Hawaii Employment Law Decisions April 3, 2016 to April 9, 2016 - Jeffrey S. Harris

District court erred by granting summary judgment against claim for retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.  Pipefitter timely sued within four year deadline after being informed of his termination.  Evidence employer transferred him to dead end project in retaliation for complaining outside statute of limitations was background to show a retaliatory motive for the termination.  Employee established prima facie retaliation case because termination occurred 36 days after his complaint and employer continued to employ other pipefitters thereafter.  Employer failed to offer legitimate non-retaliatory reason for termination by saying it laid off 300 other employees and relying on skill level and available work factors to explain employee's selection.  Employee offered sufficient evidence to create triable issue whether reasons were pretext for retaliation by pointing to close timing between his complaint and termination, supervisor's lack of sympathy for complaint, continued availability of work and his supervisor saying he needed protection from coworkers.  Bagley v. Bel-Aire Mechanical Inc., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 6457 (9th Cir. April 8, 2016).

District court erred by denying motion to compel arbitration.  Court properly concluded arbitration agreement was procedurally unconscionable, because employer offered it on a 'take it or leave it' basis.  District court erred by concluding that the agreement was substantively unconscionable.  The agreement permissibly carved out actions seeking provisional injunctive relief already secured by state law.  One sided initiation provision was narrowly designed to accommodate employer's obligation to pay all costs unique to arbitration.  Confidentiality provision did not disadvantage employee from resolving his own case; by preventing him from contacting other employees to assist, investigate and engage in discovery.  Discovery guidelines could be expanded or restricted by the arbitrator consistent with standards of due process and AAA rules.  Unilateral modification was subject to covenant of good faith and fair dealing implied in every contract.  Authorizing arbitrator to rule on summary judgment motions conferred employer no more advantage than in court.  Ali v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 6367 (9th Cir. April 7, 2016).

District court erred by granting summary judgment against claim for long term disability benefits.  Ambiguous terms in an insured plan covered by ERISA are interpreted in insured's favor.  Ambiguous plan language was fairly susceptible of interpretation allowing claim even though employee's loss of income occurred after onset of disability, and of covering injury under continuation of coverage provision.  Anderson v. Sun Life Assurance of Canada, Inc., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 6296 (9th Cir. April 6, 2016).

District court did not err by granting summary judgment against claim for long term disability benefits.  Severance agreement did not cover benefit claim, because employee made claim after she signed agreement.  Plan did not cover former employee, because she was not a participant after she signed the severance agreement and no longer worked for the employer.  Perez-Jones. v. Liberty Life Assurance Company of Boston, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 6233 (9th Cir. April 5, 2016).

District court erred by granting summary judgment employee was entitled dollar equivalent of 7,100 euros in canvas bonus compensation, because there was contrary evidence he was entitled to canvas bonus of 7,100 dollars, there was no fully integrated agreement and resolution of the ambiguity was for trial.  District court erred by denying employer's motion for new trial on issue whether employee was entitled to accelerator compensation, because contract provided he was not entitled to any accelerator and required all modifications to be in writing.  Monaghan v. Telecom Italia Sparkle of North America, Inc., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 6232 (9th Cir. April 5, 2016).

District court erred by granting motion to remand putative wage and hour class action to state court.  Employer's extrapolation from declarations employees filed to support certification motion reasonably showed issues whether amount in controversy would justify removal.  Branch v. PM Realty Group, L.P., 2916 U.S. App. LEXIS 6148 (9th Cir. April 4, 2016).

Note:  We analyze cases to learn rules the courts will follow or disappoint us if they don't. Rules that the courts follow allow us to behave and provide explanations they accept. But competent advocates may limit the rules to the facts of the case where they are discussed, or expand rules by showing that differences in other cases are irrelevant.