Caltech Whistleblower Case Jury Trial Currently Underway

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Farshid Roumi, a Caltech scholar, was allegedly fired for whistleblowing. Roumi worked in Pasadena-based Caltech’s engineering and applied science division. In 2017, Roumi filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging retaliation and wrongful termination.

Roumi claims that he was fired after he exposed misappropriation of funds from the Department of Energy. Superior Court Judge Monica Bachner is presiding in the downtown Los Angeles Stanley Mosk Courthouse courtroom.

Roumi finished his doctoral dissertation at Caltech in 2010, “Shape Changing Transformations: Interactions with Plasticity and Electrochemical Processes.” He currently works as the Chief Executive Officer of his own company, Parthian Energy.

The whistleblower retaliation lawsuit Roumi filed is not the first that Caltech will face. In 2014, a Caltech professor, Sandra Troian, filed a complaint alleging retaliation after she provided the F.B.I. with information about a researcher who released restricted data to Israel and then made it public. Troian alleged that retaliation followed in the form of false accusations of research misconduct, prevention of her participation in campus events, and being denied over $1 million in grant funding.

Caltech’s official policy clearly prohibits retaliation. To quote policy, Caltech  “prohibits retaliation against an individual who makes a good faith disclosure of suspected wrongful conduct.” The Institute also maintains whistleblower hotlines online or by phone.

If you need to discuss labor law violations or if you are experiencing retaliation in the workplace, take action to get the resolution you deserve. Get in touch with the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw L.L.P. With conveniently located employment law offices in San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, and Chicago; we are here when you need help.

Former Freelancer Loses Lawsuit Against LA Times

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In recent news, the LA Times took home a win after the California Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a former freelancer’s defamation and employment lawsuit. The former freelancer, Frederick Theodore Rall III, was a political cartoonist and blogger for the well-known media conglomerate. In his lawsuit, he brought claims of defamation, wrongful termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, retaliation, and other employment law violations, against the paper – all stemming from the LA Times’ decision to disassociate itself with Rall and publish a note to readers that questioned the accuracy of a blog post Rall posted describing an interaction he had with police. Rall claims that he was handcuffed, thrown against a wall, and in the process his ID was thrown into the gutter.

After an investigation, the LA Times concluded that there were serious questions regarding the accuracy of the recounting of events and allegations made against the police in the recounting. They noted factual inconsistencies and stated that the paper would no longer be publishing the writer’s content. After reader responses, the paper published an additional item that offered a more detailed analysis of the event with their investigation findings including the LAPD records of the event, etc.

The LA Times filed an anti SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion to strike the complaint in response to Rall’s lawsuit. The motion was granted by the trial court. The dismissal was confirmed by the California Court of Appeal – holding that the LA Times sufficiently established that the report offered to readers and the decision by the paper to stop publishing work by Rall were protected activities under the First Amendment and the “fair report privilege.”

If you have been wrongfully terminated or if you need to discuss your rights in the workplace and how to seek justice when you have been discriminated against on the job, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

FedEx Retaliation Case Results in Payout of Millions

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Three employees (one former and two current) at a LAX FedEx location were collectively awarded millions of dollars by a jury. The jury found that the employees were wrongfully disciplined by FedEx after they came forward to report allegations that the courier giant was prioritizing profits over safety in not maintaining aircraft in compliance with FAA safety requirements. The verdict was reached on October 19, 2018 after the Los Angeles Superior Court panel deliberated for over a week.

The California retaliation suit was filed by Brian, Gruzalski, FedEx aircraft mechanic, and Stanley Langevin and Mark Collins, FedEx employees.

Awards Received by Plaintiffs in the Case:

·      Gruzalski: $855,000 in compensatory damages and $3.8 million in punitive damages

·      Collins: $260,000 in compensatory damages and $2.75 million in punitive damages

·      Langevin: $144,000 in compensatory damages and $200,000 in punitive damages

FedEx claims that Gruzalski was fired for valid reasons, citing inappropriate language in the workplace, with some of it being racially charged. The company also claims that Langevin was demoted due to alleged moonlighting on company time for other airlines using FedEx equipment and that Collins’, as their supervisor, did not use his authority to call a halt to these behaviors.

FedEx claims that while FedEx jets are older than others in the fleet, they are all flightworthy.

Langevin is 69 years old and lives in Long Beach. He has over 40 years of experience as an aircraft technician and is an Air Force veteran. He claims he was retaliated against for complaining about the condition of the FedEx aircrafts. Langevin noticed that FedEx routinely and willfully returned aircraft to service that were non-airworthy due to the need for additional repairs/maintenance that would make them compliant with federal aviation regulations. The company pushed the aircrafts back into service quickly and cheaply in order to increase profits regardless of federal aviation regulation compliance. For example, FedEx regularly failed to repair corrosion that was extensive enough to result in cracking the aircraft’s outer frame prior to putting them back in the air.

Collins is 60 years old, a Navy veteran who fought in the Persian Gulf War during Operation Desert Storm and lives in Claremont. He claims he faced backlash in the workplace for defending Langevin and voicing similar claims in his support. This resulted in a demotion.

If you have questions about workplace retaliation or if you need to discuss wrongful termination, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Settlement Between Former Employee and NFL Network Approved

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A settlement was approved for a lawsuit brought against the NFL Network by a former wardrobe stylist, Jami Canton. Canton claimed a slew of labor law violations, including: sexual harassment, age discrimination, workplace retaliation, wrongful termination and defamation. The settlement was approved by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Stern after Jami Cantor filed a motion to resolve the suit seeking civil penalties. In exchange for the settlement, Cantor agreed to drop all claims.

Donovan McNabb and Eric Davis, former NFL Network analysts, were both fired in January by ESPN after a month-long investigation into claims of inappropriate behavior on the job made by Cantor. Cantor, as an aggrieved employee, will receive 25% of the approved settlement amount while the other 75% will be distributed to the state Labor & Workforce Development Agency (LWDA). The LWDA is a cabinet-level state agency responsible for coordinating workforce programs and oversight of seven different departments that deal with benefit administration and upholding and enforcing employment laws of the state of California.

Cantor filed the California lawsuit in September. In the complaint she claimed she began work in 2006 and was employed at the NFL’s Culver City studio. As part of her job, Cantor claims she was responsible for creating a wardrobe closet to make sure that talent would have clothes to wear for the NFL shows. During the course of her employment, Cantor alleged that she was subjected to numerous instances of sexual harassment at the hands of a number of different NFL employees. Claims of harassment included: inappropriate touching, inappropriate references, inappropriate comments, texted photos of a sexual nature, etc. All this while Cantor repeatedly made it clear that the advances were unwanted and not reciprocated.

Cantor claims that nothing was done in response to her complaints and that rather than assisting her with the situation, the NFL made her life more difficult by increasing her workload and decreasing her hours. In addition to the harassment claims, Cantor levied a number of other labor law violation complaints against her former employer, including: failure to pay overtime, failure to provide required meal and rest breaks, failure to reimburse for business expenses, and wrongful termination.

Cantor was fired in October of 2016. She claims she was falsely accused of stealing clothing from an employee. She also claims that internal video would prove that she had not taken anything. When she was terminated, Cantor was 51 years old. Her replacement was 30 years old.

If you have questions about overtime pay, harassment in the workplace or wrongful termination, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

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.

$13 Million Verdict Awarded to UCLA Doctor in Retaliation and Gender Discrimination Case

A California man was awarded a $13 million verdict in February 2018 after filing against a former employer, The Regents of the University of California (UCLA). The plaintiff, Dr. Lauren Pinter-Brown, alleged that UCLA discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and then retaliated against her for complaining about the problem. The escalating issue eventually led to Dr. Lauren Pinter-Brown’s resignation.

The doctor started work with the UCLA Medical Center in 2005. She was the Director of the UCLA Lymphoma Program. During her entire tenure at UCLA, she received exemplary peer reviews, awards and even accolades. For her first 8 years with the university, Pinter-Brown was one of only two senior female faculty members in the program.

When Pinter-Brown raised harassment concerns with a male co-worker, she became the target of various workplace audits, her research privileges were suspended, her title was taken, etc. Throughout the ordeal, Pinter-Brown’s reputation was irreparably harmed. The university made no apparent efforts to solve the problem or alleviate the situation even though Pinter-Brown made both verbal and written complaints about the issues. The plaintiff claims that she was forced to “play dead” at work in order to avoid further confrontations or an escalation of the problem the university chose to ignore until she eventually simply resigned from her position.

In February 2018, a California jury found her Pinter-Brown’s favor on claims of discrimination and retaliation. Pinter-Brown was awarded $3,011,671 in lost earnings from the university and an additional $10,000,000 in damages for her emotional distress. The total awarded was over $13 million.

The plaintiff’s attorney was quoted discussing the doctor’s time with the university and describing her has an “outstanding employee.” The plaintiff’s legal counsel felt it was very clear that Pinter-Brown experienced workplace retaliation as a direct result of openly complaining about harassment by a male colleague. The jury of her peers from California vindicated her complaints and those in favor of Pinter-Brown hope it can be another step in fixing a wide-spread problem with ignoring the problem of gender inequality.

If you have a problem with workplace retaliation or if you have attempted to resolve employment law violations in the workplace unsuccessfully, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Whistleblower Retaliation Lawsuit Filed Against Aurora Santa Rosa Hospital

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According to a lawsuit filed recently by the former Aurora Santa Rosa Hospital Chief of Nursing Officer, Teresa Brooke, Aurora Behavioral Healthcare fired her for advocating for safety measures. Defendants listed in the suit are Aurora Behavioral Healthcare – Santa Rosa, LLC and Signature Healthcare Services, LLC in Sonoma County Superior Court. The facility where Brooke was employed is an acute psychiatric facility in Sonoma County that is operated by the two companies.

In Brooke’s complaint, she provides details for numerous examples of dangerous conditions that existed at the facility. One such dangerous conditions Brooke attempted to bring to light were severe staff shortages resulting in injuries to both patients and staff. Brooke maintains that Aurora wrongfully terminated Brooke in response to her complaints both internally and to a government agency about the matter. 

Brooke has 30 years of experience in her field of nursing and hospital management. She states that the conditions that were evident at Aurora were dangerous and unlike anything she had previously seen or experienced. The constant staff shortages were brought on by the meager budget that was provided by Aurora’s corporate leadership at Signature Healthcare Services, LLC. Brooke saw the obvious result of such shortages – injuries – frequent injuries among both patients and Aurora staff.

Other allegations included in Brooke’s complaint as a result of the staff shortages:

·       Staff and patients were subjected to consistent punching, kicking, chocking, etc.

·       A full-blown patient riot.

·       High rates of patient self-harm.

·       Multiple occurrences of sexual violence in connection to patients (some minors).

Brooke’s alleges that both Aurora and Signature prioritize their bottom line over patient care and safety – as well as prizing a profit more than respecting the rights of patients and/or staff at the Santa Rosa location where patients receive inpatient care, partial hospitalization and outpatient mental health care for patients aged teen through adult. Other facility locations are currently in operation in California, Illinois, Arizona, Massachusetts, Texas and Nevada.

If you are experiencing retaliation in the workplace 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.