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George S. Freedman

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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.

DOL Publishes Proposal Interpreting Joint Employer Status

On April 1, 2019, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) published its third proposal in 30 days to revise regulations interpreting the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The April 1 proposed rule would revise and clarify the test for when multiple employers (known as “joint employment”) can be held responsible for wages under the FLSA. The notice and full text of the rule can be found here.

DOL Publishes Proposals Interpreting “Regular Rate of Pay” in Overtime Regulations

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers must generally pay non-exempt employees overtime at a rate of one and one half times the “regular rate” of pay when they work more than forty hours in a workweek. Overtime cannot be properly calculated unless the employer knows what to include in the regular rate.  As benefits, bonuses, reimbursements and other elements of compensation have evolved, greater ambiguity has developed in determining what is included in and excluded from the regular rate.  On March 29, 2019, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) published a proposal (found here) to clarify and update several regulations that interpret the regular rate of pay requirement.

New FMLA and FLSA Opinion Letters Issued by DOL on Key Topics

On March 14, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor/Wage and Hour Division continued its practice under the Trump Administration of issuing Opinion letters by releasing three new ones – its first Opinion letters of 2019.  One of the newly-released Opinion letters relates to the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and two of them involve the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

DOL Publishes Proposal on New White-Collar Exemption Regulations

On March 7, 2019, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) published a long-awaited proposal for revising the regulations relating to the white-collar exemptions from overtime and minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”), DOL has proposed increasing the threshold salary amount for certain white-collar exemptions from its current $455 per week (or $23,660 per year) to $679 per week, or ($35,308 per year). In 2015, DOL had proposed increasing this threshold to over $47,000 per year ($913 per week). As we reported here, that proposal was blocked by a federal court in Texas in late 2016.

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.

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.

New Wage and Hour Opinion Letters Provide Guidance to Employers

On August 28, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division issued six new Opinion letters. Four of these opinion letters relate to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and two of the letters involve the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). As we noted in April (WHD Opinion Letters), Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta announced in 2017 that the agency would soon re-start the practice of issuing opinion letters, which the Obama Administration had discontinued. The new opinion letters are summarized below.

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”). 

New WHD Opinion Letters Provide Guidance to Employers

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) issued three new opinion letters for the first time since 2010.  The Obama administration had ceased the practice of issuing opinion letters – which answer specific questions from employers or other parties – in favor of general administrative interpretations.  Last June, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta announced that he was reinstating the practice of issuing opinion letters for the Trump administration.  This announcement was praised by businesses and employment lawyers because the opinion letters apply the law to a specific set of facts and represent official statements of agency policy.  In addition to the new letters, WHD republished 17 letters the Obama administration rescinded following their original publication late in the Bush administration.

New Age Harassment: When Will the Next Shoe Drop? What to Do When You Learn One of YOUR Employees Might Be on the Naughty List.

Who will be next? After Matt Lauer, Garrison Keiller, and Russell Simmons each faced assertions of inappropriate conduct in the last week, the “who’s next” question predominates pop culture and the daily news cycle. In the wake of numerous sexual harassment accusations unfolding across Hollywood and corporate America, sexual harassment has become one of the hottest topics in today’s news. While claims of sexual harassment in the workplace are nothing new, the almost daily media coverage of so many high-profile claims will likely result in an increase in reports of sexual harassment allegations for many employers in the immediate future.

Right to Work Enacted in Missouri

Governor Greitens signed the Missouri Right to Work Bill on February 6, 2017. See Missouri Senate Bill 19. It becomes effective on August 28, 2017 and applies to any new collective bargaining agreements or renewals, extensions, amendments, or modifications after the effective date.

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.

A New Type of Student Union – the NLRB’s decision in Columbia University

In its August 23, 2016 decision in Columbia Univ., 364 N.L.R.B. No. 90 (2016), the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) ruled that graduate students working as teaching and research assistants at private universities qualify as employees for collective bargaining purposes under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) and thereby paved the way for graduate students to join or form unions. Depending on the size of the academic institution, the unionization of graduate employees could pose not only a significant financial burden but also a disruption to the completion of academic programs. This type of student union may be one that not all campuses are ready for.