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).
Earlier this year, the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) reinstated seventeen George W. Bush Era opinion letters which were issued in January 2009, but later withdrawn by the Obama Administration. Opinion letters are official guidance from the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division that provide employers with detailed responses to fact-specific questions pertaining to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Davis-Bacon Act (DBA).
In 2010, the DOL stopped issuing opinion letters and instead began issuing “administrative interpretations,” which offered a more general interpretation of the law rather than a response to specific questions posed by employers or employees.
The United States District Court for the District of Minnesota has dramatically cut an attorney-fee request in a wage-and-hour collective action against Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. from $3.2 million to $600,000, finding the original amount “excessive” in light of the relatively small $62,000 recovery and straightforward nature of the case. Harris et al. v. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., No. 13-CV-1719 (SRN/SER), 2018 WL 617972 (D. Minn. Jan. 29, 2018).
The 81 percent fee reduction marks the end of an almost five-year saga, which began in 2013 as a nationwide putative collective action by employees Marcus Harris and Julius Caldwell. Through the action, Harris and other named plaintiffs, who were employed as hourly workers at Chipotle’s Crystal, Minnesota, restaurant sought unpaid straight time and overtime wages based on allegations that Chipotle forced its non-exempt employees to perform off-the-clock work, pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219, and the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 177.21-177.35.
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.
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.
Retailers throughout the country have been besieged by lawsuits and demand letters alleging that their websites are not accessible to the visually impaired and that this lack of accessibility violates Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The plaintiffs’ bar, without definitive guidance from the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the courts, has assumed that retail websites are “places of a public accommodation” under the ADA and that the appropriate compliance level should be the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 A or AA.
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