LITIGATION UPDATES – SEPTEMBER 2014
Lawsuit Claims Students in California Don’t Get Enough P.E.
A lawsuit was filed in San Francisco charging more than three dozen school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, Riverside Unified, San Francisco Unified and Palm Springs Unified, with providing inadequate time for physical education. The complaint contends that students in the first through sixth grades in these districts are not being given the state mandated minimum time for PE. California state law dictates that students should participate in PE activities for about 20 minutes every day. According to the Education Code, schools must offer kindergarten through sixth-grade students 200 minutes of physical education instruction for every 10 days of class. However, the economic downturn of a few years ago meant that schools were receiving less and less funding for physical education classes. This meant that most elementary school students spent time with a designated PE teacher just once or twice a week. The students' regular teacher was supposed to supplement this time in the classroom. This case has not resolved but has caught the attention of people across the state, as it posits two competing priorities of childhood education against each other – physical activity versus academic time.
ABA Ruling Says Lawyers Can Review Social Media Posts by Jurors
In a recent ruling handed down by the American Bar Association (ABA), lawyers may rightfully review the social media postings of jurors and potential jurors. The ruling by the ABA essentially says that it is appropriate for lawyers to peruse the social media postings of jurors at websites like Facebook and Twitter. However, it remains unethical for lawyers to make friend requests to these jurors or to "follow" their social media posts. It is believed that doing so would breach rules against ex parte communication. Accordingly, lawyers may lawfully review those posts that a juror chooses to make public. Such items as may be accessible only by the people designated as "friends" by the juror may not be reviewed by the lawyer.
New California Law Requires that Short-Term Disability Policies Provide Coverage for Severe Mental Illness
In a victory for insurance consumers and mental health advocates, a recent change to the California Insurance Code mandates that short-term disability insurance policies provide coverage for “severe mental illnesses” as that term is defined in the Insurance Code. Passed in 2013, and signed in to law by Governor Jerry Brown on October 4, 2013, Assembly Bill No. 402 (“AB 402”) added Section 10144.55 to the Insurance Code, effective July 1, 2014. Section 10144.55 requires that every disability insurance policy with “a short-term limited duration of two years or less,” provide coverage for disabilities caused by severe mental illnesses. Section 10144.55(b) defines “severe mental illnesses” as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depressive disorders (including postpartum depression), panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), pervasive developmental disorder (autism), anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Under California law, treatment for severe mental illness, like major depression or panic disorders, must be covered by your health plan. However, there is nothing preventing short term disability income insurers from excluding certain or all severe mental illnesses, even for a person who has a physician's certification and qualifies for California State Disability Insurance, the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, or the California Family Rights Act. Allowing individuals to utilize their short term income replacement insurance to make ends meet while they are under the care of a medical professional for treatment of a severe mental illness and unable to work ensures the best possible outcome for the individual, their family, and a healthy return to employment.
Uber Lawsuit in Massachusetts May Set the Tone for Future Like Lawsuits in California
For those who are not familiar, Uber is a ride share business that utilizes a smartphone app to connect clients with a car and a professional driver. The driver is not an employee of Uber. Instead, the driver is classified as an independent contractor, and Uber advertises that its drivers are essentially small business owners. This means that Uber does not cover the cost of insurance, gas and other expenses associated with operation of the vehicles. These bills are taken care of by the drivers. These independent contractors are also obligated to send a portion of any gratuities they receive to Uber. A new lawsuit alleges that by deliberately classifying drivers as independent contractors, Uber is skirting Massachusetts' employment laws. The state's laws regarding employee rights are among the strongest in the nation. Among these laws is one that prevents employers from taking a portion of an employee's tips. This lawsuit addresses issues relating to employee classification and subsequent application of appropriate laws. This litigation will be watched closely by other states, such as California, where employees are likewise generously protected by statute.