How Can Employers Respond to Increased Risks of Well-Funded Harassment Litigation Stemming from the #MeToo Movement?

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.

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Amid Continuing Sexual Misconduct Scandals, Legislators Target NDAs and Confidentiality Agreements

As allegations of sexual misconduct continue to surface almost daily against high-profile individuals, some legislators have responded by proposing legislation curtailing the use of non-disclosure (NDA) and confidentiality agreements. Critics have opined that such agreements (particularly as used by Harvey Weinstein) have enabled victimizers to conceal and continue long-running patterns of sexual misconduct, in that they prevented discussion of the accusations among both the victims and others, such as co-workers, who knew of the victimization.

In October, California State Senator Connie Leyva announced that she would introduce “legislation to ban secret settlements (confidentiality provisions in settlement agreements) in sexual assault, sexual harassment and sex discrimination cases” when the California Senate reconvenes in early January 2018. On November 15, Pennsylvania State Senator Judy Schwank stated in a press conference that she would introduce a bill that prospectively bans contractual provisions “prohibit[ing] a person from revealing the identity of a person who committed sexual misconduct” and voids any such provisions entered into under duress or incapacity, or by a minor, prior to the law’s enactment.

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Key New California Laws for 2018: What Employers Should Know

Governor Jerry Brown signed several laws in 2017 that will impact California employers next year. A summary of some of the key new laws follows, in numerical order by Assembly Bill (AB) and/or Senate Bill (SB). All of the laws outlined below are effective beginning January 1, 2018.

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Could A Litigation Finance Initiative Capitalize On #MeToo?

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.

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Individual Liability for California Wage-and-Hour Violations: Developments on California Authority in 2017

Can employees sue individuals for wage-and-hour violations? That is the question numerous trial courts have been asked since the enactment of California Labor Code section 558.1 (“Section 558.1”) in 2016. Unfortunately, no binding authority on the question exists yet, but several trial courts have concluded that employees can.

Under Section 558.1(a), “[a]ny employer or other person acting on behalf of an employer who violates, or causes to be violated,” several labor code provisions, “may be held liable as the employer for such violation.” The term “other person acting on behalf of an employer” means any person who is an owner, director, officer, or managing agent of the employer. Lab. Code § 558.1(b). Generally speaking, managing agents are corporate employees who exercise substantial independent authority and judgment so that their decisions ultimately determine corporate policy; in other words, “managing agents” aren’t necessarily just company executives.

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DOL Announces Minimum Wage Increase for Federal Contractors

On September 15, 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced the 2018 minimum wage rate for covered federal contractors and subcontractors, as required by Executive Order 13658.

Beginning January 1, 2018, the minimum wage for covered contractors will increase from $10.20 per hour to $10.35 per hour. The minimum cash wage for tipped employees performing work on or in connection with a covered federal contract will also increase from $6.80 per hour to $7.25 per hour, effective January 1, 2018. If the worker’s tips combined with the required cash wage of at least $7.25 per hour do not equal the minimum rate, then the contractor must increase the cash wage paid to a tipped employee to bring him or her up to $10.35 per hour.

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