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CALIFORNIA ACTS TO OUTLAW PRE-EMPLOYMENT MANDATORY AGREEMENTS TO ARBITRATE LABOR CODE CLAIMS

“In late August, the California Senate and Assembly passed AB 465, which, if signed by Governor Jerry Brown, will make pre-employment mandatory agreements to arbitrate Labor Code violations against California public policy starting January 1, 2016. AB 465 would create a new statute that prohibits employers from requiring a candidate to “waive any legal right, penalty, remedy, forum, or procedure for a violation of [the Labor Code], as a condition of employment, including the right to file and pursue a civil action or complaint with, or otherwise notify, the Labor Commissioner… or any court or other governmental entity.” The section explicitly covers “an agreement to accept private arbitration.” The bill makes it unlawful to threaten, or retaliate or discriminate against, a person who refuses such a waiver. An employee may recover reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in enforcing rights under the new statute.

Even if the bill becomes law, certain forms of pre-employment arbitration agreements would remain enforceable, even if they cover Labor Code violations. For instance, those agreements that are knowing and truly voluntary—i.e., not made as a condition of employment—would be valid, but the employer would have the burden of proving these facts if challenged. Further, the new statute would not apply to persons registered with a self-regulatory organization under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 or employees represented by counsel in negotiating the agreement.

AB 465 is principally backed by organized labor, with the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO sponsoring the bill. A lobbyist for the federation cited an uptick in the instances of low-wage workers being unable to recover unpaid wages before the California Labor Commissioner due to an arbitration agreement they did not understand or know they signed. The bill is opposed by many groups, including the Civil Justice Association of California and the California Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has identified AB 465 as one of the 2015 Job Killers, citing the increased burden on the judicial system and noting likely preemption by the Federal Arbitration Act.

If AB 465 becomes law, the long-term legal impact is unclear. Not only will it prohibit pre-employment, mandatory agreements to arbitrate Labor Code violations, but it may also reach class action waivers, which the California Supreme Court recently upheld in the employment context. The substantive reach of the prohibition is also unclear, expressly covering a “legal right, penalty, forum, or procedure” for a Labor Code violation, but remaining silent on other employment-related statutes such as the Fair Employment and Housing Act (codified in the Government Code). Moreover, the statute will almost certainly be challenged under the Federal Arbitration Act, which reflects a liberal policy favoring arbitration enforceability and pre-empts state rules that disfavor arbitration. The ambiguity in breadth and pre-emption uncertainty leave employers in an unenviable position if the bill becomes law.

AB 465 (and the other employment-related bills described below) remain on Governor Brown’s desk for consideration, and we will continue to monitor and report on developments.”

 

Originally posted by JD Supra. Full article at http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/california-legislature-acts-to-outlaw-73929/

BMW SETTLES EEOC CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECK SUIT FOR 1.6 MILLION

“BMW Manufacturing Co. L.L.C. will pay $1.6 million to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit that charged it was liable for race discrimination in connection with its former criminal background checks policy, which allegedly disproportionately affected African-Americans, the agency said Tuesday.

The 2013 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Spartanburg, North Carolina, alleged that when Spartanburg-based BMW switched contractors handling the company’s logistics at its production facility there in 2008, it required the new contractor to perform a criminal background screen on all existing logistics employees who reapplied to continue working in their positions at BMW, the EEOC said in a statement.

At that time, BMW’s criminal conviction records guidelines excluded from employment all persons with convictions in certain categories of crime, regardless of how long ago the employee had been convicted or whether the conviction was for a misdemeanor or felony, the EEOC said.

According to the complaint, after the criminal background checks were performed, BMW learned that about 100 incumbent logistics workers at the facility, 80% of whom were black, were disqualified from employment. The EEOC lawsuit sought relief for 56 black employees who were discharged.

Under terms of the settlement, in addition to paying $1.6 million to resolve the litigation, BMW will offer employment opportunities to the discharged workers in the suit as well as up to 90 African-American applicants whom BMW’s contractor refused to hire based on BMW’s previous conviction records guidelines, among other provisions.

“EEOC has been clear that while a company may choose to use criminal history as a screening device in employment, Title VII requires that when a criminal background screen results in the disproportionate exclusion of African-Americans from job opportunities, the employer must evaluate whether the policy is job-related and consistent with a business necessity,” said David Lopez, the EEOC’s general counsel, in the statement.

BMW said in its statement that the settlement “affirms BMW’s right to use criminal background checks in hiring the workforce at the BMW plant in South Carolina. The use of criminal background

checks is to ensure the safety and well-being of all who work at the BMW plant site.

“BMW has maintained throughout the proceedings that it did not violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and does not discriminate by race in its hiring as evidenced by its large and highly diverse workforce.

The BMW plant in South Carolina is in a United States Foreign Trade Zone under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. BMW is a member of the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) and therefore has a business necessity to require criminal background checks not only for its employees but also the employees of vendors, temporary agencies, and contractors who have access to the plant site.” “

Originally posted by BusinessInsurance.com full article at http://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20150908/NEWS06/150909821