Hawaii Employment Law Decisions from March 30 to April 11 – Jeffrey S. Harris

A District Court erroneously granted summary judgment against an employee's disability discrimination claim under California law, because the employee created an issue of fact about whether his disability caused his termination by submitting his own declaration stating that his supervisor told him "if you're going to stick with being sick, it's not helping your situation.  It is what it is.  You're not getting paid, and you're not going to be accommodated" and to not be concerned about his pay issue because another supervisor said he was "not going to be here anymore" and said "I'm done with that guy."  Such self-serving statements may prevent summary judgment if they rest on personal knowledge.  The District Court erroneously granted summary judgment against an employee's failure to accommodate and engage in the interactive process claim, because even though the supervisor was willing to accommodate the employee arriving late, that irritated his supervisor's supervisor, who stated he would not accommodate the employee in the future.  Nigro v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 5837 (9th Cir. April 10, 2015).

A District Court erroneously granted judgment as a matter of law against a woman firefighter's hostile work environment claims based on the statute of limitations, because her finding a sign on her truck denigrating to women within the statute of limitations was sufficiently related to her finding sign on the women's restroom denigrating to women four months outside the statute of limitations, and the supervisor and other firefighters who allowed the offensive sign to remain on the truck also knew of the offensive bathroom sign.  Maliniak v. City of Tucson, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 5757 (9th Cir. April 9, 2015).

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.  Barboza v. Calif. Ass'n of Prof'l Firefighters, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 5552 (9th Cir. April 7, 2015).

A beneficiary provided no evidence that plan trustees failed to investigate their legal and accounting experts' qualifications, provide the experts complete and accurate information and make certain that reliance on the experts was reasonably justified in violation of their fiduciary duties, when the trustees did not file an IRS Form 990 based on the advice of their legal counsel and accountant.  The District Court erroneously failed to decide whether the trustees failed to take those same steps in violation of their fiduciary duty when they relied on the advice of their actuary to structure the plan's reserves in a way that did not maintain solvency.  Barboza v. Calif. Ass'n of Prof'l Firefighters, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 5583 (9th Cir. April 7, 2015).

A former employee did not timely file a charge with the EEOC as a precondition of bringing a discrimination lawsuit.  There was not an exceptional circumstance, such as institutionalization or adjudged mental incompetence under which equitable tolling was appropriate.  Krushwitz v. Univ. of Calif., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 5581 (9th Cir. April 7, 2015).

The Department of Education was entitled to summary judgment against a teacher's disparate treatment gender discrimination claim, because she did not show that she suffered an adverse action (i.e. investigation of her complaints against students was appropriate and complete, investigation of the students' complaints against her found that she engaged in inappropriate behavior and neither investigation materially affected her terms, conditions or privileges of employment) or that there were any similarly situated individuals outside her protected classification.  The DOE was entitled to summary judgment against the teacher's sexually hostile work environment claim because the handful of incidents involving offensive language and insubordination by students spanning several years was the sort of conduct teachers were frequently subjected to and not sufficiently severe or pervasive.  The DOE was entitled to summary judgment against the teacher's retaliation claim because she did not show that she suffered an adverse action.  Campbell v. State of Haw, Dept. of Educ., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46992 (D. Hawaii April 10, 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.