Ninth Circuit Confirms Employees Must be Compensated by the “Second”

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The Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco, California confirmed that even tiny amounts of work time must be counted and compensated (as in seconds on the clock). This opinion (Rodriguez v. Nike) should end the debate following the recent employer-driven campaign to revive the de minimus federal standard when considering California employment law issues and labor lawsuits.

In Rodriguez v. Nike, Isaac Rodriguez filed suit following his employment at a Nike owned California retail store. He worked at the Nike store from November 2011 through January 2012. Employees at the store (and other Nike stores throughout California), employees paid an hourly wage were required to track their hours on the clock using a time clock. As a theft deterrent, Nike required employees to allow exit inspections anytime they left the store (at the end of their shift or for a break). The mandatory checks varied in length depending on the circumstances, but they always occurred while the employee was clocked out, and the time was uncompensated.

Rodriguez filed a California class-action lawsuit against Nike in 2014 alleging violations under numerous sections of the California Labor Code and the Business and Professions Code. The complaint was dismissed in District Court on September 2017 with the court reasoning that the time necessary for the inspection was so brief it did not need to be counted according to the de minimus standard.

Then Troester v. Starbucks changed the landscape for this employment law issue when the court ruled that de minimus did not apply if the lawsuit being considered was brought at a state level under California labor code. The rule for federal lawsuits was not to be used for state lawsuits. After the 2018 ruling, Isaac Rodriguez went back to court amidst the new legal landscape. The Ninth Circuit Court sent Rodriguez's case back to the District Court for a decision consistent with the recent ruling in Troester v. Starbucks. The result was a reaffirmation of the judgment that the federal de minimus rule does not apply to state-level lawsuits, which is good news for wage earners in California. The question went from arguing over how many seconds we were talking about to a discussion of whether or not an employee is legally entitled to payment for work no matter how much time is in question.

An entire series of similar California cases have developed since the Troester v. Starbucks ruling. The ruling will affect all California wage earners, and the precedent provides both employers and employees a firm grasp of how to treat off the clock situations. 

If you have questions about off the clock job duties or if you have experienced California labor law violations in the workplace, the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP can help. Get in touch with the employment law office nearest you: San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange or Chicago.

Comcast and O.C. Communications Reach Settlement in California Wage and Hour Suit

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The $7.5 million settlement presented by Comcast and O.C. Communications for California wage and hour violations was rejected initially. But it was approved in early July 2019 after two years of litigation. The California wage and hour lawsuit involved approximately 4,500 techs. Allegations included in the federal class action stated that O.C. Communications, skilled technician supplier, and Comcast both violated state and federal laws. The companies were accused of numerous wage and hour violations including not paying workers for all the hours they worked, failing to compensate their technicians for piecework and overtime, and failing to provide workers with the required minimum wage.

A group of technicians classified as non-exempt whose job duties included installing cable, tv, phone, security, and internet services to Comcast customers sued the companies as joint employers (Soto, et al. v. O.C. Communications, Inc., et al., No. 17-cv-00251). The plaintiffs claimed the companies failed to pay minimum wages and overtime wages, did not provide appropriate compensation for rest and meal breaks, did not reimburse their employees for business-related expenses, and did not provide required wage statements. All of the above allegations are violations of California’s labor code.

The original rejection of the settlement  April 2019 was due to U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria’s concerns that the agreement did not address avoiding repeat scenarios. He saw the issues as being systemic. He also felt the settlement was achieved at a discount and wanted assurances that the employment law violations would be unlikely to recur.

According to case documents, Comcast techs sometimes worked 60 hours in a week and were paid on a hybrid hourly/piece-rate basis based on different tasks and jobs. One plaintiff alleged Comcast assigned him 32 jobs to complete instead of the more typical eight jobs in one shift. Comcast workers regularly ate on the job (skipping meal breaks), were required to be on call at all hours, and had to provide their own tools. One plaintiff was allegedly told to under-report his work hours.

If you have experienced injustice in the workplace or if you have been the victim of California labor law violations in the workplace, please get in touch with the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP can help. Get in touch with the employment law office nearest you: San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange or Chicago.

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.

Another Driver Wage and Hour Lawsuit Coming at GrubHub

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GrubHub is generating headlines again as they face another proposed collective and class action alleging they misclassified delivery drivers as independent contractors in order to get around the legal requirements to pay minimum wage and overtime pay. A pair of workers have filed suit against the company in Illinois federal court. The company, which takes orders for food from customers through a mobile app or online and then has delivery drivers obtain and deliver the items, has dealt with similar accusations in the past.

The two plaintiffs who filed suit, Carmen Wallace and Broderick Bryant, made allegations that the GrubHub Inc. and GrubHub Holdings Inc. violated the Fair Labor Standards Act as well as both Illinois and California labor law when they classify drivers as independent contractors. The plaintiffs claim that the GrubHub delivery service exerts a substantial amount of control over the work performed by their drivers and relies on the completion of their job duties to run the overall business.

According to the complaint, the GrubHub delivery drivers are currently classified as independent contractors but should actually be classified as employees according to standards set down by law as the company directs the drivers’ work in detail, they instruct drivers on where to report for their work shifts, they tell drivers how to dress and where to go to pick up or wait for orders scheduled for delivery.

Virtually identical claims are being made in another Illinois federal court case called Souran v. GrubHub Holdings Inc.

Numerous drivers for the company tried to opt in to the Souran case after the deadline, but GrubHub would not agree to add them so they filed a new case for late-submitted opt-ins. The Souran group was granted conditional certification as a collective action in February 2017, but was stayed by the Seventh Circuit until the U.S. Supreme Court produced a ruling on another case, Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis et al. The high court ruling came down in May ruling employment agreements barring workers from bringing class actions permissible. As GrubHub drivers sign this type of agreement when they start work with the company, the Seventh Circuit sent Souran back to district court for additional proceedings in accordance with the ruling of the high court.

Raef Lawson also has a similar suit pending against GrubHub before the Ninth Circuit. Lawson is urging the appeals court to revive his action. It was dismissed in February after the lower court found he was an independent contractor in spite of his claims that he should be classified as an employee.

The action filed by Wallace and Bryant raises most of the same claims. The plaintiffs note a number of different work conditions that are indicative of employee status: drivers work scheduled shifts, drivers must remain available to accept assignments during shifts, drivers are subject to termination if they don’t listen to the company’s dispatchers who are advising them where to go and when to be there, etc.

If you have concerns regarding misclassification in the workplace or if you aren’t being paid overtime you are due, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Exotic Dancers Wage Row Results in $8.5M Deal

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A number of former Spearmint Rhino exotic dancers urged a California federal judge to give final approval to a $8.5 million deal in order to settle their suit alleging that the chain of nightclubs limited their compensation to tips.  Lead plaintiffs in the case, Lauren Byrne, Bambie Bedford, and Jennifer Disla, claimed that the nightclub didn’t pay them overtime wages, provide them with minimum wage or provide them with required meal and rest breaks during their time dancing in the establishment.

Final settlement approval in the class and collective action would resolve the allegations of tip misappropriation. Out of 8,000 class members, 50 chose to opt out and only a few others in the group objected to the settlement proposed as a resolution to the matter.

Dancers included in the suit were located throughout the country. Counsel for the class spoke to them regarding the allegations and disputed facts of the case and considered information pertaining to the case provided by defendants’ counsel including business structure, agreements in place, locations of the club, number of clubs involved in the case, number of dancers and other entertainers working at the various locations, applicable statute of limitations, and the number of days each dancer worked at the establishments. All this research and analyses was completed prior to engaging in settlement discussions.

According to the motion, the final approval of the proposed settlement would end litigation over all claims against the Spearmint Rhino nightclubs brought by the plaintiffs in regard to state wage and hour law violations, and the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). According to the dancers, the deal amount specified was $8.5 million, but could increase to $11 million if certain conditions were met.

A group of exotic dancers currently working the defendants’ clubs came forward the same day that the final settlement approval was requested to ask the court to find that they are not employees. They stated that they could have chosen to work as “employees,” but did not because they wanted to avoid the level of control the nightclubs had over actual employees. They argued that the plaintiffs are all former entertainers who no longer need to consider this aspect of the issue. They have no further interest in preserving their choice to perform without being subject to the rules, regulation, control and scrutiny of an employee.

If you have questions about wage and hour violations or if you are not being paid overtime you are due, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.