Former Planet Fitness Manager Makes Allegations of Harassment and Rape

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A former manager of a Planet Fitness sued the well-known gym claiming that the company supported a male-dominated, and “debaucherous” workplace. Among her complaints are allegations of sexual harassment and rape. Senior management for the Planet Fitness location headquarters organized drinking activities for the employees. For example, “Fireball Friday.”

Fireball Friday games had employees competing to drink the most shots in the least amount of time at work. One manager also brought vodka-based gummy worms to work. Casey Willard joined the company in 2015. When she was new on the job, she followed her managers’ direction and doing so sometimes left her at work and drunk by 11:00 in the morning.

Willard filed suit against Planet Fitness in September. Amid a number of employment law violations, Willard also alleges that she was drugged and raped by a company manager and his friends during a September 2017 business trip to California. According to the lawsuit, she reported the rape to the local police and to Planet Fitness. It is not clear what became of the police report or what action was taken by law enforcement. Willard discussed the problem with two Planet Fitness attorneys and clearly stated that she didn’t want others at the company to know what happened to her, but later discovered that other managers knew of the situation.

Willard also claimed in the lawsuit that one of her managers initiated a sexual relationship with her; which was in violation of the company’s anti-fraternization policy. She was concerned that she might lose her job due to the situation. She eventually let the company know (earlier this year) that she couldn’t return to work.

Willard described the work environment at the Planet Fitness corporate offices as “debaucherous.” Senior management was mostly male and most of them made “openly sexual comments, sexual innuendo, and engaged in pretend sexual contact toward female employees.” In response to Willard’s claims, Planet Fitness states that they investigated Willard’s claims and fired an employee for violation of Planet Fitness policy. The company stated that they also discovered that Willard engaged in a consensual relationship with a supervisor that she didn’t bring to the company’s attention. That supervisor was also fired. The company disputes Willard’s other allegations and claims they are baseless.

Willard seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages arising from sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, discrimination and wrongful termination.

If you are fighting sexual harassment in the workplace or if you need to discuss what to do when your employer supports a hostile work environment, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Vivint Smart Homes Faces Racial Harassment Complaints

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Vivint Smart Homes, a Provo-based company, is facing racial harassment complaints filed by four former employees. The four complaints arrive on the scene only months after two former Vivint Solar employees filed similar harassment complaints in June 2018.

The four men who filed racial harassment complaints all identify as black or Latino. The lawsuits were filed in October 2018 in the Superior Court of California in LA. Claims included racial harassment, workplace retaliation, wrongful termination and racial discrimination in the workplace on the part of co-workers.

The previous, but similar, complaints came just four months after two other former employees, one white and one black, leveled allegations of racism and hostile work environment in a Vivint Solar office right here in California. These complaints came after a supervisor and other workers on site built a cardboard “fort” in the warehouse and then used spray paint to write “white only” on the outside of the makeshift, cardboard fortress. 

Vivint Solar and Vivint Smart Home are two separate entities. But both companies are controlled by the same private equity firm in New York. Both also grew out of APX Alarm, a Provo company that was founded almost two decades ago. The two companies, Vivint Solar and Vivint Smart Home, enjoy a strategic partnership.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs suggest that it’s obvious that there is a real cultural problem in the Vivint family. Christopher Brown, one of the plaintiffs, claimed that shortly after he arrived to work in California as a sales representative for Vivint Smart Home, his supervisor on the job started to use the “n-word” and make racist comments. Chris made a complaint but got an extremely minimal response from the company. In fact, Brown is fairly certain the supervisor in question is still employed at the company and that no disciplinary action was taken regarding the racial harassment.

Other complainants include: Andrew Kirchner, Terence Major and Vaaron Watts. All claim that they were subjected to racial slurs, images and videos posted to a GroupMe chat hosted by a co-worker.

If you have been subjected to a hostile work environment or if you are discriminated against at work, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

The Wonderful Company Faces Pregnancy Discrimination Allegations

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Lynda Resnick is the 10th richest self-made woman in the United States. She is a pioneering entrepreneur, a prominent philanthropist, and an inspiration to women everywhere. She is also the co-owner of The Wonderful company and they’re currenting being accused of pregnancy discrimination. Despite the fact that she is a spokeswoman for women in the workplace fighting against stereotypes and hostile work cultures that are becoming less and less acceptable since the social change reflected by the #metoo movement in recent years, five former employees claim that Resnick is not a great example of glass-ceiling breakers.

One of the five former employees filed a pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit against the company. The case is currently in private arbitration and comes only five years after the company resolved a lawsuit that stemmed from similar claims. The other four employees describe the company’s work culture as a hostile work environment particularly for pregnant women or working parents, but none of the four have sued or filed any complaints against the company. The Wonderful Company denies the claims being made by the five former employees.

Arbitration on the case started on November 12th. The employee alleging pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination was the former marketing director at The Wonderful Company. Fearful of retribution from future employers, the woman asked that her name be kept out of the press. She claims she was fired in 2016 during her maternity leave. She had planned 16 weeks of maternity leave to care for her newborn (as provided by California’s Family Rights Act or CFRA), but she was fired 12 weeks to the day after she started her maternity leave.

The federal FMLA or Family and Medical Leave Act covers 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave for covered employers. Federal law also allows four additional weeks of unpaid leave if a doctor confirms that a mother is temporarily disabled in accordance with the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The former Marketing Director claims that her job was terminated on the exact day her FMLA expired and in California, employees are still covered under CFRA.

If you have experienced pregnancy discrimination in the workplace or if you were fired while you were on FMLA leave, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

#MeToo Movement Brings to Light a Growing Problem with Mandatory Arbitration Agreements

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In the wake of the recent #MeToo movement, many are starting to speak out about the fact that mandatory arbitration agreements may be particularly bad for women. When the #MeToo movement resulted in more and more female workers coming forward to report instances of sexual harassment in the workplace at companies like Fox and the Weinstein Company, many of them quickly realized that they would not be able to seek justice in the courts because of arbitration agreements they were required to sign as employees. 

For instance, Gretchen Carlson, former Fox News anchor, signed a required mandatory arbitration agreement. She sued former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment and received an undisclosed settlement. But she was not able to sue Fox News for their rose in allowing the sexual harassment to continue. Dozens of other women who experienced similar situations at Fox found themselves in the same situation.

As more women come forward to speak out about sexual harassment on the job, many are putting the pressure on Congress to take action and restrict or even eliminate arbitration clauses from US workplaces.

Recent Legislative Actions:

October 2017 – The Mandatory Arbitration Transparency Act was introduced. The Act prohibits businesses from including a confidentiality clause in arbitration agreements in connection with discrimination claims.

December 2017 – The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act was introduced exempting sexual harassment cases from mandatory arbitration.

February 2018 – 56 state attorneys general (5 from US territories) weighed in with a letter urging congressional leaders to vote on the bills.

March 2018 – The Arbitration Fairness Act was proposed, which would let workers and consumers decide where they should pursue their legal claims.

October 2018 - The latest bill, the Restoring Justice for Workers Act, would prohibit employers from banning class-action claims.

If you need to speak with an experienced California employment law attorney because you are experiencing labor law violations and aren’t sure how to seek justice, please get in touch with us at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

New Bill Could Protect the Rights of US Workers to Access the Court System

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On Oct. 30th, 2018, House Democrats introduced the Restoring Justice for Workers Act, a bill intended to protect the rights of millions of US workers to access the court system. The Act would ban companies from requiring workers to sign arbitration clauses and would impact millions of workers across the nation.

The policy of requiring that employees and applicants sign arbitration agreements is now common practice. In fact, most sign one before they are ever officially hired. By signing the arbitration agreement, workers are essentially waiving their right to sue the company for potential violations of labor law (i.e. sexual harassment, racial discrimination, age discrimination, wage theft, wrongful termination, etc.) According to the terms of an arbitration agreement, employees with legal claims would need to take those claims to private arbitration; a forum without a judge or jury and with almost no government oversight. A fairly secretive process, private arbitration means that workers are significantly less likely to win their cases. If they do prevail in their case, they generally receive far lower settlements than if the case had been handled in the court system.

The new bill is fairly simple – employers would not be allowed to require that workers sign arbitration agreements and would also be prohibited from retaliating against anyone who chooses not to sign. It would be illegal to require employees to waive their right to join a class action lawsuit or file legal claims in arbitration as a group or class.

Supporters of the bill see it as a great stride in the right direction as forced arbitration is stripping American workers of their day in court; their chance to hold employers responsible for employment law violations (i.e. wage theft, overtime violations, discrimination, workplace retaliation, wrongful termination, harassment, etc.)

To make it through both chambers of Congress, the bill would need bipartisan support, but supporters do not expect Republican leaders to show much interest as they haven’t been interested in other legislation aimed at limiting mandatory arbitration in the past. Whether the bill is passed or not, controversy over mandatory arbitration agreements continues to escalate.

If you have questions about mandatory arbitration agreements or how to join a class action lawsuit, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Is Riot Games Supporting a Sexist Workplace?

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Riot Games, a product of Tencent Games (a division of Tencent a multi-billion dollar Chinese technology company specializing in various internet services such as video games, social media and artificial intelligence), is facing a lawsuit alleging that the company created and fostered a “bro culture,” violated the California Equal Pay Act, and failed to prevent harassment in the workplace. The case was filed on behalf of former employee, Jessica Negron, current employee, Melanie McCracken and other female employees of the company.

Riot Games, most well-known for its hit game, League of Legends, is facing a long list of allegations that all point to the claim that the company and its top management foster a culture of sexism and discrimination toward women. Some of the allegations included in the more than 150 count suit are:

Female employees regularly belittled at staff meetings.

Female employees being promised pay raises and promotions that were then given to male coworkers.

Female employees made fun of and sexually objectified.

An email list of “Hottest Women Employees” was distributed that ranked female employees.

Inappropriate sexual jokes about rape, defecation, and masturbation were common place.

Concerns regarding the inappropriate workplace behavior brought to Human Resources were dismissed as “snobby.”

The women involved in the suit are seeking back wages and punitive damages. According to the Tencent financial report for the second quarter of 2018, the company’s revenue was recorded at over 11 million USD. The suit follows an investigation from Kotaku, an international gaming network, that was concluded only three months prior. The investigation highlighted the company’s culture, describing it was toxic masculinity. The Kotaku report claimed that females at the company were blocked from promotion because they didn’t fit the “gamer” mold. It also claimed that female new hires were kept under extreme scrutiny to judge whether or not they matched the company’s “culture;” a difficulty that male new hires did not have to deal with.

Following the report, Riot Games, claimed changes were made in the workplace. Women involved in the lawsuit claim that many of the worst offenders at the company faced zero consequences. For example, once male employee in a position of leadership was allegedly allowed to retain his leadership role even though he regularly made sexual comments on the job and even allegedly drugged and raped another employee.

The class action lawsuit will include both former and current employees of Riot Games.

If you need to discuss gender discrimination in the workplace or if you are being sexually harassed on the job and feel that you have no recourse, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Did Misclassifying Drivers as Contractors Save Uber $500M?

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In recent news, a lawsuit claims that the popular ridesharing firm, Uber, saved more than $500 million by misclassifying their drivers as independent contractors. The California class action seeks justice in response to Uber allegedly ignoring a previous ruling issued earlier in the year.

The class action lawsuit was brought to California federal courts on behalf of local business, Diva’s Limousine. The suit alleges that Uber unfairly stole business from traditional taxi service-based companies by using deceitful methods and unethical tactics that purposefully skirted around the law. According to the complaint, Uber low-balled drivers’ wages in order to increase the company’s profit margin through misclassification of drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

The plaintiff claims that these deceitful methods/tactics are a workaround that goes against the ruling issued previously this year by the California Supreme Court in the case Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court. The plaintiff also claims that by ignoring the previous ruling to misclassifying drivers, Uber stands to avoid payment of approximately $9.07 per hour in expenses/benefits to their drivers (i.e. minimum wage, mandated breaks, unemployment compensation, social security, Medicare, etc.)

Uber employees across the world have been fighting this particular battle and it has not been an easy fight. Late in 2017 a London tribunal classified drivers as employees. This directly conflicted with rulings in US courts where the opposite was believed to be true. Uber is currently appealing a lawsuit in Brazil resulting in similar findings. A Philadelphia courtroom ruled earlier this year that the provisions under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act prevented UberBlack drivers from being classified as employees. This was the first ruling of its kind; classifying Uber drivers as non-employees under federal law.

If you have questions about misclassification or if you have been misclassified by your employer, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.