Hawaii Employment Law Decisions from August 23, 2015 to August 29, 2015 - Jeffrey S. Harris

Persons who held legal title to the assets of an employee benefit plan with the intent to deal with these assets solely for the benefit of the members of the plan were "trustees" and their relationship with the members of the plan was a "trust" covered by ERISA, even though the documents that formed that relationship did not use the terms "trustee" or "trust." A plan administrator hired by trustees violated Section 406 of ERISA by paying its own fees from plan assets; the exemption in Section 408 allowing fiduciaries to receive compensation from plan did not excuse self dealing. A totally unfunded welfare plan is not required to distribute a summary annual report. Barboza v. Calif. Ass'n of Prof'l Firefighters, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 15548 (9th August 28, 2015).

District Court properly granted summary judgment against work injured employee's claim for short term disability benefits, because a reasonable person would understand that the employer promised to pay only workers' compensation benefits, the employee handbook indicated that outside guidelines would determine an employee's eligibility for short term benefits and directed employees to the human resources department, which also told the employee that short term disability benefits were not available for work related injuries and no document or person told the employee she could. District Court improperly failed to consider employee's ability to pay attorneys fees when it awarded them against her. Virtusio v. Fin. Indus. Regulatory Auth., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 15015 (9th Aug. 25, 2015).

District Court granted employer summary judgment against former employee's claim under the Hawaii Whistleblower Protection Act, because employer offered uncontested evidence that it would have terminated employee even in the absence of her protected activity, based largely on her poor performance before she engaged in any protected activity and also on her failure to dispute many of those problems.  District court denied employer's motion for summary judgment against employee's Fair Labor Standards Act claim, because there were material issues of fact as to whether the employer knew or had reason to know that about employee was working extra on blogs and she had complained that should be paid for work related matters such as travel, waiting at the post office and computer/technical delays.  Tagupa v. VIPdesk, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114454 (D. Haw. Aug. 28, 2015).

District Court adopted magistrate's recommendation denying prevailing employer's motion for attorneys' fees, based on the finding that the former employee's claims were not frivolous, unreasonable or without foundation.  Mahoe v. Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114070 (D. Haw. Aug 26. 2015).

District Court denied employers motion for summary judgment against former employee's claim under the Hawaii Whistleblowers' Protection Act, because there were issues of fact as to whether he suffered adverse action because he purportedly reported an illegal trade to his employer.  Being transferred to service a less prestigious boss, for potentially less pay at a different desk created an issue as to whether the employee suffered adverse action.  The timing of this move created an issue as to causation and whether the reason the employer gave for the move was pretextual.  District Court granted summary judgment against the employee's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, because workers compensation provided the exclusive remedy for the employee's work related injuries.  District court denied summary judgment against the employee's disability discrimination claim, because there were issues of act as to whether the employer engaged in the required interactive progress to determine whether it could make any reasonable accommodation that would have allowed the employee to return to work.  The employer did not engage in the interactive process, when 22 months after the employee began his medical leave, his attorney requested a "reasonable accommodation" of more unpaid medical leave beyond the 24 months available under the company's policy and the employee said he could have returned to work if protected from his harassers and those who retaliated against him.   Chan v. Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111423 (D. Haw. Aug. 24, 2015).

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 that 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.