On April 18, 2017, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed a putative class action against the SLS Hotel South Beach in Miami, Florida (“Hotel”), alleging that the Hotel violated Title VII by firing black Haitian dishwashers who worked in the kitchen and serviced several restaurants in the Hotel – including the Bazaar by Jose Andres, Katsuya and Hyde Beach – and replacing them with white and Hispanic workers, who were supplied by a staffing agency, National Service Group (“NSG”).

This case highlights one of the EEOC’s asserted priorities in its strategic plan for the next six years, to address discrimination in “complex employment relationships” focusing on “temporary workers, staffing agencies, independent contractor relationships, and the on-demand economy.” Here, although a staffing agency made the decision regarding who to hire to replace the terminated employees, the EEOC has stated that an employer may not shield itself from liability for discrimination simply by authorizing an agent to make its hiring or firing decisions, if those decisions are discriminatory.

The Complaint against the Hotel was filed by the EEOC after fifteen former employees lodged charges of discrimination with the EEOC based on their race, color and national origin, and the EEOC issued Letters of Determination after finding reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred. The Complaint asserts that black Haitian employees were treated worse than their Hispanic counterparts at the Hotel.  Among the allegations in the Complaint are that black Haitian employees were reprimanded for speaking Creole while Hispanic employees were not reprimanded for speaking Spanish; that black Haitian employees were referred to as “slaves” by other employees, including managers; and Haitian employees were forced to carry heavy items up the stairs, while Hispanic employees were not asked to perform those same tasks.  Further, the Complaint alleges that the Hotel decided to outsource staffing to NSG, but it did not encourage or notify its black Haitian employees to apply for positions with the agency.  Rather, according to the Complaint, black Haitian employees were provided a settlement agreement in English, though many cannot read the language, and were told they would only receive their final paycheck upon signing the agreement.  A press release from the EEOC further contends that the black Haitian workers were replaced “with light-skinned Hispanics.” For its part, the Hotel has spoken out against the allegations, contending that it conducted an investigation as soon as it received notice of the charges and found no evidence of wrongdoing.  Chief Legal Officer for the Hotel, James L. Greeley, stated that the Hotel has been cooperating with the EEOC, engaging in good faith attempts to resolve this matter, and will continue to fully defend the Hotel against false claims.

Amid challenges regarding Philadelphia’s upcoming law prohibiting employers from requesting an applicant’s salary history, the City has agreed not to enforce the upcoming law until after the court has finally resolved the injunction request.

The law, which was set to become effective May 23, 2017, has been challenged by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia (the “Chamber”). The Chamber’s lawsuit alleges that the pending law violates the First Amendment by restricting an employer’s speech because, among other reasons, “it is highly speculative whether the [law] will actually ameliorate wage disparities caused by gender discrimination.” It is also alleged that the law violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and Pennsylvania’s Constitution as well as its “First Class City Home Rule Act” by allegedly attempting to restrict the rights of employers outside of Philadelphia.

On April 19, a judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania stayed the effective date of the law, pending the resolution of the Chamber’s motion for a preliminary injunction. Prior to resolving the injunction, the parties will first brief the court on the Chamber’s standing to bring the lawsuit. This issue, regarding whether the Chamber is an appropriate party to bring this lawsuit, will be fully briefed by May 12, 2017, before the law is set to become effective. However, there are several other issues to be resolved as part of the lawsuit. The City’s decision to stay enforcement of the pending law until all issues are resolved is intended to help employers and employees avoid confusion during the pendency of the lawsuit.

Although the City of Philadelphia will not enforce this law in the interim, employers with any operations in Philadelphia should review their interviewing and hiring practices in case the lawsuit is decided in favor of the City. Further, employers in Massachusetts and New York City will also be subject to similar restrictions on inquiring about an applicant’s salary history when those laws go into effect. Massachusetts’ law is scheduled to become effective in July 2018, and New York City’s law will become effective 180 days after Mayor de Blasio signs the law, which may occur as soon as this week.

 

Our colleagues Patrick G. Brady and Julie Saker Schlegel, at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Retail Labor and Employment Law blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the hospitality industry: “Beyond Joint Employment: Do Companies Aid and Abet Discrimination by Conducting Background Checks on Independent Contractors?

Following is an excerpt:

Ever since the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) issued its August 2015 decision in Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc., holding two entities may be joint employers if one exercises either direct or indirect control over the terms and conditions of the other’s employees or reserves the right to do so, the concept of joint employment has generated increased interest from plaintiffs’ attorneys, and increased concern from employers. Questions raised by the New York Court of Appeals in a recent oral argument, however, indicate that employers who engage another company’s workers on an independent contractor basis would be wise to guard against another potential form of liability, for aiding and abetting acts that violate various anti-discrimination statutes, including both the New York State (“NYSHRL”) and New York City Human Rights Laws (“NYCHRL”) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”).

Read the full post here.

A New York federal court recently declined to certify under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Rule 23”) six classes of salaried “apprentices” at Chipotle restaurants asserting claims for overtime pay under New York Labor Law (“NYLL”) and parallel state laws in Missouri, Colorado, Washington, Illinois, and North Carolina, on the theory that they were misclassified as exempt executives in Scott et al. v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. et al., Case No. 12-CV-8333 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2017).  The Court also granted Chipotle’s motion to decertify the plaintiffs’ conditionally certified collective action under Section 216(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), resulting in the dismissal without prejudice of the claims of 516 plaintiffs who had opted in since June 2013.

The putative class and collective action of apprentices working in certain of Chipotle’s 2,000-plus restaurants nationwide were provisionally employed while being trained to become general managers of new Chipotle locations. The Scott action challenged Chipotle’s blanket exempt classification of the apprentice position, claiming that the duties plaintiffs actually performed during the majority of their working time were not managerial, and therefore, as non-exempt employees they were entitled to receive overtime pay.

According to their motion papers, the named plaintiffs’ work experience was common to all apprentices in each of the six state-specific classes they sought to certify. While the Court acknowledged that certain factors supported class and collective treatment of plaintiffs’ claims – such as a singular job description and corporate policies that applied nationwide and Chipotle’s classification of all apprentices as exempt – a number of factors impacting apprentices’ daily activities rendered a class and collective action certification of plaintiffs’ state and federal wage and hour claims inappropriate.

Denial of Rule 23 Class Certification

Applying Rule 23(a), the Court held that there was commonality and typicality among the plaintiffs and their claims. First, the question of whether apprentices were misclassified could be answered with common proof, particularly as Chipotle uniformly classified all apprentices as exempt, used a company-wide job description, and expected that their core duties would be the same regardless of the market in which the apprentice worked. The predominance requirement was also satisfied because the plaintiffs’ claims were based on the same legal theory and factual predicates, i.e., that Chipotle misclassified apprentices, depriving them of overtime pay to which they would otherwise be entitled.  The parties did not dispute the numerosity and adequate representation prongs of Rule 23(a) were met.

Rampant differences among the named plaintiffs and the opt-in plaintiffs led the Court to conclude that plaintiffs could not satisfy the predominance and superiority requirements of Rule 23(b). For example, of the six named plaintiffs, no two had like experiences in terms of what managerial duties they performed and how frequently they performed other non-exempt tasks on a daily basis.  The testimony of the opt-in plaintiffs also “rang dissonantly from the record” when it came to their performance of managerial tasks.  Factors like store structure, sales volume, staff size and managerial style affected the amount of time apprentices spent making personnel decisions, scheduling, supervising, and training, resulting in wide divergence among opt-in plaintiffs across the country.

The Court found that these differences were fatal to plaintiffs’ motion for class certification because: (1) plaintiff’s entitlement to relief would require individualized proof; and (2) the significant variation between the state laws under which the plaintiffs’ claims were brought would effectively require the court to conduct numerous “mini-trials” to determine whether Chipotle misclassified each individual apprentice as exempt. The Court therefore denied the motion for class certification under Rule 23.

Section 216(b) Decertification of Collective Action

Turning to Chipotle’s motion to decertify the FLSA collective action, the Court drew on its comparison of the named plaintiffs and opt-ins and concluded that apprentices had “vastly different” levels and amounts of authority in exercising managerial tasks. According to the Court, such disparities in job duties “seem[ed] axiomatic” given that the 516 opt-in plaintiffs worked in 37 states across Chipotle’s nine geographic regions.  In light of such differences, it would be difficult for Chipotle to rely on representative proof while asserting its defenses based on the “executive” and “administrative” exemptions from overtime pay.  For these reasons, the Court granted Chipotle’s motion to decertify the conditional collective action.

As shown in Scott, the question of whether misclassification claims may be certified to proceed on a class and collective action basis under Rule 23 and Section 216(b) will not be answered definitively by generic job classifications and/or job descriptions.  Rather, courts will assess the individualized work experiences of the named plaintiffs and opt-ins to determine whether generalized proof will be conducive to a class-wide resolution of those claims.  Employers and practitioners defending against such motions should focus their opposition on identifying differences and variation among the named plaintiffs and opt-in plaintiffs, and using outliers to highlight divergence among individual plaintiffs.  Otherwise, a court could find that the proposed class is homogeneous enough to warrant class and collective action certification.

A Full Menu of Potential Legal Issues for Hospitality Owner/OperatorsIn the new issue of Take 5, our colleagues examine important and evolving issues confronting owners, operators, and employers in the hospitality industry:

Read the full Take 5 online or download the PDF.

We were pleased to see that Feedspot has ranked our blog in its “Top 75 Employment Websites and Blogs for Employees and Employers.”

The ranking is based on Google reputation and search ranking; influence and popularity on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites; quality and consistency of posts; and Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review.

Thank you for reading our blog!  If you aren’t receiving email notifications when we post, please add your email to the Subscribe form, in the right-hand margin, and watch for the confirmation email. We appreciate your support.

The Immigration Law Group at Epstein Becker Green released a Special Immigration Alert that will be of interest to our readers.

Topics include:

  1. President Trump Issues Revised Executive Order on Travel
  2. USCIS Suspends Premium Processing for H-1B Petitions Starting April 3, 2017: All H-1B Petitions, Including H-1B Cap Petitions, Are Affected!
  3. Use of New Form I-9 Is Now Mandatory
  4. IRS Announces That Delinquent Taxpayers Face Revocation/Denial of U.S. Passports
  5. DHS Issues Two New Memos on Enforcement/Border Security

Read the full alert here.

A new post on the Management Memo blog will be of interest to many of our readers in the hospitality industry: “‘A Day Without’ Actions – How Can Employers Prepare?” by our colleagues Steven M. Swirsky and Laura C. Monaco of Epstein Becker Green.

Following is an excerpt:

[T]he same groups that organized the January 21, 2017 Women’s March on Washington – an action participated in by millions of individuals across the county – has called for a “Day Without Women” to be held on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Organizers are encouraging women to participate by taking the day off from paid and unpaid labor, and by wearing red – which the organizers note “may be a great act of defiance for some uniformed workers.”

Employers should be prepared to address any difficult questions that might arise in connection with the upcoming “Day Without Women” strike: Do I have to give my employees time off to participate in Day Without events? Can I still enforce the company dress code – or do I need to permit employees to wear red? Can I discipline an employee who is “no call, no show” to work that day? Am I required to approve requests for the day off by employees who want to participate? As we explained in our prior blog post, guidance from the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel suggests that an employer can rely on its “lawful and neutrally-applied work rules” to make decisions about granting requests for time off, enforcing its dress code, and disciplining employees for attendance rule violations. An employer’s response, however, to a given employee’s request for time off or for an exception to the dress code, may vary widely based upon the individual facts and circumstances of each case. …

Read the full post here.

Featured on Employment Law This Week:  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit backs the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in an outsourcing dispute.

The NLRB found that a management company violated the National Labor Relations Act when it outsourced the cleaning staff of a hotel that it managed. The NLRB found evidence that the outsourcing decision was related to the worker’s interest in union representation. The NLRB rejected the company’s argument that the decision was due to declining guest satisfaction, concluding that the decision was at least, in part, motivated by anti-union animus. The Fifth Circuit has now rejected an appeal by the company, noting that the court was obligated to pay “special deference” to the NLRB’s credibility findings in cases with conflicting evidence, like this one.

Watch the segment below and see our previous blog post.

Our colleague Steven M. Swirsky, a Member of the Firm at Epstein Becker Green, has a post on the Management Memo blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the hospitality industry: “NLRB Acting Chair Dissents Point to Likely Changes to Board Election Rules and Employee Handbook and Email Standards.”

Following is an excerpt:

NLRB Acting Chair Philip Miscimarra has given the clearest indication to date of what steps a new Republican majority is likely to take to reverse key elements of the Labor Board’s hallmark actions of the Obama administration once President Trump nominates candidates for the Board’s two open seats and the Senate confirms. In each of these cases, Miscimarra highlighted his earlier opposition to the majority’s changes in long standing precedents and practices. …

Read the full post here.