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Brian Peterson

Associate

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bpeterson@spencerfane.com

SCOTUS Holds that Title VII’s Charge-Filing Procedures Are Subject to Waiver

On June 3, 2019, the Supreme Court held that filing a charge of discrimination is not a “jurisdictional” prerequisite to filing suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See Fort Bend County v. Davis, Slip Op. No. 18-525 (June 3, 2019).  Although this case deals with what sounds like an obscure legal issue, it is of great practical importance to employers. In short, it means that employers defending against claims of discrimination under Title VII must diligently assert all procedural defenses they may have as early as possible. Otherwise, a failure to assert a defense may allow the plaintiff-employee’s claim to go forward, even if the employee has not technically complied with Title VII’s mandatory charge-filing procedures.

Supreme Court Sheds Light on Class Arbitrations

The Supreme Court has further closed the window for employees to pursue class-wide claims against their employers in arbitration.  In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled a court may not compel arbitration on a class-wide basis when the arbitration agreement is “silent” on the issue.  Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U.S. 662 (2010).  Nine years later, presented with an arbitration agreement that, instead of silent, was “ambiguous” regarding the availability of class arbitration, the high court has again demonstrated its preference for individual arbitration.  In Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, Case No. 17-988 (slip opinion April 24, 2019), the Court held that ambiguity cannot provide the basis for finding consent to participate in class arbitration.

FAA Not Applicable to Contracts with Transportation Workers, Even If They Are Independent Contractors

In New Prime, Inc. v. Oliveira, the United States Supreme Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) does not apply to contracts with independent contractors in the transportation industry. This decision is very important for transportation companies because, to the extent a contract with any transportation worker contains a mandatory arbitration provision, the arbitration provision is not covered by, and is no longer enforceable under, the FAA.

Missouri Minimum Wage Set to Increase Starting January 1, 2019

On November 6, 2018, Missouri voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of amending the Missouri Minimum Wage Law (“MMWL”) to increase the state-wide minimum wage. Therefore, effective January 1, 2019, the Missouri minimum wage rate will increase to $8.60 per hour and will keep increasing each successive year until 2023 when the increases will stop at the target minimum wage rate of $12.00 per hour. Employers must begin the process of budgeting for and implementing these changes ahead of the effective date of the first increase. Employers should also be aware of the non-wage-rate related changes that the law implements. However, the wage increases do not apply to “public employers.”

Corporate Entity Formation Is Not Dispositive on “Employee” Status Under the FLSA

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently provided an important reminder to employers about the pitfalls that can occur when attempting to determine whether workers are employees or independent contractors. The court held that individual workers who personally perform janitorial cleaning services could be found to be employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), even if those workers have formed corporate entities and entered into franchise agreements with a franchisor See Acosta v. Jani-King of Okla., Inc., Case No. 17-6179, 2018 WL 4762748 (10th Cir. Oct. 3, 2018).  The holding in Jani-King  emphasizes the principle that forms and labels are not the deciding factor in determining whether a worker is considered an “employee” for FLSA purposes. Under current law, administrative agencies and/or the courts will make a determination as to “employee” status under the FLSA by examining the totality of the circumstances in light of the factors stated in the “economic realities test.”

Fair Credit Reporting Act – New Summary of Consumer Rights Forms Now Required

All entities and individuals required to provide “consumers” with a notice of rights pursuant to Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) section 609 are now required to use the updated summary of rights forms authored by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”). See Interim Final Rule (83 FR 47027). Companies that use background check reports for employment purposes are subject to this rule.

DOL Rescinds Persuader Rule

On July 17, 2018, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) officially abandoned the “Persuader Rule” by filing a notice of rescission in the Federal Register. The rescission is expected to become effective on or about August 17, 2018 (i.e. 30 days after the rescission notice is published in the Federal Register). This rescission gives employers and certain legal service providers more certainty as to whether their business dealings are subject to the reporting requirements of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (“LMRDA”).

Janus v. AFSCME – Mandatory Agency Fees Unconstitutional for Public Sector Unions

On June 27, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States issued what may be one of its most impactful decisions of the 2017/2018 term in Janus v. American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, Case No. 16–1466.  In its opinion, found here, the Court held that laws requiring public sector workers who are not union members to pay union dues would be compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment. This decision reverses nearly forty years of federal precedent, and declares unconstitutional a host of state laws which allow such fee arrangements. It also has significant implications for the manner in which public sector unions collect their dues.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision – Bakery Owner Wins, But on Narrow Grounds

On June 4, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its highly anticipated decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Case No. 16-111. In its opinion, found here, the Court vacated an administrative order entered by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (“CCRC” or the “Commission”) against the bakery, which had refused to sell custom wedding cakes to same-sex couples on the grounds that doing so would violate the owner’s sincerely held religious beliefs. The Court made it clear that judges and administrative officials violate a litigant’s constitutional rights if they engage in conduct that displays hostility toward a particular set of religious beliefs. But the majority opinion left many questions unanswered. It remains to be seen if a business owner may refuse to do business with a prospective customer because of the customer’s sexual orientation when the refusal is based on a sincerely held religious belief.

Employee Class Action Waivers Held Enforceable

On May 21st, the United States Supreme Court held that the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) does not prohibit employers from requiring workers to agree, as a term and condition of their employment, that they waive the right to bring class or collective actions, and will individually arbitrate employment-related legal claims.  Epic Sys. Corp. v. Lewis, U.S., Case No. 16-285 (Slip Opinion, May 21, 2018). This decision resolves a high profile conflict, in which the National Labor Relations Board and some federal courts had found that the NLRA prohibits enforcement of arbitration agreements containing class action waivers. The Court’s decision makes clear that the NLRA does not prevent the enforcement of an arbitration agreement that is otherwise valid under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). 

City of KCMO Adopts Ban The Box Ordinance for All “Employers”

On February 2, 2018, the City of Kansas City Missouri (“KCMO” or “the City”) adopted a “Ban The Box” ordinance that applies to private employers. The KCMO “Criminal Records in Employment” ordinance enacts a new section, Section 38-104. The ordinance becomes effective on June 9, 2018.  Before this ordinance, private employers located in KCMO were encouraged, but not required, to limit the extent to which they based employment-decisions on an applicant’s criminal history. The new Section 38-104 clearly and unambiguously places limitations on the extent to which all private employers located in KCMO can take an applicant or current employee’s criminal history into account when making employment decisions. (The City has applied a similar rule to its own employment procedures since 2013.). Employers with locations in KCMO should carefully review the ordinance and seek guidance from legal counsel in determining whether, how and when to make inquiries regarding criminal history.

NLRB Issues Two Landmark Decisions: Return to Original Joint-Employer Standard & New Handbook Policy Review Standard

On December 14, 2017, the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) issued two landmark decisions. Both are of note because they directly and substantively address two issues that have vexed employers for a number of years: (1) When can two separate and distinct corporate entities be treated as joint-employers for NLRA purposes? and (2) When is a work rule or handbook policy unlawfully overbroad under the NLRA?

The Tivol Decision – Must An Employer Challenge The Issuance of an MCHR Right-To-Sue Letter By Filing A Writ of Mandamus?

The Missouri Supreme Court recently issued an opinion that clarifies when it is appropriate to challenge the issuance of a Missouri Commission on Human Rights (“MCHR”) right-to-sue letter.

7th Circuit Holds That Title VII’s Prohibition on Sex Discrimination Includes A Prohibition on Sexual Orientation Discrimination

On April 4, 2017, the en banc Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overruled its own precedent and became the first Circuit to hold that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation can constitute unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII.

Court Halts New Overtime Rules on Nationwide Basis

Just as employers across the nation were bracing for the new rules governing white-collar exemptions to the overtime laws (“the New OT Rules”), a federal district court in Texas blocked the Department of Labor from implementing them. The New OT Rules—which drastically increased the minimum salary threshold for employees classified as exempt under the executive, administrative and professional employee exemptions—were set to take effect on December 1, 2016.

DOL’s Persuader Rule Permanently Enjoined on a Nation-wide Basis by Texas District Court – May Be Sign of Things to Come for Other DOL Regulations

On November 16, 2016, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Lubbock Division) entered an order holding that the Department of Labor’s Persuader Advice Exemption Rule is unlawful and should be set aside pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 706(2). The Persuader Rule regulations are now subject to a permanent nation-wide injunction and the DOL will be prohibited from enforcing the regulations unless and until the district court’s order is revised or reversed on appeal.

Getting Ready for the Presidential Election – Voting Leave Law

With the Presidential Election just days away, employers need to be ready to accommodate workers who may want or need to leave during the workday to cast their votes. The purpose of this blog post is to help employers prepare for the anticipated surge of political activity by providing a summary of the voting leave laws for the states of Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.

Supreme Court Refuses to Enforce the DOL’s FLSA Regulation on Car Dealership Service Advisors

On June 20, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) 2011 regulation classifying “service advisors” as eligible for overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) was not enforceable.

OSHA Reporting Rules Discourage Use of Mandatory Post-Accident Drug Testing

On May 12, 2016, OSHA published the final version of new reporting rules intended to “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses.”

DOL Issues New, More Expansive, Interpretation of Persuader Rule

In March of this year, the Office of Labor-Management Standards (“OLMS”) issued new regulations regarding the Persuader Rule. See 29 CFR Parts 405 and 406. The new regulations, which become fully effective on July 1, 2016, require employers and their law firms or consultants to comply with federal reporting and disclosure requirements if they engage in certain labor relations advisory activities.

DOL Guidance on Joint-Employer Standard Raises a Red Flag for Businesses

On Wednesday, January 20, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) released an administrator’s interpretation that is intended to provide guidance to employers on the WHD’s position on the joint-employer standard under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination Claims Not Available Under MHRA, But Availability of Sex Stereotyping Claims Still an Open Question

On October 27, 2015, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District issued an opinion holding that sexual orientation was not a protected category under the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) and, as a result, the plaintiff’s sexual orientation discrimination claim was not cognizable under Missouri law. See Pittman v. Cook Paper Recycling Corp., 2015 WL 6468372 (Mo. App. W.D. Oct. 27, 2015). However, Judge Gabbert wrote a lengthy dissenting opinion and the majority opinion identified but declined to reach the question of whether a claim for sexual orientation discrimination would be actionable under the MHRA if the claim is framed as a claim for unlawful sex-based stereotyping.

4th Cir. Says It Is Unlawful to Fire Managers That Reasonably Refuse to Take Company’s Side During Internal Investigations

In DeMasters v. Carilion Clinic, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals clarifies what constitutes protected oppositional activities under Title VII and refuses to extend the FLSA’s “manager rule” to Title VII retaliation claims. This case serves as an important reminder to employers that managers relaying information about harassing conduct are protected by Title VII and cannot be disciplined for disagreeing with how the company is handling a particular complaint.

The DOL Announces Guidance on Wage and Hour Misclassification – Employees vs Independent Contractors

The Department of Labor recently released new guidance (Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2015-1) on how it will decide whether a worker is properly classified as an employee or an independent contractor. Although the factors discussed in the Administrator’s Interpretation are not new, the DOL’s broad reading of the term “employee” under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the heightened focus on the “economic realities” of the business relationship between the worker and the purported employer indicate that wage and hour misclassification will be an enforcement priority for the DOL going forward.

EEOC Begins Roll-Out of Digital Charge System. Going Forward, Administrative Filings Submitted Through Online Web Portal.

The EEOC recently announced that it will begin communicating with employers through an online Digital Charge System rather than regular mail and e-mail. The EEOC receives roughly 90,000 charges of discrimination per year. The proposed purpose of the “ACT Digital” pilot program is to ease the administrative burden of handling those charges and to reduce the use of paper submissions and files.

Rip Van Winkle Awakens! – The NLRB Overturns Register-Guard

In their dissent to the National Labor Relations Board’s Register-Guard decision, Board Members Liebman and Walsh classically stated that “the NLRB has become the ‘Rip Van Winkle of administrative agencies. Only a Board that has been asleep for the past 20 years could . . . contend, as the majority does, that an e-mail system is a piece of communications equipment to be treated just as the law treats bulletin boards, telephones, and pieces of scrap paper.” See 351 NLRB 1110, 1121 (2007). After a seven year slumber, the Board has awoken and is attempting to get with the times. See Purple Commc’ns, Inc., 361 NLRB No. 126 (2014). A 3-2 majority of the Board adopted the logic of Liebman and Walsh’s dissent and overruled what many believed to be a canonical case on the balance between employees’ Section 7 rights and employers’ property rights.

Employers Must Wait for A More Permanent Immigration Solution

On November 20, 2014 President Obama announced that he would take executive action to further immigration reform amid Congressional gridlock. However, it is critical that employers understand the limited scope of the President’s Executive Order.

Administrative Agencies Cracking Down on Overly Broad Arbitration and Severance Agreements

The Supreme Court’s pro-arbitration and pro-alternative dispute resolution jurisprudence is being met with opposition from administrative agencies, especially the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). As a result, common employment practices, such as mandatory arbitration provisions and severance agreements, are being subject to intense legal scrutiny.

Hobby Lobby Decision – Contraceptive Mandate Not Applicable To Certain For-Profit Employers

Under certain circumstances, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA”) “contraceptive mandate” cannot be enforced against closely held for-profit corporations.The ACA requires non-exempt employers to offer female employees health insurance plans that cover preventative care and screenings without any cost sharing requirements. “Preventative care” includes contraceptive methods that can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterus and developing further. Non-profit religious organizations are expressly exempt from the ACA but for-profit employers are not. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the ACA’s contraceptive mandate was enforceable as applied to closely held for-profit corporations.

Supreme Court Affirms D.C. Circuits’ Noel Canning Decision, Hundreds of NLRB Decisions May Be Moot

Last week, the United States Supreme Court held that the purported “recess appointments” of NLRB Members Block, Flynn and Griffin were unconstitutional. See N.L.R.B. v. Canning, 12-1281, 2014 WL 2882090 (U.S. June 26, 2014). Therefore, the Board will have to reconsider and reissue hundreds of prior opinions.

Kansas City Area Restaurants Targeted by Union Organizers

The Union is acting as though it is a public interest group that is seeking to increase the minimum wage to $15. But its true goal is to become the restaurant workers’ exclusive bargaining representative. First, the Union ingratiates itself with restaurant workers by advocating for a substantial increase in the minimum wage. Second, it asks the workers to sign letters that they support and will participate in a strike with other employees in support of a minimum wage increase. Then the union seeks employee signatures on union authorization cards. Finally, once it has collected a sufficient number of signed authorization cards, it files an election petition with the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”).