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CALIFORNIA, U.S. -- The following is a review of recently decided and pending cases related to employment law including: noncompetition agreements, disability discrimination, patents and wage and hour issues.

In Dowell v. BioSense Webster decided Nov. 19, state judicial officials further entrenched labor codes that forbid the use of non-competition and non-solicitation agreements, except in very specific instances.

The complex lawsuit involving claims and cross-claims of employees, a former employer and a new employer challenged the enforceability of certain competition agreements that are valid in almost every other state. Ultimately, the appeal court judge agreed with the trial court decision that found the agreements unenforceable.

The court referenced and expanded a decision made in an earlier appeals case related to trade secrets called The Retirement Group Inc. v. Galante.

In Gelson's Markets Inc. v. WCAB filed Nov. 13, the court of appeal sided with the employer, finding the business was not liable for workers’ compensation discrimination damages when the employee’s return to work was delayed amidst discrepancies in physician releases. The court ruled that the worker failed to prove differential treatment from other injured workers.

The decision followed an earlier California Supreme Court case in a similar vein, Department of Rehabilitation v. WCAB, which also ruled in favor of the employer.

On Nov. 17, the Sixth District California Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the employer in a case from a worker charging retaliation in Mangano v. Verity Inc.

The appellant Thomas Mangano charged California Fair Employment and Housing Act violation after his employer fired him in the wake of a disability discrimination lawsuit, which he lost. In the original discrimination case, Mr. Mangano was denied his claim in a summary judgment and then again in appeals.

Afterward, the employer offered Mr. Mangano 17 weeks severance in return for leaving the company, and he filed a retaliation suit for the firing. The trial court and appeal denied the claim.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this month on a case that could have implications for the software industry and future business process inventors. Judicial leaders heard arguments in the case known as Bilski v. Kappos on Nov. 9, debating whether a “business process method” can be patented.

The litigation was filed by inventors Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw, who contended they could trademark a method for reducing risks of utility companies based on weather patterns.

Without a doubt the most widely observed case in employment law, Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court is expected to reach final resolution in 2010, carrying with it millions in potential damages.

The case began with a class action suit by workers of Brinker International, which owns mega restaurant chain Chili’s Bar and Grille, who charged failure to provide state-mandated meal and rest periods.

California judicial and labor officials have said the employer only needs to provide breaks without actually policing workers, but the final call will ultimately decide the dollar difference between “allowing” and “ensuring” rest periods are taken.

“We tend to give more conservative advice" on rest period enforcement, said California Chamber of Commerce Senior Employment Law Counsel Susan Kemp.

That's "because, of course, regardless of what anyone else says, a plaintiff lawyer can still bring a claim, and despite whether you win or lose, you still  have to pay to defend yourself and with time and effort,” she said.