Court Approves Consent Decree Resolving Hawaii Hospital Workers’ Suit

The United States District Court for the District of Hawaii approved and entered as its own order and final judgment a Consent Decree in United Public Workers v. Ige, a case involving the contract rights of public hospital workers impacted by legislation authorizing privatization of Maui County’s public healthcare facilities.

After signing into law Hawaii Act 103 (2015), the Governor of Hawaii entered into an agreement to transfer Maui County’s three healthcare facilities to Kaiser, which would terminate the public employment of the hospital workers, effective June 30, 2016. But United Public Workers, which represents about 500 workers at the hospitals, has collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with the State that are effective through June 30, 2017. The Union filed suit to challenge the timing of the privatization as a violation of the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution and moved to enjoin the privatization until expiration of its CBAs. After the district court dismissed the case on the pleadings, the Union sought emergency relief from the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit ordered expedited merits briefing and set the case for a prompt oral argument. After oral argument, the Ninth Circuit enjoined the privatization transaction pending a decision on the merits. Although the State sought reconsideration, the Ninth Circuit did not vacate its injunction.

The Union and the Governor reached a settlement fully resolving the Union’s claims before the Ninth Circuit issued its ruling on the merits. The Governor agreed to entry of a consent decree providing that, notwithstanding the transfer of the Maui hospitals to Kaiser (which is now scheduled to occur on November 6), the bargaining unit employees will remain public employees covered by the CBAs until the contracts expire, after which Kaiser must offer them at least six months of employment. The Consent Decree ensures that all bargaining unit members will continue to enjoy the full benefits and protections of their CBAs until June 30, 2017, and the additional year of public employment is equally crucial, particularly for those who otherwise would not vest in their pensions or become eligible for higher retirement benefits.

The district court vacated its original judgment and entered the Consent Decree as the final judgment of the Court. At the parties’ joint request, the Ninth Circuit dismissed the appeal as moot. Altshuler Berzon LLP, together with Honolulu-based Takahashi & Covert, represented the Union.

Federal Court Dismisses Chamber of Commerce Lawsuit Against Seattle

The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington today dismissed a lawsuit filed by the United States Chamber of Commerce against the City of Seattle challenging a new Seattle ordinance that permits independent contractors who drive for certain transportation companies within Seattle, including companies such as Uber and Lyft, to select an exclusive driver representative that will engage in collective negotiations regarding the terms and conditions of their contractual relationship with those transportation companies. The Chamber of Commerce, suing on behalf of its member companies including Uber, asserted that the ordinance is preempted by federal antitrust law and the National Labor Relations Act and violates federal and state antitrust laws and the Washington Public Records Act. The District Court concluded that the Chamber lacked standing to pursue its challenge because it could not show that any of its individual members was suffering present harm from the ordinance or faced a substantial risk of future injury from the ordinance.

Altshuler Berzon LLP along with the Seattle City Attorney’s office represented the City of Seattle in the District Court and served as counsel to the City in the drafting of the ordinance and its implementing regulations.

Sixth Circuit Overturns Longstanding Cap on Civil Rights Attorneys’ Fees Awards

The Sixth Circuit today overturned a rule that for three decades had capped the number of compensable hours incurred in public interest attorneys’ fees litigation to three percent of the hours incurred in litigating the underlying case. The rule had operated to encourage government defendants to engage in protracted litigation to challenge attorneys’ fees awards and resulted in inadequate compensation to attorneys for important civil rights work.

At the urging of plaintiffs’ counsel, who also successfully defended the bulk of the federal district court’s attorneys’ fees award in the underlying Ohio voting rights cases, the Sixth Circuit held that a 1990 Supreme Court decision not previously considered by the 6th Circuit in its several cases reaffirming the 3% rule justified reconsideration of the rule, and that the legislative history of the federal civil rights statutes as well as policy considerations supported its abandonment.

Altshuler Berzon LLP along with Ohio counsel represented the plaintiffs in SEIU Local 1 v. Husted and The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless v. Husted.

$15 Minimum Wage for Fast Food Workers Upheld

New York Appellate Division upholds wage order increasing statewide minimum wage to $15 for chain restaurant fast-food workers

The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department today upheld a September 2015 wage order by the New York Commissioner of Labor that increases the minimum hourly wages to be paid to fast food workers employed at chains of 30 or more stores to $15 per hour by 2018 in New York City and 2021 in the rest of the state. New York state law grants the Commissioner the authority to establish minimum wages for specific industries and occupations, but the National Restaurant Association challenged the wage order on a number of state and federal law grounds, including that the Commissioner unlawfully imposed the increase only on fast food chains of a certain size. The New York Industrial Board of Appeals rejected that challenge in December 2015, and the Appellate Division affirmed that rejection. In doing so, the Appellate Division noted that the wage board had concluded, “correctly, in [its] view – that fast food chains have recently experienced significant increases in profit without an accompanying rise in wages for their workers, implying that those profits were ‘“wrung from the necessities of their employees”’ by undervaluing their labor.”

Altshuler Berzon LLP, along with New York firm Gladstein, Reif & Meginniss, LLP, represented intervening fast food workers who are covered by, and benefit from, the minimum wage increase.

Workers Win Right to Suitable Seating at their Workstations

California Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit Construe Century-Old Seating Law in Favor of Workers

Construing California’s “suitable seating” law for the first time since its enactment in 1913, the California Supreme Court ruled in April 2016 that California employers must provide workstation seating to all employees when the “nature of their work reasonably permits the use of seats.” Based on the Supreme Court’s worker-friendly construction, the Ninth Circuit applied California’s seating law to three pending class actions, ruling on June 8, 2016 that a district court had properly certified a statewide class of Walmart checkout cashiers under that standard, but that two other district courts had erroneously denied certification under that same law, one case involving CVS checkout cashiers and the other involving JPMorgan Chase bank tellers under that same law. Altshuler Berzon LLP and its co-counsel represent the workers in all three cases, and partner Michael Rubin argued the cases in both the Ninth Circuit and California Supreme Court.

Challenge to Seattle’s $15 Minimum Wage Dismissed

May 23, 2016 — After losses in the federal district court, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court, the International Franchise Association (“IFA”) dismissed its challenge to the Seattle minimum wage ordinance, the first law in the country to adopt hourly wage increases that will reach $15 and spurred many other localities and states […]

Victory in Vergara! Statutory Rights Preserved for 277,000 California Public School Teachers

California Court of Appeal unanimously reverses sweeping injunction that eliminated job security protections for public school teachers

The California Court of Appeal today issued its landmark decision in Vergara et al. v. California et al., Case No. B258589, reversing a Los Angeles Superior Court decision invalidating five statutes governing the employment of California public school teachers. The five statutes establish a two-year probationary period for newly-hired teachers; require non-probationary teachers facing dismissal to be provided with basic due process protections; and require school districts to implement economic layoffs in part on the basis of teacher seniority. The Vergara plaintiffs sued the State of California, several state officials, and three school districts, alleging that the five statutes violated the equal protection provisions of the California Constitution by causing students to be assigned to “grossly ineffective teachers” in violation of their fundamental right to educational equality. The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, represented by Altshuler Berzon LLP, intervened to help the State defend the statutes’ constitutionality.

After an eight-week trial, the trial court enjoined all future enforcement of all five statutes. The Court of Appeal unanimously reversed and ordered judgment to be entered in favor of the State and the teacher union intervenors, and against the plaintiffs. The Court of Appeal held that plaintiffs’ equal protection theories were fundamentally flawed and that the challenged statutes do not violate equal protection because they do not require different treatment of any identifiable groups of students (no classification); they do not cause any school district to hire, fire, or assign any particular teacher to any particular student (no causation); they are appropriately and constitutionally implemented by school district officials throughout the state (no facial invalidity); and they do not result in disproportionate assignment of less effective students to low-income or minority students (no discrimination). As a result of this decision, California’s 277,000 public school teachers will continue to enjoy the basic job protections guaranteed by the California Legislature, to the benefit of students throughout the state.

Altshuler Berzon LLP represented the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers in the Superior Court and the Court of Appeal.