Systematic Pay Discrimination Against Women at Vice Media?

Elizabeth Rose, a former female employee for Vice Media, alleged that the company discriminates against women on their workforce. In fact, in the lawsuit filed for pay discrimination, she stated that the company systematically and intentionally pays their female employees less than their male counterparts in the workplace.

Vice Media operates Viceland, a cable channel, and also produces two programs for HBO. Rose worked at the millennial focused media company in both New York and Los Angeles (2014-2016). She was employed as a channel manager and project manager.

Rose’s complaint was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court. In her complaint, Rose alleges that as part of her job, she received internal memos showing salaries of approximately 35 employees. These notifications portrayed a clear pay disparity with women making far less on the job than male employees doing the same or nearly the same work. During her time at the company, Rose became aware that a male subordinate that she had actually hired was making $25,000 more per year than her. He was later promoted to be her supervisor. A male Vice Media executive advised Rose that the man was a good fit for male clients personality-wise.

Rose claims in the lawsuit that Vice Media violated equal pay laws in both California and New York as well as being in violation of the federal law. Three proposed classes would enable women employed by Vice Media for the last six years to join the suit. Between the three proposed classes, more than 700 women could be eligible to join the lawsuit.

Vice Media officially responded that they were reviewing the complaint made by Rose. They also stated that they are committed to providing a respectful, inclusive and equal workplace for employees. The company defended their claim by advising that a pay parity audit was actually started last year and that the company has a goal of 50/50 male/female representation at every level of the business by 2020. They have also recently created a Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board to address similar issues.

If you fear you are not being paid fairly in the workplace, or if there are other employment law violations in your place of employment, please get in touch with the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Stericycle Employment Class Action Suit Settled for $2 Million

A preliminary settlement agreement has been reached between the parties of the Stericycle employment class action lawsuit. The suit was brought against Stericycle, Inc., a medical waste company, with workers alleging that the company refused to provide them with required meal and rest breaks, did not pay overtime for overtime hours worked, and failed to compensate workers for time they were required to spend changing into their “work clothes.”

Approximately 985 California employees make up the class. The class was originally represented by plaintiff Sergio Gutierrez. He filed the putative class action in summer of 2014. Since that time, Gutierrez passed away. Two other plaintiffs were put forward as replacements: Kenneth Moniz and Kevin Henshaw. Both are expected to receive up to $10,000 for time and effort spent bringing the action and in exchange for general release of claims. This is in accordance with the proposed $2 million settlement as stated in the agreement.

According to the complaint, Stericycle utilized a practice of “rounding” payroll times which shorted their workers’ wages, and employees were not completely compensated for their time spent dressing in the required work clothing (donning and doffing). The company also allegedly did not include all worker bonuses in their overtime rates, failed to provide compensation for vested vacation payments, and didn’t offer required meal and rest periods to their workers as is required by employment law. 

Stericycle employs staff at more than 28 California locations and handles the collection, processing and disposal of medical waste. Class members include Stericycle employees working out of any California Stericycle location from August 14, 2010 through September 18, 2017. According to the motion for approval, Stericycle offered individual settlement amounts to certain class members (starting in 2015) attempting to minimize the lawsuit’s exposure. Those settlements payments amount to a total of $460,000. Individuals who took money from Stericycle under individual settlement deals will be provided with a reduced portion of the settlement for their worked shifts covered by prior corporate agreements with Stericycle.

Workers involved in the suit also claim that the company uses a point system to reward employees for avoiding incidents in the workplace. Points under the Stericycle system were converted to cash credits that could then be used on Amazon. Plaintiffs contend that these amounts should have been calculated into the regular rates of pay used to come up with overtime pay rates.

If you have questions or concerns about your employer’s overtime calculation, or if you are not being paid overtime in accordance with state and federal employment law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

ERISA Lawsuit Targeting Oracle Corp. Achieves Class Action Status

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Allegations that Oracle Corp. did not do enough to monitor their retirement plan’s investment fiduciaries led to ERISA suit v. Oracle. Evolving since 2016, the ERISA lawsuit was recently granted class action status – potentially benefitting thousands.

Allegations included in the suit:

Fiduciaries acting on behalf of Oracle Corp. (Defendant) failed in their duties by investing in funds/investments that did not maintain the best interests of plan participants/investors. ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act) requires that fiduciaries maintain/manage investments in the best interests of investors. Plaintiffs were participants in the company’s 2016 benefit plan. They allege that the company failed to make prudent investment decisions and incurred tens of millions of dollars of excessive fees – effectively breaching their fiduciary duties.

According to the ERISA suit, Oracle paid a number of fees for record-keeping to Fidelity, Plan trustee, on a revenue sharing model that was calculated on Plan assets instead of the number of participants. Without a fixed fee per participant, the expenses were inflated and resulted in unreasonable fee amounts. With drastic increases in the fund assets, Fidelity’s revenue skyrocketed as well without any increase in the services they were providing.

In addition to failing to adequately monitor fiduciaries, plaintiffs allege that Oracle also kept poorly-performing funds that caused plan participants to suffer significant losses: Artisan, PIMCO and TCM.

Oracle argued that Fidelity was compensated with reasonable fees for the services provided and moved to have the suit dismissed. This motion to dismiss was denied in March 2017. In June 2017, plaintiffs moved for class certification and the judge approved class certification in January 2018.

The judge did specify that class certification reserved was to be reserved for claims related to excessive fees. The Judge found the original class definition to be too broad. The judge created two other classes for plan participants that invested in the “under-performing” funds (Artisan and TCM), but did not create a third for the allegedly under-performing PIMCO fund because there was not class representative available.

If you have questions or concerns about ERISA suit class certification or fiduciary duty violations, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

$140M ERISA Class Case Filed Against Home Depot: Over 200,000 Retirement Plan Beneficiaries Represented

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In an ERISA suit filed in April 2018, plaintiffs Jaime H. Pizarro and Craig Smith allege that The Home Depot places employees in poorly performing funds and also causes plan participants to overpay for Robo Investment Advice. The class complaint was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs and close to 200,000 current and former plan participants in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Georgia. The complaint was filed against The Home Depot, the 401(k) plan’s investment and administrative committees, and investment advisors from two different companies, Alight Financial Advisors, LLC and Financial Engines Advisors, LLC. The complaint alleged that the Home Depot committed two major violations:

1.     Violated their basic fiduciary duties under ERISA

2.     Abused their employees’ trust through mismanagement of participants’ 401(k) retirement plan

Allegations state that the Home Depot chose a number of funds for the employee 4019(k) that performed poorly and allowed investment advisers to charge their plan participants exorbitant fees. It is also alleged that the company completely disregarded a kickback scheme that was occurring between a plan investment adviser and the plan’s bookkeeper. Estimated losses for employees affected are significant. One respected financial information and technology organization concluded that the average plan participant earned $100,000 less in retirement savings than employees in top-rated retirement plans similar in size. This $100,000 loss is the equivalent of about 18 additional years on the job for each Home Depot plan participant. The plaintiffs seek $140 million in damages.

Home Depot has over $6 billion in assets and is one of the largest 401(k) plans in the country. Counsel for the plaintiffs argue that ERISA fiduciary standards are clear and that while Home Depot should be held to the highest standard, they fall below the lowest standard in this particular case. According to information presented in the complaint, Home Depot’s plan investment options appear to consistently underperform their own benchmarks and those of comparable investment opportunities. Plaintiffs claim this is largely due to the company’s practice to select investment options without due diligence and fail to appropriately monitor performance.

If you need information about ERISA fiduciary standards or if you seek class action status for violations in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

ERISA Litigation Finds Another Collegiate Target in Georgetown University

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The allegations are familiar, but this time they are being aimed at Georgetown University. The latest example of defined contribution litigation to target a well-known U.S. university, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) fiduciary breach lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit names Georgetown University and several university officials tasked with overseeing defined contribution (DC) retirement plans as defendants.

The charges filed match almost verbatim previous suits filed with similar allegations made against other large universities’ 403(b) retirement plans. Plaintiffs allege that the university and officials in charge of oversight did not leverage the university’s plans’ substantial bargaining power to benefit plan participants and beneficiaries, failed to appropriately monitor and evaluate plan expenses and allowed the plans to pay exorbitant fees for both administrative and investment services.

The complaint includes claims that the defendants breached their fiduciary duty by failing to select one single, suitable service provider providing administrative and recordkeeping services for the retirement plans in exchange for reasonable compensation for the service provided. Instead, the defendants apparently retained three different service providers consistently – all with separate fees: TIAA, Vanguard and Fidelity. Each supplied the plans with a separate menu of investment options including mutual fund share classes charging higher fees than other alternatives with the same strategies and/or less expensive share classes of the exact same investment fund. According to plaintiffs, the situation caused plan participants to pay asset-based fees for admin services that increased with the value of the accounts even though no additional services were provided.

The three providers resulted in three investing segments for each of the plans. TIAA offered a guaranteed interest annuity. Vanguard offered close to ninety mutual funds. Fidelity offered nearly two hundred mutual funds. Plaintiffs claim that the volume of choices indicates that the defendants were not adequately fulfilling their fiduciary duties for retirement investors by monitoring and evaluating the historical performance and expense of each of the funds in order to compare past performance the options to each other or a peer group of funds to maximize success. Many of the options should have been excluded based on their past performance, etc.

If you have questions about ERISA or if you have knowledge of a fiduciary breach, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Exotic Dancers Wage Row Results in $8.5M Deal

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A number of former Spearmint Rhino exotic dancers urged a California federal judge to give final approval to a $8.5 million deal in order to settle their suit alleging that the chain of nightclubs limited their compensation to tips.  Lead plaintiffs in the case, Lauren Byrne, Bambie Bedford, and Jennifer Disla, claimed that the nightclub didn’t pay them overtime wages, provide them with minimum wage or provide them with required meal and rest breaks during their time dancing in the establishment.

Final settlement approval in the class and collective action would resolve the allegations of tip misappropriation. Out of 8,000 class members, 50 chose to opt out and only a few others in the group objected to the settlement proposed as a resolution to the matter.

Dancers included in the suit were located throughout the country. Counsel for the class spoke to them regarding the allegations and disputed facts of the case and considered information pertaining to the case provided by defendants’ counsel including business structure, agreements in place, locations of the club, number of clubs involved in the case, number of dancers and other entertainers working at the various locations, applicable statute of limitations, and the number of days each dancer worked at the establishments. All this research and analyses was completed prior to engaging in settlement discussions.

According to the motion, the final approval of the proposed settlement would end litigation over all claims against the Spearmint Rhino nightclubs brought by the plaintiffs in regard to state wage and hour law violations, and the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). According to the dancers, the deal amount specified was $8.5 million, but could increase to $11 million if certain conditions were met.

A group of exotic dancers currently working the defendants’ clubs came forward the same day that the final settlement approval was requested to ask the court to find that they are not employees. They stated that they could have chosen to work as “employees,” but did not because they wanted to avoid the level of control the nightclubs had over actual employees. They argued that the plaintiffs are all former entertainers who no longer need to consider this aspect of the issue. They have no further interest in preserving their choice to perform without being subject to the rules, regulation, control and scrutiny of an employee.

If you have questions about wage and hour violations or if you are not being paid overtime you are due, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Judge’s Common Sense Ruling Grants Disney Summary Judgment on FCRA Class Claim

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In a class action lawsuit against Disney under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Culbersons alleged that Disney was in violation due to obtaining a background check prior to providing the plaintiff with proper disclosure as well as by taking adverse action without adhering to the proper adverse action process. While the Culbersons were able to obtain class certification, Disney prevailed at summary judgment.

The Los Angeles Division of the Superior Court of California granted summary judgment to Disney on February 9th, 2018 on both claims presented by the Culbersons. The court ruled that while the Culbersons may be able to state a claim for the existence of a technical FCRA violation on Disney’s part, there was no willful violation of FCRA.

The Court disagreed with the Culbersons interpretation of FCRA in connection to the adverse action claim. According to FCRA, if an employer intends to take any adverse action against a potential employee due to information obtained in a background check, they must first adhere to pre-adverse action protocol requiring the employer to give the applicant a copy of the background check and a summary of rights before taking the adverse action.

According to the Culbersons, Disney followed their own coding system for applicants including a category for “no hire” that constitutes adverse action. The categorizing of applicants in the Disney hiring system occurs prior to the submission of a copy of the background check and summary of rights to applicants. The Culbersons argued that this procedure constituted Disney actively and willfully failing to follow an appropriate pre-adverse action process.

The Court disagreed. They found that Disney’s “no hire” code did not actually constitute adverse action because it was only an internal decision. Employers are allowed to make internal decisions regarding potential employees without it constituting adverse action. According to the Court’s line of reasoning, Disney was not in violation of FCRA simply because they used an internal coding system for new applicants including a “no hire” category prior to sending out pre-adverse action letters.

Similarly, the Court held that Disney’s background check disclosure did not willfully violate FCRA. It was not determined whether or not the document included “extraneous” information as the Culbersons claimed. The Court declined to address the technical adherence to FCRA’s rule that the background check disclosure be a separate document solely dedicated to this purpose.

If you were not notified prior to adverse action taken by a potential employer, or if you were not properly notified of a background check being used during a pre-screening employment process, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.