Author: Brittany E. Grierson

OSHA Issues Long-Awaited COVID Guidance and Emergency Temporary Standard

On June 10, 2021, the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finally issued its long-awaited update to its COVID-19 workplace safety guidance, setting forth best practices for all employers as employees return to the physical workplace after a lengthy absence. The same day, OSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS)—pursuant to the DOL’s rule-making authority—establishing mandatory procedures for “covered healthcare employers.” We summarize the obligations and recommendations imposed on healthcare and non-healthcare employers below.

Negligent Deletion of Meeting Notes Does Not Warrant Adverse Inference Sanctions

Recently, in the District Court for the Southern District of California, Magistrate Judge Karen Crawford declined to impose adverse inference sanctions against the defendants, despite the defendants’ negligent destruction of relevant evidence. Instead, the court found that the plaintiffs were not severely prejudiced by the defendants’ spoliation of relevant handwritten notes from meetings pertaining to the subject matter of the litigation. Therefore, the court opted for the “least burdensome sanction” and recommended that the defendants be precluded from offering testimony or other evidence about the discussions at the meetings, during which the handwritten notes at issue were taken, in support of their defenses during the trial. In Al Otro Lado, Inc., et al. v. Chad v. Wolf, Acting Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et al., the plaintiffs claimed that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (the “Department”) implemented a policy, known as the “Turnback Policy,” at the U.S.-Mexico border that discouraged individuals from seeking asylum in the U.S.. The plaintiffs requested that adverse-inference sanctions be imposed against the Department due to the admitted destruction of handwritten notes by two senior officials within the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) made during the Department’s daily operation meetings where the Turnback Policy would be discussed. Essentially, the plaintiffs sought an adverse inference finding (to be adopted...

New Jersey Guidance Establishes That Employers Can Require That Employees Receive COVID-19 Vaccine to Enter Workplace

With COVID-19 vaccinations becoming more accessible to individuals, the question on many employers’ minds is whether the employer can now require its employees to be vaccinated in order to return to the workplace. On March 19, 2021, the New Jersey Department of Health (DOH) addressed this question and published guidance stating that an employer can require that its employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine to return to the workplace. The DOH guidance, however, does include exceptions to mandatory vaccination policies implemented by employers as follows: if an employee cannot get the COVID-19 vaccine because of a disability that precludes him or her from being vaccinated; where an employee’s doctor has advised the employee not to get the vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding; or where an employee has a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance that precludes him or her from receiving the vaccine, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation from its mandatory vaccine policy – unless doing so would impose an undue burden on its operations. In the event an employee seeks to be exempt from a mandatory vaccination policy for medical reasons (described above), his or her employer may request medical documentation from the employee to confirm the employee (i) has a disability precluding him or her from vaccination, or (ii) has been...

Opening Pandora’s Box: A Preliminary Showing of Spoliation May Result in the Compelled Production of a Litigation Hold Notice

In Radiation Oncology Servs. of Cent. N.Y., P.C. v. Our Lady of Lourdes Mem’l Hosp., Inc., the New York Supreme Court reminded litigants that while litigation holds are generally protected by the attorney-client privilege or under the attorney work product doctrine, a preliminary showing of spoliation of evidence may compel the production of an offending party’s litigation hold documentation. In this litigation involving clinical privileges related to an exclusive radiation oncology services agreement, the plaintiffs identified seven specific instances of spoliation by the defendants. These included certain emails that the defendants produced in hard copy form, but for which they were unable to produce the corresponding electronic version and the related metadata – which the court seemed to globally refer to as the “electronically stored information,” or ESI, relating to the emails – because they had been deleted. The plaintiffs successfully argued that the failure to produce the ESI constituted spoliation because it deprived them of the ability to understand whether there were follow-up discussions with other individuals about the content of the communications, including those who may have been copied on the communications or follow-up emails. The court granted the plaintiffs’ motion to compel the production of the defendants’ litigation hold notice because it found that the permanent deletion of the ESI “potentially deprived...

Court Dismisses Complaint and Sanctions Plaintiff for Fabricating ESI

The Southern District of New York recently issued significant sanctions in a case with a background story fit for Hollywood. In Carrington v. Graden, plaintiff brought claims against entertainment giants Paramount Pictures and Viacom, Inc. for sexual misconduct, unfair competition, fraud, misappropriation, federal antitrust violations, and New York State and City labor violations. Plaintiff attached various exhibits to his complaint that contained emails purportedly between defendants and non-parties. After it was discovered, through an arduous cat-and-mouse game between defendants and plaintiff, that plaintiff completely fabricated the emails that were presented in support of his claim, the court dismissed plaintiff’s claims with prejudice against all defendants and granted defendants’ application for attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in connection with their work regarding the authenticity of the emails. At the onset of the litigation, defendants sent plaintiff’s counsel a preservation notice for electronically stored information (ESI) and documents, after noting that the documents plaintiff referenced and attached as exhibits to his complaint “appeared highly questionable and inaccurate.” Significantly, the emails were not produced as native-format email communications, rather, they were all produced as email forwards from plaintiff to his attorney. Defendants, as part of a pre-motion submission to the court in connection with their anticipated motion to dismiss, submitted affidavits from the individuals who were represented as...

The Need for Counsel to Maintain Active Involvement in Discovery: California District Court Sanctions Attorney for Failing to Make “Reasonable Inquiry” as Required by Fed. Rule 26(g)

On June 1, 2020, the District Court for the Northern District of California in Optronic Techs., Inc. v. Ningbo Sunny Elec. Co., issued a strong reminder to counsel: act in accordance with the obligation to manage and oversee the collection of discovery, or risk running afoul of the attorney certification obligations of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26(g). In this case, defendant’s attorney signed a certification pursuant to Rule 26(g) as to the completeness of defendant’s responses to discovery requests despite being unaware of what defendant actually did to search for responsive documents. The District Court found the lack of involvement by defendant’s attorney to be worthy of sanctions based on the specific circumstances of the case. Plaintiff sought sanctions concerning defendant’s responses to its post-judgement document requests in a litigation in which defendant had previously been found to have deliberately withheld documents, contradicting certain representations made to the court. Plaintiff did not seek sanctions pursuant to Rule 37 and/or the court’s inherent authority. Plaintiff claimed, among other issues, that defendant’s production was not complete and that defendant’s counsel “had not taken a sufficiently active role” in supervising the collection and production of documents. In response, defendant admitted that its counsel did not personally collect the documents, and instead provided “guidance” on what should be...

EEOC Updates “COVID-19 Technical Assistance Questions and Answers” with a Focus on Return-to-Work Guidance

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is continuing to offer COVID-19 related guidance to support employers and employees in navigating the workplace during the pandemic. As we discussed in a previous blog post, the EEOC updated its Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act guidance (first published in 2009) to specifically address the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the Pandemic Preparedness guidance, the EEOC has issued What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws, technical assistance guidance that contains numerous COVID-19 related questions and answers. Similar to the pandemic preparedness guidance, the technical assistance addresses employer’s obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), specifically as they relate to accommodation requests and medical exams due to COVID-19, as well as other COVID-19 related workplace issues. The EEOC has continued to regularly update the technical assistance since its initial publication in March 2020, with the most recent updates in June 2020. The EEOC has explained that EEO laws like the ADA and Rehabilitation Act continue to apply during the COVID-19 pandemic, but do not interfere with or prevent employers from following guidelines and suggestions made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or state and local public health authorities concerning preventative...

New York Issues Guidance on Use of Sick Leave and Paid Family Leave for COVID-19

As discussed previously, New York recently passed a COVID-19 sick leave law that provides job protection and paid leave for employees who are subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19 (“COVID-19 quarantine leave” or “quarantine leave”). New York State has since published guidance (“Guidance”) and FAQs relating to the COVID-19 sick leave law (“FAQs”), which discuss, among other things, how employees may be compensated under the new law, through a combination of benefits that include COVID-19 sick leave, New York’s Paid Family Leave (PFL), and short-term disability (DBL) benefits while in quarantine. Under the COVID-19 sick leave law, as clarified by the Guidance and FAQs: An employee who works for a small employer – one with ten or fewer employees as of January 1, 2020 (with a net income of less than $1 million in the prior tax year) – and is subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation issued by the state of New York, department of health, local board of health, or any other government entity authorized to issue such an order due to COVID-19 (“quarantine order”) is entitled to unpaid sick leave until the termination of the quarantine order. The employee may also be eligible to receive compensation for the duration...

New Jersey Supreme Court Allows Disability Discrimination Claim Brought by Medical Marijuana User Employee to Move Forward

Last month, New Jersey’s high court ruled in Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc. that an employee’s disability discrimination claim brought under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), arising from being terminated for his use of medical marijuana, was not barred by the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (CUMMA), and that he had sufficiently stated his claim to survive a motion to dismiss. Plaintiff, a funeral director, brought suit against defendant-employer/Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc. (“Carriage”), and others, based on, among other things, allegations that defendants violated the LAD by terminating him due to his disability and failing to accommodate him, as a result of his lawful use of medical marijuana for treatment of his cancer, as permitted by the CUMMA and in accordance with his physician’s treatment plan. Defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint, and the trial court granted the motion, with prejudice, finding plaintiff was lawfully terminated for violating Carriage’s drug use policy after a positive drug test, given to him by his employer after plaintiff’s car was struck by another vehicle while plaintiff was driving for work purposes. In reaching its decision, the trial court relied, in part, on the CUMMA’s declaration that employers are not required to accommodate medical marijuana use in the workplace. Plaintiff appealed, and the Appellate...

EEOC and NJ’s DCR Publish COVID-19 Guidance

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) have joined a growing number of governmental agencies and public health organizations in issuing specific COVID-19 related guidance. The EEOC and DCR guidance each includes a series of frequently asked questions directed at ensuring compliance with federal and state anti-discrimination laws in the treatment of individuals affected by the novel coronavirus, in connection with employment, housing, and places of public accommodation. The DCR guidance, “Civil Rights and COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions,” reminds employers, housing providers, and places of public accommodation of their obligations under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA). Among the topics covered by the DCR, the guidance: Reminds employers that the prohibitions against discrimination and harassment because of an LAD-protected characteristic apply even when the conduct at issue “stems from concerns related to COVID-19.” The DCR explains that firing an employee who is perceived to have a disability related to COVID-19 is unlawful. In addition, behavior such as referring to COVID-19 as the “the Chinese virus” or harassing employees of East Asian heritage by claiming Asian people caused COVID-19 is expressly prohibited, and employers must take steps to immediately stop the behavior. Reminds landlords and building managers that...