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Hawaii Employment Law Decisions from January 1, 2015 to January 31, 2015 – Jeffrey S. Harris

Retiree health insurance benefits do not vest for life, majority of Supreme Court holds, when collective bargaining agreement provides that retirees "would receive a full company contribution towards the cost of health care benefits", that the benefits would be provided for the duration of the agreement and that the agreement would be subject to renegotiation in three years; at least where there was no evidence that employers and unions in the industry customarily vest retiree benefits.  The benefits could vest under another possible interpretation of the agreement, concurring minority of Supreme Court states, based on retirees' having vested lifetime right to pension benefits, and the agreement saying that retirees will receive health benefits if they are receiving a monthly pension and that surviving spouses will receive the retirees benefits until death or remarriage, as well as industry practices. M & G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett, 135 S.Ct. 926, 190 L. Ed. 2d 809, 2015 U.S. LEXIS 759 (Jan. 26, 2015).

District court improperly granted summary judgment awarding divorced wife deceased employee's retirement benefits, because written forms re-designating the beneficiary which the employee did not sign were not binding documents governing the plan, and logs showing that employee called to change the beneficiary from the divorced wife to his son from a former marriage could support awarding the son the benefits. Becker v. Williams, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 1554 (9TH Cir. Jan. 28, 2015).

A plaintiff asserting a claim to overtime payments must allege the he or she worked more than forty hours in a given workweek without being compensated for the hours worked in excess of forty during that week.  Landers v. Quality Communications, Inc., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 1290 (9th Cir. Jan. 26, 2015).

District court properly required disability insurance company to pay employee benefit plan attorneys fees, when the plan asserted that the insurance company wrongfully denied employee benefits under policy and the plan's efforts were more than minimally responsible for settlement in employee's favor. Micha and Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada v. Group Disability Benefits Plan for Gynecologic Oncology Assoc. Partners, LLC, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 646 (9th Cir. Jan. 15, 2015).

District court improperly remanded putative class action claiming employer misclassified truck drivers as independent contractors and committed other labor law violations, because the employer relied on a reasonable chain of logic and presented sufficient evidence to show that the amount in controversy exceeded $5 million. Lacross v. Knight Transp., 775 F.3d 1200 (9th Cir. Jan. 8, 2015).

Court of Appeals remanded putative class action claiming employer committed labor violations to district court with instructions to allow both sides to submit evidence related to whether the amount in controversy exceeded $5 million and that if any controverted amount position included assumptions then the chain of reasoning and the assumptions needed some reasonable ground underlying them.  Ibarra v. Mannheim Investments, Inc., 775 F.3d 1193 (9th Cir. Jan. 8, 2015).

District court did not abuse its discretion by excluding evidence of allegedly discriminatory decisions by a prior director that were not the proximate cause of the current director's decisions not to promote and to discharge the professor for not having active grant support and the current director treated other professors who did not have active grant support similarly.  Gaur v. City of Hope, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 54 (9th Cir. Jan. 5, 2015).

Former employees claim that she relied on decedent's promise that she would receive a $2,500 salary for the rest of her life or until her voluntary retirement stated a claim for breach of contract against companies that were also allegedly her employer.  Du Preez v.Banis, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11129 (D. Haw. Jan. 30, 2015).

Employee's allegations that he "suffered a work related injury which developed into a disability" and that "the disability relates to hip injuries and bilateral hip replacements" did not sufficiently plead a "disability" and therefore failed to state disparate treatment or failure to accommodate claims under the ADA.  Workers compensation exclusivity barred employee's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.  Employee's allegation that his supervisor wrote him up for having complained about the company's refusal to accommodate his disability sufficiently stated an ADA retaliation claim.  Lambdin v. Marriott Resorts Hospitality Corp., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6631 (D. Haw. Jan. 21, 2015).

Court properly instructed jury deciding former employee's co-worker harassment claim that "[a]n employer which investigates and reasonably concludes that no hostile work environment occurred is not liable for a hostile work environment, even if that conclusion was mistaken.  However an investigation that is rigged to reach a predetermined conclusion or otherwise conducted in bad faith will not satisfy the employer's remedial obligation." Court properly instructed jury deciding former employee's retaliation claim that the employee must show: "the employer subjected the [employee] to an adverse employment action, that is, the employer required her to sign a [] statement that she was not sexually harassed, when the employer knew the statement was untrue", because requiring an employee to sign a statement that the employer believes is true is not an adverse employment action.  Even if the instruction was wrong, the jury did not reach the question because it did not find the employee engaged in any protected activity. Court properly admitted evidence of investigation by agency and state court proceedings regarding former employee's harassment claim with limiting instruction that jury could consider that evidence for the purpose of deciding whether the employer acted reasonably but not for the purpose of deciding whether sexual harassment occurred.  Marugame v. Johnson, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2004 (D. Haw. Jan. 8, 2015).

Court granted summary judgment against former employee's racially hostile work environment claim, because evidence showed that the defendant engaged on conduct typical of any employer, such as conducting performance reviews, asking the employee to attend meetings on time and issuing formal admonishments and reprimands for conduct that was not satisfactory, and former employee did not link any of that conduct to former employee's race.  Court granted summary judgment against former employee's retaliation claim, because she did not offer any evidence linking her filing an EEO compliant with management admonishing and reprimanding her and denying her request for accommodation and management had legitimate reasons for these actions.. Court granted summary judgment against former employee's disability discrimination claim because her physician's letter and allegations did not show that she had an impairment that substantially limited her ability to work or needed to be accommodated or that a disability motivated the employers adverse actions against her. Court granted summary judgment against employee's failure to accommodate claim because she did not show that she was disabled and because she did not adequately participate in the interactive process to evaluate her request for a reasonable accommodation by providing additional information requested in order to evaluate her request. Spillane v. Shinseki, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 650 (D. Haw. Jan. 6, 2015).

Employee was not entitled to unemployment benefits because he left employment without good cause by quitting to accept another job offer that was subject to a background check when he failed. McElroy v. Pacific Lightnet, Inc., 2015 Haw. App. LEXIS 50 (Jan. 30, 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.