Social Media Giant, Snapchat, Facing California Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

There seems to be a tech company constantly in the news facing a lawsuit – recent news has given the spotlight to the social media giant, Snapchat. The plaintiff in the case alleges wrongful termination.

The plaintiff, Anthony Pompliano, claims he was fired after alerting supervisors to potential misrepresentation on the part of the company. Pompliano filed the California wrongful termination lawsuit in January 2017. He claims that Snapchat intentionally misled their investors in order to inflate Snapchat’s valuation prior to its initial public offering (IPO). In addition, Pompliano alleges that Snapchat has actively sought to destroy his career since the termination.

According to news reports, Pompliano filed his California wrongful termination lawsuit against Snapchat alleging that he advised his supervisors on the job of Snapchat’s activity, mainly alleged misrepresentation of growth metrics. Snapchat hired Pompliano in August 2015. Prior to working with Snapchat, Pompliano worked for Facebook. Pompliano alleges that he was given false information during the hiring process that resulted in him taking a job with Snapchat. The company has a fierce rivalry with Pompliano’s previous employer, Facebook, another social media giant that has been on the seen years longer than the relatively new Snapchat. Pompliano claims that Snapchat fraudulently enticed him away from his position with Facebook to run Snapchat’s new user growth and engagement team. After working for Snapchat for only three weeks, it became apparent to Pompliano that Snapchat has falsely represented the Company’s growth, among other things.

In court documents, Pompliano states that during his time with Snapchat he learned that the metrics he was provided during his hiring process were false. Upon realizing this, Pompliano notified the Snapchat Vice President of Finance. Allegedly, some of the company’s superiors agreed with Pompliano, but afterward he was fired. Pompliano claims that Snapchat only hired him in order to obtain Facebook’s proprietary information. He further claims that he did not breach any agreements that he had with his previous employer, Facebook.

Pompliano claims he was fired because Snapchat accurately perceived that he would not turn a blind eye to continued misrepresentations of Company data to the public, advertisers, prospective employees, investors, etc. In addition to terminating his employment, Pompliano claims that Snapchat sought to destroy his career and his professional reputation through false misrepresentations about his termination. While Snapchat (and their maker, Snap Inc.) claim the allegations have on merit, Pompliano’s suit seeks to prevent the company from misrepresenting why his was fired.

If you have questions about wrongful termination or what constitutes a wrongful termination, please get in touch with one of the experienced southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

CNN Faces Discrimination Lawsuit from Former Employee

Stanley Wilson, a former writer and producer for CNN will pursue racial discrimination and retaliation claims after being allegedly fired for a plagiarism incident. Wilson, a longtime employee for CNN allegedly failed to attribute credit to parts of a news piece that never ran. In the wrongful termination lawsuit, Wilson claims that he was only promoted once during his 13 years of work with the company and alleges that the failure to receive appropriate promotion on the job was due to the fact that he is African-American.

Wilson’s suit is filed under California law for race, age, ancestry, disability discrimination and retaliation. CNN already attempted to dismiss Wilson’s claims through the use of the “anti-SLAPP law” (strategic lawsuit against public participation). According to the California anti-SLAPP law, when a lawsuit infringes upon a party’s right to freedom of speech or participation in the legal process, the party can request the court dismiss the case. The court ruled that the anti-SLAPP law did not apply in Wilson’s suit – even after CNN presented argument that allowing Wilson to sue over his termination would inhibit CNN’s free speech rights for public interest.

Many see this ruling as a victory for workers making discrimination claims – particular in the entertainment and media industries. Employers in these fields are sometimes negatively affected by their employer’s abuse of the anti-SLAPP law and the findings in this case indicate they can be protected when they file a lawsuit alleging discrimination on the job. In effect, this ruling is the court reminding the industry and the public itself that discrimination is not the same as free speech.

If you have questions about what constitutes discrimination in the workplace or harassment on the job, please get in touch with one of the experienced southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

California Harassment Lawsuit Filed Against Wells Fargo

Diana Duenas-Brown worked at a California Wells Fargo location for 14 years. During 11 of those years she worked as the Branch Manager. On December 9, 2016, Duenas-Brown filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination and retaliation. Allegedly, Duenas-Brown reported wrongdoing at Wells Fargo and as a result, she was fired in obvious retaliation for her reporting of illegal activity. In addition, her Wells Fargo supervisors harassed her.

According to the record, Duenas-Brown was fired on March 16, 2015 following her report of illegal sales practices by co-workers (i.e. opening customer accounts and issuing credit cards without prior customer consent). After an investigation uncovered widespread wrongdoing on the part of its sales representatives, Wells Fargo faced sanctions.

Duenas-Brown states that after reporting the illegal activity to her supervisors at Wells Fargo, she was harassed. She received unwarranted discipline, endured hostile interrogations, and was given poor performance reviews. She was also demoted, and transferred and had her wages reduced. This all occurred in the ten months preceding her termination from Well Fargo.

According to the lawsuit, Duenas-Brown suffered financial loss, the loss of her employee benefits and the loss of expected advancement opportunities as a direct result of the actions of Wells Fargo in response to her report of illegal activity in practice at the bank.

In response to the lawsuit and the allegations included, Wells Fargo stated that they have a zero tolerance for retaliation against employees policy – including retaliation against employees who submit a report of wrongdoing. The allegations included in the Wells Fargo lawsuit could easily be viewed as harassment on the job, but the lawsuit officially claims wrongful termination and retaliation. 

Wells Fargo is also facing lawsuits from customers who allege that the bank opened up face accounts/credit cards in their name without their consent. Some of the customers claim that the illegal action had a negative effect on their credit reports/scores. Wells Fargo has already paid $185 million in fines as a result of the illegal activity.

According to California employment law, employers must undergo training intended to prevent abusive conduct against employees, such as verbal abuse, physical abuse, derogatory remarks, etc. Abusive conduct can be defined as any act that occurs repeatedly. The law does not actually ban abusive conduct, but it does require training intended to prevent it from occurring. Sexual harassment against employees and discrimination against specified protected groups are also prohibited under employment law.

If you have questions or concerns regarding discrimination or harassment in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

FLSA Mercedes Dealer Suit Sees Second Reversal from 9th Circuit

The 9th Circuit again reversed a decision on the FLSA Mercedes Dealer suit alleging the a California Mercedes-Benz dealer is shorting their “service advisers” on overtime pay. They found that Congress never had intentions of exempting advisers from overtime pay. The panel of three judges based their findings on the “extensive legislative record” including amendments from 1966-1974. The record used for the basis of the panel’s findings constituted tens of thousands of pages that spanned close to two decades. In all of the data, there is barely a mention of service advisors. The few times they are mentioned, were connected in no way to concern regarding overtime pay.

Service advisers diagnose vehicle service and repairs and recommend additional work that, while not immediately necessary, would be beneficial for the car. A group of these employees filed suit in 2012 listing allegations that Encino Motorcars LLC was in violation of FLSA legislation because service advisers were paid strictly on commission even though their collective hours for the week on average amounted to more than the legal standard work of 40 hours.

The Mercedes-Benz dealership urged the court to dismiss the claims made by service advisers stating that the FLSA exemption for salesmen, mechanics, partsmen, etc. (whose primary functions are to sell or service vehicles) also applied to service advisers. The plaintiffs’ FLSA overtime and state-law claims were dismissed by district court in January 2013.

In March 2015, the 9th Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal, citing DOL regulations that state that only workers who sell cars were to be designated as salesmen and that only workers who personally provided service to cars were to be designated as mechanics. The 9th Circuit found the definitions to be reasonable and in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Chevron standard, this in spite of the Fourth and Fifth Circuits so far declining to adopt the DOL’s definitions.

In June 2016, the Supreme Court justices voted 6-2 to vacate the appellate ruling. They ordered the 9th Circuit to reconsider the matter without taking into consideration the DOL rules/definitions as they were issued in 2011 and were not offered alongside appropriate explanation that would enable them to be used as guidance in this type of dispute.

In August 2016, the DOL secretary presented arguments that the 9th Circuit got it right when they originally reversed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims. They argued that the FLSA explicitly exempts three occupations in the dealership setting from overtime pay and overtime requirements and that according the plain language of the section being applied to the case, the statute does not include (or therefore apply) to service advisers. Encino Motorcars continued to stand behind arguments that the court should hold that service advisers are exempt like its sister circuits instead of deferring to the DOL’s redefinition of “salesman.”

After reconsidering the matter, the 9th Circuit again reversed the district court’s dismissal and remanded the FLSA claims and related state claims, finding that even without considering the DOL definitions, the plain language of the law indicates Congress did not intend for service advisers to be exempt from overtime requirements/overtime compensation. In addition, it was noted that even if the text of the FLSA statute were decidedly ambiguous, the legislative history of the FLSA and amendments confirm Congress’s intentions for overtime exemptions and the list did not include service advisers. During discussions, Congress’ silence regarding exempting service advisers was significant and taken as a strong suggestion that they not be exempt to overtime pay.

If you have questions regarding overtime pay or exemptions from overtime pay, please contact an experienced southern California employment law attorney at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik. 

Versace Allegedly Employed a Code Designed to Identify Black Shoppers

One of Versace’s former employees, Christopher Sampino, has come forward to file suit against the company alleging state law violations, i.e. unfair business practices, wrongful termination, racial discrimination, etc. The lawsuit claims that the Italian design house uses a secret “black code” that alerts staff and security when there is a black shopper in one of their retail locations.

Sampino’s complaint was filed in Alameda County Superior Court and included allegations that he was discriminated against by Versace for being of mixed race. He was fired after just two weeks at the Versace outlet store in Pleasanton, California. In the complaint, Sampino alleges that new-employee training included an unnamed manger advising him regarding the “D410 Code.” The code is used for labeling black clothing, but it is also used in a casual manner whenever a black person enters the Versace store. When he was advised of the use of the code, the manager explained that it was used to alert Versace workers that a “black person is in the store.”

Sampino also claims that during his time with Versace he was harassed and eventually terminated after informing the store manager that he was, in fact, black. According to Sampino, he met and/or exceeded all expectations in connection with his Versace employment, but was fired after two weeks because he did not “understand luxury” and did not “know the luxury life.” Versace also advised Sampino that his dismissal was due to his lack of experiencing a luxury life. He was advised to quit in order to make the paperwork easier.

Labor Violation Allegations Listed in Sampino’s Suit Include:

1. Not being paid for time worked.

2. Not receiving required rest periods.

3. Being wrongfully terminated.

Sampino seeks class action certification. If the proposed class action lawsuit is certified by the court, other employees and/or former employees of Versace who found themselves in similar situations and were subjected to discriminatory treatment by Versace in the U.S. during the same time frame would be able to join in the case and share in any settlement amounts.

If you have been wrongfully terminated or if you have questions regarding the definition of wrongful termination, please get in touch with one of the experienced southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

AT&T Executive Fired Over Racist Texts Files Suit

Aaron Slator, AT&T’s former Head of Video Content and Advertising Sales filed suit against the company for breaching his employment contract and for defamation after his 2015 firing. The termination occurred during the regulatory review of AT&T’s $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV.  Legal counsel for the plaintiff filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles County court arguing that the former executive was cleared during the investigation of allegedly racist text messages discovered on his phone by his executive assistance in 2013. Slator was fired over the incident in 2015 after another executive assistant filed a discrimination and harassment lawsuit. 

Slator claims that AT&T advised him of their thorough investigation of the 2013 incident and assured him his job was secure. Two years later Slator was fired without any new evidence, new allegations, or new investigations into the matter. AT&T defends its actions insisting that diversity and inclusion are core values that are important to the company. They feel strongly about the situation and stand behind their termination of Slator and feel that his allegations are baseless and will result in a dismissal.

Slator’s firing made headlines across the country. He was the head of content acquisition and advertising for AT&T’s cable TV, broadband Internet, and wireless Internet services. He was also involved in the DirecTV acquisition, approved by the FCC and completed in 2015. In the lawsuit, Slator alleges that his executive assistant filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2013 alleging rampant racial discrimination by AT&T executives (listing Slator by name). Allegations included a detailed description of the racist text messages found on Slator’s phone. But AT&T’s internal investigation concluded that there was no discrimination.

Slator claims that he offered to resign, but was assured by AT&T that doing so was not necessary. He completed advisory training with an equal employment opportunity consultant in 2014. Yet the original allegations from the 2013 incident resurfaced in the 2015 lawsuit filed by a different executive assistant. Simultaneously, AT&T was sued by a unit of Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios for alleged discrimination against African-American-owned media companies. Slator’s legal counsel points to the intense public and legal scrutiny resulting from this situation when claiming that AT&T needed someone to take the blame and that the someone became Slator. The executive assistant’s claims were dismissed in California Superior Court, but this did not occur until months after Slator’s termination.

If you have been wrongfully terminated or if you know someone who has been wrongfully terminated, please get in touch with one of the experienced southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Recent Study Indicates Transgender Discrimination in the Workplace is Prevalent

In a recent study, 2015 report from the Center for American Progress and the Movement Advancement Project, almost 80% of American transgender workers claimed they had experienced discrimination in the workplace or during the employment application process. From general discrimination to harassment to mistreatment, this demographic is facing a substantial challenge on the job.

Expert and author, Lee Schubert, indicated that it is not uncommon for employers or co-workers to present transgender employees with rude and inappropriate questions, comments, etc. Common discriminatory questions/topics that transgenders face include: questions about transition surgery, questions about sexuality, etc Many employers face difficulty when attempting to appropriately refer to their transgender employees, i.e. which pronoun to use – he or she. Some transgender employees do not want to be referred to as either he or she, but prefer they as they may not identify with either male female. Employers can find it confusing – it’s new territory in many cases. But the challenges this causes transgender employees to face are very real. In fact, the recent 2015 report noted above concludes that employment discrimination is a fact of life for trans people and that it comes with serious economic consequences.

In the study, “Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for Being Transgender,” it states that up to 47% of trans workers report being denied employment unfairly. 78% report harassment, mistreatment and/or discrimination on the job.

Tips for appropriately interacting and/or managing trans workers are actually the same tips that apply to interactions with all workers in a workplace: demonstrate respect, recognize that there is a difference between personal values and community values of a workplace and act professionally, and be respectful of coworkers’ privacy and confidentiality.

If you have questions or concerns about employment discrimination or transgender employment discrimination specifically, please get in touch with one of the experienced southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.