Tag Archives: Employment

Morrison & Foerster Wins $9.36 Million in Compensatory Damages and $1.525 Million in Punitive Damages in Trade Secrets Trial

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A San Francisco Superior Court jury granted $1.525 million in punitive damages Friday to Technology Information Group, adding to the $9.36 million in compensatory damages it awarded to the company a day earlier in a trade secrets dispute with its former employees and a competitor. As reported in law360.com, the “jury found San Francisco-based FusionStorm, three of its executive officers and three former TIG employees who were hired by FusionStorm liable for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of loyalty, misappropriation of trade secrets and other causes of action . . . .”

The complaint alleged that the improper conduct began while the former employees still worked at TIG’s Tampa, Fla., offices. The former employees were accused of trying to lure away other of TIG’s employees and customers to FusionStorm, which was then setting up in the area. TIG filed its lawsuit in 2007 and won a temporary restraining order that enjoined FusionStorm from soliciting additional TIG employees and from conducting business with certain customers, MoFo said.

The jury verdict comes after a five-week trial.  FusionStorm was represented by Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.  TIG was represented by Morrison & Foerster LLP.  The docket may be viewed here.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Obama Administration Weighs in on Pharmaceutical Representatives Case, Arguing that Reps Are Not Exempt

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Following its stated policy of aggressively prosecuting wage and hour violations, the  Obama administration‘s Department of Labor has filed an amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit case of Buchanan v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 10-1525, arguing that pharmaceutical representatives are not exempt under the outside sales exemption or the administrative exemption of the FLSA.  You can read more here.

The Second Circuit considered the same issue and found that reps were not exempt under either the outside sales exemption nor the administrative exemption.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Labor Department Has Hired 250 New Wage-and-Hour Investigators, Representing a Staff Increase of One-Third

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As reported by Robert Pear of the New York Times yesterday, the Department of Labor has bulked up its staffing of wage and hour   investigators by one-third, or 250 investigators.  Mr. Pear reports that the Obama administration is paying particular attention to the pay practices in the healthcare industry “after finding that many hospitals and nursing homes do not pay proper overtime to nurses and other employees who work more than 40 hours a week.”

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Employee Has Viable Tameny Claim Against New Employer for Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy When Terminated by New Employer, Who Cites Alleged “Understanding” Between Old and New Employer to Honor Old Employer’s Noncompetition Agreement

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While this next case doesn’t deal directly with trade secrets, it addresses a common fact pattern in the employee mobility arena.  The Second District Court of Appeal in Silguero v. Creteguard, Inc., — Cal. Rptr. 3d —-, 2010 WL 2978222, *1 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Dist. July 30, 2010) decided the issue of whether a terminated employee working in the area of sales has a viable claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy under Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 27 Cal. 3d 167 (1980), against her subsequent employer when the employee’s former employer contacts the employee’s subsequent employer and informs it that the employee had signed an agreement with the former employer which prohibited the employee “from all sales activities for 18 months following either departure or termination,” and the subsequent employer terminated the employee’s employment out of “respect and understanding with colleagues in the same industry,” notwithstanding its belief that “non-compete clauses are not legally enforceable here in California .”  Silguero, 2010 WL 2978222, *1.

Citing California Business and Professions Code section 16600’s legislative declaration of California’s “settled legislative policy in favor of open competition and employee mobility” (Edwards v. Arthur Andersen LLP (2008) 44 Cal.4th 937, 946 ( Edwards )), we conclude that the employee has a viable Tameny claim.”  Silguero, 2010 WL 2978222, *1.
The Court cited the alleged “understanding” between the old employer and the new employer to honor the old employers noncompetition agreement.  The new employer Creteguard admitted in writing that it entered into this understanding with the old employer, “although [the new employer] believe[d] that non-compete clauses are not legally enforceable here in California,” because the new employer “would like to keep the same respect and understanding with colleagues in the same industry.”

The Court reasoned that this alleged understanding is “tantamount to a no-hire agreement.” Silguero, 2010 WL 2978222, *6.  The Court concluded that such an “understanding” between the new and old employer “would be void and unenforceable under section 16600 because it ‘unfairly limit[s] the mobility of an employee’ and because [the old employer] ‘should not be ‘allowed to accomplish by indirection that which it cannot accomplish directly.’” Silguero, 2010 WL 2978222, *1 (citing VL Systems, Inc. v. Unisen, Inc., 152 Cal. App. 4th 708, 716-17 (2007).

[P]ermitting a Tameny claim against Creteguard under the circumstances of this case furthers the interest of employees in their own mobility and betterment, “‘deemed paramount to the competitive business interests of the employers, where neither the employee nor his new employer has committed any illegal act accompanying the employment change.’” (Dowell v. Biosense Webster, Inc. (2009) 179 Cal.App.4th 564, 575, quoting Diodes, Inc. v. Franzen, supra, 260 Cal.App.2d at p. 255 [in Dowell, both employees and their current employers sued a former employer to invalidate a noncompetition agreement].)  For all of the foregoing reasons, we conclude that Silguero has pleaded a viable Tameny claim against Creteguard predicated on the public policy in section 16600.

Id. *6.

The Court created a new avenue of liability for employers, who must now carefully decide how to respond to cease and desist letters from old employers.   Creteguard would almost certainly have fared better had it avoided the unnecessary editorializing in its termination letter.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Ninth Circuit Holds That Contracts Expressly Acknowledging Independent Contractor Status “Simply Not Significant” Under California’s Test of Employment”

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In Narayan v. EGL, Inc., — F.3d —-, 2010 WL 2735708 (9th Cir. July 13, 2010), the Ninth Circuit decided whether, assuming the existence of an employer-employee relationship in California, the employer may avoid its obligations under the Labor Code by inserting a clause in an employer-drafted pre-printed form contract in which: (1) the employee acknowledges that he is an independent contractor and (2) agrees that the contract would be interpreted in accordance with the laws of another jurisdiction where such an agreement is generally enforceable.  Judge Ronald M. Whyte of the Northern District of California found that declarations in the underlying agreements stating that the drivers were independent contractors rather than employees compelled the holding that the plaintiffs were indeed independent contractors as a matter of law.  Id. at *2.  Consequently, the district court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment.  The Ninth Circuit reversed.

EGL, the employer, is a global transportation, supply chain management and information services company incorporated under the laws of Texas and headquartered in Texas.  EGL’s services include, inter alia, “air and ocean freight forwarding, customs brokerage, [and] local pickup and delivery service.” Plaintiff drivers (the “Drivers”) were residents of California who were engaged to provide freight pick-up and delivery services for EGL in California. All three Drivers signed agreements with EGL for “Leased Equipment and Independent Contractor Services” (the “Agreements”). The Agreements provided that the “intention of the parties is to … create a vendor/vendee relationship between Contractor and [EGL],” and acknowledged that “[n]either Contractor nor any of its employees or agents shall be considered to be employees of” EGL. The terms of the Agreements provide, inter alia, that the Drivers “shall exercise independent discretion and judgment to determine the method, manner and means of performance of its contractual obligations,” although EGL retained the right to “issue reasonable and lawful instructions regarding the results to be accomplished.”  Id. at *1.

The Ninth Circuit noted the difficultly in overcoming the  Drivers’  prima facie case that the relationship was one of employer/employee. “This hurdle is particularly difficult for EGL to overcome in light of the second special consideration in this case, namely, the multi-faceted test that applies in resolving the issue whether the Drivers are employees.”  Id. at *4.

The Ninth Circuit described the multifactor approach to evaluating the:

indicia of an employment relationship, the most important of which is the “right to discharge at will, without cause.” Borello, 256 Cal.Rptr. 543, 769 P.2d at 404 (quoting Tieberg v. Unemployment Ins.App. Bd., 2 Cal.3d 943, 88 Cal.Rptr. 175, 471 P.2d 975, 979 (Cal.1970)). Borello endorsed other factors derived from the Restatement (Second) of Agency that may point to an employment relationship:  (a) whether the one performing services is engaged in a distinct occupation or business; (b) the kind of occupation, with reference to whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of the principal or by a specialist without supervision; (c) the skill required in the particular occupation; (d) whether the principal or the worker supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place of work for the person doing the work; (e) the length of time for which the services are to be performed; (f) the method of payment, whether by the time or by the job; (g) whether or not the work is a part of the regular business of the principal; and (h) whether or not the parties believe they are creating the relationship of employer-employee.

Id. at *4.

The Court concluded that the “fact that the Drivers here had contracts ‘expressly acknowledging that they were independent contractors’ is simply not significant under California’s test of employment.” Id. at *8 (citing Borello, 256 Cal. Rptr. 543, 769 P.2d at 403 (“The label placed by the parties on their relationship is not dispositive, and subterfuges are not countenanced.”)).

The Court evaluated the various indicia of employment and concluded that:

Ultimately, under California’s multi-faceted test of employment, there existed at the very least sufficient indicia of an employment relationship between the plaintiff Drivers and EGL such that a reasonable jury could find the existence of such a relationship. Indeed, although it plays no role in our decision to deny summary judgment, it is not without significance that, applying comparable factors to those that we apply here, the Internal Revenue Service (at EGL’s request) and the Employment Development Department of California (at Narayan’s request) have determined that Narayan was an employee for federal tax purposes (applying federal law) and California Unemployment or Disability Insurance (applying California law), respectively.

Id. at *8.

UPDATE:

On August 5, 2010, the Ninth Circuit amended its holding, highlighted above.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Northern District Denies Certification of Joe’s Crab Shack Meal and Rest Break Class Action

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The Northern District of California denied class certification of a meal and rest break class action in Washington v. Joe’s Crab Shack, No. C 08-5551 PJH, 2010 WL 5396041 (N.D. Cal Dec. 23, 2010.) (slip op.).  Plaintiff Drew Garrett Washington asserted that defendant Crab Addison, Inc. (“Crab Addison”), a company that operates a number of Joe’s Crab Shack restaurants, failed to provide employees with meal and rest breaks, allowed its restaurant managers to manipulate employee time records to deprive employees of pay for all hours worked (including overtime and missed meal break pay), required employees to perform work “off the clock”; and required employees to pay for their own employer-mandated uniforms.  Id. *1.

Class Definition

Plaintiff moved pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, to certify a plaintiff class consisting of “all non-exempt restaurant employees employed by Crab Addison at Joe’s Crab Shack restaurants in California from January 1, 2007, through the present.”

Discussion

The court denied the certification motion.  Id. *11.  “Plaintiff’s position is that common questions predominate because the main issue is whether—notwithstanding Crab Addison’s written policies—Joe’s Crab Shack restaurants in California followed a common unwritten policy of denying meal and rest breaks, failing to pay employees who did not take breaks, failing to pay for overtime, requiring employees to purchase their own uniforms, and so forth.” Id. Plaintiff contended that the existence of a policy or practice that in effect contradicts Crab Addison’s written policies can be ascertained by an analysis of the data in Crab Addison’s computer systems.  Id. “But since plaintiff has failed to adequately explain how that analysis works and exactly what the data shows, he has failed to adequately establish the existence of such a policy or practice.” Id. Continue reading

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