Derrel’s Mini Storage Settles California Discrimination Lawsuit

A Fresno based self storage facility named Derrel’s Mini Storage, Inc. recently settled an employment and housing discrimination case with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Charlyn Foote, a former employee, was pregnant when she along with her husband, Kyle Foote, agreed to be resident managers at the company’s Bakersfield, California site. The case brought against Derrel’s Mini Storage was based on the policies applicable to facility managers, specifically, the fact that the policy in place when the Footes were employed and in residence would have banned their baby from housing during hours of operation and on weekends.

California State mandated that the policy violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), designed to protect the rights of Californians seeking, obtaining and holding housing, free of discrimination due to familial status and to seek, obtain, and hold employment without discrimination based on sex. Derrel’s responded to these assertions with arguments that the FEHA doesn’t apply when housing is employer-provided and issued as a condition of employment. They also presented business justifications for the policy. Mediation was attempted unsuccessfully and the DFEH filed suit.

Recently, the state announced the case had reached a settlement. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Derrel’s Mini Storage has agreed to revise the policies in question that regulate onsite housing provided for facility managers. The new policies would be designed to ensure that facility managers could safely work and live on site with their families.

This case is important as it confirms that the FEHA extends throughout all California housing – including housing that is provided to employees as a condition of employment.

If you have questions about whether or not the terms of your employment are discriminatory or if you are experiencing discrimination in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Garbage Man’s Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Recycled by 9th Circuit

A former Manhattan Beach sanitation worker seeking legal recourse for age discrimination and wrongful termination will get his day in court after a federal appeals panel ruled that he could proceed. Gilberto Santillan filed the age discrimination lawsuit against a waste disposal company, USA Waste of California, subsidiary of Waste Management Inc., the franchise waste hauler for all residents and businesses in the city.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals voted unanimously to allow Santillan to proceed with the two wrongful termination claims. Santillan alleges that he was discriminated against due to his age and then retaliated against for seeking legal counsel. District Court ruled in favor of the waste company, ruling Santillan’s claims could not proceed. The new ruling undermines the district court’s ruling and allows Santillan to proceed – potentially in front of a jury.

Santillan wasn’t just any “garbage man” He was what many might describe as a landmark of Manhattan Beach. He worked the route in the city for 32 years and many of the local residents have actively reached out to support his claims. Santillan’s legal representation pointed towards this strong local backing as being reflected in the Ninth Circuit’s opinion. The court opinion actually referenced various letters of support from local residents indicating that they were taken very seriously.

Santillan started working for USA Waste in 1979, and handled the Manhattan Beach route for his entire time with the company. In March 2011, the city was considering whether they should renew their agreement with Waste Management or contract another hauler. Santillan’s personal service and record with the company and the city became a key theme in the campaign in support of retaining Waste Management’s services.

For 30 years with the company, Santillan was rarely disciplined, but in 2009 a new route manager for Manhattan Beach took over and Santillan ran into problems. Fro 2009 to 2011, the new manager attempted to discipline Santillan six times. Santillan was fired in December 2011. The company claims they fired Santillan because he was involved in multiple accidents in 2011, three of which were self-reported. The resident living at the damaged property at the time of the firing stated in an interview that the firing was an over-reaction. She continued by praising Santillan’s driving skills, as the street was narrow and touch to navigate.

The Ninth Circuit overruled the trial judge’s holding that Santillan’s case lacked the qualifications needed for an age discrimination claim, noting that Santillan, who speaks very little English, was one of two or more older, Spanish-speaking employees that were terminated when the new supervisor took over the Manhattan Beach route. Santillan’s replacement was estimated to be 13 years younger with 20 less years of experience on the job.

Extensive discovery will be needed prior to the start of trial.

If you feel you have been wrongfully terminated, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

“Guerrilla” Tennis Scandal has Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Headed Back to Court

Previously released news regarding the “guerilla” tennis scandal leading up to the termination of ESPN tennis commentator, Doug Adler, ended with his subsequent wrongful termination lawsuit filing. Now, Adler’s wrongful termination lawsuit is headed back to court.

Adler was allegedly fired from his job as a tennis commentator for ESPN for using a word on the air that he claims he never used. Adler is an acknowledged tennis expert and former All-American player turned commentator for ESPN. He covered numerous tennis events, but the one event pertaining to this discussion is the 2017 Australian Open. Adler was on air describing the aggressive style of play used by Venus Williams, one of the competitors in the match. Adler claims he used the word “guerilla,” a term known to describe aggressive tennis play.

Not surprisingly, viewers heard the word “gorilla” and assumed Adler was making a demeaning and racist comment in reference to Williams, who is African American. After receiving complaints and unable to ignore the negative backlash from the incident, ESPN fired Adler. Adler claims he was wrongfully terminated. He claims that the network was not sympathetic considering that the two words, guerilla and gorilla, spelled differently and meaning two very different things, sound exactly the same.

The wrongful termination lawsuit was filed in California state court in February 2017. On March 16th, 2017, Adler’s wrongful termination suit was moved to federal court on grounds that Adler and the Defendants, ESPN, hail from two different states. This provides the federal district court with jurisdiction in the case. ESPN also assumed that the damages the plaintiff will be seeking would surpass the $75,000 cap observed by the state court in such cases.

Yet the case met with a surprising issue when US District Court Judge Percy Anderson felt that the defendant’s statement that co-defendants Mark Gross and Jamie Reynolds resided in Connecticut “upon information and belief” of ESPN was sufficient. Judge Anderson saw this as insufficient for the purposes of the court to qualify residence and establish citizenship. As diversity jurisdiction no longer qualifies, Adler’s wrongful termination lawsuit is heading back to state court in California.

Adler has yet to specify amounts he will be seeking for damages and recovery. ESPN worked up a figure of at least $148,000 using their estimated calculations of lost wages, emotional distress, punitive damages, legal fees, etc. Although, Adler’s representation has previously pointed out that it is impossible to place a value on the loss of your professional reputation. It was further noted that ESPN, Adler’s employer, essentially labeled him a racist and terminated his employment over a comment that was, at worst, misunderstood.

If you have questions about wrongful termination or what qualifies as a wrongful termination lawsuit, please get in touch with an experienced California employment law attorney at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Sedgwick Partner Sued Firm: Gender Bias Case Nears Settlement

Traci Ribeiro, a nonequity partner from Sedgwick LLP’s Chicago office, sued the firm alleging that she and other female lawyers at the firm were being short-changed. Recent updates in the case indicate they may be nearing a settlement deal. Ribeiro first proposed class action citing accusations that the firm’s all-male leadership team routinely denies female attorneys equal pay and opportunities for promotion. Within her complaint, Ribeiro described Sedgwick LLP as a male-dominated culture utilizing systemic gender discrimination.

Definition of Gender Bias: Unequal treatment, particularly in relation to an employment opportunity, such as promotion, benefits, work privileges, pay rate, expected job duties, etc. When differences in these employment opportunities are based on the sex of an employee or a group of employees, this is referred to as gender bias. Gender bias in the workplace, during the application process, as a reason for termination, etc. can be a legitimate basis for a lawsuit in accordance with anti-discrimination statues.

Ribeiro’s allegations continued, claiming that she had not advanced to equity partner even though she was just as qualified and just as accomplished as male attorneys at the firm. In addition, she cited multiple examples of female attorneys that were being paid less than males in equal positions at Sedgwick LLP.

Due to terms included in an alternative dispute resolution provision in the firm partnership agreement, Sedgwick quickly moved the suit to federal court and then arbitration. U.S. District Judge William Alsup indicated in November, 2016 that two things must be determined: 1) whether or not the dispute is arbitrable, and 2) if Ribeiro’s 1012 partnership agreement’s arbitration clause can be enforced.

The parties submitted a joint report noting that they had conducted a meeting April 4th, 2017 with a mediator in an attempt to reach a provisional settlement. Having successfully done so, they executed a memorandum of understanding in anticipation of a full settlement executed in short order. Ribeiro also amended her complaint.

If you have questions regarding gender bias, or how to react to gender bias in the workplace, please get in touch with an experienced California employment law attorney at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik as soon as possible.

Wrongful Termination Verdict Has Jury Awarding Woman $492K Instead of $15K Offer

In recent news, a California state court jury awarded $492,000 to a former medical assistant who accused Kaiser Permanente of wrongful termination. Maria Gonzalez claims that the company illegally fired her in order to avoid costly medical treatment her disabled son required. The jury award came after the company attempted to resolve the case several times with settlement offers, the largest of which was $15,000 according to the plaintiff’s attorney.

The jury reached a verdict after a two-week trial. They found that Kaiser’s behavior constituted disability discrimination in terminating Gonzalez in 2014. Gonzalez worked in a pain management clinic. Kaiser claims that she was fired for unauthorized access of her son, Pedro’s, medical records while he was receiving treatment in the clinic.

The jury’s award encompasses past and future economic damages. While the jury declined to award the requested $7 million in non-economic damages, plaintiff’s legal counsel saw the verdict as a positive result for Gonzalez. It should also be noted that Kaiser would also be required to cover attorney fees reaching into the seven figures.

History of the Case:

·       Gonzalez received 11 years of positive performance reviews from Kaiser.

·       The positive reviews continued until her son, Pedro, needed treatment for a chronic kidney disorder.

·       Pedro received coverage through Kaiser. Gonzalez repeatedly sought referrals to specialists outside of Kaiser’s network.

·       When a major operation failed to help Pedro, Gonzalez pushed for a second, more expensive surgery.

·       Allegedly, when Pedro complained about the quality of care he was receiving, a Kaiser physician responded with, “You wouldn’t want anything to happen to your mother, would you?” Kaiser later denied such a statement was made.

Gonzalez is happy with the verdict, but may seek further resolution as legal counsel sees the $0 award is contrary to the law.

If you need further information about wrongful termination of you feel you may have been the victim of wrongful termination, please contact one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

UC Berkeley Is Rocked by Another Sexual Misconduct Scandal

As University of California Berkeley again faces sexual harassment allegations, some might refer to their history in recent years as a plaque of sexual harassment reports. Most recently, a renowned University of California Berkeley professor was sued due to alleged groping of an Asian-American research assistant. The former student, 24-year old Joanna Ong, filed the lawsuit against UC Berkeley’s star Philosophy professor, John R. Searle. She claims that he groper her and when she declined his advances, he fired her.

The California sexual harassment lawsuit was filed at Alameda County Superior Court seeking damages for sexual harassment and assault, wrongful termination and the creation of a hostile work environment. In addition to the star Philosophy professor being listed as defendant in the case, Regents of the University of California were listed as co-dependents.

Ong stated that as such a renowned professor of philosophy, Searle should be completely familiar with the concept of coercion, but that instead both the professor and the university used their power and their platform to abuse others. While 84-year old Searle has stepped down from teaching, he retains emeritus status at the university. He has been teaching at UC Berkeley since 1959 and just last year, the university unveiled the John Searle Center for Social Ontology, the 1st center of its kind in the nation.

It was the same year when Ong was offered a job under Searle. According to court documents, the offer was for $1,000 per month salary as a consultant for the new center, plus $3,000 per month supplemented by Searle himself. Based on Searle’s reputation as an esteemed philosopher at UC Berkeley, Ong accepted the job offer willingly in July 2016. Ong claims the first few days of her job went well. Ong stated that she even shared her worries about making ends meet while pursuing a career in academia. Searle’s response was to reassure Ong that her living costs and needs would be taken care of and urged her to have a relationship of “total trust” with him. Things escalated quickly from that point. Searle allegedly groped Ong in his offer after advising her that they were “going to be lovers” amid other inappropriate claims and insinuations. When his proposal was rejected, Searle apologized and paid Ong the promised $3,000.

When Professor Searle went on vacation, Ong reported the incident to the center’s director, Jennifer Hudin, but no appropriate action was taken. Ong claims that Hudin told her that she would protect her from further advances, but that she also said Searle had previously had sexual relationships with his students in exchange for “academic, monetary or other benefits.”

From that point forward, Ong states that the workplace became increasingly hostile and awkward. When Searle returned from vacation, he pretended nothing happened. Ong stated that for the rest of her time in the position, Searle watched pornography at work, made inappropriately sexist comments when she was nearby, requested that Ong log into an inappropriate website for him, and insisted that Ong read and respond to his emails including flirtatious correspondence with young women (both UC Berkeley students and foreign students from Europe). Some of the women corresponding were asking to be his research assistant; which was at that time Ong’s position. Further complaints to Hudin garnered the response that nothing was done out of respect/loyalty for the professor and because Hudin needed to protect Searle.

Searle eventually cut Ong’s salary in half and fired her soon after the pay cut. Ong’s attorney points out that Hudin and other administrators and professors at UC Berkeley were aware of the lecherous behavior on Searle’s part based on a large amount of evidence of his sexual misconduct by both emails and actual complaints made against him.

If you need to discuss a hostile work environment or sexual harassment in the workplace, please contact one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Wrongful Termination Suit: San Francisco to Pay $2 Million to Fired Worker

After a California jury awarded $2 million to a fired former senior attorney in Herrera’s office who was investigating improper payments, a spokesman for San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera indicated that they were still evaluating options. The San Francisco Superior court jury’s award was granted by Lynn O’Malley Taylor to former Chief Trial Deputy Joanne Hoeper.

Hoeper claimed that she was wrongfully terminated in 2014 as a result of her work on a potential fraud investigation. Her investigation concerned payments that were approved by Herrera’s home office’s claims bureau to homeowners and plumbers used by homeowners for the replacement of private sewer lines they claimed were injured by the roots of trees owned by the city.

The Superior Court trial lasted a month, but the potential fraud investigation Hoeper was in the process of conducting was never concluded. It was not yet determined whether or not the alleged fraud actually occurred. According to court documents, Herrera claimed that Hoeper was terminated due to his dissatisfaction with her management style. He also stated that he started searching for Hoeper’s replacement in 2010 before the even started probing into the sewer-line-payments in the early months of 2012. Contrary to Herrera’s claims, the jury concluded that Hoeper’s efforts to investigate the alleged false claims against the city claiming root damage to plumbing were a substantial and motivating reason for the city’s decision to fire Hoeper. The jury awarded Hoeper $602,000 for lost earnings, future lost earnings of $136,000 and $1,291,000 for her emotional distress from the situation.

If you need help with a wrongful termination or you need assistance determining if you have been wrongfully terminated, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.