Employment Law Decisions: Decided

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Walmart has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by thousands of employees claiming the retail behemoth denied health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses of employees. While the lawsuit was filed by one former employee, Jacqueline A. Cote, the settlement will apply to thousands of employees who weren't able to obtain health insurance coverage for their same-sex spouses from 2011 to 2013.

Under the terms of the settlement, which still must be approved by the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, Walmart admits no wrongdoing, and contends it is paying plaintiffs "in the interest of resolving this dispute between the parties without the significant expense, delay and inconvenience of further litigation."

A Federal judge in Texas is making a big impact from coast to coast on businesses that have salaried employees making less than $45K per year. The overtime pay rules that were slated to go into effect on December 1st have been put on an indefinite hold as the court figures out whether the new rules are legal. The indefinite hold is the result of an emergency preliminary injunction that was ordered at the request of 21 states that have joined together to block the new rules from taking effect.

The challengers to the new rules assert that the Department of Labor overstepped their authority in revising the overtime rules. The new rules would have effectively made all employees who are currently salaried and make less than about $45K per year eligible for overtime pay. Currently, the overtime pay rule applies only if a person's salary is less than approximately $23K per year or $455 per week.

In what is being hailed as a historic settlement for workers at franchised McDonald's restaurants, the fast food behemoth agreed to settle labor violation claims asserted by franchise employees. The settlement is being reported as a first of its kind against the burger maker, as it holds McDonald's, as the franchisor, responsible for the acts of its franchisees.

While McDonald's corporate adamantly asserts that they are not the employers of the franchisee's employees, there is a pending National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) action to decide this exact issue.

DreamWorks is one of several large animation studios sued in one of the largest class action lawsuits ever brought against animation studios by employees. DreamWorks has offered to settle their portion of liability in the case by putting $50 million into the settlement's common fund. DreamWorks, along with Disney, Pixar, LucasFilm, Sony, Blue Sky, and others were sued for allegedly agreeing to wage-fix and not poach each other's animators and employees.

The settlement still needs to be approved. However, prior settlements from Sony and Blue Sky for much smaller amounts have already been approved, so it seems likely that DreamWorks' offer will be as well. Unlike most settlements, class action settlements must be approved by a judge in order to protect the interests of the class members. Shockingly, the lawsuit seems to be a result of Steve Jobs' time as the CEO of Pixar.

An important ruling out of Chicago's Federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals last week analogized cat and dog ownership to the Uber versus taxi regulation debate. The case involved the taxi industry's challenge to the city of Chicago's decision to regulate ride sharing services, like Uber and Lyft, differently than taxi cab companies.

The circuit court affirmed the decision of the lower court, agreeing that the city is free to regulate the two industries differently.

On Tuesday, CNN reported that 21st Century Fox (Fox News) will pay Gretchen Carlson $20,000,000 in settlement for the sexual harassment and retaliation she suffered at the hands of Roger Ailes. While the large dollar amount Fox paid may shock many, legal professionals are more shocked about the public apology 21st Century Fox made Tuesday morning. Also, CNN reported other victims of Ailes agreed to settle their claims.

It is exceedingly rare that a single plaintiff sexual harassment suit gets an eight figure settlement, and even rarer to see a defendant issue a public apology to the plaintiff. While Ailes denies the allegations, an award that large speaks volumes, and the apology amplifies that a hundred fold.

Uber might have just dodged the biggest bullet aimed at its disruptive, ride-sharing business model. In a massive settlement announced last night, Uber will pay up to $100 million to drivers who sued the company in an effort to be considered employees. In return, drivers agreed to remain independent contractors.

While this may seem like a distinction in name only, the legal status of Uber's workforce has an enormous numerical impact on Uber's bottom line.

Uber claims its background checks on potential drivers are the most comprehensive in the industry. Turns out that's not exactly true. And it's gonna cost ridesharing company $10 million.

This week Uber settled a lawsuit filed by San Francisco and Los Angeles prosecutors over the quality of its criminal screening for drivers, and may have to pay more if it doesn't institute new background check procedures. So what was Uber doing, and what does it need to do now?

Supreme Court Split on Public Union Fee Case

The Supreme Court this week was split on a challenge by California's non-unionized public school teachers who oppose paying union fees for negotiation representation, saying it is a violation of their free speech rights. An evenly divided court means the lower appellate court's decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association will stand.

The ruling comes just after Justice Antonin Scalia's death and there was an expectation, after oral arguments last year, that the conservative justice would side with those who oppose union contributions. The outcome is considered a big win for organized labor, according to The Washington Post. But the case may be heard again when Justice Scalia is replaced ... however long that takes.

Bikram Choudhury, founder of his eponymous hot yoga empire, has been ordered to pay a former employee $7.4 million for retaliation, wrongful termination, and sexual harassment. Minakshi "Miki" Jafa-Bodden sued Choudhury, claiming she was fired for refusing to cover up an investigation into another woman's rape allegation against the guru.

The once ubiquitous Bikram yoga brand has been rocked by controversy in recent years. Numerous profiles have highlighted claims of harassment and abuse. And Jafa-Bodden's was just one of six lawsuits against Choudhury, each accusing him of sexual assault and sexual harassment.