Oakland McDonald’s Workers Sue after More than a Dozen COVID-19 Cases

Represented by Altshuler Berzon LLP, four McDonald’s workers and one worker’s minor child filed a lawsuit today in Alameda County Superior Court seeking injunctive and other relief against the owners and management of an Oakland McDonald’s restaurant, alleging that inadequate health and safety precautions have led to a major COVID-19 outbreak among workers, their families, and the community.

As outlined in the Complaint, the lawsuit alleges that the management and ownership of the restaurant, located at 4514 Telegraph Avenue, discouraged workers and managers who were sick with COVID-19 symptoms from taking sick leave and otherwise failed to ensure safe working conditions, including by not requiring adequate cleaning, PPE, or social distancing.  The lawsuit also alleges that after some workers tested positive, the restaurant failed to inform co-workers promptly of their exposure or of the need to self-quarantine.  At least 11 workers from the restaurant, plus 6 members of their families, have contracted COVID-19 since mid-May.  And an additional 7 workers at a Berkeley McDonald’s restaurant, whose workforce overlaps with the Oakland location, have now also contracted COVID-19.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants’ grossly inadequate response to this Coronavirus outbreak constitutes a public nuisance.  Plaintiffs also bring claims under the Unfair Competition Law, Oakland’s Emergency Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, and Oakland’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) that would require the owners and managers of the 4514 Telegraph Avenue restaurant to take measures necessary to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 before the restaurant (which is presently closed) is allowed to reopen.

Arbitrator Rules for Union in Shift Differential Dispute

Employees of a defense contractor at Beale Air Force Base who work the afternoon and midnight shifts will receive shift differential premium pay for all hours, including their paid time off, as a result of an arbitration decision issued May 22, 2020.  Labor arbitrator John Caraway ruled for workers employed by InDyne Corp. who are represented by IBEW Local 340, finding that the union and the employer agreed in negotiations for their last collective bargaining agreement to extend shift differential pay to paid time off as well as hours worked.  

Altshuler Berzon LLP represented Local 340 in the arbitration.

Altshuler Berzon LLP Wins Major Procedural Victories in Climate Change Cases

Judgment for Oil and Gas Company Defendants Reversed: No Basis for Federal Jurisdiction

In two sets of consolidated cases decided May 26, 2020, a Ninth Circuit panel held that California cities and counties represented by Altshuler Berzon LLP and Sher Edling LLP may continue to prosecute claims against several of the world’s largest privately owned oil and gas companies, including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell, for harms to public infrastructure resulting from climate-change-related global warming.

Press accounts may be found here and here.

In the first set of cases, brought by the City of Oakland and the City and County of San Francisco (and argued by Altshuler Berzon LLP partner Michael Rubin), the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment against five oil and gas company defendants. Those cases had been removed from state court on seven jurisdictional grounds. The district court denied remand after concluding that although the cases were brought under California’s representative public nuisance law (Cal. Civil Code §3480, et seq.), they actually “arose under” federal common law for purposes of federal subject matter jurisdiction. The district court thus asserted subject matter jurisdiction, but it later dismissed the cases on the ground that the Clean Air Act “displaced” the applicable federal common law, leaving Oakland and San Francisco without any cause of action they could pursue in federal court.

The unanimous Ninth Circuit panel (Ikuta, J., with Christen and Lee, JJ.) reversed, holding that the district court erred in finding “arising under” jurisdiction because the state law tort claims pleaded by Oakland and San Francisco did not trigger application of the federal common law governing trans-boundary air pollution and because the Clean Air Act did not “completely preempt” state public nuisance law. The panel did not reach any of the other issues in the case but remanded the case to the district court to determine whether any remaining grounds for subject matter jurisdiction precluded remand.

The second set of cases, brought by the County of San Mateo and five other public entities against more than two dozen oil and gas company defendants, raised similar California state law tort claims. In those cases, the Ninth Circuit panel affirmed a different district court’s order remanding the cases to the state courts in which they had been filed. Construing the federal removal statute, 28 U.S.C. §1447(d), as prohibiting appellate review of any remand order except to the extent federal-officer jurisdiction or Civil Rights Act jurisdiction was an asserted basis for removal, the Ninth Circuit panel held that because the oil and gas company defendants failed to establish federal-officer jurisdiction (and did not allege Civil Rights Act jurisdiction), the cases must be remanded to state court without regard to any of the non-reviewable jurisdiction grounds alleged by those defendants.

Several Altshuler Berzon LLP attorneys worked on these cases, including B.J. Chisholm, Corinne Johnson, and Michael Rubin.

The cases are City of Oakland et al. v. BP PLC et al., __ F.3d __, 2020 WL 2703701 ( 9th Cir. May 26, 2020), and County of San Mateo et al. v. Chevron Corp. et al., __ F.3d __, 2020 WL 2703701 (9th Cir. May 26, 2020).

Court Approves Settlement for Delta’s California Ground Workers

On Thursday May 21, 2020, Judge Stephen Wilson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted final approval to the $ 3.5 million settlement in the Fan v Delta Airlines, Inc. wage and hour class action. The case arose out of Delta’s calculation of overtime for its non-exempt ground employees ( e.g., ticket counter personnel, gate personnel, and baggage handlers) in California since July 1, 2017. The suit, filed in March 2019, alleged that Delta should have included the following in the calculation of overtime: (a) profit sharing payments from a plan that did not appear to meet the requirements for an exemption; (b) imputed income from travel benefits; and (c) premium pay for missed meal and rest breaks. The plaintiffs also alleged that Delta’s calculation of their non-discretionary bonus should have been based on the time period when the bonus was earned, not on the later period when it was paid, and that Delta’s calculation of their premium pay improperly included vacation and holidays in the denominator.

The claims administrator will send checks to class members on June 11, 2020.

Court Prevents Trump Administration from Eliminating Important Fish Protections During May 2020

On May 11, 2020, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California granted in part a preliminary injunction requested by fishing and environmental groups represented by Altshuler Berzon LLP in PCFFA v. Ross, E.D. Cal. Case No. 1:20-cv-00431-DAD-EPG.  

The Court ruled that the Trump administration’s new water project operations in California’s Delta, which include the elimination of an important protection for fish species, would cause irreparable harm to threatened Central Valley steelhead.  Specifically, the Court analyzed a measure called the San Joaquin River Inflow to Export ratio, which had been in place since 2009 but was eliminated by the Trump administration in 2019, and which had limited pumping and water exports out of the Delta in April and May, a time when juvenile salmon and steelhead migrate through the Delta and out to the Pacific Ocean.  Based on expert testimony and record evidence presented by plaintiffs, the Court determined that operating without this protective measure for the remainder of May 2020 would cause irreparable harm to the threatened steelhead population.

Having found that plaintiffs had established irreparable harm and serious questions on the merits of their claims, the Court ordered the Bureau of Reclamation to comply with the previously required Inflow to Export ratio protective measure for the remainder of May.

District Court Rejects Former Union Member’s Attempt to Rely on Janus to Claw Back Membership Dues

On May 8, 2020, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Molina v. SEIU Local 668 granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all remaining claims in the lawsuit, concluding that the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, 138 S.Ct. 2448 (2018), does not apply to the relationship between a public employee union and its members.

The plaintiff in Molina contended that Janus entitled him to a refund of the union membership dues that he paid to SEIU Local 668 before resigning from the union, and that the union and the plaintiff’s former employer, defendant Lehigh County, had violated his due process rights by failing to establish adequate procedures for objecting to union membership.  The district court, however, held that the First Amendment principles set forth in Janus apply to individuals who are not union members, not voluntary union members like the plaintiff, and recognized that the plaintiff’s union membership agreement constituted a valid and enforceable contract between the union and the plaintiff.  The district court separately held that the plaintiff’s payment of union membership dues via payroll deduction did not involve the “state action” necessary to establish a federal civil rights claim, and that the plaintiff’s due process claim lacked merit.  In a prior July 2019 order, the district court had concluded that the plaintiff lacked standing to pursue his claims for prospective relief, and that his claim for a refund of money paid to the union after his resignation was moot.

Altshuler Berzon LLP represented union defendant SEIU Local 668 in the lawsuit.

Court Certifies Class of Thousands of Oracle Women Employees in Equal Pay Act Case: Jewett, et al. v. Oracle America, Inc.

On April 29, 2020, the San Mateo County Superior Court certified a class of over 3,000 women employees of Oracle who contend that they were systematically underpaid by Oracle as compared to men in violation of California’s Equal Pay Act.

The court rejected Oracle’s arguments that the work done by women and men in the same detailed job codes was not similar enough to warrant proceeding as a class, and concluded that a class action was justified by the evidence of Oracle’s common practices and was superior to requiring the affected women to bring their own individual claims.  The court also rejected Oracle’s attempts to exclude the testimony of the experts presented on behalf of the class, including a labor economist who analyzed Oracle’s detailed pay records and concluded that Oracle underpays women as compared to men in the same job codes by an average of $13,000 per year, and who determined that the likelihood of such a disparity occurring by chance is less than one in a billion.  The certified class encompasses women who were employed by Oracle in California in its Information Technology, Product Development, and Support Job Functions since 2013.

The Court’s class certification order entitles the women to join together in pursuing their claims to seek enjoin Oracle’s wrongful pay practices, and to recover the tens of millions of dollars in pay disparities imposed on the class.  Altshuler Berzon LLP is serving as class counsel along with the firm of Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe, LLP. 

Copies of the court’s orders granting class certification, and denying Oracle’s motions to exclude the class’s experts, are attached here, here, and here.

Second Circuit Rejects Post-Janus Attack on Public Sector Unions

On April 15, 2020, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Wholean v. CSEA SEIU Local 2001, et al. affirmed the dismissal of claims against a union representing Connecticut state workers in which the plaintiffs sought to claw back fair-share fees the union had lawfully charged them before the Supreme Court reversed long-standing precedent and held that such fees could no longer be charged in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31.  Altshuler Berzon LLP represented Local 2001, with partner Scott Kronland arguing the case in the Second Circuit.

Joining the unanimous judicial consensus on the issue, the court recognized that the union defendant’s good-faith reliance on state law barred the plaintiffs’ attempts to extract refunds of fair-share fees that they had paid under then-valid state law and binding Supreme Court precedent.  The Second Circuit joined the Seventh Circuit, Ninth Circuit, Sixth Circuit, and numerous district courts across the country that have all rejected materially indistinguishable claims brought against public sector unions in the wake of Janus.  Altshuler Berzon LLP has successfully defended the union defendants in many of those cases.  The Second Circuit’s opinion can be found here.

McDonald’s Workers File Sex Harassment Class Action Lawsuit

On April 10, 2020 Altshuler Berzon LLP, together with co-counsel and with the financial support of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund™, filed a civil rights and employment discrimination class action lawsuit against McDonald’s Corporation on behalf of women workers who work at corporate owned and operated McDonald’s restaurants in Florida.   The lawsuit accuses McDonald’s of failing to protect its employees from sexual harassment and from retaliation for reporting sexual harassment.  McDonald’s workers have for years been telling their stories of routine, severe sexual harassment and abuse, and this lawsuit alleges that McDonald’s has failed to take adequate action to address this endemic problem and protect its workers.  In the wake of the #MeToo movement, women, including two women workers in Florida, are standing up and demanding that McDonald’s take responsibility and end the toxic and hostile culture of harassment that they assert pervades its restaurants, including by providing adequate training and a safe and confidential reporting mechanism.  This lawsuit builds on Altshuler Berzon LLP’s prior work representing dozens of McDonald’s workers who filed sexual harassment charges with the EEOC, and a prospective class of women who worked at a McDonald’s restaurant in Michigan.

Altshuler Berzon LLP Updates on Covid-19-Related Developments

Altshuler Berzon LLP has been providing regular updates to clients regarding federal legislative responses to the Covid-19 public health crisis, with a focus on how the legislation affects unions and union members.  Recent updates are available here:

  • Information about Families First Coronavirus Act (March 23, 2020)
  • Information about then-proposed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act (March 26, 2020)
  • Updated Guidance and FAQs re Families First Coronavirus Act (March 27, 2020)
  • Options for Unions and Employers to Recover Payroll Costs under Federal Covid-19 Legislation (March 31, 2020)
  • Supplemental FAQs re Federal Covid-19 Legislation (March 31, 2020)

Please contact us with any questions about federal, state, or local legislation or regarding any other issues related to ongoing events.

Any new updates regarding the government’s legislative response to the health crisis will appear on this page.