Monthly Archives: September 2015

September 23, 2015

HHS Proposes To Ban Discrimination in Health Programs

Dean_PBy Patricia Dean

Under a newly proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), consumers cannot be discriminated against or denied health services or health coverage because of their race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. The proposed rule is called Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities and is intended to provide equal access to health care services to individuals who historically have been vulnerable to discrimination, including discrimination based on gender identity. The new rule would also require language assistance for people with limited proficiency in the English language.

The proposed rule applies to any health program administered by HHS, that receives funding in any part from HHS, such as providers who treat Medicare patients, and to all plans offered through the Marketplaces. Read our full alert about this proposed rule here.

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September 15, 2015

Wyoming Discrimination Charges: A Look at the Numbers

Cave_BBy Brad Cave 

Mark Twain is credited with saying that “facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.” The Wyoming Labor Standards Division and the EEOC both keep statistics of the types of discrimination charges the agencies receive from Wyoming employees. When it comes to discrimination charges, the allegations are almost always pliable, but the statistics show us some interesting things for employers to ponder.

Wyoming Labor Standards Charges 

The Wyoming Fair Employment Practices Act makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of age, sex, race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, pregnancy or disability. The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services’ Labor Standards Division is the state agency that processes and investigates most complaints of employment discrimination filed by Wyoming workers. 

In 2014, the Wyoming Labor Standards Division received a total of 203 discrimination charges. It processed 182 of those charges and deferred the remaining 21 charges to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) because they were either untimely under state law or contained allegations of Equal Pay Act violations. The Division reports the breakdown of 2014 charges by allegation as follows: 


No. of Charges

Percentage of Total Charges













National Origin









You math wizzes in the audience have already exclaimed that the percentages exceed 100%, and the author must be numerically challenged. But, many charges include allegations of multiple types of discrimination. Indeed, charges often include an allegation of discrimination on the basis of protected class, and an allegation of retaliation in response to complaints about the discrimination. As you can see, Wyoming had more retaliation charges than any other type of charge. That mirrors the nationwide statistics where retaliation charges lead the list of most-filed charges. Not far behind are sex discrimination charges, with disability charges as the third most-frequently filed. 

EEOC Charge Statistics for Wyoming Charges 

The EEOC also maintains charge statistics for each type of discrimination that is alleged under the federal discrimination laws that it enforces, and annually publishes those statistics on a state-by-state basis.The EEOC count includes charges under Title VII, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion and national origin, as well as charges under other federal discrimination laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. 

The EEOC’s most recent data for fiscal year 2014 (Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014) shows that the federal discrimination charges for Wyoming received by that agency track the Labor Standards Division’s statistics, with retaliation charges leading the list. With a total of 69 discrimination charges filed with the EEOC by Wyoming workers in FY2014, here are the numbers by type:


No. of Charges

Percentage of Total Charges
















National Origin






Equal Pay Act






Wyoming employers received significantly more sex discrimination charges in 2014 than compared to 2013. The percentage of sex discrimination charges filed with the EEOC went up from 29.2% in FY 2013 to 42% in FY2014. Retaliation charges topped the list in both FY2013 and FY2014. The full list of EEOC charge receipts for Wyoming for the last five years may be viewed on the EEOC’s website at

Lessons Learned 

The charge statistics from the Wyoming Labor Standards Office and the EEOC reflect discrimination complaints filed by applicants and employees, not cases in which discrimination was determined to exist. Even so, the charge numbers for Wyoming suggest a number of action items for employers who want to avoid being included in next year’s statistics. 

First, retaliation gets a lot less attention from employers than it should, as these numbers show.  Whenever an employee complains about something at work that implicates a statutory right, like the right to be free from discrimination or harassment, or requests an accommodation or FMLA leave, the employee has engaged in protected activity. Most discrimination laws prohibit adverse actions because an employee has engaged in protected activity. And, it makes little difference whether the employee’s underlying complaint or request was valid – the employee is still protected against retaliation. 

Employers need a strong, stand-alone anti-retaliation policy, not just a couple of sentences at the end of the policy prohibiting discrimination. Employers also need to train supervisors and managers about the significance of employee complaints, and how the law protects employees. And careful consideration should be given to any adverse employment action for an employee who has opposed discrimination in the workplace, been interviewed as part of an investigation, or participated in a discrimination proceeding. 

Second, the prevalence of sex discrimination charges, which includes harassment charges, suggests that employers should review and update their discrimination and harassment policies, and continue periodic harassment prevention training. A strong harassment prevention policy, with understandable definitions and examples and multiple reporting options, is usually the best defense against a charge of sexual harassment. Of course, any observed or reported harassment must be investigated and any behavior which violates your policies must be stopped. 

Finally, adopt a policy that guides employees who wish to request an accommodation, and train supervisors how to recognize employee requests that could be interpreted as a request for accommodation. Once a request is made, follow a thorough interactive process to explore reasonable accommodations that do not place an undue burden on your organization but will allow the person to perform their job. Only when you are absolutely sure that no reasonable accommodation is available should you terminate a disabled employee. 

These action items will go a long way toward keeping you from becoming a statistic!

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September 11, 2015

Broader Joint-Employer Test Leads to Teamsters Win At Browning-Ferris

Gutierrez_SBy Steve Gutierrez 

In a previous article, we noted that the NLRB’s recent Browning-Ferris ruling was significant for those employers who use temporary or staffing agencies to provide workers. The Board set a new, broader test for joint-employer status that does not require the purported joint employer to exercise control over the workers in question. Instead, if the company has the right to exercise control over the terms and conditions of certain workers, it can be deemed a joint employer even if it never actually exercises that control. Now we can see the significance of the impact.  

Based upon the joint-employer determination, the impounded ballots of the workers of Leadpoint Business Services, the entity that staffed Browning-Ferris’s California recycling plant, were counted as part of the bargaining unit, which provided a 73-17 margin in favor of representation by the Teamsters. Depending on the outcome of any objections filed by the company, the NLRB will certify the union as the collective bargaining representative for the recycling center’s workers. This allows the unit to collectively bargain over the terms and conditions of employment at that facility. 

Bargaining Over Terms Of Contingent Workers 

Think about this: Browning-Ferris does not “employ” the workers placed at its facility by staffing agency, Leadpoint. It doesn’t hire, pay, provide benefits to, or fire them. Yet, it will be required to sit down at the bargaining table across from the Teamsters to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment of those contingent workers over which it retains authority to control. That is the result of being found a joint employer of the bargaining-unit workers. 

Extension of Joint-Employer Test to Other Contexts? 

Joint-employer status is a critical determination for companies that use contingent workers as well as for franchises. And, it can apply not only in the union context, but also in other employment law contexts, such as for pay purposes under the Fair Labor Standards Act or for discrimination under Title VII. Even though the standards and policy behind a joint-employer relationship under other employment laws may differ from those behind the National Labor Relations Act, this new, broader test will likely be asserted in these other contexts in order to bring in franchisors and companies that use contingent workers as potentially liable parties. 

Appeal Over Joint-Employer Test Coming? 

Because of the high stakes involved in this ruling, it would not be surprising if Browning-Ferris (which is part of Republic Services, Inc.) appealed the NLRB’s ruling, taking its case to the applicable court of appeals. Another option is that after the union is certified, Browning-Ferris could refuse to bargain with the Teamsters which would lead to more proceedings before the Board, and ultimately, the courts. Given that the Board has already ruled in favor of the union on this matter, the company will likely have a better chance seeking review by circuit judges. Either way, this matter is probably not over. 

Stay tuned and we will let you know what develops further. What we do know, is the NLRB will not sit idle and we should expect it to use its power to push the envelope in favor of the nation’s unions.

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September 8, 2015

Colorado’s Parental Leave For Academic Activities Ended September 1

Hobbs-Wright_EBy Emily Hobbs-Wright 

The school year is upon us and working parents will once again find themselves juggling job duties and school functions. The juggling may be a bit more difficult for some parents this year, as those that work for larger Colorado employers are no longer guaranteed time off to attend their kid’s school activities. As of September 1st, Colorado employers with 50 or more employees are no longer required by law to provide parents time off to attend academic activities for their school children. The Parental Involvement in K-12 Education Act (Academic Leave Act) automatically repealed on that date, relieving covered employers of providing that leave.

 Colorado Senate Committee Shot Down Extension of Academic Leave Act 

In effect since 2009, the Academic Leave Act required employers with 50 or more employees to provide its full-time employees up to 6 hours in any one-month period, and up to 18 hours per academic year, of unpaid leave from work to attend a child's academic activities. C.R.S. §8-13.3-101 et seq. Part-time workers were entitled to pro-rated leave based on the amount of hours worked. Covered academic activities included attending parent-teacher conferences, and meetings related to special education needs, truancy, dropout prevention and disciplinary concerns. 

The 2009 law specified that it would repeal on September 1, 2015. This past legislative session, Representatives John Buckner and Rhonda Fields introduced a bill that sought to extend the Academic Leave Act indefinitely. House Bill 1221 also attempted to expand the law to: 

  • include pre-school activities, rather than just K-12;
  • add more covered activities to include attending meetings with a school counselor and attending academic achievement ceremonies; and
  • require school districts and charter schools to post on their websites and include in their district/school-wide communications information to parents and the community at large about the leave requirement.

The bill passed the House and was sent to the Senate. The Senate committee to which it was assigned voted 3-2 to kill the bill. By doing so, the bill never got to a vote in the full Senate and died. The result is that the Academic Leave Act was not extended and the original repeal date of September 1, 2015 remains. 

Action Items 

With the repeal of the Academic Leave Act and no federal law mandating this type of leave, Colorado employers with more than 50 employees no longer need to offer parents of school-age children leave to attend covered school functions. You may, of course, choose to voluntarily continue to offer parents time off to attend their child’s school functions. If you do, decide whether you will continue to offer it under the same terms as was mandated by law or if you wish to set your own parameters about eligibility, amount of leave, notice requirements, whether documentation of the activity is required, etc. Then, update your policies and let employees know about any changes. 

If you choose not to offer parents time off to attend their child’s academic activities, update your policies and procedures to delete that type of leave. Revise your employee handbook and any intranet policies to reflect that academic leave is no longer available. Inform supervisors and managers so that they know how to handle any requests or questions. Importantly, communicate to employees that the academic leave provision was repealed and let them know about any other time off policies, if any, that may apply to allow them to attend school functions. 

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September 2, 2015

Utah Supreme Court: Misappropriation of Trade Secrets Presumes Irreparable Harm


Benard_BrBy Bryan Benard 

A Utah employer has dodged a $229,482 fee award and can continue its lawsuit against a former employee for misappropriation of company trade secrets and violation of a non-disclosure agreement. The Utah Supreme Court recently revived InnoSys, Inc.’s claims against a former engineer, Amanda Mercer, holding that the company established a prima facie case of trade secret misappropriation that gave rise to a rebuttable presumption of irreparable harm. The divided Court reversed the grant of Mercer’s summary judgment motion, allowing the company to take its claims to trial. InnoSys, Inc. v. Mercer, 2015 UT 80. 

Employee Copied Sensitive Company Information to Thumb Drive and Personal Email Account 

During her employment as an engineer for InnoSys, Mercer forwarded confidential company emails to her personal Gmail account. On the day that she was terminated for poor performance, Mercer copied the company’s confidential business plan onto a thumb drive. 

Following her termination, Mercer filed a claim for unemployment benefits with the Utah Department of Workforce Services. After her claim was denied, she appealed, submitting a number of protected documents, including the confidential business plan and protected emails, into the administrative record. At that point, InnoSys began asking for details as to when and how she gained access to the confidential materials. Mercer then deleted all of the emails and InnoSys files. InnoSys filed a complaint in court, alleging that Mercer had breached her non-disclosure agreement (NDA), misappropriated company trade secrets in violation of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA) and breached her fiduciary duty to the company. 

Employee Changed Her Story But Still Won Judgment From Lower Court 

Throughout discovery, Mercer changed her story regarding the use of her Gmail account and the timing of her acquisition of the company’s confidential business plan. Despite first claiming that she had IT’s permission to transfer company emails to her personal Gmail account, Mercer later admitted that she did not have anyone’s permission to do so. As to the business plan, Mercer initially testified in her deposition that she had copied the business plan onto a thumb drive because she had been asked to review the plan the day before her termination and was unable to access it via the company’s secure remote network. She later admitted that she copied it on the day of her termination and did not have it in her possession the day before she was fired. 

Despite Mercer’s inconsistent statements regarding how she obtained the company’s confidential information, the district court ruled in Mercer’s favor on all of InnoSys’s claims. It did so after concluding that “there was no objectively reasonable basis to believe that Mercer had harmed InnoSys or was threatening to do so.” In addition to dismissing all of InnoSys’s claims against Mercer, the lower court also granted Mercer’s motion for sanctions against InnoSys and to collect attorneys’ fees as the prevailing party. The court ordered InnoSys to pay Mercer $229,481.58. InnoSys appealed. 

Evidence of Harm 

At the crux of the appeal was whether InnoSys needed to provide sufficient evidence of harm or threatened harm as a result of Mercer’s misappropriation and/or disclosure of company trade secrets to avoid summary judgment and proceed to trial. The lower court had found that InnoSys had not presented sufficient evidence that it had been harmed by Mercer’s admitted taking and disclosure of confidential company information and therefore, could not support its claims. 

The Utah Supreme Court disagreed, holding that where a company establishes a prima facie case of misappropriation of trade secrets under the UTSA, it is entitled to a presumption of irreparable harm. The company was not required to produce evidence of financial damages as it also sought an injunction to prevent Mercer from further disclosing or using its confidential information. 

The presumption of irreparable harm, as well as affirmative evidence of threatened harm, was also enough to keep alive the company’s claim for breach of the NDA. By reversing the grant of summary judgment in Mercer’s favor, the Court overturned the award of sanctions and attorneys’ fees against InnoSys. 

Lessons Learned 

First, put procedures in place to retain all signed employee agreements and documents. InnoSys initially could not find the NDA that Mercer had signed when her employment began. The lower court was hard on the company for that failure, and did not want to accept a copy of its standard NDA as evidence of what Mercer signed. The company eventually found the NDA signed by Mercer but the turmoil caused by its absence highlights the importance of strict record keeping for important employee agreements. Be certain to keep your signed agreements and acknowledgments in a secure location. You never know when you might need to enforce them. 

Second, when employment ends for any reason, take steps to ensure that the departing employee returns all company information and property without retaining any copies. It is unclear from the opinion whether InnoSys asked Mercer for the return of any company materials when she was fired but it appears that it learned she had confidential company information after she submitted the company documents as part of her unemployment appeal. Don’t wait until after there has been a disclosure or further misappropriation but instead, proactively cut off access to company materials and seek the return of all company property. And remind departing employees of their continued obligations under confidentiality policies and NDAs. 

Finally, enforce your NDAs to ensure continued protection of your company trade secrets and other proprietary information. Allowing a former employee to retain or disclose confidential information will undermine your future chances of arguing that such information is indeed a trade secret. You must continually guard that information or it will lose its protected status.

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