Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Friday, December 16, 2011

The 9th Circuit Does Their Part On Oracle Case, Extending California Labor Laws

One of the issues that I think has the potential to cause a lot of trouble for employers is the application of one state's labor and employment laws to employee who travel to work in another state.  In today's mobile world that is a lot of folks, especially employees located near state borders.

Basically, what happened is that Colorado based trainers who work for California based Oracle, brought a suit claiming that they should be paid in accordance with California wage and hour laws for the days they did training in California. The District Court rejected the claim. A 9th Circuit panel reversed. After a request for en banc hearing, the question was certified to the California Supreme Court. The Supreme Court basically gave the same answer the 9th Circuit had -- California law is applicable for the days the instructors worked more than a full day in California. See, Sullivan v. Oracle Corp. (Cal. S.Ct 6/30/11).

This week, the 9th Circuit completed the round trip (and engaged in a little mutual back patting), allowing as how, just like they did in their original opinion, the California Supreme Court got it right. They threw out some constitutional arguments on the part of Oracle and remanded the case for further proceedings. Sullivan v. Oracle Corp. (12/13/11).

How much training did they do? Not all that much.  One plaintiff did 150 days in Colorado, 32 in California and 52 days in other states. The next year, 150 in Colorado, 12 days in California and 20 days in other states and the third year of the period, 150 in Colorado, 30 days in California and at least 19 days in other states.   The other two plaintiffs had even less time in California.

The only thing that prevents this decison from being a total disaster is the following paragraph:
The contacts creating California interests are clearly sufficient to permit the application of California’s Labor Code in this case. The employer, Oracle, has its headquarters and principal place of business in California; the decision to classify Plaintiffs as teachers and to deny them overtime pay was made in California; and the work in question was performed in California.
Which keeps alive an argument that the case is only applicable to California based employers, although I am sure that cases are already in the works to challenge that aspect of the case.

Ultimately, I think this is an issue that the Supreme Court has to take up. From my prior experience there is precious little law on how we deal with state laws on "traveling" employees. 

Talk about an impact on commerce. 

Hopefully I am wrong, but I would not be surprised if this were one of the hot new things in 2012. And after enough are filed, maybe we will start to get some answers. Hopefully better ones than this weeks ruling.


Over 20 years ago my company, Woolworth, which had POB's in all 50 states, was faced with a claim that an employee, based in Colorado, whose duties took her to 5 states, none of which was CA, had a duty to deduct CA income tax because her named appeared on a payroll in the regional office, based in Burlingame. I told them no way, and said if they wished to pursue that asinine claim, we'd defend it. They folded. Today, I'm not so sure they would. CA's broke and clutching at straws.
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