Strengthened Protections for California Workers have Bay Area Restaurant Workers Collecting Lost Wages

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In response to a recent class action lawsuit alleging wage violations, a popular Bay Area restaurant, Gordo Taqueria, agreed to pay workers $690,000. The case is the latest in a string of similar labor cases that involve well known Bay Area restaurants. The new legal trend is due at least in part to the results of a years-long effort by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office to strengthen protections for workers and improve their ability to collect lost wages.

In January 2019, another Bay Area restaurant, Rangoon Ruby, agreed to pay a settlement to over 300 workers that totaled $4 million in wages plus penalties. In 2018, La Taqueria settled with workers in a similar case for $500,000. Additional recent cases based on similar allegations include cases against: Burma Superstar, Mango Garden, Kome Buffet, and Mission Beach Café.

Jose Martinez, former Gordo dishwasher, worked at the Gordo Taqueria on College Avenue in Berkeley from 2013 to 2015. He brought complaints to the attention of Legal Aid at Work in San Francisco and with their help, he filed a class action lawsuit in December 2016 against the restaurant chain. In the class action lawsuit representing 240 workers, Martinez alleged that workers for the Bay Area restaurant received tips only as a lump sum annually instead of daily or at the end of each pay period as required by California state employment law. He also claimed that workers were not receiving all the overtime pay they were due for hours worked beyond 8 in one day and/or 40 in one work week.

Gordo owners responded to the allegations through their attorney by saying that the restaurant has served the Bay Area since the 1970s, always provided great food and a been a great place of employment. They also stated that they quickly responded to the lawsuit in December of 2016 by engaging in negotiations with the plaintiff’s counsel and instituting early alternative dispute resolution measures to negotiate a deal that the restaurant believes is fair to all parties. They also denied all allegations listed in the complaint.

An Alameda Superior Court Judge approved the settlement agreement in December on a preliminary basis. The settlement agreement would resolve the class action suit. The claims included in the suit filed by Martinez are similar to others filed against many other area restaurants in recent cases: inadequate rest breaks, unpaid overtime, improper distribution of tips, minimum wage violations, and instances of retaliation against workers who speak up for their rights.

If you have concerns that you are not being provided fair overtime pay or if you are not being compensated as required by California state labor law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Court Rules On-Call Tilly’s Workers Should Receive Pay

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Some employers require workers to call in in order to find out if they have to work their shifts. Some employees are required to call in just hours before they may need to start work. This practice triggered California’s requirement that workers be given “reporting time pay.” A split California appeals panel recently brought this up when reviving a proposed wage class action against Tilly’s Inc. In doing so, they potentially opened up many other California retailers to similar (potentially expensive) suits.

The Second Appellate District said Tilly’s on-call policy triggers California State’s Wage Order 7, in which it states that employers must provide workers with pay when they report to work but are not put to work or provided with at least half of their usual/scheduled day’s work. Since workers are “reporting” when they call in, Wage Order 7 means employers must pay them between 2-4 hours worth of wages depending on the length of the scheduled shifts being referenced.

Tilly’s practice of having their workers call in to see if they need to work their shifts just hours before they would need to start work, is exactly the type of policy that reporting time pay was intended to stop. The appellate court decision overturned a lower court ruling that tossed the suit when they concluded that the on-call scheduling alleged in the case against Tilly’s triggers Wage Order 7’s reporting time pay requirements. They noted that on-call shifts are a burden to employees who cannot take other employment, attend school or make plans socially because they may need to work, but simultaneously may not receive payment for the time they have set aside unless they are ultimately called in to work.

Tilly’s argues that workers “report” for work under Wage Order 7 only if they physically show up for the start of a scheduled shift. The appellate court concluded that the requirement should be read to include those required to check in before physically arriving on the job before granting worker Skylar Ward’s appeal.

The appellate court noted that while policies like Tilly’s call-in requirement probably didn’t exist when Wage Order 7 was adopted by the state, the reporting time requirement covers situations other than those specifically considered by the drafters.

If you have questions about what is covered by Wage Order 7 or if you are required to call in to report before a shift, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP so we can help you protect your rights in the workplace.

Ex-Dairy Worker Fights Back After Company Responds to Wage Suit by Trying to Have Him Deported

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Jose Arias, former Northern California dairy worker, recently won a million-dollar settlement against his ex-employer’s attorney. Arias originally filed a lawsuit against the dairy alleging wage theft. According to the plaintiff, Arias, the company’s attorney responded by contacting immigration officials to try to get the ex-dairy worker deported.

The retaliation suit against his former employer, Angelo Dairy of Acampo was already settled when the $1 million settlement was announced in the suit against attorney Anthony Raimondo. The settlement followed a federal court’s decision to reinstate Arias’ case. Representation for the plaintiff see the case as an example showing employers that they can’t game the system by cheating their employees of wages and then responding to complaints with threats to deport them.

The attorney who allegedly made the deportation threat, Raimondo, has 20 years of legal experience representing dairies out of Fresno. He denied retaliating against Arias and claimed that his former insurance company insisted the case be settled. Raimondo insists that he is the only person involved in the case who did not break the law.

Arias, an undocumented immigrant, started work with Angelo Dairy in 1995 as a milker. The dairy was supposed to file documents with federal officials that would verify Arias’ work authorization. Instead the employer used his undocumented status as a weapon to limit Arias’ options and keep him in their employ. In 1997, Arias told a company owner that he had a job offer from another dairy. The owner advised him that he would report the other dairy to immigration authorities if Arias took the offer. Arias stayed in his current position, but sued Angelo Dairy in 2006. He claimed the company’s failure to pay overtime and provide required meal and rest breaks were violations of labor law. In 2011, just prior to going to trial, Arias claims Raimondo, the dairy’s lawyer, contacted immigration agencies to purposefully derail the case.

Arias settled the wage suit and dropped his claims against the dairy farm. He says he did so, in substantial part, to avoid deportation. The court documents state that Raimondo contacted ICE a minimum of five times regarding other employees. He also allegedly confirmed his practice of contacting ICE in a June 2013 email to Legal Services Corp., in which he stated that he had acted in the past to deport workers who were suing his clients. Recent statements from Raimondo describe the events differently, insisting that the idea that he retaliated against Arias is ridiculous.

If you are experiencing retaliation in the workplace or if you need to discuss filing suit against an employer due to employment law violations, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Employee Back Pay Lawsuit Settled by Los Robles Regional Medical Center

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Thousand Oaks, California’s Los Robles Regional Medical Center agreed to pay $2.95 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that they shortchanged their employees’ hourly pay. The settlement agreement addresses litigation due to a 2014 filing by plaintiff, Jeanette Munden, a former nurse at the medical center. Munden alleged her hourly pay was routinely rounded in a way that short-changed her paycheck.

Judge Kevin DeNoce of Ventura County Superior Court approved the settlement against Los Robles, ruling that the center would pay $2.95 million over a lawsuit alleging that it shortchanged hourly pay of employees and prevented them from taking lunch breaks (as well as other labor code violations). The settlement includes 3,000 current and former employees who split close to $1.9 million. The average payout for workers included in the suit will total around $618. The hospital will also be covering attorney fees ($973,500) and state labor code penalties for alleged violations ($10,000).

The company settled on a no-fault basis and does not admit any wrongdoing, although this is not the first time they have faced this type of employment law violation allegation.

Timeline of the Case:

2005: A federal judge approved a $4.75 million settlement for a lawsuit against Low Robles Medical Center claiming over 1,000 employees were owed wages for missed breaks and overtime.

2014: Jeanette Munden, former Los Robles nurse, alleged her hourly pay was regularly rounded to short her paycheck. She claimed Los Robles owed her overtime and that she was also consistently denied lunch breaks and rest periods during her employment at the facility.

2015: Munden resigned from her position at Los Robles to take another job but was not paid compensation she was owed by the company.

2017: Nurses negotiating contracts with the facility in September 2017 claimed that staffing was so limited that they could not take breaks or even, sometimes, go to the bathroom.

As the lead plaintiff in the case, Munden will receive a $15,000 award. Only one of the current and former employees included in the suit objected to the settlement.

If you have questions about how to file an overtime lawsuit or if you need to discuss when employers are required to provide overtime pay, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Tender Heart Home Care Agency Overtime Wage Suit Sees Decision Reversal

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Many have heard the story of the California caregiver who alleged she was not paid overtime. Followers of the story will be interested to know that the case has been remanded back to a lower court by a state appellate court. Judge Mark Simons, on the bench of California’s 1st District Court of Appeals, issued the ruling on January 11th, 2019. His reversal of the Contra Costa County Superior Court’s decision in the Duffey v. Tender Heart Home Care Agency LLC has the story back in the news.

In the ruling, the judge stated that the trial court was in error when they exclusively applied the so-called “common law” test and that there is a dispute of fact as to whether or not Duffey was an employee of Tender Heart Home Care Agency LLC.  

Duffey filed suit against Tender Heart alleging that the health care company was in violation of the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights or DWBR. This California state law requires domestic workers to receive overtime pay if they work more than nine hours in a day or more than 45 hours in a week.

Case documents indicate that the plaintiff signed a form contract with the company, Tender Heart, in 2011 that was titled “Professional Caregiver Agreement.” The agreement stated that Tender Heart is a “caregiver placement agency whose business is to obtain contracts for caregivers in dwellings and to refer by subcontract such contracts to professional independent caregivers.” It also stated that Duffey was an “independent domestic worker…in the business of providing care giving services in dwellings and hereby solicits such contract for services from [the company].”

Once DWBR was put in place in 2014, Duffey did not receive pay for her overtime hours. She filed suit against Tender Heart in December 2015. The lower court, Contra Costa County Superior Court, decided in favor of the health care agency, considering that Duffey was an independent contractor and not an employee of Tender Heart.

If you need help obtaining overtime compensation or if you need to talk to an experienced California employment law attorney about whether or not you are eligible for overtime wages in the workplace, please get in touch with Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP as soon as possible.

Gordo Taqueria Employee Lawsuit Results in $690,000 Settlement

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Gordo Taqueria has agreed to pay a $690,000 settlement to resolve a class action lawsuit brought by employees alleging the restaurants’ owners engaged in wage theft and other employment law violations. Gordo Taqueria owns five restaurants in San Francisco, Berkeley and Albany.

The settlement received preliminary approval from Alameda Superior Court judge Brad Seligman in December 2018. The settlement is scheduled to receive final approval on April 2nd, 2019. Within the settlement, the Defendant notes that they do not accept the facts as presented in the case by the plaintiffs and they admit no wrongdoing.

The lawsuit was brought by former dishwasher and prep cook Jose Martinez. Martinez worked at the College Avenue location in Berkeley from 2013 to 2015. The suit includes 240 Gordo employees, some current and some former. In the December 2016 complaint, Martinez alleged that Gordo did not pay him and other workers in similar positions as required by law. Workers regularly completed 10-12 hour days and were not provided with overtime wages. Tips were distributed only once or a few times per year and were given to employees based on hours they worked and their rate of pay, which is also in violation of labor law. Employees were allegedly not provided with required meal breaks or rest periods when completing long shifts (10+ hours/day).

Industry practice and state law both stipulate that cash tips are distributed at the end of each work day. California law specifically stipulates that tips are the sole property of the employee and that credit card tips should be distributed at the end of each pay period. Allegations were also included that the employees did not receive their full wages or back pay once their employment with the company ended and the company did not maintain accurate payroll records to calculate hours worked and wages owed.

During the discovery process, it came to light that Gordo did not use a time clock until 2015. Before that, the company relied on manual record keeping and the pre-2015 records were not kept on file by the company (another violation, this time of state record-keeping requirements).

Gordo owners dispute all the allegations made by the plaintiffs and state that they have done nothing unlawful.

If you are dealing with issues of wage theft and you aren’t sure how to seek justice for the wages you have lost, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Overtime Issues: Defining Compensable Time

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More and more overtime cases are appearing on the scene based on off the clock work or employees who are contacted by their employer regarding work when they are not at work. It’s just too easy with cell phones in everyone’s pockets. This leaves the court with the job of analyzing and defining compensable time.

When analyzing compensable time, courts examine whether the employee is: waiting to be engaged or engaged to wait. If they are waiting to be engaged, they are not working, but if they are engaged to wait, they are being paid to be at the ready. In some cases, the managers on duty carry the majority of the blame for requiring or allowing contact with employees who are off the clock without knowledge of the limitations presented by the compensable time issue. They aren’t aware of where the compensable time “line” in the sand is and they unwittingly step over it regularly. This situation can leave the Employer facing employment law violations allegations.  

Most agree that the majority of employers are not purposefully attempting to get work out of their employees for no payment. They aren’t deliberately trying to violate employment law. The statutes are simply hard to comply with from a technological perspective. This makes it very important that employers provide their management and supervisory staff with training regarding compensable time and what that means for overtime-eligible workers.

To protect against potential litigation, employers should track off-track hours. If the work can be tracked and therefore quantified, it probably wouldn’t qualify as “de minimis” and should result in the required compensation. As California has more state level laws regarding wage and hour issues and particularly enforcement of these laws, the issue is seen even more regularly in California courts.

If you have questions about compensable time or if you are not being paid overtime wages for hours you work while off the clock, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP today.