Former Employee Files Suit Against Beverly Hills Hotel Alleging Racism

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The family that owns the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, 300 S. Doheny Drive, is looking at a bit of legal trouble after a former employee filed suit against the wife of the hotel owner. Jennie Lam’s lawsuit claims that she was harassed about her Asian heritage and was then fired in 2016 after she complained about the situation. Lam was employed as a floral designer and plant care specialist at the hotel beginning in February 2015. Her technical employer was For All Seasons Landscapes, which is located inside the hotel.

Defendants included in the lawsuit are: Beverly Cohen, the Robert & Beverly Cohen Family Trust, For All Seasons Gardenscapes Inc., and Veronica Rodriguez. (Veronica Rodriguez is a former co-worker of Lam).

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages on allegations of race discrimination and harassment, age discrimination (the wife allegedly referred to her as “the little Chinese girl”), whistleblower retaliation, wrongful termination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Lam claims she was repeatedly singled out by Cohen due to her race. Allegedly, Cohen once advised Lam, “Chinese, Vietnamese, whatever you are, just work or you will not have a job.”

Lam also claims she was made to work in temperatures over 100 degrees inside a heated greenhouse without the appropriate (or any) rest or meal breaks. When she complained about the working conditions, she was allegedly told that the heat was good for someone her age and good for her skin and that “Asian people are meant to work hard.” Lam’s lawsuit also indicates that she was made to dig through trash cans for old flowers to use in arrangements and also forced to clean the defendant’s penthouse balcony.

Rodriquez is included in the lawsuit because she allegedly made similarly racially charged, negative remarks to Lam such as, “I don’t like you, whatever the hell your background is, Vietnamese or Chinese…”

Lam eventually saw negative effects on her health. In April 2016, she had a panic attack and started to shake when Cohen ordered her to use a saw to cut branches into shorter lengths and use them in a floral arrangement. Lam protested that she wasn’t trained for that type of work, and a co-worker performed the duty. According to Lam, he severely cut one of his fingers during the process. As Lam left Cohen terminated her employment.

If you have been wrongfully terminated or if you are experiencing a hostile work environment, please contact one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

$300 Million Suit Insists Ogletree Law Firm Supports Gender Pay Gap

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In recent news, Ogletree Law Firm was accused of gender pay gap in connection with a $300 million lawsuit. The case is all the more interesting because Ogletree Law Firm specializes in defending companies against this type of lawsuit.

How did they end up as a Defendant? It started with Dawn Knepper, California employment lawyer, transferred to the Orange County office in 2012. She requested equal or greater pay in comparison to a male associate with similar seniority whom she had surpassed in both billable hours and new business leads. Rather than agree to her requirement, the firm paid her about $100,000 less than what the male associate was being paid.

This led to one of the claims in Knepper’s l$300 million gender discrimination lawsuit citing Ogletree Deakins as the Defendant. According to Knepper, the firm is male dominated with the majority of decision makers being male and the culture one that fosters the marginalization of women. She also accused the firm of supporting a work culture that demeans and undervalues women.

The website for the firm boasts diversity and equality in their workforce, but Knepper’s suit claims that approximately 80% of equity partners at the firm are men and that the situation means fewer opportunities and lower pay for female associates. She filed her proposed class action complaint against the firm (with more than 700 attorneys throughout the US) was filed on January 12, 2018.

Ogletree insists that they have always kept equal opportunity as a core value at the firm and that they in no way tolerate discrimination of any kind. They also claim that half the firm’s employees are female and that 2 of the 4 elected members of its compensation committee are also women. They went even further to claim that many of their most successful attorneys are women.

If you feel you are being unfairly treated in the workplace, if you are the victim of a gender pay gap or you need assistance obtaining filing a proposed class action lawsuit, please contact an experienced California employment law attorney at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Does Google Discriminate Against White Male Conservatives?

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A former Google Engineer, James Damore, filed a class action lawsuit against Google claiming that they discriminate against white, male, conservatives after he was fired in August. Damore’s firing occurred after he posted a memo to an internal message board at the company presenting a very specific argument:

Damore’s memo argued that women may not be equally represented in tech because they are “biologically less capable” of engineering.

In response to his termination, Damore filed a class action lawsuit against Google in Santa Clara Superior Court. In his suit, Damore claims that Google unfairly discriminates against white men with conservative political views that are not “popular” with Google execs. 

Damore is not making allegations alone either. He is joined by another former Google engineer: David Gudeman. Gudeman spent 3 years working on a query engine for the company. According to his publicly accessible LinkedIn profile, Gudeman left Google in December 2016 and has since been self-employed.

The lawsuit states that it is intended to represent any employees of Google that have been discriminated against as a result of their “perceived conservative political views” by the company or due to their male gender or being a Caucasian. The plaintiffs specifically accuse Google of singling out and systematically mistreating employees that express views that deviate from the popular or “norm” at Google pertaining to various political topics raised in the workplace and/or issues that are relevant to Google’s policies and procedures in relation to employment or business. The lawsuit includes examples, such as: diversity hiring policies, bias sensitivity, social justice, etc.

The men are seeking monetary, non-monetary and punitive remedies.

Google stated that Damore was fired for violating the company code of conduct and promoting negative gender stereotypes in the workplace. The Labor Department is conducting a separate investigation into systemic pay discrimination at Google, but Google denies that there is a problem stating that they have found no pay gap in their own analysis.

If you need assistance filing a California wrongful termination law suit, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Based Newspaper Fires Employees Who Demanded Overtime With Expensive Consequences

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Can a company fire an employee because they sued for back overtime? Recent news indicates that the answer is no – at least in California. This is exactly what Joong-Ang, publisher of Korea Daily (a Korean language newspaper based in California), found out when the court ordered him to pay $584,612 to three former employees.

The story began in June of 2013. Three of the newspaper’s employees filed a California overtime lawsuit alleging that they were not paid overtime wages as required by law. Only a couple months later – the three employees were fired from their jobs with Korea Daily.

Some claim this was a coincidence – which is arguable considering the fact that on the same day the three employees who filed suit were let go, all the employees at the same printing facility were also let go. Yet all the employees let go from that printing facility were rehired by another company that took over the operations – all except the three employees who filed a California overtime lawsuit against the newspaper. According to the three plaintiffs, they were not advised of the opportunity alongside their co-workers.

When they discovered what had happened, the three now unemployed workers added more claims to their suit including wrongful termination.

The courts sided with the plaintiffs. They won the case. The Korean language newspaper appealed, but late last month, Korea Daily lost their appeal.

According to California Labor Code Section 1199, it is illegal for an employer to fail to provide overtime wages in accordance with the Industrial Welfare Commission. As occurred in this case, the employees have the right to overtime wages and may exercise that right (in this situation by filing an overtime lawsuit). If the employer then terminates the employee for exercising their right to overtime pay, the worker could be entitled to additional “damages” due to wrongful termination.

So, essentially, Joong-Ang, the publisher of Korea Daily, was ordered by the court to pay $584,000 for firing employees who demanded they be paid overtime the company was required to pay by law. If you are a company in California make sure you are familiar with both federal and state overtime rules. Employees are entitled to overtime and are seeking restitution in court more than ever before.

If you are a California business that needs assistance with employment law violations or if you are a California employee who is not paid overtime pay, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Victims of Thomas Fire in California File Class Action Lawsuit Against California Utility

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Nine plaintiffs allege that Southern California Edison, a Southern California utility company, sparked the biggest wildfire the state has seen in modern history. The joint suit cited negligence in regard to the fire ignited on the evening of December 6th, 2017.

The plaintiffs claim that if the utility company had behaved in a responsible manner, the Thomas Fire could possibly have been prevented. According to the lawsuit, negligence was apparent when the company performed construction near a facility without necessary safety precautions and in an unsafe manner that resulted in nearby vegetation catching fire. It was also noted that the company failed to maintain its facilities (both overhead electric and communications) in a safe manner and that Southern California Edison did not remove trees and/or vegetation that was encroaching on space surrounding utility poles.

The lawsuit also lists two other Defendants: Ventura City and the Casitas Municipal Water District citing their failure to have functioning generators available when they were needed that would have been able to help with water pressure during the fire.

The Thomas Fire left destruction in its wake. 242,000 acres were burned through. More than 1,000 structures of various sizes and purposes were destroyed or left with extensive fire damage. And thousands and firefighters and countless resources were required to extinguish the flames. The Thomas wildfire left more than 100,000 Californians displaced – their homes either destroyed or unlivable.

One major problem during the fight to extinguish the fire was a lack of water pressure being supplied to fire hydrants located in hillside neighborhoods and canyons of Ventura. Plaintiffs find it shocking that the City of Ventura failed to have a working backup generator on hand when it was desperately needed.

The utility company declined to comment on the pending lawsuit as the Cal Fire investigation is currently in progress. Ventura City’s Water General Manager expressed his sympathy for those who lost their homes and/or were displaced by the Thomas Fire and added that the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation, but that they did commend both the firefighters and Ventura Water crews for their response during the emergency.

The Municipal Water District also declined to comment citing the pending nature of the litigation. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.

If you have questions regarding corporate liability, or filing a class action lawsuit in California, please contact one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Walmart Class Action Suit: Cashiers Allege Retail Giant Knows Seating is Feasible

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In early January 2018, the 80,000 member class of Walmart cashiers alleging that the big box store was in violation of state law due to the failure to provide them with seating on the job made the notable claim that when the company provided seats to cashiers with disabilities, they conceded that seating for cashiers was feasible. This claim that the company has already (through their actions towards cashiers with disabilities) acknowledged that the work of a Walmart cashier permits seating was made in California federal court in support of allegations in their suit.

The class argued that in light of last year’s California Supreme Court ruling that companies are required to provide seats if the work can be done sitting down, the big box store’s obvious acknowledgement that the work can be completed while sitting leaves them with no excuse for not allowing all their cashiers to sit.

When determining how best to accommodate cashiers with disabilities, both Walmart’s safety and compliance department and Walmart’s own Americans with Disabilities Act experts tested and later approved ergonomic reaches and ranges of motion relevant to the work of a seated cashier stationed in the ADA check-out lanes. Walmart chose the specific seat to be offered to disabled cashiers themselves in order to ensure that the situation would be acceptable for both the company’s findings regarding required work and situational necessities.

The action was originally launched by Lead Plaintiff and former cashier, Kathy Williamson, in the Superior Court for Alameda County in summer of 2009. It was moved to federal court at a later date. U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila granted the motion to certify class in 2012, finding that there was a common nature of work amongst the California Walmart cashiers. He also concluded that a trier of common facts could pinpoint exactly what designated tasks could be performed while cashiers were seated.

The Defendant appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit. The appellate court affirmed the decision in June. This was just two months after the state Supreme Court defined the state’s seating rule in the Kilby v. CVS Pharmacy Inc. decision. In this decision, the court determined that employees must be provided with seats if the work they are completing can be done in a seated position even if they aren’t performing the same task all day long. The class of Walmart cashiers argued that the Kilby decision controlled the case and that Walmart has shown on numerous occasions that being seated would not prevent their cashiers from performing their duties (i.e. Walmart productivity study, and study on negative perception in 2007). The case is scheduled to go to trial in fall 2018.

If you have questions about class action lawsuits or if you feel unfairly treated in the workplace, please contact one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP to discuss potential violations.

Will “Bohemian Rhapsody” Firing Have Bryan Singer Suing Fox?

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Bryan Singer, well known as the director of X-Men, was recently fired from his new movie Bohemian Rhapsody. The termination occurred after his unexplained disappearance from the set. 20th Century Fox terminated Singer after he went missing citing unexpected unavailability and other charges of unprofessional behavior – specifically unprofessional behavior towards actor Rami Malek on the set.

Now Singer is claiming that his unexplained disappearance was due to the fact that he needed to care for a “gravely ill” parent and that when he tried to get the time off, Fox refused. According to Singer’s statement, there were fewer than three weeks to shoot remaining and he asked Fox for time off to deal with a parent’s pressing health matters in the United States. He noted that the experience was very taxing and took a serious toll on his own health. According to Singer, Fox refused the time off request and terminated his employment as director. Singer claims that he wanted nothing more than to finish the project as planned, but that events were out of his control and he was forced to put his health and the health of loved ones before his dedication to honoring the legacy of Freddie Mercury and Queen through the making of Bohemian Rhapsody.

As there has been a lot of focus on sexual misconduct in connection with Hollywood lately, it is no surprise that attention is being drawn to allegations of sexual misconduct connected to Singer’s current circumstances. They are not the first. These types of accusations have followed Singer throughout his career. Also indicating a problem is the fact that Singer’s long-time publicist recently dropped him as a client – without offering any explanation for the surprising move. If sexual misconduct charges are officially thrown at Singer, being fired from a movie will be the very least of his troubles.

Yet Singer’s claims could also be true. It’s possible that he was fired after taking a brief break to care for an ill parent and get his own health in order. If that’s the case, he could have a case of wrongful termination.

According to California labor law, employees can be rightfully terminated for unexplained absences or being unprofessional/clashing with co-workers. They cannot, however, be rightfully terminated due to a medical leave or a disability.

In accordance with the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, an employee is provided 12 weeks unpaid leave when an immediate family member has a serious health condition. When the employee wishes to return to work (within the specified time frame) the employer must give their job back.

Considering Singer’s commonly known reputation, it’s likely that Fox’s version of events leading up to his termination are accurate. In fact, it has previously been reported that Fox put certain “parameters” in place prior to securing Singer for his role in the movie – one of which was to have a Directors Guild of America representative on set to monitor filming. Singer was also warned prior to being brought on to the project that they would not tolerate inappropriate/unprofessional activities from him during filming.

If you aren’t sure whether your current situation qualifies as wrongful termination, please get in touch with an experienced California employment law attorney at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.