The Critical Case Recap: Week of June 30, 2014

The Critical Case Recap: Week of June 30, 2014

Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers (California Supreme Court)

What It’s About:  Newspaper home delivery carriers claiming they had been misclassified as independent contractors, brought a class action for overtime wages, unreimbursed business expenses, and other employment benefits.  Affirming a Court of Appeal decision, the California Supreme Court found that the trial court had erred in denying class certification, holding that “[b]ecause the trial court principally rejected certification based not on differences in Antelope Valley‘s right to exercise control, but on variations in how that right was exercised, its decision cannot stand.”  What matters under the common law test, the Court noted, is not how much control the employer actually exercises but how much control the employer has the right to exercise.  Because that “right of control” issue could be decided by looking at common proof like the written independent contractor agreements, the trial court had erred in denying class certification.

Why It’s Important:  The Court emphasized the primacy of the “right of control” factor in the multi-factor test of employment status.  In addition to setting forth important guidance regarding the use of the common law test for determining whether workers are employees or independent contractors (while explicitly leaving open the relevance of other potential tests, including that set forth in IWC Wage Order No. 1-2001, 2(D)-(F)), the Supreme Court’s framing of the trial court’s error may suggest applicability to other wage and hour cases.  Attorneys bringing misclassification cases, as well as other wage and hour cases, may wish to heed the Court’s advice to avoid “focus[ing] too much on the substantive issue[s] . . .  instead of whether that question could be decided using common proof.”

Anderson v. City and County of San Francisco (Ninth Circuit)

What It’s About:  The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the County, finding that the County was unable to bear its burden of demonstrating that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether it was entitled to a “bona fide occupational qualification” defense of its policy prohibiting male deputies from supervising female inmates in the housing units of SFSD’s jails.

Why It’s Important:  This decision provides valuable insight into the permissible uses of a BFOQ defense.  For example, the Court found that deference to a policy decision is “not automatic” and must be “the result of a reasoned decision-making process, based on available information and experience,” further providing guidance about what investigatory steps might qualify as a “reasoned decision-making process.”   The Ninth Circuit also opined on when sex may be a legitimate proxy for a reasonably necessary job qualification, finding that the ability to use even an imperfect screening mechanism might preclude a BFOQ defense.  More broadly applicable still is the Court’s observation that even a policy seeking to advance laudable goals is not sufficient to permit sex discrimination.