Farmworkers Overtime Pay Lawsuit Before Washington Supreme Court

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The Washington Supreme Court will decide whether or not farmworkers must receive overtime wages – after striking down agricultural pay practices twice in recent years. While a hearing isn't yet set, both sides are preparing their case with potentially hundreds of millions of dollars a year in additional costs at risk. According to state law, workers receive overtime pay after eight hours a day or after a 40-hour week. The question before the Washington Supreme Court is whether or not the state law requiring overtime pay should apply to farmworkers. Naysayers insist that inflicting this high cost on a vital portion of the state's economy is unreasonable. But does exempting agriculture from paying workers time-and-a-half for overtime hours violate the state constitution?

Other recent farm-pay lawsuits led the Supreme Court to find that piece-rate workers must be paid separately for rest periods and downtime.  The current overtime lawsuit launched off a 2016 lawsuit against a local dairy farm in Yakima County. Court records indicate that Jose Martinez-Cuevas and Patricia Aguilar, named plaintiffs in the case, worked at DeRuyter Brothers Dairy for just over a year. The owners sold the dairy settled the majority of the claims, but the Superior Court judge's ruling on overtime specifically was inconclusive. This case's main issue will skip the court of appeals as the Supreme Court agreed to take on the question.

In 1959 the Legislature exempted agriculture from the state's minimum wage law guaranteeing workers overtime pay. The lawmakers were acting under the 1938 federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Legal counsel for the plaintiffs argues that the federal agricultural exemption has historic racism at its roots. They claim Southern lawmakers created the exemption to limit the pay of black farmworkers. They argue that Washington lawmakers adopting the legislation did not consider the exemption's racist history. Arguments for the plaintiffs are based on a combination of the alleged racial history of the law excluding agricultural workers and the current racial makeup of the excluded agricultural workforce being close to 100% minority. Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case insist the exclusion should be declared unconstitutional.

Those arguing against the Plaintiffs' case claim the fixation on the racial makeup of the current agricultural workforce has no relevance, noting that in 1959 the farmworker population was 85% white workers. They attribute the exemption to the nature of agriculture rather than racism. As an inherently seasonal business, proponents of the current interpretation of the law argue that overtime during certain times of the year is natural and necessary for the industry.

If you have questions about overtime law or who receives overtime pay, the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP can help. Get in touch with the location nearest you: San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange or Chicago.

Changes to a $2M Settlement Between Costco and Class of Drivers

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A California federal judge, U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo, granted preliminary approval after changes to the $2 million settlement between Costco and the proposed class of truck drivers while holding on to lingering concerns about the class counsel’s representation. The class of truck drivers originally alleged they were denied proper meal breaks and overtime pay.

The updated settlement agreement made adjustments to accommodate most of the issues that led to it being denied preliminary approval to the deal twice, but the judge still questioned whether or not the proposed class counsel was acting in the best interest of the drivers and whether or not the $2 million settlement amount/deal was a fair one.

One reason the judge first denied approval to the deal was that members of the class were required to release their FLSA claims. Proposed class counsel William Turley responded that is was okay that the drivers’ FLSA claims were dropped because they were basically worthless. In the updated settlement deal the drivers are split into a Rule 23 class and an FLSA collective that any drivers who wish to can opt in to. The Rule 23 settlement is estimated at $1,320,750. The FLSA settlement is estimated at $146,750. The settlement amounts clearly show that Turley’s argument that the FLSA claims were basically worthless was wrong. This situation led the judge to question Mr. Turley’s motivation for the false statement and the potential that he may have sought to keep the funds himself through an excessive attorney fee request. The judge also questioned Turley’s credibility in identifying the settlement amount as “fair.”

After the judge granted preliminary approval, she made it clear that doing so would not keep her from revisiting the questions she still had about the case during the hearing seeking final approval.

Unpaid overtime is one of the most common concerns in the American workforce. If you have concerns about unpaid overtime or if you are misclassified as exempt, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

$5M Deal to End California Truck Drivers’ Overtime Suit Against PepsiCo

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The proposed class of PepsiCo Inc. truck drivers requested preliminary approval from a California federal court for a $5 million settlement that, if approved, would resolve allegations leveled at PepsiCo by the drivers. Allegations against the soda giant include: failure to pay overtime, failure to provide meal and rest breaks, and failure to reimburse business expenses. All the allegations are in violation of both state and federal labor law.

Lead plaintiff, Nathaniel Helton, argued in the motion for preliminary settlement approval that the settlement is both fair and reasonable. If approved, the settlement would mean $1,988 to each of the approximately 1,800 class members who drove for one of the PepsiCo subsidiaries included in the suit.

If the settlement is approved by the court, it would mean an end to the proposed class action that was filed by Helton in state court against PepsiCo. And subsidiaries in early 2017. According to the lawsuit the drivers were required to monitor their vehicles, have their phones with them during meal break and other breaks, and in doing so, the company denied them legally mandated breaks. This also means that the company failed to pay overtime as required by labor law.

The plaintiffs in the case also claim that the company failed to cover business expenses for the truck drivers. For instance, paying for electricity required to charge phones drivers were required to keep on them, and final wages for drivers who were terminated or quit their position.

The Defendant, PepsiCo, denied the allegations. They also removed the lawsuit to federal court in spring of 2017. When the suit was moved to federal court, Helton, the plaintiff, amended the complaint to include additional claims under the FLSA and Private Attorneys General Act. Following two failed attempts at mediation, the parties involved reached a settlement in May. The deal would mean class counsel would receive $1.25 million (25% of the settlement), and no more than $65,000 in expenses. Helton would receive $7,500 as an incentive payment. The settlement also includes a $100,000 payment to resolve the PAGA claim (75% would go to the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency and 25% would go to the class’ fund).

If you have questions about overtime violations or other violations of California labor law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Call Center Class Action Overtime Lawsuit Against Wentworth

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A class action call center overtime lawsuit alleges that Wentworth Home Lending LLC failed to provide loan officers (and other workers in similar positions at the company) payment for all hour worked. The charge is being led by Plaintiff Patrick H., a man from Pennsylvania who filed the claim on behalf of himself and others in similar situations at the company.

Patrick H. alleges that he and others at the company were consistently denied proper payment for hours they worked at Wentworth Home Lending LLC. Patrick H. worked as a loan officer assigned the Wayne Call Center location. He worked both on site at the call center and out of his home telecommuting. This was a typical setup for loan officers with Wentworth Home Lending LLC. Patrick worked in this capacity from December 2015 through March 2017. He also worked with at least 40 other loan officers over the last 3 years.

As of 2015, Wentworth Home Lending classified Patrick and others in similar positions as non-exempt for overtime. They were eligible for benefits when they worked enough hours to qualify (in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act or FLSA). The overtime rule determined by the FLSA is that non-exempt employees are eligible for overtime pay and overtime rates of pay when they work more than 40 hours in one week. When this qualification is met, employers are required to pay their employees an overtime rate of 1.5x their hourly rate. They are also required to keep accurate wage statements that reflect hours worked. Allegedly, the company did not do this. They did not pay overtime as required to Patrick and others in similar work situations.

According to the call center overtime lawsuit, the plaintiff and other loan officers were hourly plus commissions for home loan product sales. Yet if a loan officer’s commission exceeded their hourly rate of pay for a period, they were compensated only the commission without their hourly rate of pay as a basis. This system of payment resulted in many loan officers being shorted their full compensation. The plaintiff alleged that he worked 65-70 hours in one week and did not receive compensation for the hours.

Unpaid overtime is one of the most common concerns in the American workforce. If you have concerns about unpaid overtime or if you are misclassified as exempt, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Home Depot Faces Former Employee's Allegations of Overtime Violations

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Marco A. Batani, out of San Diego, recently filed suit against Home Depot, alleging unlawful business practices and failure to pay overtime. The complaint was filed January 2018 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. In Batani’s complaint, it states that he was employed at Home Depot between 2016 and 2017 as a sales consultant, but that he was misclassified as an outside salesperson. Yet his duties while on the job consisted of mainly non-exempt tasks.

In promotional materials describing potential careers with The Home Depot, the one-stop shop for customers building a home, the company describes a warm workplace culture. The company website states that they couldn’t have “done it without the culture and feeling of home and family among the associates in our stores, distribution centers and corporate office.” Yet the claims made by Batani in the recent California overtime lawsuit paint a far different picture of the situation.

In Batani’s suit, he claims that during his employment he consistently worked over eight hours per day and more than 40 hours per week – without being provided with the legally required overtime compensation. (According the FLSA, employers are required to provide overtime pay for any hours worked beyond “full time.” The law also defines full time as 8 hours per day and/or 40 hours/week.) 

Batani also alleges that he was not provided with the legally required meal periods and was not reimbursed for all job expenses.

In addition to the above allegations, Batani claims that Home Depot USA failed to provide employees with wages due at separation, failed to provide timely and accurate wage statements, and failed to reimburse business expenses. All of the allegations are in vio0lation of state law.

Batani seeks a trial by jury. He filed suit to seek damages of $100, an aggregate penalty up to $4,000, compensatory and liquidated damages, nominal damages, restitution and disgorgement, punitive and exemplary damages and attorneys’ fees. He also seeks any additional relief the court may deem just in the situation.

If you have questions about overtime pay or if your employer is refusing to provide you with required meal and rest breaks, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.