Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk
Oral argument was heard on October 8, 2014.  This case will resolve a circuit split on whether time spent by warehouse workers going through security is paid time.  The Fair Labor Standards Act, as amended by the Portal to Portal Act, does not require an employer to compensate for activities that are preliminary or postliminary to their principle work.  29 U.S.C. §254(a)(2).  The district court dismissed plaintiffs’ claims, but the Ninth Circuit ruled against Integrity Solutions, a contractor to Amazon.com, holding that going through security was an “integral and indispensable” part of the shift and not a non-compensable postliminary activity.  The Second and Eleventh Circuits previously held that time in security screening is not compensable time.  Interestingly, the U.S. Department of Labor filed an amicus brief on the side of Integrity Staffing.

Continue Reading Key Labor And Employment Cases Currently Pending Before the U.S. Supreme Court

In Euchner-USA, Inc. v. Hartford Cas. Ins. Co., No. 13-2021-cv, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 10797 (2d Cir. June 10, 2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that an insurer must defend its insured in a case alleging ERISA violations because the facts alleged (as opposed to the embedded legal conclusions) created a reasonable possibility of coverage under the general liability policy’s employee benefits coverage part. Central to the court’s decision was its finding that Euchner’s alleged misclassification of the plaintiff as an independent contractor rather than an employee arose from the Euchner benefit plan’s administration, thereby bringing the allegedly improper conduct within the scope of the policy’s employee benefits coverage.

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In a landmark ruling, United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court struck down a major provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”).  Since its enactment in 1996, DOMA defined “marriage” to mean “only a union between one man and one woman as a husband and wife” and “spouse” to refer “only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife,” which, by their terms, excluded marriages of same-sex couples.  These definitions were applicable to all federal statutes, regulations, rulings and orders, including the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). 

Continue Reading Impact On Employee Benefit Plans Of The Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act Ruling

EMPLOYMENT DECISIONS

Vance v. Ball State University: Narrow Definition of Supervisor in Harassment Suits
In Vance, the Supreme Court announced a narrow standard for determining which employees constitute “supervisors” for purposes of establishing vicarious liability under Title VII. In a 5-4 decision, the Court decided that a supervisor is a person authorized to take “tangible employment actions,” such as hiring, firing, promoting, demoting or reassigning employees to significantly different responsibilities. The majority opinion rejected the EEOC’s long-advanced definition that a supervisor is a person who could either make tangible employment actions or direct an employee’s daily work activities. In making this ruling, Justice Alito called the EEOC’s definition a “study in ambiguity.”

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In an opinion issued on October 18, 2012, the Federal District Court of Massachusetts provided clarity and relief for private equity firms on the significant, but murky, question of whether a private equity fund can be liable for the ERISA pension obligations (including multiemployer withdrawal liability and defined benefit pension plan underfunding) of its portfolio companies.

Continue Reading Clarification On Private Equity Fund Exposure For Portfolio Company ERISA Pension Liability

The Department of Labor (DOL) takes audits of employee plans very seriously.  Over the past few years, the Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) has increased its civil and criminal audits of plans and, in 2011, collected $1.39 billion in fines in the process.  EBSA has recently added several hundred more auditors to its ranks to increase audits.

Continue Reading Department Of Labor Audit? Best Practices To Prepare And Protect Your Benefit Plan

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently held—consistent with other courts that have considered the issue—that “insurance agents are independent contractors and not employees for purposes of various federal employment statutes,” including ERISA, the ADEA, and Title VII.  In Murray v. Principal Financial Group, Inc., case number 09-16664, the panel unanimously affirmed a district court order granting summary judgment in favor of a purported employer because it found that the plaintiff was an independent contractor, not an employee entitled to the protections of Title VII.  The panel’s opinion clarifies the appropriate test for distinguishing between employees and independent contractors in the context of Title VII, and concludes that despite apparent precedent for multiple tests, there is, in fact, only one.

Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Adopts Single Test For Employee/Independent Contractor Determinations