New District of New Jersey Case Shows Importance of Requiring Drivers to Form Corporate Entities in Misclassification Cases

Late last month, District of New Jersey Judge Robert B. Kugler partially granted FedEx Ground Package Systems Inc. (“FedEx”)’s Motion to Dismiss in a trucking misclassification case.  The court dismissed several claims but preserved the plaintiff’s wage claim.  One key in getting several of the claims dismissed for FedEx was that it had required the plaintiffs to form LLCs or corporations prior to contracting with them.

In Carrow v. FedEx Group Package Systems, Inc., No.: 16-3026, plaintiffs brought claims against FedEx arising under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (“NJCFA”), misrepresentation, rescission, New Jersey Wage Payment Law (“NJWPL”), and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The contract between the driver plaintiffs and FedEx classified the drivers as independent contractors and, for some agreements, first required the drivers to create a limited liability company or corporation and sign the agreement through the business entity.  Plaintiffs argued that despite language in the operating agreements, they were treated as employees as the agreements regulated the vehicle appearance, vehicle maintenance, liability insurance, driver reports, driver uniforms, and driver service areas.  FedEx was also responsible for determining the prices charged for services, route schedules, electronic equipment used, forms for paperwork, and approval of substitutes and assistants. It also actively monitored how drivers operated their vehicles, carry packages, and completed paperwork to ensure adherence to company policies.

Based on the fact that the name plaintiffs had formed corporate entities at FedEx’s request and therefore as individuals were not direct parties to the operating agreements with FedEx, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims of breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and rescission.  The court also dismissed the plaintiff’s NJCFA claim because the plaintiffs’ theory was that the fraud related to FedEx’s employment of the plaintiffs which is not a basis for a NJCFA claim.  Further, the court held that plaintiffs could not state a cognizable claim under the NJCFA because business opportunities are not covered by the NJCFA.  The court did, however, allow several claims to proceed, most importantly, the plaintiff’s NJWPL wage claim finding that the fact that the plaintiffs were not parties to the operating agreements was not in and of itself enough on a motion to dismiss to determine if an employment relationship existed between the plaintiffs and FedEx.

For our clients in the transportation, trucking, and logistics industries, requiring that drivers form LLCs or corporations before entering into contracts with them helps to defeat misclassification claims.  However, as this case shows, corporate status is not enough by itself to definitively defeat a misclassification claim as it is one of many factors that a court will consider.

For questions about employment issues involving the trucking and logistics industries, please contact John Vreeland, Esq., Chair of the Transportation, Trucking & Logistics Group and Partner in the Labor Law Practice Group at jvreeland@nullgenovaburns.com or (973) 535-7118, or, Harris S. Freier, Esq., Partner in the Firm’s Employment Law and Appellate Practice Groups, at hfreier@nullgenovaburns.com or (973) 533-0777.  Please also sign-up for our free Labor & Employment Law Blog at www.labor-law-blog.com to keep up-to-date on the latest news and legal developments effecting your workforce.

Second, Eleventh and Seventh Circuits Disagree Whether Title VII Extends to Claims of Sexual Orientation Discrimination

On March 27 the Second Circuit held that Title VII does not provide protection against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. In Christiansen v. Omnicom Group Inc., the plaintiff alleged that his employer discharged him because of his sexual orientation and his nonconformity to gender stereotypes.  On appeal to the Second Circuit, the employer sought dismissal of the claims, and argued that claims of sexual orientation discrimination cannot be brought under Title VII.  Plaintiff urged the court to expand Title VII’s scope to reach these claims and, alternatively, that his suit claimed sexual stereotyping, as opposed to sexual orientation discrimination.  The Second Circuit held that it was bound by Second Circuit precedent in this regard and the plaintiff could not state a cognizable claim for sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII.  The Christensen court relied heavily on the Second Circuit’s 2000 decision in Simonton v. Runyon where the court held that Title VII does not prohibit sexual orientation discrimination.

The Christensen court observed that the landscape of sexual orientation and the law have changed significantly since Simonton.  Most notably, in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and in 2015, held that same-sex couples have the right to marry.  However, the Christensen court found that neither of these decisions relates to Title VII protections, but instead they reflect a change in social and judicial perceptions regarding protections for same-sex couples.

The Eleventh Circuit is in agreement with the Second Circuit.  However, on April 4 the Seventh Circuit en banc held that sexual orientation discrimination is cognizable under Title VII. Hively v. Ivy Tech Comm. College. The Seventh Circuit reversed a Circuit panel that found for the employer with reasoning consistent with the Christiansen decision. The EEOC’s enforcement position during the Obama Administration was that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited by Title VII, although it remains to be seen whether this will change under the current administration.

Given the split in the Circuits and the rapid development of the law in this area, employers cannot ignore discrimination or harassment claims based on sexual orientation.  Several jurisdictions already have state and local laws that prohibit these workplace behaviors, including New Jersey, New York, and New York City.  Employers must review their anti-harassment and discrimination policies to ensure compliance not only with Title VII but also with state and local laws, and promptly and effectively respond to complaints of unlawful harassment and discrimination.

For more information on this decision, on the applicability of Title VII to your organization, or to ensure compliant employment practices, please contact John C. Petrella, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Employment Litigation Practice Group, at jpetrella@nullgenovaburns.com, or Dina M. Mastellone, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Human Resources Practice Group, at dmastellone@nullgenovaburns.com, or 973-533-0777.

Two Federal Courts Dismiss ADA Website Accessibility Claims

In the last two months, at least two federal district courts have dismissed website accessibility lawsuits filed against private companies under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), proving that this issue continues to be the Achilles Heel of the Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) Regulatory Arena.

For context, imagine a blind person who is unable to make online mortgage payments because his bank’s website did not provide him the means.  The DOJ is tasked with enforcing the ADA, a federal statute that provides for equal access to places of public accommodation, including private businesses, for such persons with disabilities.  However, the text of the ADA is silent about public accommodations’ websites, and a recent executive order aimed at decreasing federal regulations has all but eliminated any chance that the DOJ will issue regulations on that topic.  The absence of such regulations has emboldened disability advocacy groups across the nation to flood the courts with lawsuits against companies alleging a failure to provide equal access to audio, audiovisual, or other content made available online.

Not so fast, said the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.  On March 20, 2017, in the case of Robles v. Domino’s Pizza LLC, No. 16-06599, the federal court dismissed ADA web accessibility litigation brought against the enormous food retailer, Domino’s.  The court relied on the “primary jurisdiction doctrine,” which allows courts to dismiss complaints pending the resolution of an issue that is “within the special competence of an administrative agency.”  Noting that Congress has vested exclusive authority with the DOJ to promulgate regulations defining what web accessibility standards to impose on private companies, the court concluded that it was inappropriate to render judgment against Domino’s in the absence of such regulations.

There are various other legal issues that arise in ADA web accessibility cases, including the concept of standing, which means having a concrete injury that can be rectified by a court order, and whether a website is a place of public accommodation.  The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, in the case of Gomez v. Bang & Olfusen America, Inc., No. 16-23801, shed light on both issues.  The Gomez court dismissed an ADA web accessibility claim brought by a plaintiff who contended that the company’s website could hypothetically impede a blind person from enjoying all the benefits of the company’s retail stores on the basis that the plaintiff did not have a particularized injury (i.e., standing).  As the court concluded, “[h]is generalized grievances are wholly unconnected to any harm he actually suffered at the place of public accommodation (i.e. the concrete, physical store) and are therefore insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.”  The court also recognized that websites are not included in the ADA’s express list of public accommodations: “If Congress – recognizing that the internet is an integral part of modern society – wishes to amend the ADA to define a website as a place of public accommodation, it may do so.  But the Court, having no legislative power, cannot create law where none exist.”

Although these cases may suggest a shield to ADA web accessibility litigation, there are just as many courts across the country taking completely opposite views.  For example, only one year ago, a Massachusetts federal court rejected the “primary jurisdiction doctrine” (relied upon in Robles) as a basis to dismiss ADA web accessibility claims made against Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  See Nat’l Ass’n of the Deaf, et al., v. Harvard Univ., et al., No. 15-30023; Nat’l Ass’n of the Deaf, et al. v. Massachusetts Inst. of Tech., No. 15-30024.  Given the national split over these issues and the unlikelihood that the DOJ will issue clarifying regulations, businesses should be cautious.

The first step a business should take to minimize the risk of expensive litigation and exhausting DOJ investigations is to designate an ADA coordinator/compliance group to audit its website.  Companies should simultaneously work with counsel so that reports and findings from these audits are generated under privilege.  In addition, companies should adopt strong website accessibility polices and staff training materials.  Moreover, one of the most effective ways to stave off litigation is to provide a customer service, like a hotline, devoted to assisting customers who encounter difficulties in accessing a company’s web content.

Those with questions about these emerging issues or looking for a preliminary assessment of their legal exposure under the ADA should contact John C. Petrella, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Employment Litigation Practice Group, at jpetrella@nullgenovaburns.com, or Brigette N. Eagan, Esq., Counsel with the firm’s Human Resources Practice Group, at beagan@nullgenovaburns.com or 973-533-0777.

 

Trump Blinks and Signs Revised Executive Order; States React Immediately

On March 6 President Trump signed a second Executive Order revoking his January Order and replacing it with Executive Order (“March Order”) effective March 16, 2017 that is intended to overcome court challenge. The March Order suspends for 90 days entry into the U.S. of nationals of six countries, but carves out limited exceptions for certain categories of affected aliens. After issuing the March Order, the Justice Department immediately asked the federal court in Seattle to halt Washington’s and Minnesota’s legal challenge from proceeding against the January Order and notified the Court notice that the Government plans instead to enforce the provisions of the March Order.  However, for the moment the Seattle lawsuit remains pending.

Under the March Order, entry by nationals of six countries -Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen- is suspended through June 14, 2017. The suspension of entry into the U.S. will apply only to foreign nationals from the six countries who 1) are outside the U.S. as of March 16, 2017, and 2) did not hold a valid visa as of 5 p.m. EST on January 27, 2017 and 3) do not have a valid visa as of March 16, 2017. The suspension of entry into the U.S. will not apply to U.S. permanent residents, any foreign national who is admitted to or paroled into the U.S. on or after March 16, 2017, any foreign national who has a document other than a visa valid on March 16, 2017 that permits the individual to travel in the U.S., any dual national of one of the six countries if the individual is traveling using a passport from the non-designated country, any foreign national traveling on a diplomatic visa, NATO visa, C-2 visa for travel to the U.N. or a G-1, 2, 3 or 4 visa, any foreign national granted asylum, and any refugee already permitted to be in the U.S. No immigrant or nonimmigrant visas issued before March 16, 2017 is being revoked by the March Order and any individual whose visa was revoked as a result of the January Order is entitled to a travel document permitting travel to and entry into the U.S.

Although the March Order does not list Iraq as a banned country, decisions about issuance of visas or granting entry to any Iraqi national will be subject to additional scrutiny to determine if the alien has connections to ISIS or other terrorist organizations, or otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety.

The March Order also suspends all refugee travel into the U.S. under USRAP and suspends decisions on all refugee status applications through July 16, 2017. The January Order banned all Syrian refugees’ admission into the U.S. indefinitely. The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security retain the ability to jointly determine a refugee’s admission into the U.S. on a case-by-case basis so long as admission is in the national interest and poses no threat to national security and welfare. Finally, for fiscal year 2017 entry by refugees in excess of 50,000 is suspended until the President determines additional entries are in the country’s interest.

The first state to challenge the March Order was Hawaii which sued in Honolulu federal court claiming that the March Order results in an unconstitutional establishment of religion and inflicts immediate harm on Hawaii’s economy, education and tourism. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson will hear Hawaii’s request for a temporary restraining order on March 15. New York’s Attorney General announced that New York will join Washington and Minnesota in the pending federal case in Seattle. Other states are expected to follow New York’s and Hawaii’s example.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss how the March Executive Order affects your employees and your business, please contact Patrick W. McGovern, Esq., Partner in the Firm’s Immigration Law Practice at 973-535-7129 or at pmcgovern@nullgenovaburns.com.

New York Issues Regulations Implementing its Trailblazing Paid Family Leave Law

Last year, the New York State Legislature passed the country’s most wide-ranging paid family leave law, providing employees with wage replacement during time away from their job in order to bond with a child, care for a close relative with a serious health condition, or to help relieve family pressures when someone is called to active military service, commencing on January 1, 2018.  On February 22, 2017, New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the filing of official regulations implementing New York’s Paid Family Leave Law.  The regulations provide important guidance to both employers and insurance carriers.

Covered Employers – Unlike the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which applies only to businesses with 50 or more employees, the New York paid family leave program is required for all private employers in New York.  Public employers may opt in.

Eligible Employees – Employees become eligible for paid family leave after working full-time for their employer for 26 weeks or part-time for 175 days.

Phase-In Schedule – Unlike the FMLA, which provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of one’s family member or oneself, New York’s family leave law provides paid leave.  The program starts on January 1, 2018 and will fully phase in over the course of 4 years.  For the first year of the program, employees will be entitled to 8 weeks of family leave and 50% of their average weekly wages.  Starting January 1, 2019, employees will be entitled to 10 weeks and 55% of their average weekly wages.  On January 1, 2020, employees will still only be entitled to 10 weeks, but will be afforded 60% of their average weekly wages.  Finally, starting January 1, 2021, employees will be entitled to 12 weeks and 67% of their average weekly wages.

Qualifying Reasons – Paid family leave will be available to eligible employees to care for a new child (including newly adopted and foster children) or a close relative with a serious health condition, or to relieve family pressures created when a family member is called to active military service.  This leave is not available, however, to care for an employee’s own serious health condition, which is available under the FMLA.

Required Documentation – Employees will be required to present certain documentation to justify requests for family leave.  Documentation may include a certification from a doctor treating an employee’s family member.  New parents will also need to present birth certificates, adoption papers, or foster placement letters.  Employees wishing to address military family needs must provide military duty papers.

Reemployment – Upon return to work, employees will be entitled to resume the same or a comparable job.  The paid family leave law also provides for a continuation of health care benefits while on leave.

Employers’ “To Do” List – There are several steps businesses must take now to ensure compliance with New York’s paid family leave law.  Employers must either purchase a paid family leave insurance policy or self-insure.  The program will be fully funded by employees’ payment of premiums through payroll deductions, which employers can begin taking in July of 2017 (for coverage beginning on January 1, 2018).  In addition, employers and/or carriers must adopt a method for employees to request paid family leave, either by using the official “Request for Paid Family Leave” form (currently form PFL-1) or another method that solicits the same information as that form.  Employers must also inform all employees in writing of their rights and obligations under the new law, and eligibility information must also be included in an Employee Handbook.  Governor Cuomo has also launched a new helpline (844) 337-6303 to answer questions and provide New Yorkers with more information about the new program.

For questions about New York State’s new paid family leave law, how it interacts with the FMLA, and how to develop a compliant paid family leave policy, please contact Dina M. Mastellone, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Human Resources Practice Group, at dmastellone@nullgenovaburns.com or 973-533-0777.  Please visit our free Labor & Employment Blog at www.labor-law-blog.com to stay up-to-date on the latest news and legal developments affecting your workforce.

Appellate Court Expands Rice Notice Requirements

Following the February 8, 2017 Appellate Division decision in Kean Federation of Teachers v. Morell, public bodies must review their processes for issuing Rice notices and making available meeting minutes to the public.

In its decision, the Appellate Division expanded the application of the Rice notice requirements to include all situations in which the public body intends to take action on an agenda item which will affect an employee’s “employment appointment, termination of employment, terms and conditions of employment, evaluation of the performance of, promotion or [discipline]” of its employees. This requirement attaches to all agenda items, regardless of whether the public body intends to hold a discussion about the matter.  The Court reasoned that presenting a Rice notice for all employees on a particular agenda allows the public body to have “flexibility to discuss matters in executive session when necessary and affords the affected employees the opportunity” to request a public discussion.

In the same decision, the Court also evaluated the timeframe required for a public body to release its meeting minutes so that it meets the OMPA’s requirement of making them “promptly available”.  At issue was a set of minutes from the September 15, 2014 meeting, which took 94 days to release.  A second set, from the December 6, 2014 meeting took 58 days to release.  Although the Court did not expressly define a timeline to comply with making minutes “promptly available,” it suggested that a reasonable timeframe for release is within 30-45 days.  Even without a clear rule, the Court makes it clear that a 2 or 3 month delay is not justifiable, and mandates public bodies to “adopt a protocol that makes the availability of its meeting minutes a priority.”

The Court’s clear directive to the parties is applicable to all public bodies effective immediately.  Public bodies should review their protocols to ensure that Rice notices be issued in advance of taking action on agenda items involving employment matters.  Public bodies must also review its processes to ensure an efficient method of producing required meeting minutes (including those which are subject to redaction) relatively soon after receipt of a request.

For additional guidance regarding compliance with the Court’s mandate, please contact Jennifer Roselle at 973-646-3324 or jroselle@nullgevnoaburns.com. Ms. Roselle is Counsel in the Firm’s Labor Law and Education Law Practice Groups.

EEOC Releases 2016 Enforcement Data: Charges Increase, Downward Trend in Litigation & Monetary Recovery, LGBT Charges Highlighted

Each year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) releases data detailing the charges of workplace discrimination it receives, the number of enforcement suits filed and resolved, and any areas of targeted investigations and compliance initiatives from the prior year.  On January 18, 2017, the EEOC released its Fiscal Year 2016 Enforcement and Litigation Data summarizing its findings.

Rising Number of Discrimination Charges – According to the EEOC, in 2016 it received 91,503 charges of discrimination, making 2016 the second consecutive year that the agency has seen an increase in the number of charges.  2016 also marks the third consecutive year in which retaliation was the most frequently filed charge.  Below is a chart summarizing the EEOC’s breakdown of the categories of charges filed in 2016 along with a comparison to those charges filed in New Jersey and New York:

  National New Jersey New York
Retaliation:  

42,018 (45.9%)

 

731 (1.7% of total Retaliation charges in US)  

1,604 (3.8% of total Retaliation charges in US)

 

Race:  

32,309 (35.3%)

 

624 (1.9% of total Race charges in US)  

1,084 (3.4% of total Race charges in US)

 

Disability:  

28,073 (30,7%)

 

583 (2.1% of total Disability charges in US)  

1,061 (3.8% of total Disability charges in US)

 

Sex:  

26,934 (29.4%)

 

500 (1.9% of total Sex charges in US)  

1,202 (29% of total Sex charges in US)

 

Age:  

20,857 (22.8%)

 

437 (2.1% of total Age charges in US)  

865 (4.1% of total Age charges in US)

 

National

Origin:

9,840 (10.8%)

 

254 (2.6% of total National Origin charges in US)  

601 (6.1% of total National Origin charges in US)

 

Religion:  

3,825 (4.2%)

 

104 (2.7% of total Religion charges in US)  

180 (4.7% of total Religion charges in US)

 

Color:  

3,102 (3.4%)

 

42 (1.4% of total Color charges in US)  

208 (6.7% of total Color charges in US)

 

Equal Pay:  

1,075 (1.2%)

 

Info not available Info not available
Genetic

Information:

 

238 (.3%) Info not available Info not available

Steady Increase in Charges Filed by LGBT Individuals – For the first time, the EEOC included details in its year end summary about sex discrimination charges filed specifically by members of the LGBT community.  In fiscal year 2016, it settled 1,650 of such charges, recovering $4.4 million.  This accounts for roughly 40% of the 4,000 sex discrimination charges filed by LGBT individuals since fiscal year 2013, which indicates a notable, steady rise in the number of charges filed by members of the LGBT community.  Also trending are the issues involving transgendered employees’ restroom rights.  In July 2015, the EEOC ruled that denying an employee equal access to a common restroom corresponding to the employee’s gender identity constitutes sex discrimination violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as does conditioning an employee’s such right on proof that the employee underwent a medical procedure, and/or restricting a transgendered employee to a single-user restroom.

Overall Decrease in Monetary Awards – The EEOC recovered a total of over $482 million in fiscal year 2016, down from the $525 million in 2015, broken down as follows:

  • $347.9 million for private-sector, state, and local government employees through mediation, conciliation, and settlements;
  • $52.2 million through litigations; and
  • $82 million for federal employees.

Downward Trend in Litigation – Over 76% of cases that were referred to mediation in 2016 were resolved successfully, though conciliation had a lower success rate of only 44%.  Litigation by the EEOC is experiencing a downward trend, with only 165 active cases on the EEOC’s docket at the end of 2016, as opposed to the 218 that existed at the end of 2015.  In addition, the EEOC filed only 86 lawsuits alleging discrimination in 2016, down from its 142 filed in 2015 and 133 in 2014.

New Online Charge Status System – The EEOC launched digital services allowing employers and charging parties to receive and file documents electronically, check the status of charges online, and communicate electronically with the EEOC.  These services are intended to streamline the charge process and reduce the number of paper submissions and phone inquiries, easing administrative burdens on the EEOC.  These changes may make it easier not only for the agency to handle more charges and resolve them more quickly, but for complainants to file them.

New ADA Regulations on Employer-Sponsored Wellness Plans – The EEOC issued regulations and interpretive guidance advising that employers may provide limited financial and other incentives in exchange for an employee answering disability-related questions or undergoing medical exams as part of a wellness program.

Employers should review the EEOC’s 2016 charge and enforcement data in order to remain vigilant when responding to complaints of harassment and/or discrimination in the workplace.  The EEOC’s statistics also reinforces the need for employers to train managers, supervisors, and employees on those policies.

For more information on the EEOC’s year-end summary, the EEOC’s strategy for future enforcement of federal employment discrimination statutes, or ways to ensure that your company is in compliance with the EEOC’s mandates, please contact John C. Petrella, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Employment Litigation Practice Group, at jpetrella@nullgenovaburns.com, or Dina M. Mastellone, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Human Resources Practice Group, at dmastellone@nullgenovaburns.com, or 973-533-0777.

Philadelphia Becomes First U.S. City to Prohibit Inquiries into Applicants’ Wage Histories

On January 23, 2017, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed into law the “Wage History Ordinance,” which bans all employers doing business in Philadelphia from asking job applicants about their wage histories, subject to a few exceptions. The Ordinance, unanimously passed by the Philadelphia City Council on December 8, 2016, amends Chapter 9-1100 of the Philadelphia Code, the “Fair Practices Ordinance.” The new law, the first for a U.S. city, will take effect on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.

The Wage History Ordinance specifically prohibits employers from the following:

  • To inquire about, require disclosure of, or condition employment or consideration for an interview on the disclosure of a potential employee’s wage history, unless done pursuant to a “federal, state or local law that specifically authorizes the disclosure or verification of wage history for employment purposes;”
  • Determine a potential employee’s wages based upon his/her wage history provided by his/her current or former employer, unless the potential employee “knowingly and willingly” disclosed such information to the prospective employer; and/or
  • Take any adverse action against a potential employee who does not comply with a wage history inquiry (anti-retaliation provision).

For purposes of this Section 9-1131, “to inquire” shall mean to “ask a job applicant in writing or otherwise,” and “wages” shall mean “all earnings of an employee, regardless of whether determined on time, task, piece, commission or other method of calculation and including fringe benefits, wage supplements, or other compensation whether payable by the employer from employer funds or from amounts withheld from the employee’s pay by the employer.”

Notably, the exception allowing wage history inquiries where a law “specifically authorizes” such applies not only when the inquiry is required by law, but when it is merely permitted by law.

The new law also requires a prospective employee who alleges a violation of the Ordinance to file a complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory act before he/she may file a civil action in court. Violations of the Ordinance can result in an award of injunctive or other equitable relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages (not to exceed $2,000 per violation), reasonable attorneys’ fees and hearing costs.

Advocates of the legislation, like Philadelphia Councilman Bill Greenlee, have suggested that the Ordinance is aimed at reducing the gender wage gap.  According to the “Findings” section of the Ordinance, women in Pennsylvania are paid 79 cents for every dollar that a man earns.  Amongst minorities, it claims that African-American women are paid 68 cents, Latinas are paid 56 cents, and Asian women are paid 81 cents for every dollar paid to men.  The belief is that, since women have historically been paid less than men, an employer’s knowledge of applicants’ wage histories can perpetuate a cycle of lower salaries.  Advocates profess that the Ordinance forces prospective employers to, instead, set salaries based on an applicant’s experience and the value of the position to the company.

Opponents of the Ordinance, like Rob Wonderling, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, denounce it as an unnecessary “hassle” driving businesses away from Philadelphia.  Corporations like Comcast have also threatened costly lawsuits contesting the legality of the Ordinance.

It is recommended that employers review their hiring practices and applications for employment in advance of the Wage History Ordinance’s effective date of May 23, 2017.  Moreover, anyone involved in the hiring and interview process must be trained to ensure compliance with the new law prohibiting inquiries into an applicant’s salary history.

For more information on the Wage History Ordinance, how it may affect your business, or ways to ensure that your company’s hiring documents and policies comply with the Ordinance, please contact John C. Petrella, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Employment Litigation Practice Group, at jpetrella@nullgenovaburns.com, or Dina M. Mastellone, Esq., Chair of the firm’s Human Resources Practice Group, at dmastellone@nullgenovaburns.com, or 973-533-0777.

New York State Launches Aggressive Campaign to Enforce The New Minimum Wage Law

On December 31, 2016, the new minimum wage law in New York State took effect.  New York’s minimum wage law is among the most complicated in the country. The minimum wage will gradually increase to $15.00 in the coming years, with annual increases to take effect on December 31st. However, how quickly the minimum wage reaches $15.00 depends on where your company is located, the type of business you are in, and whether you are a small or a large employer. For example, the minimum wage in NYC will increase as follows:

New York City 10 or fewer employees 11 or more employees
December 31, 2016 $10.50 $11.00
December 31, 2017 $12.00 $13.00
December 31, 2018 $13.50 $15.00
December 31, 2019 $15.00

For Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties, the increments began December 31, 2016 and will conclude on December 31, 2021, with the following increases annually on December 31 no matter the size of the workforce: $10.00, $11.00, $12.00, $13.00, $14.00 and $15.00.  For the rest of New York State, the increments began December 31, 2016 and will conclude on December 31, 2020, with the following increases annually on December 31 no matter the size of the workforce: $9.70, $10.40, $11.10, $11.80, $12.50 and $15.00.

There is a special carve out for fast food companies.  By December 31, 2018, fast food companies in NYC will reach the $15.00 and by July 1, 2021 the rest of NY State’s fast food companies will reach $15.00.

The New York Department of Labor (NYDOL) plans to aggressively enforce the new law and has created a 200-investigator unit to ensure employers are appropriately increasing employee pay to at least the minimum wage. The newly formed State Minimum Wage Enforcement and Outreach Unit’s mission is to inform workers of the new minimum wage law and to ensure they are properly paid.  The State has also established a hotline for workers to report violations of the new minimum wage law. Hotline calls will initiate a NYDOL compliance audit.  If violations are found, a company is subject to a $3.00 fine for each hour the company failed to pay the required minimum wage to an employee plus back wages and liquidated damages.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss the new NYS minimum wage law and its effect on your business, please contact John Vreeland, Esq., Chair of the Wage & Hour Compliance Practice Group and a Partner in the Labor Law Practice Group at (973) 535-7118 or jvreeland@nullgenovaburns.com, or Nicole L. Leitner, Esq., a member of the Wage & Hour Compliance and Labor Law Practice Groups at (973) 387-7897 or nleitner@nullgenovaburns.com.

OSHA Whistleblower Retaliation Cases Continue to Rise

Based on the most recent statistics published by OSHA, the number of whistleblower retaliation cases being filed by employees has continued to rise.  In FY-2015, there were 3,288 cases filed, an increase of over 6% from the 3,098 cases filed in FY-2014.  This continued a long upward trend.  In fact, the number of whistleblower claims filed with OSHA has increased by over 70% since 2005, when only 1,934 cases were filed.  Along the same lines, more and more cases are being resolved in a way that is favorable to the complaining employee, either through a settlement or a finding that the whistleblower claim had merit.  In FY-2015, there were 835 cases that resulted in such a positive outcome for the complaining employee, which is more than double the 397 such cases in FY-2005.

Two recent OSHA Whistleblower cases underscore the need for Employers to be aware of these types of claims and to take precautionary measures.

  • On November 15th, OSHA announced that it had found that a Denver company, TruBlue, LLC, had unlawfully terminated an employee after the employee suggested to the company’s CEO that more safety research needed to be conducted on zip-line equipment. TruBlue develops and manufactures products used for climbing, zip-line, free-fall and other recreational activities.  OSHA has ordered TruBlue to pay the former employee $125,000 in back wages and to take other corrective actions.
  • On October 11th, OSHA announced the settlement of its lawsuit against Lear Corp. (dba Renosol Seating LLC. Lear manufactures foam seating for the automotive industry.  The lawsuit had been filed on March 4, 2016, following OSHA’s investigation had determined that employees who reported hazards from chemical exposure at the company’s Selma, AL plant suffered multiple forms of retaliation in violation of the OSH Act’s whistleblower provisions.  The settlement requires Lear to dismiss its lawsuit filed against one of the employees and to reinstate that employee to her former position.  In addition, the disciplinary records of the employees who had complained of the hazards will be purged from their personnel files, and those employees will be compensated for the work time lost due to the suspensions.  Lear also agreed to permit OSHA to provide annual training regarding protected rights under the OSH Act to all workers for a period of 3 years.

For assistance dealing with OSHA’s Whistleblower provisions or other OSHA-related issues please contact Doug E. Solomon, Esq., Chair of the Firm’s OSHA Practice Group and Partner in the Labor Law Practice Group.  Mr. Solomon can be reached at dsolomon@nullgenovaburns.com or (973) 535-7128.