability to hire the most qualified applicant for a position under certain circumstances.


"My Prior Complaint Was One of the Reasons for the Adverse Employment Action": Mixed Motive Theories for Retaliation Claims Under Title VII


Recently, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, which addresses the causation standard for retaliation claims under Title VII. The Supreme Court has already held that Title VII permits plaintiffs to pursue discrimination claims on a mixed motive theory. A plaintiff only needs to prove that discrimination was a motivating factor in the adverse employment action in question. To compare, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act does not permit mixed motive theories under Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc. Instead a plaintiff must show that "but for" her age, she would not have suffered the employment action. At issue in Nassar is whether Title VII retaliation claims allow for mixed motive theories like Title VII discrimination claims or whether the plaintiff must show that "but for" her protected activity, she would not have suffered the adverse employment action.

As background, Dr. Naiel Nassar left the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 2006 after he complained that his direct supervisor made discriminatory comments about his ethnic and religious background. Dr. Nassar then sought a new position at an AIDS clinic affiliated with the Medical Center. However, the Medical Center's management prevented the Clinic from hiring Dr. Nassar. As a result, Dr. Nassar filed a lawsuit against the Medical Center, alleging that it prevented his hiring at the Clinic in retaliation for his prior complaints. The case went to trial, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Dr. Nassar, awarding him back pay and damages. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the jury's verdict.

Before the Supreme Court, Dr. Nassar argued that Title VII's statutory language and Supreme Court precedent permit mixed motive theories for retaliation claims, just as the statute permits mixed motive theories for Title VII discrimination claims. In opposition, the Medical Center argued that Title VII retaliation claims, unlike Title VII discrimination claims, must meet the "but for" standard of causation. During oral argument, some Justices noted that Congress may want a different causation standard for retaliation claims than substantive discrimination claims. For example, a stricter standard for retaliation claims would discourage groundless lawsuits alleging retaliation against false claims of discrimination. Further, retaliation claims are distinct from Title VII's purpose, which is to prohibit discrimination based on protected characteristics.  

What does this mean for employers? If mixed motive theories are not permissible for retaliation claims under Title VII, disgruntled employees will have a much more difficult time establishing such claims under the strict "but for" standard. However, if the Court determines that this more stringent standard is not required for Title VII retaliation claims, employers should expect employees to continue filing such claims and seeking damages under mixed motive theories.


Florida's Unemployment Process Violates The ADA - Warning For Employers


Florida's requirement that applicants for unemployment insurance apply over the Internet and take an online skills test discriminated against the disabled, because they could not easily access the computerized process, according to the Department of Labor's Civil Rights Center. The determination came in a case lodged by the Miami Workers' Center and the National Employment Project, which claimed that disabled Floridians were being shut out from unemployment insurance. 

In August 2011, Florida eliminated alternative options for paper and telephone filing for unemployment benefits and required all applications to be carried out online. The new rules also required that applicants complete a 45-question skills assessment and fill out other online-only forms.  But, according to the DOL, the program offered no alternatives for unemployed workers with disabilities that prevented them from using a computer. As a consequence of the adverse DOL determination, Florida has entered into voluntary compliance negotiations.

Private employers should take heed of this finding.  To the extent that on-line forms or tests are required as part of an application, employers must provide accommodations for disabled individuals to be able to complete the process.  A failure to do so may result in an ADA claim.



NLRB General Counsel Suggests Language That Complies With Banner Health


In a memorandum dated January 29, 2013, but made public on April 16, 2013, the NLRB's Office of General Counsel, while confirming that an employer's blanket confidentiality rule, which precludes employees from disclosing information about ongoing investigations into employee misconduct, is unlawfully overbroad under the Board's decision in Banner Health, 358 NLRB No. 93 (2012), held that an employer's policy may be lawful where it states that the employer will make an individualized determination of the need for confidentiality and that employees are required to honor the employer's decision.

The memorandum was issued regarding Verso Paper's Code of Conduct, which states in relevant part: 

"Verso has a compelling interest in protecting the integrity of its investigations. In every investigation, Verso has a strong desire to protect witnesses from harassment, intimidation and retaliation, to keep evidence from being destroyed, to ensure that testimony is not fabricated, and to prevent a cover-up. To assist Verso in achieving these objectives, we must maintain the investigation and our role in it in strict confidence. If we do not maintain such confidentiality, we may be subject to disciplinary action up to and including immediate termination."

The Office of General Counsel concluded that because the policy purported to apply to every investigation, it ran afoul of Banner Health, which requires that an employer must show more than a generalized concern for the integrity of its investigations and must demonstrate a particularized need for confidentiality on a case-by-case basis. However, in a footnote, the Office of General Counsel stated that the first two sentences lawfully set forth the employer's interests, and suggested that the policy could be lawfully amended by striking the next two sentences and inserting the following language: "Verso may decide in some circumstances that in order to achieve these objectives, we must maintain the investigation and our role in it in strict confidence. If Verso reasonably imposes such a requirement and we do not maintain such confidentiality, we may be subject to disciplinary action."

The Advice Memorandum reaffirms that employers may not maintain blanket rules of confidentiality as to all investigations.  Rather, employers must tell employees that confidentiality directives will only be issued in particular circumstances where the employer has determined it to be necessary.   Accordingly, employers with confidentiality policies may wish to consider revising them to comply with this Advice Memorandum.



The Supreme Court Holds That Employer's Mooting of Named Plaintiff's Claim Also Moots FLSA Collective Action


On April 16, 2013, in Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, No. 11-1059, the Supreme Court held that when a FLSA plaintiff's claim becomes moot prior to a conditional certification of a collective action, the entire action itself becomes moot and the case should be dismissed. However, the opinion unfortunately did not render a decision on the key question of whether a named plaintiff's claim is actually mooted with a defendant's offer of judgment of full relief.  Rather, the Supreme Court assumed this to be the case. Therefore, the decision leaves open the issue of whether an employer's use of an offer of judgment to the named plaintiff is an effective tool to quickly dispose of an asserted FLSA collective action.  

In this case, the named plaintiff, Laura Symczyk, was a registered nurse employed at a Genesis Healthcare nursing home facility. In 2009, Symczyk sued Genesis on behalf of herself and all other "similarly situated" employees alleging that Genesis failed to pay her for 30 minutes of meal breaks when she had not actually taken all or some of the break. Genesis answered the complaint and made a Rule 68 offer of judgment, offering to satisfy all of Symczyk's claims for $7,500 in unpaid wages, plus attorneys' fees, costs and expenses to be determined by the Court. Symczyk failed to respond to the offer.

Genesis then moved to dismiss the entire suit on the basis that the named plaintiff no longer had a "personal stake" in the outcome, as she had been offered all the relief she was seeking. The district court agreed and granted Genesis' motion to dismiss. However, on appeal, the Third Circuit reversed and remanded the decision, holding that while Symczyk's personal claim was mooted, the collective action was not necessarily moot. The court concluded that the use of offers of judgment before class certification could "short-circuit the class action process" and "prevent a putative representative from reaching the certification stage." Therefore, the plaintiff should be allowed to seek class certification, which if granted, should relate back to the date of the filing of the complaint.  

The Supreme Court granted certiorari and observed that because Symczyk had conceded in prior pleadings that an offer of complete relief will generally moot the plaintiff's interest in the outcome of the litigation, it was procedurally bound by the Third Circuit's conclusion that Genesis' Rule 68 Offer of Judgment mooted Symczyk's individual claim. As Symczyk no longer had an individual claim, the collective action could not survive. Unless others have come forward to participate in the litigation, and actually opted into the class, nothing survives the satisfaction of the plaintiff's claim.

While the Court did not answer the crucial question of when an offer of judgment operates to moot the plaintiff's individual claim, the decision at least provides employers with a litigation strategy to attempt to end FLSA litigation. If a class has not yet been certified, a defendant may still argue that offering the named plaintiff all the relief individually sought through an offer of judgment moots the entire case and ends a potentially lengthy and costly FLSA collective action. There are some important limitations to note: (1) to even make this argument, the offer must be made before the conditional certification of the class; (2) other employees are not barred from later bringing their own claims in subsequent suits; and (3) the offer must satisfy all the plaintiff's claims and provide every form of relief sought.



Think Your Company's Confidential Information is Safe? Think Again!


Password encrypted computers, locked file drawers, swipe cards allowing for restricted access. These are all measures taken by businesses to protect their confidential business information and trade secrets. While these steps are important, they are only part of the solution in protecting your company's valuable business information.  More and more employers today are using restrictive covenants such as noncompete agreements and confidentiality agreements to legally bind their employees and ensure that valuable business information is not compromised or handed over to a competitor.

Disfavored and often prohibited outright by the common law, noncompete agreements are making a resurgence as states throughout the country enact laws designed to protect employers' legitimate business interests. Florida is a prime example, having put into place a statutory scheme setting forth in detail the requirements necessary to enforce noncompete agreements against former employees.  To be enforceable, not only must a noncompete agreement be reasonable in time and geographic scope, it must protect a legitimate business interest and protect information the employer has tried to keep confidential.   

Armed with the right knowledge and properly drafted agreements, an employer can prevent departing employees from taking confidential business information and using that information to compete unfairly against a former employer.  Gone are the days when an employee could defiantly state "My noncompete isn't worth the paper it's written on!" 

At the 18th Annual Akerman Labor & Employment Law Seminar, I will be discussing all aspects of noncompete and confidentiality agreements, including drafting tips and how these agreements can be used to protect confidential business information.  I will also focus on the process of enforcing noncompete agreements, from the initial filings all the way through to a court judgment.


Are You Considering Conditioning a Job Offer on an Agreement that the Applicant's Disabled Dependent Won't Enroll in the Health Plan? Don't.


Traditional employment laws often interact with traditional employee benefit laws. One such example is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)'s impact on employer-sponsored group health plans. As group health plan costs continue to rise, and as federal health care reform legislation focuses additional attention on health plan design and coverage issues, it is important for employers to remain vigilant of the ADA's implications for their health plan eligibility decisions.

Employers recognize that the relative health of their workforce and covered dependents can impact their overall health plan costs. Employers also recognize that among their existing workforce, the ADA and other federal and state laws will protect covered individuals from certain adverse employment actions intended to dissuade disabled individuals from joining or remaining on the employer's group health plan. Similar questions can arise even before individuals are hired.

If an ADA-covered prospective employer learns during the course of the job application process that an applicant happens to have a disabled dependent child, can the employer condition a job offer on an agreement that the applicant will not enroll the child in the group health plan? The answer is NO, as this action would violate the ADA. Such an agreement also raises concerns under other laws, including the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)'s coverage rules, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)'s nondiscrimination rules, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)'s disclosure rules.

I will cover this and other similar topics, within a series of practical, real-world examples of benefits compliance challenges facing employers, at the 18th Annual Akerman Labor & Employment Law Seminar. Hope to see you there!


Useful Resources