Did CoreCivic Exploit Immigrant Detainee Labor?

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On April 17th, 2018 a federal class action lawsuit was filed accusing private prison CoreCivic (previously known as Corrections Corporation of America) of exploiting immigrant detainees. The detainees performed work in the ICE detention facilities, particularly Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center. According to the complaint, the private prison company violated state and federal labor laws.

CoreCivic is the largest private prison operator in the nation. It has also been the target of multiple lawsuits in a number of states where it maintains detention facilities. Allegations have included:

·      Inadequate Medical Treatment

·      Employee Misconduct

The company has previously been fined millions of dollars through different government agencies for various contractual violations. Previous coverage of the scandals indicates that there is a common issue threaded throughout the connected stories: a company willing to cut corners and exploit prisoners to increase their profit margin.

While there is no legal precedent uniformly restricting officials of corrections facilities from requiring healthy prisoners to perform labor, the legal status of detained immigrants is a different issue. Immigration violations are civil, therefore the detention of an immigrant is civil in nature with most detained immigrants having no criminal record/history. Regardless of these facts, detained immigrants at Stewart are subjected to prison-like conditions.

The lawsuit also indicates that CoreCivic’s use of immigrant detainee labor to pad their profits is a plan/pattern of systematically withholding basic necessities from detained immigrants to ensure an available (captive) work force to clean, maintain, and operate the facilities for below minimum wage due to threat of criminal prosecution, solitary confinement, etc. The suit refers to the actions as CoreCivic’s deprivation scheme and claims that it ensures that the people detained within Stewart provide the billion-dollar corporation with a ready supply of available labor that is necessary to operate the facility: sweeping, mopping, waxing floors, scrubbing toilets, cleaning showers, washing dishes, cooking, doing laundry, etc. In exchange for their labor, detained immigrants are paid somewhere between $1 and $4 per day by CoreCivic (slightly more on occasion for double shifts). Detainees are paid nowhere near federal minimum wage.

The lawsuit was filed by Wilhen Hill Barrientos, Margarito Velazquez Galicia and Shoahib Ahmed. Plaintiffs noted that the detained immigrants were willing to work for the extremely low wages because they needed the money to purchase necessities like hygiene items and make phone calls.

If you have questions about federally mandated minimum wage or if you are not provided minimum wage by your employer, please contact 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.

Shell Refinery has $7.7M Wage Deal on the Table for Pipeline Workers

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Shell Oil owns a number of pipeline terminals and refineries. A putative class of workers pulled from both are likely to see the $7.7 million wage and hour settlement for their case approved. The California federal judge, U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney, has already granted preliminary approval “preliminarily.”

The judge praised the settlement and advised counsel they had done a good job. She did request changes and clarifications including an amended settlement schedule to provide her with time to consider a revised version. She advised parties she would most likely allow the deal to move forward within the week.

David Berlanga, plaintiff, filed suit in January 2017 alleging wage and hour claims and listing four California energy facilities as Defendants in the case:

·      Shell Pipeline Co. LP’s terminal facility in Carson

·      Shell subsidiary Equilon Enterprises LLC’s oil refinery in Martinez

·      CRI Catalyst Co LP’s production facilities in Martinez

·      CRI Catalyst Co LP’s production facilities in Pittsburg

Allegedly, the companies did not provide rest breaks free of job duties or accurate wage statements to employees. Berlanga filed claims under the California Private Attorneys General Act as well as the state’s Unfair Competition Law. He was seeking back wages, statutory penalties, attorneys’ fees and an updated workplace policy in compliance with the law.

The class would include plant operators (since January 2013) who have been required to keep their radios on or respond to calls during their rest breaks that are mandated by state labor law. According to the law, employers must relinquish control over how employees spend time during breaks and employees must be relieved of all their job duties – including the obligation to remain on call.

The settlement is the result of a private mediation in April and will include up to $1.9 in attorney’s fees (or a quarter of the common fund). And incentive award of $7,500 for each of the six class representatives is also sought although the judge indicated this may be too high.

If you have questions about California mandated rest breaks or if you are not receiving accurate wage statements as required by law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Temecula Nail Salon Faces $1.2M Fine for California Wage Violations

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Employees of a Temecula, California nail salon called Young’s Nail Spa were listed as “independent contractors” so the salon owners could avoid payment of overtime or required meal and rest breaks during longer shifts. The salon faces a file of over $1.2 million for misclassification of workers, violation of wage and hour law, failure to pay overtime and provide required meal and rest breaks.

The salon is located on Margarita Road in Temecula and was under investigation by the California Department of Industrial Relations due to complaints about wage theft and other unlawful practices. In the course of the investigation, numerous irregularities were discovered. One of the most problematic was the shifts that Young’s Nail Spa employees were required to complete. Workers were spending 9 ½ to 10-hour days on the job. They were not provided meal or rest breaks. The Labor Commissioner said this was an attempt to get around overtime obligations through misclassification of employees as independent contractors.

In addition to denying workers their rightful pay, misclassification also gives employers an unfair advantage over competing, law-abiding businesses. According to California law, employers who provide their workers with less than minimum wage will be held responsible for paying the wages owed plus an equivalent amount in liquidated damages and interest when they are caught.

During the course of the investigation, auditors from the state went through 40 months of business records before determining that the salon engaged in misclassification and additional forms of wage theft. Citations totaled $670,040 for worker reimbursement and $572,187 in civil penalties.

If you have questions about wage and hour law or if you feel that you have been misclassified on the job, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Contractor Fined $1.9M in Response to Wage Theft Claims

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Fullerton Pacific Interiors Inc., a California drywall contractor, was filed $1.9 million by California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement for failing to allow rest periods for workers (and other wage violations). The violations allegedly occurred on 26 different construction projects in different locations throughout Southern California.

The fine was handed down from California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, a.k.a. the Labor Commissioner’s Office – a part of the California Department of Industrial Relations. The fine was processed because the California drywall company failed to properly compensate almost 500 workers for rest periods as required by state and federal labor law. During the course of investigation, the division also found that almost 300 workers were not paid for overtime hours and almost 30 workers were paid less than minimum wage.

From the summer of 2014 through the summer of 2016, Fullerton Pacific Interiors Inc. was under contract to perform drywall work at a number of recreation centers: hotels, casinos, etc. All were located in three California counties: Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino. The Labor Commissioner noted that many contractors who embrace unscrupulous methods may try to obscure wage theft by providing workers with pay on a flat rate basis rather than an hourly rate. Yet a daily or any other flat rate system of pay does not override minimum wage and overtime requirements as defined by law.

According to the findings of the investigation, Fullerton workers were completing taping and drywall installation at the work sites. They were paid a daily rate that did not consider their overtime hours on the job. They were offered a 30-minute meal period, but no rest breaks throughout the day.

The fine accounts for:

·      $1,892,279 payable to workers (with $798,664 for rest period violations, $386,685 for unpaid overtime, and $692,500 for wage statement violations)

·      $72,400 civil penalty

·      Workers that were not paid minimum age were owed a total of $14,431 unpaid wages, liquidated damages, and waiting time penalties

If you have questions about unpaid overtime or if you are not receiving meal and rest breaks on the job in accordance with state and federal labor law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Judge Certifies Class of Kaiser Traveling Nurses

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U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero certified a class of Kaiser Foundation traveling nurses after the caregivers alleged they were shorted on overtime pay, denied required meal breaks and rest periods, etc. The judge granted class certification after the nurses raised valid issues about broad policies that were applicable to all class members.

The judge granted a bid to certify a class of R.N.’s and licensed practical nurses who were all employed by AMN Healthcare Inc. The health care staffing contractor staffed Kaiser Foundation hospitals with nurses in California. The suit included numerous allegations of wage and hour violations of California Labor Law.

The judge concluded that the plaintiffs met the requirements for both commonality and predominance prior to granting class certification. Judge Spero said the nurses’ theories that the defendants in the case discouraged overtime and didn’t adequately prevent underreporting raised a number of common issues that were susceptible to common proof.

In reaching this conclusion, Judge Spero rejected a number of arguments presented by Kaiser, the defendant in the case, who was arguing against class certification: evidence of minor variations in how the company policies were implemented in various facilities and that potentially removed the commonality of issues regarding the nurses’ overtime payment.

When there is evidence of a common business policy that is applicable to all members of a class with concerns to the payment of overtime, and all the class members can be said to share the same core duties that tend to routinely lead to unscheduled overtime, the judge argued that some class members who did not find themselves working unscheduled overtime or who were provided adequate compensation for the overtime hours was not sufficient to defeat predominance. Based on this logic, the court found that the common issues predominate over individualized inquiries in consideration of the overtime claims being presented by the plaintiffs.

The Kaiser nurses’ suit was removed to federal court in early 2016. The original lawsuit alleged that the Defendant suppressed overtime by advising their traveling nurses that it wasn’t permitted and that they further discouraged overtime by keeping an over-difficult overtime approval process in place. The plaintiffs also alleged that they were not provided with the required meal breaks and rest periods. This was accomplished through a number of different policies the company implemented.

In addition to AMN Healthcare, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Southern California Permanente Medical Group Inc. and the Permanente Medical Group Inc. were also named as defendants. All are Kaiser entities.

If you have questions regarding proper meal breaks and rest periods or if you need to find out what the legal requirements are for overtime pay, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Kindred Attempts to Settle Wage, Meal Break Claims with $12M Deal

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A $12 million settlement is on the table to settle allegations that Kindred Healthcare Operating Inc. and its subsidiary Gentiva Certified Healthcare Corp. violated California labor law. The company allegedly failed to provide workers with minimum wage and required meal breaks. The proposed class of approximately 1,600 workers were employed by the company. The class members asked a California federal judge to grant preliminary approval of the $12 million agreement with the health care company and its subsidiaries. This would result in an average $5,415 recovery per class member after payments were deducted for the state and other associated fees related to the settlement.

The proposed class’ legal counsel seeks $3 million in fees and $125,00 in costs. The lead plaintiff’s incentive award portion of the settlement would total $20,000.

Also pulled from the settlement would be $150,000 payment for the claims under the California Labor Code Private Attorney General Act of 2004 allowing private citizens to sue for civil penalties on their own behalf and on behalf of other employees and the state. 75% of the payment will go to California. The rest would be distributed to appropriate class members.

Employees involved in the suit requested that the federal judge certify them for settlement. Included in the proposed class are: clinicians or piece rate workers employed by the health care company and their subsidiaries after August 24th, 2012 whose job duties included providing skilled home care. The employees argued that certification was appropriate because the proposed class was numerous, and the legal questions involved were common to all included class members.

The original suit was filed in August 2016 with Cashon alleging that Kindred and Gentiva failed to pay appropriate wages and overtime and did not provide required meal breaks, rest periods or wage statements. The companies claim they were involved in no violations and that they were in compliance with labor laws. Early mediation occurred in April 2017 but did not result in resolution. After discovery, parties engaged in a second bout of mediation in November 2017 which resulted in the proposed settlement.

If you have questions about overtime laws in California or if you need to know what it takes to gain class certification, please get in touch with the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.