On May 21, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long-awaited opinion in Epic Systems Corporation v. Lewis, in which it held that arbitration agreements containing class action waivers were enforceable notwithstanding the National Labor Relations Act’s protection for employee “concerted activity.” The five-Justice majority opinion sparked a fiery dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who focused on the opinion’s potential impact on wage and hour litigation, among other employee activities. In response, this week, Washington State’s Democratic Governor Jay Inslee issued a sweeping Executive Order seeking to discourage employers from implementing (or continuing to rely on) arbitration agreements with class action waivers. Although Governor Inslee’s action is the exception so far, it may signal a broader backlash to arbitration agreements with class action waivers in the employment context.
Just in time for Equal Pay Day (April 10), in its en banc opinion in Rizo v. Yovino, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, the Ninth Circuit held earlier this week that prior salary alone, or in combination with other factors, cannot justify a wage differential between male and female employees under the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”). In reaching this holding, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of summary judgment to Fresno County and overruled a prior Ninth Circuit decision, Kouba v. Allstate Insurance Co., 691 F. 2d 873 (9th Cir. 1982). The court in Rizo also took a view of available EPA affirmative defenses which conflicts with the views held by other circuits and the EEOC.
On March 30, 2018, Judge Analisa Torres of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York partially certified a class in Chen-Oster v. Goldman, Sachs & Co., a gender discrimination class action against Goldman, Sachs & Co. (“Goldman Sachs”). In so doing, Judge Torres not only departed from the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge James C. Francis, but also extended beyond the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338 (2011).
Cheryl Orr and Phil Lebel wrote an article for Risk & Compliance magazine titled “How Can Employers Respond to Increased Risks of Well-Funded Harassment Litigation Stemming from the #MeToo Movement?” They discuss the recent uptick in sexual harassment allegations in the wake of the #MeToo campaign, which began following allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein in October 2017.
Cheryl and Phil highlight litigation finance and funding firms that have invited individuals who believe they have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace to share their stories, seek legal representation, and, in some cases, receive “angel” litigation funding. They state that “[i]f this is, in fact, the beginning of a groundswell of harassment claims, the impact to employers could be tremendous. An increase in sexual harassment claims…could mean rising litigation expenses. Moreover, in the current social and political climate, verdicts could be increasingly unpredictable as juries attempt to ‘correct’ larger social problems by punishing employers who are found liable.” The article also notes that lawmakers in several jurisdictions are facing voter pressure to address the perceived shortcomings in the current legal framework, as applied to sexual harassment cases.
Since early October 2017, when the allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein first surfaced in The New York Times and The New Yorker, there has been a steady stream of allegations of sexual harassment against high-profile individuals in the media, entertainment and political industries. Now, a Bay Area startup backed by Peter Thiel is looking to take advantage of a potential new wave of sexual harassment lawsuits.
On November 8, 2017, San Francisco-based litigation finance firm Legalist, Inc. launched a new initiative dubbed #MeToo Tales (“M2T”). According to its website, M2T is “a collaboration between Legalist and community organizers working to help victims of sexual harassment get justice.” M2T invites individuals who believe that they have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace to share their stories confidentially on the initiative’s website or via a toll-free hotline. Legalist offers to pair claimants with its partner law firms and, for “eligible” individuals, to provide “angel” litigation funding of up to $100,000. Legalist recoups its funding by taking a portion of the proceeds from any successful litigation or settlement.
Last year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) unveiled its proposed revisions to the Employer Information Report EEO-1 (EEO-1). Previously, the EEO-1 directed federal contractors and employers with 100 or more employees to report annually the number of individuals that they employ by job category, race, ethnicity and gender in 10 different job groupings. As part of the Obama administration’s enhanced focus on equal pay, the EEOC’s proposed EEO-1 revisions aimed to expand the information collected to include pay data and working hours to help the EEOC discover potential discrimination in employment and pay equity.
The EEOC finalized its new EEO-1 in September 2016, and the additional information was to be provided by employers by the next reporting deadline in March 2018. That was the plan until the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) stepped in.