Whistleblower Lawsuit Filed Against Local California Business

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Susanne Bjornson, a former employee of a local home furnishing store, filed a whistleblower lawsuit claiming wrongful termination and emotional distress. Bjornson claims that her previous employer falsified a declaration and forged her signature in order to defeat a valid Workers’ Compensation claim. Bjornson filed an employment lawsuit in the Santa Barbara Superior Court against Celadon House.

Celadon House operates retail furniture stores in both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Bjornson, who was employed at the Santa Barbara retail location, alleges she was working on the day that one of her co-workers was injured in the course of moving some furniture. The employee who sustained the injury filed a Workers’ Compensation claim.

According to the plaintiff’s legal counsel, Celadon House did not carry Workers’ Compensation insurance (a violation of California law). The two owners of Celadon House, Kelli Thornton and Cherisse Sweeney, allegedly prepared a Declaration including Bjornson’s name without her knowledge or consent. In the Declaration, it stated that the injured employee had not moved furniture on the day they sustained their injury and that the employee did not report the injury. Allegedly, one of the two Celadon House owners then completed the false Declaration with Bjornson’s forged signature.

Bjornson insists she was never questioned by the two owners or anyone else at the company about the injury or the day the injury was sustained and that the statements that are being attributed to her in the official Declaration document are false. Due to the false Declaration, the injured employee’s Workers’ Compensation benefits were denied. Soon after the denial, Bjornson was notified of the Declaration. Bjornson, fearing that she could be implicated in an unlawful act, felt compelled to immediately resign her position with Celadon House.

The plaintiff’s counsel argues that as the working conditions were so intolerable that Bjornson, as a reasonable person, had no other alternative than to resign her employment, it constitutes a “constructive” discharge of employment – meaning that the resignation is equal to termination.

If you have questions about what constitutes wrongful termination or if you have been wrongfully terminated, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Years-Long Fight Between Billionaire Siebel and Former Salesman Receives Jury Verdict

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Tech billionaire Thomas Siebel’s legal battle with a former Massachusetts salesman nears an end with jury’s verdict after four years of litigation. The highly contentious and long legal battle resulted in a jury that found Siebel did not owe Gregg Carman, former salesman, additional pay.

The San Jose jury delivered their verdict against former salesman for C3 loT, Gregg Carman. Carman filed suit claiming that he was shortchanged on commissions. The company was able to convince a majority of the jury that Carman did not have a reasonable expectation of receiving additional commissions totaling several hundred thousand dollars. The claim was defeated under “quantum meruit,” a legal theory presented by Siebel’s legal counsel.

Counterclaims the company made against Carman alleging that he misrepresented the nature of deals with a couple utility companies he closed while on the job and actually owed Siebel’s company around $120,000 were also unanimously rejected by the jury. While the jury did agree that Carman was fired either for complaining about his pay or so the company could avoid paying him additional commissions, they did not agree that he had been wrongfully terminated according to California labor law.

Many companies would have quickly settled this type of claim outside of court or in mediation, but Siebel fought the case vigorously after refusing to pay the compromise amount of $360,000 suggested by Carman. In fact, Siebel has a record of aggressively litigating in his defense. His legal representation stated that it was about the principle for Siebel. He does not settle illegitimate claims for compensation.

Under fiscal year 2014, Carman stood to be provided over $1 million in commissions according to the company’s policy. The deals with the two utility companies were actually closed in FY 2015. Carman was not informed of change to the commission policy for FY 2015 until after the deals closed. The policy change left him with approximately ¼ of what he would have received if the deals closed during the previous fiscal year.

The Defendant convinced the jury that this type of policy change (even their retroactive nature) is standard practice in the industry and that Carman, as an experienced salesman in the industry, should have been understood the situation. Wrongful termination damages are trebled under California law so C3 faced a potential $8 million in damages and attorney fees at trial. The plaintiff and his legal representation did not deny the possibility of an appeal.

If you are struggling to get your employer to fulfill agreed upon payment arrangements or if you have been wrongfully terminated, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Wage & Hour Settlement In Case of Nurses Classified as Exempt

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A settlement was proposed to settle a wage and hour class action lawsuit alleging that nurses and other medical personnel were misclassified as exempt by Health Resource Solutions Inc. The plaintiff group included both registered nurses and clinicians. The proposed settlement was for $738,000 to close out the overtime class action lawsuit.

The case was founded on the allegations that 79 workers were wrongfully classified as exempt from overtime. Both parties involved in the case agreed on the settlement amount. The plaintiffs noted that estimate distribution amounts to claimants should represent close to 90% of maximum individual claims for overtime wages (exclusive of liquidated/other damages under FLSA and IMWL). April 19th was set as the final approval hearing for the settlement.

The company, Health Resource Solutions, will retain $162,000 of the original proposed settlement amount of $900,000. The amount of the proposed settlement was reduced after a smaller number of plaintiffs became claimants (only 79 of the expected 175 that was originally estimated). The unclaimed settlement funds totaling $162,126.77 will be kept by Health Resource Solutions.

Plaintiffs’ counsel requested that the judge approve legal fees to be taken out of the settlement fund totaling $300,000. The fee was 1/3 of the original settlement amount but will be 41% of the final settlement fund if the request is approved. Attorneys argued that their actions resolved the case prior to incurring the expense of lengthy class action litigation, trial costs, and likely appeals to the court’s decisions.

Monique B. originally filed the complaint in 2016 alleging that the company, HRS or Health Resource Solutions, wrongfully classified their employees – leaving them exempt from overtime they legally deserved. This was done in violation of both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law (IMWL). In order for an employee to be legally classified as exempt they must meet very specific requirements.

If you have questions about overtime violations or other violations of California labor law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Overtime Settlement For Health Workers Gets Final Approval

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Health workers were granted the requested final approval on an overtime settlement in their class action lawsuit against the Defendant Health Resource Solutions (HRS). Allegations were made that HRS failed to pay legally required overtime to healthcare workers in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Sources report that the healthcare company misclassified a group of clinicians, registered nurses, occupational therapists, and other therapists, categorizing them as exempt from overtime pay. The judge noted that the $900,000 overtime settlement was fair, reasonable and adequate. He also made note that it seemed in the best interest of the class members who were settling.

The settlement would include covering:

·      $7,878 – settlement administration expenses

·      $300,000 – attorney’s fees

·      $7,500 – to the class representative

·      70 additional claims that were filed prior to the parties’ cutoff on April 2nd.

The class representative is plaintiff Monique B. One class member opted out of the deal with no other objections made. The plaintiff and the Class allege that HRS was in violation of both the FLSA and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law by misclassifying their employees that work with patients on a homecare basis as exempt. The settlement will end the litigation brought by the hybrid class and the collection action brought forth by Monique against HRS and co-owners of HRS, Robert M. and Glenn S.

The allegations in the original complaint indicated that the company, HRS, and the company’s owners knew that the employees being classified as exempt did not actually meet the necessary qualifications for the classification. In order for an employee to be legally classified as exempt, they must demonstrate the worker performs job duties that meet certain criteria and that they received compensation on either a salary or fee basis. According to the complaint, HRS created its own pay structure for workers.

·      Office time and staff meetings were compensated on an hourly basis.

·      Advancement was set for visits’ pay.

·      Travel time, scheduling/coordinating patient care with providers/speaking to patients about scheduling was not compensated.

·      Additionally, overtime weeks to which employees worked but were not compensated totaled 10,000 employee weeks.

The allegedly misclassified employees included 175 people. It has been reported that HRS will first cover employee claims and any settlement money remaining will be retained.

If you are considering filing an FLSA class action lawsuit or if you have questions about being misclassified, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility Faces Employee Claims of Asbestos Exposure

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On February 20, 2018, a former employee of MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility (YCF) filed a lawsuit claiming exposure to asbestos-containing materials. The plaintiff alleges that the facility’s management knowingly allowed staff (and young offenders assigned to the location) to be exposed to asbestos-containing materials while they worked on a project to upgrade campus cottages and buildings. The plaintiff, John N., advised the media that he was knowingly exposed while he spent close to a year and a half supervising a group of youth helping out on some MacLaren YCF remodeling.

The remodeling project was approved by Oregon State Legislature in 2015. The plaintiff was ordered to replace wallboard panels that had been removed in an in-process campus cottage in February 2017 by his supervisor, Mike B. Mike had discovered there was an unexpected tour of state officials. He is a named defendant in the case. He was heard by the plaintiff explaining that he didn’t want the officials to discover the asbestos-containing materials in the walls of Kincaid Cottage.

The plaintiff was alarmed by the information and was floored that management had not advised anyone of the situation. John alleges that after his supervisor made this confession to him and a painter on site, they were put on administrative leave. He was accused of assisting minors on site in concealing items that were not allowed at the facility while he supervised teams of youth working on the remodel.

John, the plaintiff, filed a complaint with Occupational and Safety Administration (OSHA) within the month. A fine was levied against Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) for dual violations of the Oregon Safe Employment Act. OSHA’s investigation also found negligence on the part of OYA in notifying employees about the presence of the asbestos-containing materials he, other workers and the youth crews were exposed to on site. The organization was also found non-compliant in providing necessary employee training regarding asbestos.

John N. was also fired only days after OYA was formally fined. As retaliating against an employee is also in violation of employment law, John is asking for damages amounting to $935,000.

If you have questions regarding an unsafe workplace or if you are experiencing retaliation in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

$4.2M to End California Food Service Co. Pay Suit

A group of service technicians responsible for handling equipment for an ITW Food Equipment Group division out of California requested that the California federal court offer initial approval of a $4.2 million settlement to resolve allegations that the company did not provide equal pay to their technicians.

The group of technicians make up a class of more than 200. The lead plaintiff is Joseluis Alcantar. Alcantar worked for food equipment service provider, Hobart Service, or over two decades. Allegedly, Hobart Foods did not provide technicians with pay for the transportation of tools to and from home when servicing their first and last customers of each work day. Following seven years of litigation, plaintiffs are currently requesting that the judge approve the preliminary agreement that was reached just before the trial commenced.

Class members in receipt of settlement money would receive a portion based on calculations considering their amount of time as an employee and other relevant factors. The motion filed declares the settlement as fair, reasonable and adequate. The motion cited the reason behind plaintiff support of the settlement as the requirement for defendants to conduct remediation measures clarifying the vehicle usage agreement that should address the commuting options available to service technicians in regard to their work vehicles.

Service technicians in the group are responsible for maintenance of the company’s food service equipment at a number of different customer locations. In order to complete their job duties, techs are required to transport tools and other necessary equipment to the sites. The company calculating time worked with a deduction for “normal commute time” at the start and finish of the work day. Plaintiffs allege this is in violation of California’s labor laws.

The original complaint was filed in 2011. While the court initially sided with the company and refused to grant class certification in 2012, the plaintiffs eventually appealed to the Ninth Circuit and the previous ruling was overturned. In 2016, class certification was granted allowing the overtime claim to move forward. A trial date was set for early 2018.

After a large amount of discovery with 30 depositions and the production of 142,000 documents, and several failed attempts to resolve the suit, an agreement was reached nine days prior to the trial.

If you have concerns regarding California wage and hour law or other California employment law concerns, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Unequal Pay Suit Against Uber To Be Settled at $10M

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Uber Technologies Inc. agreed to pay a $10 million settlement this month in order to settle an unequal pay suit calling gender and race discrepancies into question. They also agreed to make some changes to their business practices used for evaluating their workers. Together the two stipulations form the basis for their settlement agreement ending a proposed California class action.

The proposed California class action was filed by female software engineers and engineers of color who allege that Uber did not pay them equally. If the settlement is approved, it would offer $23,800 to each of 420 engineers (approximately) included in the class. All were allegedly affected negatively by the company’s discriminatory pay practices (i.e. performance evaluation system used by Uber supervisors to rank workers). In addition, the company would need to work with a third-party company to create a new system to be used at Uber for promotion evaluation, general employee evaluations, and as a means of determining worker compensation.

Claims included in this particular case date back to summer of 2013. Uber claims they have made a lot of changes since some of the older claims have been filed. In fact, they stated that in the past year they have already developed a new salary and equity structure based on the market and overhauled their employee performance review process. They also stated that they published their very first Diversity & Inclusion report along with delivering various diversity training in leadership conferences to thousands of their employees throughout the world.

The complaint was filed by Ingrid Avendaño, Roxana del Toro Lopez and Ana Medina in California superior court in October 2017. The complaint claimed (on behalf of themselves and other aggrieved employees suffering from Uber’s unfair business practices) that the company violated the California Equal Pay Act and Private Attorneys General Act. The system the plaintiffs claim was in place at the company systematically undervalued female employees and employees of color in comparison to the male, white, or Asian American peers in similar positions. The plaintiffs claim that female employees and employees of color at Uber received lower rankings on average despite equal or even better performance than their co-workers.

The case was removed to federal court on the same day that the proposed settlement was filed, and del Toro Lopez filed an amended complaint. These changes established a class for California workers as well as another class for workers across the country – alleging various violations of both state and federal laws. The complaint filed noted the Uber workplace culture as problematic and related to the pay issue.

Uber is not required to accept any blame or admit any wrong in the situation according to the terms of the proposed settlement. It does require a new evaluation system as well as a system to monitor base salaries, bonuses and promotions internally in order to identify any potential negative effects on female workers and/or women of color.

If you are experiencing pay discrepancies in the workplace or if you would like more information on filing a proposed class action, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.