In Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc., decided April 4, 2016, the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District held California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who are associated with a person with disabilities.

Plaintiff Luis Castro-Ramirez’s son was in need of a kidney transplant, required daily dialysis, and Ramirez was the only member of his family capable of operating the dialysis machine.  Ramirez drove a delivery truck for Dependable Highway Express, Inc. (DHE).  When he began his employment in 2010, he informed his supervisor that he needed to be assigned schedules that would permit him to be home in the evening to administer his son’s dialysis. 
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In 2004, California enacted the nation’s first paid family leave program, offering up to six weeks of paid leave to workers who need to care for a new baby or an ill family member.  The program was financed through disability insurance taxes paid by employees through payroll withholdings.  The 2004 program paid 55 percent of the employee’s wages, up to a set maximum of about $1,100 per week.
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On April 4, 2016, the California Supreme Court took a stand by issuing a long-awaited opinion in Kirby v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc.  The decision clarifies certain ambiguities in an employer’s obligation to provide suitable seating to employees.  At issue was a provision in California’s Wage Orders that requires employers to provide all employees “with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.”  The Court held that “nature of the work” refers to the task performed at a given location where the employee is claiming a right to a suitable seat, instead of a holistic approach.  The Court also adopted a “totality of the circumstances” test to assess whether a work location “reasonably permits” suitable seating.

Background

Kirby v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc. arises from a putative class actions filed by a cashier and bank teller. The plaintiffs alleged their employer violated the suitable seating provision in various California Wage Orders by failing to provide seats. The plaintiffs appealed unfavorable district court decisions to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  The Ninth Circuit requested clarification from the California Supreme Court on the proper interpretation of three areas of the suitable seating provision, including the meaning of “nature of work” and “reasonably permits,” and who bears the burden to show suitable seating is available.
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California’s unfriendly business environment took another unprecedented step this week, with Governor Jerry Brown raising the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour by 2022.  Governor Brown signed SB 3 into law on April 4, 2016. 

The new law annually increases the state minimum wage starting January 2017.  California’s minimum wage currently is $10.00 per hour.  California employers opposed the bill arguing the minimum wage increases will make it even more difficult for in-state producers to compete with out-of-state employers; employer advocacy groups also argued the bill will result in more employers leaving the state. 
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Anyone paying attention to national politics knows increasing the minimum wage is a hot topic  being debated by employee and business groups.  While the debate rages, the Sacramento City Council decided not to wait for the feds or the state to act, and recently voted 6-3 to increase the Sacramento city minimum wage, as follows:
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In a unanimous decision, a California Court of Appeal held that an employee is not required to exhaust his or her administrative remedies by filing a complaint with the Labor Commissioner before commencing a civil action under California Labor Code sections 98.7 and 6312. Sheridan v. Touchstone Television Productions, LLC, No. B254489 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 20, 2015).
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In Sharif v. Mehusa, Inc., (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Oct. 14, 2015) 2015 Cal. App. LEXIS 897, plaintiff brought three claims for unpaid overtime, unpaid wages, and violation of California’s Equal Pay Act against her former employer. At trial, plaintiff only succeeded on her Equal Pay Act claim and was awarded $26,300. As the prevailing party under the Equal Pay Act claim, plaintiff filed a motion for attorney’s fees seeking $280,432, based on a $140,216 loadstar with a multiplier of two.
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California’s new Fair Pay Act (“Act”) was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on October 6, 2015.  Many believe the Act is the most aggressive equal pay law in the United States.  The Act becomes effective January 1, 2016.

Prior to Act, California Labor Code section 1197.5 prohibited discrimination in pay based on gender since 1949.  The old law required equal pay for “equal work,” except under four situations: a seniority system; a merit system; a system measuring earnings by quantity or quality of production; or a “bona fide” factor other than gender. 
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California employers might receive much-needed clarification on whether and to what extent employees can remain “on call” during rest breaks.  On April 29, 2015, the California Supreme Court granted review of Augustus v. ABM Sec. Services, Inc., Nos. B243788 & B247392 (Cal. Ct. App. Jan. 29, 2015).

Earlier this year, the California Court of Appeal ruled that security guards were provided lawful rest breaks even though the company required the guards to remain “on call” during the rest breaks.  In so holding, the Court of Appeal ruled that remaining on call during rest breaks does not “constitute performing work” under Section 226.7 of the Labor Code and the applicable wage order.  For additional details about the underlying decision, please see our prior blog post.
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