On July 9, 2018, Governor Edmund Brown, Jr. signed into law Assembly Bill 2770 (“AB 2770”) to protect victims of sexual harassment and employers from defamation claims brought by alleged harassers. AB 2770 was sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce and passed by the California Legislature to address the chilling effect that the threat of defamation suits can have on harassment victims and employers: deterring victims and witnesses from coming forward; deterring employers from telling prospective employers about a genuine harasser; and allowing repeat sexual harassers to harass future victims at their new place of employment.

Privileged Communications Before AB 2770.

Existing law provides a qualified privilege to employer communications about a former or current employee’s job performance and qualifications. (Cal. Civil Code § 47(c).) Although court interpretations of Civil Code section 47(c) arguably allow for sexual harassment complaints and communications during a sexual harassment investigation to be covered by the privilege, the statutory language does not explicitly mention such communications.

AB 2770 Adds to the List of Privileged Communications.

AB 2770 amends Civil Code section 47(c) expressly to include the following three types of communications related to sexual harassment in the workplace:

  1. A complaint of sexual harassment, based on credible evidence and made without malice, by an employee to an employer;
  2. Communications between an employer and “interested persons,” made without malice, regarding a complaint of sexual harassment; and
  3. An employer’s answer, given without malice, to an inquiry about whether or not it would rehire a current or former employee, and whether the decision not to rehire is based on the employer’s determination that the former employee engaged in sexual harassment.

AB 2770 Does Not Protect Malicious Statements

Only statements made “without malice” are protected. A statement is made with “malice” if (1) it is motivated by hatred or ill will; or (2) the speaker lacked reasonable grounds for believing the truth of the statement. Further, AB 2770 does not impose an outright ban on defamation lawsuits by accused harassers. Accused harassers can still bring such suits, but they must prove malice in order to overcome the qualified privileged in Civil Code section 47(c). Thus, AB 2770 should deter and limit accused harassers from bringing defamation claims with little or no basis.

The federal Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) mandates equal pay for equal work regardless of sex.  Employers that pay men and women different wages for the same work are strictly liable for violations of the EPA unless they can show that one or more of four exceptions apply to explain the wage disparity. The four statutory exceptions are seniority, merit, the quantity or quality of the employee’s work, or “any other factor other than sex.”  The Ninth Circuit recently took up the question of the meaning of the fourth, catchall exception – “any factor other than sex” – in order to consider whether an employer may rely, in whole or in part, on an employee’s prior salary as a basis for explaining a pay differential in Aileen Rizo v. Jim Yovino.

Rizo was a math consultant who worked for the Fresno County Office of Education (“County”). After learning that comparable male employees were earning more for the same work, Rizo filed suit against her employer, alleging that its practice of calculating the salaries for newly hired employees based on their salary history violated the EPA. The County did not dispute that Rizo was paid less than her male counterparts, but it argued that basing her salary on past earnings was a lawful reason for the pay differential as it constituted a “factor other than sex” under the EPA.

On April 9, 2018, the Ninth Circuit sitting en banc rejected the County’s argument. The Court held that “prior salary alone or in combination with other factors cannot justify a wage differential.” Writing for the majority, Judge Reinhart stated that justification of a pay disparity based on “‘any other factor other than sex’ is limited to legitimate, job-related factors such as a prospective employee’s experience, educational background, ability, or prior job performance.” The Court explained that the terms “job-related” and “business-related” are not synonymous and that an employer cannot explain a pay differential based on the benefit to the business as opposed to a legitimate work-motivated consideration.  Some examples of job-related factors identified by the Court included shift differentials, job hazards, physical job requirements, and training.  Unlike each of these things, past salary was not a “job-related” factor but rather, potentially, a business-related factor.

The Court further opined that permitting an employer to rely on historical pay information was inconsistent with the purpose of the EPA, which was to correct past pay discrepancies caused by sex discrimination.  “It is inconceivable,” wrote Reinhart, “that Congress, in an Act the primary purpose of which was to eliminate long-existing ‘endemic’ sex-based wage disparities, would create an exception for basing new hires’ salaries on those very disparities….”  Thus, the majority concluded that relying on past salary in order to explain a wage differential was improper, even if it was only one of the factors ultimately considered.  Confusingly, the Court also noted that there could be instances in which past salary might play a role in individualized negotiations and declined to resolve whether past salary could be taken into account in such circumstances.  However, given the broad pronouncement against factoring past compensation into current salary considerations, it would seem unlikely that the current court would countenance such an exception.

In finding that past salary may never be considered, the Rizo decision overrules the Ninth Circuit’s prior ruling in Kouba v. Allstate Insurance Co. 691 F.2d 873 (9th Cir. 1982).  Kouba held that past salary could be one of the factors considered by employers in evaluating pay, as it was a “factor other than sex” permissible to justify pay gaps between men and women under the EPA.  Notably, four of the eleven judges on the panel concurred with the decision in Rizo, because salary history was the sole reason for the pay disparity, but separated from the majority on the issue of excluding salary history from consideration under any circumstance.  The Rizo decision has also exacerbated a circuit split on whether salary history may be considered, and to what extent.  While certain circuits have taken an approach similar to the concurring judges in Rizo, permitting it as long as it is not the sole basis for a pay disparity, the Seventh Circuit has held that salary history is always a legitimate factor other than sex.

While California employers are no longer entitled to inquire about past salary as part of the job application process as of January 1, 2018, in light of the Rizo decision, employers with operations in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii may wish to take actions to ensure that any pay disparities are not based on salary history, such as not asking about salary history during the hiring process (even in states where this practice is not prohibited by law) and conducting pay equity audits.

Our colleague  at Epstein Becker Green has a post on the Wage and Hour Defense blog that will be of interest to our readers in the hospitality industry: “Federal Court Concludes That 7-Eleven Franchisees Are Not Employees of 7-Eleven.

Following is an excerpt:

In November 2017, four convenience store franchisees brought suit in federal court against 7-Eleven, Inc., alleging that they and all other franchisees were employees of 7-Eleven. The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, entitled Haitayan, et al. v. 7-Eleven, Inc., case no. CV 17-7454-JFW (JPRx).

In alleging that they were 7-Eleven’s employees, the franchisees brought claims for violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the California Labor Code, alleging overtime and expense reimbursement violations. The trial court granted judgment in 7-Eleven’s favor, concluding that 7-Eleven was not the four franchisees’ employer under California law or federal law. …

Read the full post here. 

Featured on Employment Law This Week:  A California federal judge has ruled that a former GrubHub delivery driver was an independent contractor, not an employee.

The judge found that the company did not have the required control over its drivers for the plaintiff to establish that he is an employee. This decision comes as companies like Uber and Lyft are also facing lawsuits that accuse them of misclassifying employees as independent contractors. Carlos Becerra, from Epstein Becker Green, has more.

Watch the segment below and read our recent post.

Our colleagues , at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Wage and Hour Defense Blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the hospitality industry: “Labor Issues in the Gig Economy: Federal Court Concludes That GrubHub Delivery Drivers are Independent Contractors under California Law.”

Following is an excerpt:

Recently, a number of proposed class and collective action lawsuits have been filed on behalf of so-called “gig economy” workers, alleging that such workers have been misclassified as independent contractors. How these workers are classified is critical not only for workers seeking wage, injury and discrimination protections only available to employees, but also to employers desiring to avoid legal risks and costs conferred by employee status.  While a number of cases have been tried regarding other types of independent contractor arrangements (e.g., taxi drivers, insurance agents, etc.), few, if any, of these types of cases have made it through a trial on the merits – until now.

In Lawson v. GrubHub, Inc., the plaintiff, Raef Lawson, a GrubHub restaurant delivery driver, alleged that GrubHub misclassified him as an independent contractor in violation of California’s minimum wage, overtime, and expense reimbursement laws.  In September and October 2017, Lawson tried his claims before a federal magistrate judge in San Francisco.  After considering the evidence and the relevant law, on February 8, 2018, the magistrate judge found that, while some factors weighed in favor of concluding that Lawson was an employee of GrubHub, the balance of factors weighed against an employment relationship, concluding that he was an independent contractor. …

Read the full post here.

For the second time in as many years, California Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed “wage shaming” legislation that would have required employers with 500 or more employees to report gender-related pay gap statistics to the California Secretary of State on an annual basis beginning in 2019 for publication on a public website. Assembly Bill 1209 (“AB 1209”), which we discussed at length in last month’s Act Now advisory, passed the Legislature despite widespread criticism from employers and commerce groups.  This criticism included concerns that publication of statistical differences in the mean and median salaries of male and female employees without accounting for legitimate factors such as seniority, education, experience, and productivity could give a misleading impression that an employer had violated the law.  Opponents also decried the burden the bill would place on employers to do data collection and warned that it would lead to additional litigation.  In vetoing the measure, Governor Brown noted the “ambiguous wording” of the bill and stated he was “worried that this ambiguity could be exploited to encourage more litigation than pay equity.”

However, the same pen that vetoed AB 1209 signed another pay-equity law last week: Assembly Bill 168 (“AB 168”).  AB 168 precludes California employers from asking prospective employees about their salary history information.  “Salary history information” includes both compensation and benefits.  Like similar laws passed recently in several other states and cities, the policy underlying the inquiry ban is that reliance upon prior compensation perpetuates historic pay differentials.  Opponents have argued that such a ban will make it more difficult for employers to match job offers to market rates.  Go to our Act Now Advisory on AB 168 for a comprehensive review of this new law.

Our colleague Joshua A. Stein, a Member of the Firm at Epstein Becker Green, has a post on the Retail Labor and Employment Law blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the hospitality industry: “Latest Website Accessibility Decision Further Marginalizes the Viability of Due Process and Primary Jurisdiction Defenses.”

Following is an excerpt:

In the latest of an increasing number of recent website accessibility decisions, in Gorecki v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (Case No.: 2:17-cv-01131-JFW-SK), the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied Hobby Lobby’s motion to dismiss a website accessibility lawsuit on due process and primary jurisdiction grounds.  In doing so, the Hobby Lobby decision further calls into question the precedential value of the Central District of California’s recent outlier holding in Robles v. Dominos Pizza LLC (Case No.: 2:16-cv-06599-SJO-FFM) which provided businesses with hope that the tide of recent decisions might turn in their favor. …

Read the full post here.

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.

On December 9, 2016, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed ordinances no. 184652 and 184653, collectively referred to as the “Fair Chance Initiative.” These ordinances prohibit employers and City contractors (collectively “Employers”), respectively, from inquiring about job seekers’ criminal convictions until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. Both ordinances will go into effect on January 22, 2017 and will impact all employers in the City of Los Angeles and for every position which requires an employee to work at least an average of two hours per week within the City of Los Angeles and all City contractors and subcontractors, regardless of their location.

No Criminal Inquiry Until After Offer

Specifically, these ordinances prohibit Employers from inquiring about a job applicant’s criminal history, at any time or in any manner, unless and until a Conditional Offer of Employment has been made to the applicant. Following the Conditional Offer of Employment, Employers are permitted to request information regarding the applicant’s criminal history. However, Employers can only withdraw or cancel the conditional offer as a result of the applicant’s criminal history after engaging in the “Fair Chance Process.”

New “Fair Chance Process” Required

The “Fair Chance Process” requires Employers to prepare a written assessment highlighting the specific aspects of the applicant’s criminal history that pose an inherent conflict with the duties of the position sought by the applicant. Employers must provide the applicant with written notification of the proposed withdrawal of the conditional offer, a copy of the written assessment regarding the risks posed by the applicant’s criminal history, and any other relevant documentation. The applicant is then given an opportunity to provide the Employer a response to the written assessment, including any supporting documentation. Employers must wait at least 5 business days after the applicant is informed of the proposed withdrawal before taking any action, including filling the position for which the applicant applied.

New Posting and Recordkeeping Requirements

Additionally, Employers’ job postings must now include a notice stating that they will consider all qualified applicants regardless of their criminal histories, in compliance with these ordinances. Employers must also conspicuously post a notice regarding the “Fair Chance Initiative” in a location in the workplace visible to all job applicants; this notice must also be sent to each union or workers’ group with which the employers have any agreement that governs over employees. Further, Employers must retain all job application documents for three years. Penalties for violations of these ordinances may be assessed at up to $500 for the first violation, up to $1,000 for the second violation, and up to $2,000 for subsequent violations. The City may then, at its discretion, distribute a maximum of $500 from that penalty directly to the applicant. The penalty provision of the ordinances will not go into effect for employers in Los Angeles City until July 1, 2017. However, the penalty provision for City contractors is effective immediately.

Exceptions from these ordinances include: (1) employers who are required by law to seek a job applicant’s criminal history; (2) positions for which an applicant would be required to possess or use a firearm; (3) positions which, by law, cannot be held by an individual with a criminal history; and (4) employers who are prohibited, by law, from hiring persons with criminal convictions.

Employers with operations in the City of Los Angeles should:

  1. Remove questions regarding criminal history from job applications;
  2. Ensure future job postings include required equal employment notices;
  3. Defer inquiries regarding criminal history until making conditional job offers; and
  4. Ensure the Fair Chance Process is followed before denying employment based on criminal history.

Our colleagues Steven R. Blackburn and Elizabeth J. Boca, attorneys 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: “San Francisco Paid Parental Leave.”

Following is an excerpt:

Under the proposed San Francisco ordinance, for up to six weeks employers must bridge the gap between the amount the employee receives in PFL and one-hundred percent of the employee’s gross weekly wages (referred to as “Supplemental Compensation”) for parental bonding purposes.  In other words, the employer must pay the remaining forty-five percent of the employee’s gross wages. However, if the employee is already receiving the maximum weekly benefit under the PFL law, the employee’s gross weekly wage is calculated by dividing the maximum weekly benefit amount by the percentage rate of wage replacement provided under the PFL.

Read the full post here.