“Pay Now, Dispute Later” Rule Bares Its Teeth

Under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act (“MPPAA”), an employer that withdraws from a multiemployer pension plan is assessed “withdrawal liability” which the fund must demand in accordance with a schedule of installment payments in amounts determined under the statute. Any disputes the employer has as to the fund’s assessment must be resolved through arbitration.

Importantly, however, initiating a dispute of the withdrawal liability does not relieve the employer of the duty to make the installment payments as they come due. That is, even where an employer challenges the assessment by requesting review and then initiating arbitration, it still must make interim payments of the assessed amounts in accordance with the fund’s demand and payment schedule. These interim payments must begin within 60 days of the assessment, notwithstanding any request for review, and are colloquially referred to as the “pay now, dispute later” rule.

A recent decision from the District of Columbia district court serves as a useful reminder of the potentially strict application of this rule. In Trustees of the IAM National Pension Fund v. M&K Employee Solutions, LLC, No. 1:20-cv-433 (D.D.C. 2022), the Court held that where an employer refused to make the required interim payments until after successfully challenging and reducing through arbitration the amount demanded by the fund, it was nevertheless liable for the statutory penalties and liquidated damages associated with its failure to make interim payments.

Relying on cases from the Seventh Circuit, the Court stated:

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Employment Law Update in D.C., MD, VA and Illinois

On Thursday, May 19, 2022 at 1 p.m. EST, join Daniel C. Deacon and Ashley D. Mitchell for a webinar regarding Employment Law Updates in D.C., MD, VA and Illinois.

CaptureThe District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia have enacted or are considering a host of changes that employers need to keep track of in 2022, including increases to the minimum wage and amendments to anti-discrimination laws. Maryland revised its Fair Employment Practices Act to extend the time period for filing a charge of discrimination alleging an unlawful employment practice other than harassment, introduced new requirements for employers to comply with when conducting mass layoffs, amended its leave laws to account for paid bereavement leave, and passed a law permitting employers to file for peace orders on behalf of an employee facing threats or acts of violence in the workplace. The District of Columbia passed a law banning non-compete agreements for almost all employees. Virginia amended its Overtime Wage Act, which now provides overtime protections for employees under state law and establishes a three-year statute of limitations. Virginia also added “disability” to the list of characteristics protected from discrimination under the Virginia Human Rights Act (VHRA), which came shortly after the VHRA was expanded last year to cover most Virginia employers.

Participants in this webinar will learn about: Continue reading

DOL Guidance Further Underscores Agency’s Focus on Retaliation

The Department of Labor (“DOL”) has taken a number of actions during the Biden Administration to express and demonstrate that it is prioritizing protections against investigations of retaliation in the workplace. For example, in November 2021, the DOL, National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”), and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) announced a joint initiative to raise awareness about retaliation issues among workers and employers. As part of the initiative, the Agencies made clear that they would be working cooperatively and, per the current Solicitor of Labor, “use all tools available to protect workers from retaliation.” More recently, in March 2022, the Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) issued a Field Assistance Bulletin (“FAB”) specifically outlining the anti-retaliation provisions it is charged with enforcing and the elements of retaliation, as well as providing examples of what it would consider retaliation under the various laws and programs.

This FAB is significant not because it kicks off any new or additional enforcement effort by the WHD, but because it Continue reading

Maryland Joins a Number of States by Enacting a Paid Family and Medical Leave Law

Maryland recently became the tenth state to enact a paid family leave law – joining California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia and San Francisco.  Although the legislature passed the Maryland Time to Care Act of 2022 by a supermajority vote on March 31, 2022, Governor Hogan opposed the bill and vetoed it on April 8, 2022.  Just one day later, however, the legislature voted to override Governor Hogan’s veto by an overwhelming majority.  

Although the bill will be phased in over the course of the next two-and-a-half years, Maryland employers should pay close attention to the law and the regulations that the Maryland Department of Labor will be implementing within the next year.  To get ahead, employers should proactively make plans to revise their current leave policies and reach out to their HR and payroll providers to ensure that they are prepared to handle the necessary payroll tax contributions.

Effective Dates and Roll-Out of the Act

Similar to how the District of Columbia and other jurisdictions implemented their paid family leave laws, the law will be phased in over the course of several years.  Specifically, the Act establishes a Family and Medical Leave Insurance Fund that will require all employers with 15 or more employees, all employees, and all self-employed individuals that elect to participate in the program to make contributions a fund beginning October 1, 2023.  Notably, employers with less than 15 employees are not required to contribute to the fund, but employees of those small employers will still be required to contribute to the insurance fund.

The contribution rates will be set by the Maryland Secretary of Labor by June 1, 2023.  Covered employees will be eligible to claim and receive benefits approximately a year-and-a-half later on January 1, 2025.   The funding requirements and employer/employee contribution rates will also be periodically reviewed and subject to change based on bi-annual studies and recommendations by the Maryland Secretary of Labor.

Coverage and Qualifying Events under the Act

The Act defines “covered employer” broadly to any person or governmental authority that employs at least one individual in the state of Maryland.  However, there are certain limitations on who is eligible to claim benefits.  Covered individuals – i.e. employees eligible to claim benefits under the Act – are defined as employees who have worked at least 680 hours over the 12-month period immediately before the date that leave is to begin.

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District Court Allows Pension Fund to Exercise “Nuclear Option”

Two months ago, we brought you the story of the ongoing fight between Penske Truck Leasing (“Penske”) and the Central States Pension Fund (“Central States”). Close,Up,Of,Time,And,Money,With,Green,Bokeh,BackgroundThis article will provide an update in the case of Penske Truck Leasing Co. v. Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Plan, 21-cv-05518 (N.D. Ill).

By way of background, just before Christmas, a Chicago district court entered a temporary restraining order preventing Central States from ejecting a unit of Penske employees or from taking any action to trigger a partial withdrawal. The contemplated expulsion would have triggered a partial withdrawal, which Penske alleged would trigger well over ten million dollars in withdrawal liability for the company.

As noted in our earlier article, Central States asserted that Penske was engaged in “a scheme to minimize its withdrawal liability by lining up all ten of its bargaining units for negotiations in 2022 in order to trigger a complete withdrawal from the Fund in 2022 rather than triggering a partial withdrawal in 2021 followed by a complete withdrawal in 2022.” Thus, when Penske and its local union in Dallas also agreed to extend that agreement until 2022, Central States’ trustees rejected the extension, asserting the extension “could significantly reduce Penske’s withdrawal liability exposure.”

Last week, following expedited discovery and briefing by the parties, the district court Continue reading

Religious and Disability Accommodations in Response to COVID-19 Mandates [Webinar Recordings]

On Thursday, April 7, 2022, Andrew J. Sommer and Lindsay A. DiSalvo presented a webinar regarding Religious and Disability Accommodations in Response to COVID-19 Mandates.

Employee requests for medical and/or religious accommodations in the workplace are not new. However, never before have these accommodation requests been such a hot-button topic, nor have these accommodation requests been used so frequently (and in particular, religious accommodation requests). The imposition of COVID-19 vaccine mandates has changed that, particularly with regard to religious accommodation requests, which has become the ultimate “gray area,” as both employers and employees alike have learned that sincerely held religious belief can include an employee’s religious-based objection to vaccinations. As a result, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued guidance regarding the obligations of employers under Title VII when an employee presents with a religious objection to a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, which actually builds upon prior EEOC guidance regarding COVID-19 vaccinations in the employment context. Thus, there are multiple issues that employers need to keep in mind and juggle when addressing these vaccination accommodation requests.

Participants in this webinar learned how to best deal with such requests by their employees, including: Continue reading

Attorney Spotlight – Meet Aaron Gelb!

Aaron R. Gelb is a partner and head of Conn Maciel Carey LLP’s Chicago office where he leads the firm’s Midwest OSHA workplace safety practice. He has more than 25 years’ experience advising and representing clients in relation to inspections, investigations, and enforcement actions involving federal OSHA and state OSH programs and managing the full range of litigation against OSHA.  In support of the firm’s Labor and Employment practice, Aaron defends employers in equal employment opportunity matters in federal and state courts, having tried multiple cases to verdict and obtained the dismissal of more than 300 discrimination charges before the EEOC and fair employment agencies nationwide.

Aaron is frequently asked to speak at conferences, seminars, and industry-specific forums, covering numerous workplace safety and employment topics for events and organizations nationwide including the American Bar Association, the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois, the American Trucking Associations, and the Chicagoland Safety Conference to name a few. Aaron currently leads the Illinois Manufacturers Association’s workplace safety and health education series which includes quarterly webinars and 4 programs during each week of June, which is safety month.  Aaron also helps curate the firm’s annual webinar series – the OSHA Webinar Series and the Labor and Employment Webinar Series and is a frequent contributor to CMC’s blogs – the OSHA Defense Report and the Employer Defense Report.

In addition to his legal practice, Aaron works closely with CMC’s founding partners to help them realize their vision for the firm’s future, acts as a mentor to new partners and associates, actively recruits lateral partner and associate candidates, and helps craft the firm’s strategic marketing plan, including the firm’s social media efforts. Passionate about ensuring equal access to justice for all, Aaron is an active member of the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and is a frequent participant in the Northern District of Illinois’ Settlement Assistance Program in which he presents pro se litigants in court-led settlement conferences.  At the height of the pandemic, Aaron served as a panelist during a program focused on compliance and legal concerns facing Black-owned small businesses struggling to survive in the face of COVID-19.

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[Webinar] Religious and Disability Accommodations in Response to COVID-19 Mandates

On Thursday, April 7, 2022 at 1 p.m. ET, join Andrew J. Sommer and Lindsay A. DiSalvo for a webinar regarding Religious and Disability Accommodations in Response to COVID-19 Mandates.

Employee requests for medical and/or religious accommodations in the workplace are not new. However, never before have these accommodation requests been such a hot-button topic, nor have these accommodation requests been used so frequently (and in particular, religious accommodation requests). The imposition of COVID-19 vaccine mandates has changed that, particularly with regard to religious accommodation requests, which has become the ultimate “gray area,” as both employers and employees alike have learned that sincerely held religious belief can include an employee’s religious-based objection to vaccinations. As a result, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued guidance regarding the obligations of employers under Title VII when an employee presents with a religious objection to a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, which actually builds upon prior EEOC guidance regarding COVID-19 vaccinations in the employment context. Thus, there are multiple issues that employers need to keep in mind and juggle when addressing these vaccination accommodation requests.

Participants in this webinar will learn how to best deal with such requests by their employees, including: Continue reading

Natural Hairstyles in the Workplace: The CROWN Act

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me.” More than half a century after Aretha Franklin first sang those lyrics, state legislatures, local municipalities, and Congress are passing the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair legislation (“CROWN Act”). Before the flurry of legislation aimed at protecting natural hair, some appellate courts already applied the protections of Title VII liberally. In Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mut. Hosp. Ins., the 7th Circuit held a plaintiff’s EEOC charge sufficiently alleged race discrimination where plaintiff’s EEOC charge stated plaintiff’s boss denied plaintiff a promotion because plaintiff “could never represent [defendant] with [an] Afro.” 538 F.2d 164, 168 (7th Cir. 1976). Other courts, however, took a narrower approach. In EEOC v. Catastrophe Mgmt. Solutions, the 11th Circuit reasoned “Title VII protects persons in covered categories with respect to their immutable characteristics, but not their cultural practice[,]” thereby upholding a race neutral grooming policy that prohibited dreadlocks. 852 F.3d 1018, 1028-34 (11th Cir. 2016). Indeed, as recently as 2018, the U.S. Armed Forces maintained grooming policies that prohibited natural or protective hairstyles commonly worn by Black servicemembers because the hairstyles were “unkempt.”

The CROWN Act

More than a dozen state legislatures already passed a variation of the CROWN Act Continue reading

Historic U.S. Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings Begin for D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

This week, hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee began for D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to  the U.S. Supreme Court, which would make her the fourth woman Justice to serve on the Court at the same time.  President Biden nominated Judge Jackson earlier in March to replace Justice Stephen G. Breyer who is retiring after over 20 years on the Court.  The nomination is historic for several reasons and with the hearings occurring during Women’s History month, it is an example of the importance of honoring diversity at all levels of the branches of government. 

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

During the first day of her confirmation hearings, Judge Jackson detailed her personal and professional history.  She spoke in personal terms about her childhood, including her first exposure to the law as a young child while her father was a full-time law student, and her mother supported their family. She introduced her daughters and talked about navigating “the challenges of juggling my career and motherhood.”

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