Category: Business & Professions Code Violations

Oh We’re Facebook Friends? Guess I Can’t Take Your Case

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Hamilton is experiencing a bit of real life drama over a not-so-real friendship. So how does this drama play? The characters: two rival RV dealerships. The setting: a court room in which a defamation law suit has been slapped on one RV dealership from another. The conflict: the judge (Hamilton) is Facebook friends with attorney Jeffrey Hammerschmidt, counsel for the prevailing dealership.

Judge Hamilton had ruled that Hammerschmidt’s client receive a $4.5 million award from the opposing side. The attorneys for that side are now calling into question Judge Hamilton’s ability to be impartial during the case. Hammerschmidt had removed himself from the case two weeks before the final judgement.

The attorneys for the opposing side and rival RV dealership are seeking the judge’s removal and a new trial in a court petition. They contend that Hamilton’s failure to disclose his social media relationship to Hammerschmidt could have skewed the outcome.

Hamilton has claimed that throughout litigation, he had disclosed his causal friendship with Hammerschmidt to counsel on several occasion, and neither side had seemed to have taken issue with it. In fact, if one looks at the timeline of events, it seems the rival RV legal team had plenty of time to reveal Hamilton’s pseudo friendship was a problem. The non-jury trial commenced in May, a preliminary ruling occurred in September, and a final damages calculation and judgment was made in January. Counsel’s petition to disqualify the judge came almost a month later on February 18th.

Where does it stand now? The case has been given to another judge but that judge may choose to preserve Hamilton’s judgment and sign off on it. The new judge may also order a new trial, which the losing RV dealership would love to play out.

Are Provisions of Collective Bargaining Agreements Lawful?

A lot of industries have a collective bargaining agreement in place, otherwise known as a CBA. For example, postal workers, nurses, firefighters, sheriffs’ associations, teachers, etc. are usually subject to a CBA. Sometimes covered employees may wonder whether the provisions they freely bargain for are lawful.

This issue was recently discussed in Vranish v. Exxon Mobil Corporation. In that case, plaintiffs were Exxon employees who were covered by a CBA. According to the CBA, plaintiffs bargained for overtime to be paid for hours worked over 40 hours in a workweek or over 12 hours in a workday. However, the CBA did not allow overtime for hours worked between 8 and 12 in a workday.

Because the CBA differed in the payment of overtime compensation for hours worked between 8 and 12 hours in a workday, the employees argued Exxon owed them overtime compensation. In deciding this issue, the Court ruled that because the CBA paid a higher rate of pay for overtime hours worked, then the provision complied with California law. In short, employees can freely bargain for the rate of overtime pay and also when overtime pay will begin, which is one of the advantages of a CBA.

If you have any questions or would like more information on this topic, please contact the attorneys at

Aegis Law Firm, PC.

Rumor Has It

whisper“The most powerful force in the universe is gossip.” –Dave Berry, Humorist

Workplace gossip has become a trickier topic in recent years. With the addition of social media, it seems like everybody is talking about everybody. So it seemed understandable that companies implement a “no gossip” policy in order to curb the negative environment that is often associated with gossip. However, the National Labor Relations Act may beg to differ.

As per a recent decision issued by an administration law judge, there are some instances were no gossip policies infringe on the employees’ abilities and rights to discuss issues that should be allowed in the workplace, like wages and working conditions.

In one case, the judge found Laurus Technical Institute liable for an unlawful no gossip policy because it inhibited workers from discussing work place issues without a supervisor present.  An employee attempted many times to try and discuss the poor work conditions with the supervisor, but the supervisor maintained that they did not want to “hear the drama.” The NLRA found the policy to be unlawful, as it quelled workers’ rights to discuss or communicate about work environment.

Policy and Procedure

Employers typically provide employees with employee handbooks or other written materials at the start of employment explaining company protocol.  These documents provide employees with useful         information regarding company policy and procedure.  It is imperative that employees review these written materials for several reasons.

First and foremost, there are companies that enforce employment policies that are illegal under California law.  This is the most common reason why class action lawsuits are filed nowadays.  If companies are     implementing unlawful policies and forcing employees to work under requirements that run afoul of California law, a class action can usually be maintained.

Second, if employees have questions about how they are being paid, when they are paid, whether they are entitled to overtime, vacation or reimbursements, for example, they should consult the company’s written policy handouts to see if any answers are provided there.  If after reviewing the company materials, the employee still has concerns, he or she should contact one of the attorneys here who can identify whether the company is violating California state or federal law.

Arbitration Agreements: A Rare but Recent Ruling of Unfairness

The landscape of class and collective actions is certainly changing.  Savvy employers are routinely requiring employees to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of employment or continued employment.  Generally speaking, if an employee signs an arbitration agreement, the employer will move to compel arbitration.  The trend that is emerging is for courts to grant an employer’s request to compel arbitration.

More recently, however, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to enforce an arbitration agreement finding it was inherently unfair.  In Chavarria v. Ralphs Grocery Company, an employee filed a wage and hour class action complaint against her employer.  Ralphs Grocery moved to compel arbitration of her individual claims only.  The district court denied the employer’s request finding the arbitration agreement was procedurally and substantively unconscionable under California law.  Notably, the arbitration agreement was included as part of Ralphs’ employment application.

The employer appealed the ruling arguing its arbitration agreement is not unconscionable.  However, the appellate court rejected this argument and affirmed its ruling denying Ralphs’ motion to compel.  The court determined that the arbitration clause was procedurally unconscionable because it was presented to employees on a “take it or leave it” basis as part of their job application.  In addition, the terms of arbitration were not provided to plaintiff until three weeks after she had signed the employment application.  The arbitration provision was also substantively unconscionable because it was a one-sided agreement allowing the employer to select the arbitrator but forcing the plaintiff to split the arbitration fees.  The court found the arbitration agreement “imposes great costs on the employee and precludes the employee from recovering those costs, making many claims impracticable.” Based on the facts of this case, the court found the arbitration agreement unconscionable.

If you are faced with an arbitration agreement you do not understand, please consult with one of our attorneys so you can be informed of your rights.