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.

Pilots to Receive $19M Settlement from Southwest Airlines

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In order to settle a recent lawsuit, Southwest Airlines Co. will pay close to $19 million to pilots. The lawsuit alleged that Southwest Airlines did not grant benefits to their pilots who took short-term military leave.

The lawsuit against Southwest was filed by Jayson Huntsman in July 2017 and represented Huntsman along with his fellow pilots. The lawsuit claimed that when a Southwest pilot took short-term military leave, their paid sick leave did not accrue, and they did not receive matching retirement contributions. This lack of benefits applied to short periods of military leave lasting 14 days or less.

Southwest pilots taking short-term military leave of 14 days or less were denied these basic benefits even though benefits were provided to pilots who took other comparable forms of leave (i.e. bereavement, union duty, jury duty, etc.)

Southwest Airlines will provide pilots 100% of their sick leave benefits that they did not receive for this type of short-term military leave from 2008 to the date of preliminary approval. They will also receive 77% of the average sick leave benefits for those affected between 2001 and 2007, which is expected to be valued at more than $13 million according to settlement documents.

According to the settlement, a $5.8 million fund will be created to offer retirement benefits for 401k payments for the years 2001 through 2013. Southwest Airlines will also agree to pay $1,000 to each of the pilots who were affected, but who are no longer employees with the ability to make use of sick leave. The airline will also change the sick leave policy so short-term military leave will no longer be excluded from leaves during which pilots can accrue sick leave from this point forward. This change will provide millions of dollars in future benefits to the class members. Southwest also agreed in the settlement to provide pilots with more information about retirement credit and contributions received for periods of short-term military leave.

If you are being denied benefits by your employer or if you need information on how to join a class action, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

More Employees Continue to Come Forward in Google Age Discrimination Case

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Almost 300 people have come forward to join the class action lawsuit against Google alleging age discrimination in the workplace. The lawsuit originated in 2015 and was originally filed by Robert Heath. The lawsuit was certified as a class-action a year later in 2016.

Cheryl Fillekes joined the case in 2015. She alleged that due to her age, Mountain View-based Google would not hire her for an engineering position she was fully qualified to handle. She alleged the action violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act. In documents provided to the court, Fillekes claimed that a recruiter advised her of the necessity to include her dates of graduation on her resume so that the company could see how old she was.

In fall of 2016, Judge Beth Labson Freeman ruled that more software engineers could join the lawsuit. The suit covers more than 40 engineers who sought jobs at Google, but claim they experienced age discrimination during the process.

Google’s spokesperson, Ty Sheppard, made it clear that the company feels the allegations made are without merit and that Google will continue to provide a vigorous defense. He also cited Google’s strong policies barring discrimination of all kinds, including age discrimination. In response to other claims Google has made in legal channels that they maintain policies guarding against age discrimination in the workplace, Judge Freeman replied that having a policy in place does not necessarily prevent employees from filing suit against a company or shield the company from the lawsuit – particularly when the evidence and allegations indicate discrepancies between written policy and action. Most companies are well aware at this point about anti-discrimination and go to great lengths to ensure that their written policies comply.

Google, everyone’s favorite search engine giant, has been accused of age discrimination before. In 2004 a lawsuit was filed and eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. It’s not a secret that the tech industry of Silicon Valley is young. The Huffington Post reported that the median age of workers as of 2017 at Google and Menlo Park-based Facebook was only 29 years old.

If you have been a victim of age discrimination in the workplace or any other type of workplace discrimination, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.