Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Google and Legal Research

Someone else may have caught this before him, but my hat tip on Google's entry into legal research goes to Eugene Lee at California Labor Law, Google Offers Caselaw ... for FREE. Google comes out with tons of new offerings and not all of them last, so who knows about this project, but given what they have accomplished in other areas, probably worth keeping an eye on.

I went over to check it out and since I have been interested in the "mixed motive" issue as a follow up to my testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the bill to overturn Gross v. FBL Services, thought I would try out "mixed motive." Here are the first five entries with that search on the Google scholar page, with the radio button for "Legal opinions and journals" checked:
Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins
Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa
Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education v. Doyle
NLRB v. Transportation Management Corp. and
Rachid v. Jack in the Box, Inc.
Although that's not a very sophisticated search term, the first four cases are the key Supreme Cases in determining the history of "mixed motive." I would have thought Gross would have shown up high but it doesn't appear until the 8th page. Interestingly, the Rachid case is a 5th Circuit case which extended mixed motive to the ADEA without a lot of discussion, and has been sub silentio overruled on that point by Gross.

I doubt that many are canceling their Westlaw or Lexis accounts today, but it is an interesting development.

Michael, thank you for the hat tip! I definitely wasn't the first to catch the news but maybe one of the first to blog about it in the legal community.

As for your analysis, cogent as always. I just wanted to throw this out for consideration. I did a search for "mixed motive" in the "California & Federal" database of Lexis-Nexis (sadly, I don't have Allfeds and Allstates). This is what came up:

1. Metoyer v. Chassman 504 F.3d 919
2. Harris v. City of Santa Monica 2009 Cal. App. LEXIS 1731
3. Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa 539 U.S. 90
4. Remlinger v. Nevada 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 4140
5. Mwaniki v. Ebay 2005 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 8660
6. Cook v. La Marque 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29320

No Price Waterhouse! Gross v FBL does show up as no. 8 so that is better than Google for now.

Overall, I think Google's search results are superior.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this is only day one of Google's entry into legal research whereas Wexis has been around for decades. We probably need to reserve judgment for a bit.


Nice tips of employment lawyer's. In US employers whose work is one of the best and US is only the way where attorneys fees are handled. Well, Canadian employment law is different from that in the United States. Thank you very much........
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wrongful Termination North of the Border

Canadian employment law is substantially different from that in the United States. David Doorey's eponymous workplace law blog is one that I follow just as a means of staying somewhat abreast. His post today,Is a “Consensual” Relationship Between a Manager and a Subordinate Cause for Dismissal? points out a couple of ways the laws of the two countries vary.

The case in question involved a manager who was discharged after he had engaged in not one, but two "consensual" sexual relationships with subordinates. The second one occurring shortly after he had been warned about the first relationship. Besides having what Professor Doorey calls one of the "great lines in recent Canadian legal jurisprudence":
"The relationship was on its face consensual. Her interest in the affair was based in lust; the basis of his interest may have been the same or otherwise."
the case also points out a different liability standard and a different way of handling attorneys fees.

For liability there is a concept of "notice," which must be given if there is no cause. Fortunately for the employer, the court held that there was cause in light of a managerial employee's obligation to help ensure a workplace free of sexual harassment and, interestingly, protect the employer from claims of sexual harassment. It was a good thing, because the court went on to hold that if notice had been required it would have been 18 months worth of pay.

One of the differences that may be the most appealing to employers in the US is the way attorneys fees are handled. Here, since he lost the employee was liable for attorneys fees of the employer.

Not too surprisingly however, the court did not stick the employee with the full amount claimed by employer's counsel, which was almost $200,000. (Apparently Canadian management side lawyers are just as expensive as their American counterparts.) Instead, the manager was assessed $37,000. Still a hefty sum and one that would certainly discourage much litigation.


I think the record still belongs to the warden at the women's prison in Miller v. California Department of Corrections, 36 Cal. 4th 446 (2005), who was having affairs with at least three subordinates. Why would anyone practice employment law in any other state?
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Congratulations to Workers' Comp Insider

Congratulations to Workers' Comp Insider for being named as Lexis Nexis Workers' Compensation Law Center's top workers compensation blog for 2009! A copy of the Lexis Nexis announcement is here.

The folks at Lynch Ryan have been posting tremendously insightful and helpful information since September 2003. In a time when many blogs come and go, it is good to see them appropriately acknowledged for their efforts.

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More Government Talk: This Time to Your Employees

That's what will be happening if the GAO's recommendation issued last week takes place. While studying how OSHA's Records Audit Process could be improved, one of their recommendations is that the Secretary of Labor "require inspectors to interview workers during records audits, and substitute other workers when those initially selected are unavailable."

According to the report, there are substantial disincentives for the reporting of injuries which can in some cases lead to pressure on health care practitioners to provide insufficient medical treatment.

The full report, Enhancing OSHA's Records Audit Process Could Improve the Accuracy of Worker Injury and Illness Data, was issued on October 15, 2009.

Will OSHA go along? According to the report, OSHA agreed with the recommendations.


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Saturday, November 14, 2009

A 5th Circuit Nugget for Assault Claims

Of all the so called employment law torts, one of the most simple and sometimes most difficult to deal with on summary judgment is assault. I once had a case where we were able to get several causes of action dismissed on summary judgment, but not sexual harassment and an assault claim against an executive arising out of a conference call that was being conducted by the plaintiff and the executive over a speaker phone. Fortunately at trial we were able to prevail on all claims.

But if I had that case again today, I would have at least some good support for why the assault claim should never have gone to trial.

At the end of a First Amendment case brought by a professor who has been suspended from teaching duties (but was still being paid), the 5th Circuit affirmed summary judgment on his assault claim in the following paragraph:
This leaves only DePree’s assault claim against Appellee Niroomand. Under Mississippi law, assault occurs where a person “(a) . . . acts intending to cause a harmful or offensive contact with the person of the other or a third person, or an imminent apprehension of such a contact, and (b) the other is thereby put in such imminent apprehension.” [cite omitted] According to DePree, Niroomand “aggressively walk[ed] toward [DePree], yelling at [him], repeatedly referring to [him] as a ‘son-of-abitch,’ and shaking papers in his face creat[ing] an apprehension in [DePree] of an imminent harmful or offensive contact.” Appellee Niroomand contends that DePree’s apprehension was not reasonable. We agree. Taken in context, these statements and actions could not create a reasonable apprehension of imminent, harmful contact. DePree and Niroomand had squared off in similar past confrontations without offensive contact. Nothing in the current claim suggests DePree could have reasonably feared Niroomand just because he cursed and rattled papers in DePree’s face. No triable fact issue of an assault arose here.
DePree v. Saunders (5th Cir. 11/13/09). [pdf]

At some point, that is going to be a handy reference.


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Wage & Hour: Not Just Collective Actions Anymore

Wage and hour compliance issues remain one of the potentially most dangerous areas for employers. Most of the attention has been focused on collective actions brought by a new generation of plaintiffs' lawyers who frequently focus on only those types of claims.

However, this press release last week from the Department of Labor, Grandville, Mich., restaurant operators ordered to pay more than $2 million in back wages and damages is a sobering reminder that there is a newly invigorated government agency that is conducting investigations and seeking back wages and penalties on behalf of employees.

The restaurants in question were 5 Chinese restaurants operated by a husband and wife team. It will take a lot of kung pao chicken to cover that fine.

Earlier this fall, the ABA Journal reported that the DOL had hired 250 new investigators for the Wage and Hour Division. Feds to Ramp Up Enforcement of ‘Rampant’ Wage-and-Hour Violations. And all of this activity is occurring without a permanent head of the group as President Obama's nominee for Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, Lorelei Boylan withdrew her nomination last month. Lorelei Boylan Withdraws her Nomination for Wage and Hour Administrator.

While this may sound like a broken record (for those of you who still understand that reference), there's no likelihood that this problem is going away any time soon.


I read with interest your article on the Chinese restaurant case I just got done finishing a case involving a FLSA class action and a Chinese restaurant I often write about class actions on my blog, which is totally devoted to wage-hour issues. It is found at:

Take care
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Monday, November 02, 2009

Can the NLRB Function With 2 Members?

Well obviously only in a very limited manner, and according to the DC Circuit, not at all. Three Circuits, the 1st, 2nd and 7th say it can, and now the Supremes will tell us. Justices to decide validity of two-member NLRB decisions.

Currently Obama's three Board member nominees have passed committee muster, but John McCain has placed a hold on one of the nominees, SEIU attorney, Craig Becker. NLRB Nominee Gets Mixed News From Senators My understanding is that Senator Harkin will not submit the other two candidates for a full Senate vote until a resolution is reached over Becker.

I assume that there is some way that this will all get worked out under the curious protocols of the Senate. It does seem to me though that an outsider looking at the whole way we deal with the NLRB membership, including long periods of time with less than a full Board, and the way that precedent is an almost non-existent concept even when we have a functioning Board, would have to say that it's not much way to run a railroad.

For some insight into just how the Senate nomination process works (or doesn't) check out, Fractured Nomination Process Leaves Regulatory Posts Vacant.


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