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Trade Secrets & Proprietary Information

Real-World Application of Robotics to Farming

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The following appears courtesy of Entrepreneur Magazine May 2013 Issue

Company: Blue River Technology in Mountain View, Calif., has raised more than $3 million to develop a robot that addresses the No. 1 problem in agriculture: eliminating weeds without adding herbicides to food crops, genetically modifying the seeds or resorting to manual removal.

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Immigration Legislation Making Headlines Across the Nation

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          The past Congress avoided addressing comprehensive immigration reform, or even more narrow pieces such as the DREAM Act. While hearings on the agricultural labor crisis highlighted the fact, agreed upon by both growers and worker advocates, that U.S. workers won’t take agricultural jobs even in a recessionary economy, Congress avoided providing a solution in an election year. In the new Congress with a Republican dominated House of Representatives, it is likely that a serious effort will be made to pass mandatory E-Verify, as early as this year. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Labor has administered the H-2A program in manner so as to make it unworkable, arbitrarily denying grower applications, while the Wage and Hour Division has aggressively targeted H-2A employers and is seeking astronomical fines for technical violations.

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Truck Drivers Subject to Illegal Employment Classification

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          A recent study of over 2000 truck drivers in seven major ports across the country indicates that the nation’s 110,000 port truck drivers are routinely misclassified as independent contractors, the results of which have led to poverty-level wages, frequent safety violations, and little autonomy from their employers.

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Labor Issues in the News This Week

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New Leader of the Secretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency Expects to Reorganize the Department: On March 9, 2011, newly appointed Secretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) Marty Morgenstern was unanimously confirmed by the Senate Rules Committee. Interestingly, Morgenstern told California Senators that he thinks the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), the primary state agency responsible for administering and enforcing the state’s employment laws and regulations, could benefit from some slimming down.

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Employers Liable for Discriminatory Motives of Lower Level Supervisors

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            In Staub v. Proctor Hospital the Supreme Court ruled that employers can be held liable for the discriminatory motives of lower level supervisors, even if they are not the individuals who made the allegedly discriminatory employment decision.  The decision defined the range of a legal theory known as the ‘Cat’s Paw*,’ which covers a situation where a lower level supervisor influences, but doesn’t make, a high level manager’s action.  If that higher level manager makes an allegedly discriminatory employment decision, courts can consider the motives and actions of the lower level supervisor.  If that non-decision maker is found to have discriminatory intent, the employer can be held liable.

 

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Employers Beware (as Employees Rejoice): Governor Appoints Well-Known Employee Advocates to DLSE, ALRB; CA Supreme Court Holds Pre-Dispute Arbitration Agreements Unenforceable

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Pro-Labor Appointees: While Governor Brown’s immediate focus may remain on solving California’s budget woes, two recent appointees indicate that he also remains dedicated to advancing a pro-labor agenda.

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The Next Protected Class: The Unemployed?

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         The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently held a hearing that suggests the unemployed could be the next protected class suing employers for discrimination.  At the hearing, the EEOC heard testimony outlining studies which demonstrate a bias against the unemployed in filling job vacancies.  Several interest groups presented evidence that employers are discriminating against the unemployed, and will even state in job postings that unemployed applicants will not be considered for advertised positions.  Others argued before the Commission that no such bias exists, and that the unemployed have a harder time finding jobs because their skills become less relevant over time.

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Medical Marijuana in the Workplace

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          There are an estimated 400,000 medical marijuana patients in California.  Currently, the California Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling in Ross v. RagingWire Telecommunications does not force employers who screen employees for marijuana to make an exception for medical marijuana.  A new bill introduced in the California Legislature could change that. 

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What Happens When You Hire Entire Villages

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          A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court expands the definition of retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  In Thompson v. North American Stainless L.P. the Court ruled that an employer violated the anti-retaliation provision of the Civil Rights Act when it terminated the fiancé of an employee who had brought a claim of discrimination.  The decision reaffirms an expansive definition of ‘retaliation’ under discrimination law, and means that employers need to be extra cautious when taking disciplinary action against any employee in the wake of a discrimination claim. 

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A New "Card-Check" Bill Introduced in Senate

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          It didn’t take long for the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO, (UFW), to reintroduce new "Card-Check" legislation in the Senate. The new legislation, entitled SB 104 (Steinberg), is very similar in wording to the original "Card-Check" legislation, SB 180 that was introduced years ago by Senator Carol Migden. As previously noted by VCAA, Ms. Migden was appointed to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) by outgoing Governor Schwarzenegger.

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