Employer Law Report

Adding more confusion to the world of website accessibility, WCAG 2.1 has been published

As many of you know, we have been keeping up on the growing litigation involving the accessibility of websites under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in our past posts: “Florida federal judge holds that supermarket chain’s website must be accessible to disabled” and “ADA public accommodations law reform on its way?” Many stakeholders have urged that websites of businesses that operate public accommodations should be accessible to the WCAG 2.0 AA standard. WCAG is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the private organization focused on improving the Internet experience and who develops recommendations for website accessibility. There are levels of “success criteria:” A, AA and AAA—in increasing levels of accessibility. The government recently issued regulations requiring federal government websites to be accessible to the WCAG 2.0 AA standard and often insists on this same level of compliance when it settles enforcement actions against private businesses. Continue Reading

Uber app decision in California highlights ongoing litigation for website and app accessibility

A California federal court refused to dismiss a case against Uber alleging that its app did not offer accessible ride options even though the plaintiffs failed to even download the app.

In Crawford v. Uber Tech. Inc., the Northern District of California denied a motion for judgment on the pleadings based on a lack of standing. Uber alleged that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge its mobile application because both users admitted that they never download the app. The plaintiffs, instead, argued that they were deterred from downloading the app because they knew that it did not offer the option to call a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. The court agreed that plaintiffs are not required to go to the “futile gesture” of attempting to become a customer when the plaintiffs know that the services are inaccessible.

While the facts of this case (accessibility of ride-sharing services) are limited in their application, the holding on the standing issue has broad application. A primary attack on accessibly litigation has been the standing issue, including arguments that the plaintiff never attempted to be a customer, is ineligible to be a customer or is located too far from the physical location to reasonably be considered a future customer. This case accepts that being deterred from visiting the website or app is sufficient to establish standing.

New DOL opinion letter may provide clarity as to when FMLA-mandated breaks are paid and when they are unpaid

As we previously reported in the post “The return of Department of Labor Opinion Letters,” the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) began issuing opinion letters again in mid-2017 after a six-plus-year hiatus. On April 12, 2018, the DOL issued an opinion letter, FLSA 2018-19, regarding when FMLA-mandated breaks for intermittent leave for an employee’s serious health condition are paid and when they are unpaid.

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U.S. Supreme Court rules that mandatory, individual arbitration of employment disputes trumps employees’ rights to participate in class action lawsuits

On Monday, May 21, 2018, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-4 decision that employers may require workers to accept individual arbitration for wage and hour and other workplace disputes rather than banding together to pursue their claims in class actions in federal or state courts. The Court’s decision in Lewis v. Epic Sys. Corp. overturns the position of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and resolves a split among federal courts of appeals. The case is one of the most important employment law cases to be decided by the Supreme Court in the past decade and could affect millions of U.S. workers and their employers.

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New test should increase employer ability to create unpaid internship positions

Many employers allow students to intern in their workplaces so that the students can gain exposure to real world work, learn about a particular industry or career, or earn credit hours towards their degree requirements. If these interns are unpaid, however, employers risk liability for failure to pay minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employers that enter into these arrangements without careful consideration of the FLSA risk lawsuits from former interns and United States Department of Labor (DOL) investigations.

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Sixth Circuit upholds termination of human resources employee for employment application misrepresentations and performance deficiencies

Agreeing with the district court’s assessment that “résumé misrepresentations by a senior human resources professional represent an infraction so egregious as to defy correction by mere counseling or other lesser discipline,” the 6th Circuit on April 23, 2018, rejected an appeal from a summary judgment order on claims of pregnancy, race, and age discrimination and retaliation in Bailey v. Oakwood Healthcare, Inc..

Michelle Bailey, a 40 year old African-American woman, was fired from her position as a senior staffing professional at Oakwood Healthcare, Inc. (Oakwood) on the day she returned from a three-month maternity leave. During her maternity leave, her supervisor had identified deficiencies in her work performance that prompted the supervisor to go back and review her qualifications. When she checked, she found what Ms. Bailey acknowledged in deposition were “embellishments” on her employment application. In notifying Ms. Bailey of her termination, Oakwood relied on both the deficiencies and the misrepresentations. Ms. Bailey later sued, claiming that she was fired because of her pregnancy, her race and her age as well as in retaliation for concerns she had expressed about the rejection of employment applications of certain African-American candidates for employment at Oakwood prior to her maternity leave. The district court granted summary judgment in Oakwood’s favor on each of these counts. Continue Reading

Ohio court whittles away at employers’ defense of voluntary abandonment of employment in workers’ compensation cases

In Ohio, it has been a long-standing principle that an employee injured at work could lose eligibility for temporary total disability compensation in a workers’ compensation claim when the employee is terminated by the employer for violation of a written work rule. The written work rule must define clearly the prohibited conduct, identify the conduct as a dischargeable offense, and was known or should have been known by the employee.

However, a recent court decision by the Franklin County Court of Appeals in State ex rel. Demellweek v. Indus. Comm, is limiting this defense for employers. In its ruling, the court held that employers will not be entitled to use the voluntary abandonment doctrine as a defense when the employer terminates an employee for a minor infraction. Continue Reading

Recent Supreme Court decision holds that FLSA exemptions are to be construed fairly

Many thanks to Arslan Sheikh for his assistance in preparing this post.

In a decision issued on April 2, 2018 the Supreme Court of the United States held in Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro that service advisors at an auto dealership are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) overtime pay requirement. Most importantly, the Court also rejected the 9th Circuit’s holding and Department of Labor policy that FLSA exemptions should be construed narrowly. Instead, courts should apply a fairness test to determine whether a particular job is covered under the exempt classifications of the act. As a result, employers should be aware of this recent decision and consider how it may apply to them. Continue Reading

Sixth Circuit holds that Title VII prohibits discrimination based on transgender and transitioning status notwithstanding the employer’s religious objections

Employers cannot discriminate against employees based on their transgender or transitioning status, despite (at least in some cases) the employer’s sincere religious objections. Those are the key takeaways of the 6th Circuit’s landmark decision in EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Employers who are subject to Title VII, particularly those in the 6th Circuit (i.e., Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee), should review their policies to ensure that they comply with this decision.

In EEOC v. R.G., the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit under Title VII after a Michigan funeral director, Aimee Stephens, was fired because of her intent to transition from male to female. The owner of the funeral home, Thomas Rost, is a lifelong Christian who believes that employing a transgender funeral director will make him complicit “in supporting the idea that sex is a changeable social construct rather than an immutable God-given gift.” Rost also believes that employing a transgender funeral director will distract his clients and interfere with their healing process, will interfere with his calling to serve God by ministering to grieving people, and will pressure him to leave the funeral industry and end his ministry.

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Wage and Hour Division announces pilot limited “amnesty” program

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has announced a new nationwide pilot program, called the Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program, which is designed to facilitate resolution of potential overtime and minimum wage violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). According to the WHD’s website describing the program, the program’s primary objectives are to resolve wage and hour claims expeditiously and without litigation, to improve employers’ compliance with overtime and minimum wage obligations and to ensure that more employees promptly receive any owed back wages.

WHD states that it will implement this pilot program nationwide for approximately six months. At the end of the pilot period, WHD will evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot program, as well as potential modifications to the program to determine its next steps. Continue Reading

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