Monday, March 02, 2020

Scalia v. Employer Solutions Staffing Corp. (9th Cir. - March 2, 2020)

Not all that much for our first work day in March 2020; one published opinion from the Ninth Circuit, one from the California Supreme Court, and nothing from the Court of Appeal.

But the Ninth Circuit opinion is at least worthy of brief mention.  To wit:

(1) The plaintiff is Scalia.  Eugene Scalia, the Secretary of Labor.  And, yes, he is the son of Antonin Scalia.  His first appearance as a plaintiff in a published Ninth Circuit opinion, I believe.

(2)  You couldn't have an easier laydown victory as a plaintiff, I think.  There's a staffing company that employs various people to work at other companies.  They place a ton of employees at one such company, Sync Staffing, which in turn sends them to TBG Logistics, where they unloaded deliveries for a grocery store.  TBG records their hours and sends those hours to Sync, which then sends them to the defendant.  The relevant spreadsheet shows that many employees worked over 40 hours, which means they're entitled to overtime (i.e., time and half), which the defendant would normally pay, and to which the employees are legally entitled.  So far, so good.  Happens every day.

But then a specific employee of defendant gets a call from Sync that says, essentially, "Don't pay them overtime; just pay them their regular rate."  Which, obviously, is totally illegal.  But the relevant employee of the defendant nonetheless does exactly that.  And, in the process, has to override a ton of computerized warnings that say (essentially) "What you're doing is illegal."  Not good.

The employees who are stiffed on their overtime pay complain, the Secretary of Labor sues on their behalf, and the defendant is held liable.  Totally justly.  Defendant has to pay the overtime plus a statutory penalty in the same amount.  Again, IMHO, totally fine.  Defendant says its conduct was not willful because it was just a low-level employee who did this, but the Ninth Circuit disagrees; again, rightfully so.  If that's who you hire to do the pay, and she does it wrong (willfully), that's on you, Mr. Employer.  Hire someone better next time.  One who maybe does not blindfully follow instructions to stiff people on their statutorily required overtime pay.

(3)  Judge Graber's published opinion repeatedly mentions the full name of the employee of the defendant who made this error.  Respectfully, I probably wouldn't do that.  The employee has a fairly unusual name; I'll call her Michaela H., but you'll see her name around 20 times in the opinion, and I think there's only one person in the universe with that particular name (here's her LinkedIn page).  She definitely made a mistake, and it's a big deal, and (as I said before) her employer should indeed be liable for that.  But the individual employee wasn't sued, wasn't in the caption, and probably does not need this published opinion to be the first thing that pops up whenever you type in her name on Google.  (Though, given the opinion, I might suggest that Michaela delete the line on her LinkedIn page that says "My main goal with any job I am performing is to do my due diligence to make sure everything is done in an accurate and timely manner."). 

I'm admittedly influenced by the fact that not only is her name unique, but the employee also appears to be very young (graduated college in 2012) and, but for the error here, somewhat sympathetic.  (Representative line from her LinkedIn page:  "Every other Sunday I volunteer for a couple of hours in the one-and-a-half year old room [at the Living Word Christian Center].  I set up the room, assist the classroom coach in caring for the children, and sanitize the toys after all the kids have been picked up by the parents.")  Anyone who wipes down the toys to get rid of kid slobber on a biweekly volunteer basis can't be all that bad.  No need to have a published opinion that she'll be hard-pressed to professionally live down.  Especially since what this young person did was apparently to follow the improper instructions of someone who talked to her over the phone.  A serious mistake, to be sure, but a mistake regardless.

So maybe be nice and abbreviate that unusual last name?