Is Starbucks Misgendering Trans Woman a Violation of Labor Law?

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Starbucks recently claimed that misgendering or calling an employee by the wrong pronoun is not harassment, which is in direct contradiction to their employee guidelines. A former Starbucks employee, Maddie Wade, filed a complaint at the Fresno Superior Court in California suing the company for harassment and discrimination.

Wade, a former barista at a Starbucks in Fresno, alleges that when she began her transition, her manager at the time reduced her work hours and refused to call her by preferred pronouns. She also claims that her former Starbucks manager began posting transphobic material online through social media outlets. Wade claims that she was bullied and targeted by her manager at the Fresno Starbucks daily after she came out as transgender.

Allegedly, the mistreatment by her boss, Dustin Guthrie, escalated to unbearable levels and Wage had to transfer to a different Starbucks location. The harassment continued at the next Starbucks location. Wade claims her manager at the new site encouraged her to take the matter to the District Manager, and she did, but the situation was not resolved. After nine years of employment, Wade eventually left her position at Starbucks at the advice of her therapist due to the mental stress and “intolerable conditions” she was forced to endure.

Wade seeks general damages, special damages, punitive damages, and attorneys fees from her former employer. She states that the loss of health insurance prevented her from receiving the treatment and procedures she needs to complete her transition. Wade also claims that Starbuck’s value marketing group for its LGBTQ employees on the Facebook page, Starbucks Partners – Pride Alliance Network, refuses to allow her to post on its wall.

It is ironic that as we enter Pride Month, Starbucks seems to be making moves counter to its public record highlighting LGBTQ acceptance. The company is reasonably well known for its LGBTQ acceptance: scoring 100 out of 100 on Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 Corporate Equality Index, releasing annual LGBTQ-focused products, rolling out trans-inclusive health care included in their benefits package, etc. Attorneys representing the massive coffee provider are filing a motion for summary judgment and arguing that there is not enough evidence to show that Guthrie was calling Wade by incorrect pronouns on purpose. Without proof of intent, the Defendant contends that the behavior in itself cannot constitute discrimination under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

If you have questions about filing a discrimination lawsuit or if you experienced discrimination in the workplace, the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP can help. Get in touch with employment law office nearest you: San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange or Chicago.

Mattel Faces Age Discrimination Lawsuit

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A former Mattel employee sued Mattel for age discrimination. 71-year old Benny Binshtock filed the age discrimination lawsuit against Mattel in Los Angeles Superior Court listing several allegations: wrongful termination, age-based harassment, age-based discrimination, retaliation in the workplace, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, fraud, and concealment. Binshtock claims he was falsely accused of unnecessarily calling women over to his workspace as a justification to fire him, but that the real reason was his age. The age discrimination lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Binshtock firmly believes that his age was a contributing factor in the decision of management to terminate his employment and that the company intentionally sought to bring younger employees into the plaintiff’s position in the workplace. Binshtock’s time with Mattel began with his hiring in 1968. He was initially hired as an apprentice model maker and later received a promotion to supervisor. According to the complaint, the plaintiff’s department full of model makers like himself had not seen new hires in a significant number of years. Binshtock’s lengthy term of employment lent his complaint authority when he noted that the people in his department ranged in age from 40 to 65 years and that Mattel had employed them for many years.

In March 2018, Mattel employees saw the beginning of a round of layoffs. Binshtock claimed it was evident that defendants had clear intentions to terminate older employees. Within a month of the initial layoffs, Binshtock was called in for a meeting with Human Resources. In this meeting, he was advised that they had received a complaint against him of sexual harassment in the workplace. The “complaint” indicated that Binshtock always called female co-workers over to this office for his amusement rather than for work-related necessities. The plaintiff claims the sexual harassment complaint was completely baseless – fabricated to defame him of the reputation he spent years building on the job at Mattel.

In the same meeting with Human Resources, the HR rep changed her accusation against Binshtock from sexual harassment to “making women uncomfortable.” The plaintiff was called into another meeting in May 2018, where HR told him that an investigation had been conducted into the matter and had resulted in the decision to terminate his employment. Within the month, Binshtock, 70 years old at the time, was fired.

If you have been fired and need to discuss filing a wrongful termination lawsuit, please don’t hesitate. Get in touch with an experienced employment law attorney at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP. Our convenient locations in San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, and Chicago make it easy for us to be your advocate and seek the justice and compensation you deserve.

“2 Investigates” Features Wrongful Termination Lawsuit: Plaintiff Wins

In South San Francisco, California KTVU 2 Investigates completed a report on the situation of Ivania Centeno, a 13-year employee of Bon Appetit Café inside Genetech. Centeno alleges wrongful termination due to a family-leave discrepancy. The story helped spark an award for the plaintiff totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Centeno claimed she was released from her position in 2017 because she took time off to care for her mother-in-law who was dying; doing so was allegedly against the company's policy. Centeno attempted to fight for justice in her case for a year before 2 Investigates completed a report and aired it in a February segment that highlighted the situation and the more significant issue at hand: a legal loophole in California that prevents employees from accessing protection provided under current family-leave laws when the case applies to in-laws.

According to California paid leave law the care of in-laws is covered, but under the California Family Rights Act, care of in-laws is not covered. As the two laws contradict each other, and it is not clear which law takes precedent, legislative changes are necessary for any long-term resolution.

In the current case of Centeno and Bon Appetit Café, Centeno claims her mother-in-law because seriously ill and Bon Appetit granted Centeno permission to fly to Nicaragua to provide the needed care. Centeno traveled to Nicaragua and provided her mother-in-law with the necessary care until she passed. After her mother-in-law died, Centeno returned to the states to go back to her job. When she arrived, Bon Appetit fired her, insisting that she missed too many days of work and that caring for her mother-in-law was not a protected activity under the family leave policy.  

Management at the company claims that computer software made the decision to terminate Centeno. The trip to care for her mother-in-law, as well as previous absences due to a work-related injury, were input into the software, which then generated the conclusion to terminate Centeno's employment.  

In April 2019, the case was resolved with Centeno receiving an undisclosed amount of back pay, unemployment benefits, and an award of $211,795 in attorney fees and an additional $25,603 in court costs.

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

Settlement Reached with Former Port Hueneme Employee Who Filed Harassment Claim

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A former Port Hueneme employee claims she experienced harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Carmen Nichols, a former employee of Port Hueneme, filed a claim alleging both.

In response, Port Hueneme is to pay Carmen Nichols $550,000. While according to the terms of the settlement, Port Hueneme officially admits no wrongdoing, the settlement counts as a win. Nichols resigned from her position in August 2017 after being employed for 22 years. One month after she left, she filed a claim alleging misconduct by Hensley as well as other employees who allowed the Hensley’s harassment and discrimination of Nichols to continue.

In the complaint, Nichols alleged that City Council member Jim Hensley harassed and discriminated against her on numerous occasions beginning around January 2015 and continuing until she was finally forced to quit her job in August 2017. Harassment and discrimination aimed at Nichols were based on gender and race and was, in the words of Nichols, “continuous.” While opposing party claims Nichol has zero evidence of her claims, Nichols listed several instances of harassment and discrimination in her complaint.

Nichols claims that Hensley regularly referenced her looks, insinuated she wasn’t doing her job, opposed a pay raise for her when she was named for a promotion (even when she earned less than men in the same position), referenced her ethnicity (referring to her as a “Latina”), and openly expressed his dislike for Hispanics.

In a separate case citing Port Hueneme as Defendant filed by City Council member Jim Hensley, a judge found the federal lawsuit seeking monetary damages for lost wages and benefits related to his removal from some committees as well as emotional distress without merit. U.S. District Court Judge André Birotte Jr. granted the request for summary judgment. By granting the summary judgment, the judge essentially rules that Hensley’s claims were not strong enough to hold up in court and allow the case to move forward. Judge Birotte reviewed the Plaintiff’s pleadings as well as records of City Council meetings pertaining to the situation and determined there were no “genuine issues of material fact.” Hensley and his counsel feel the judge’s conclusion was inaccurate and plan to appeal.

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

$1.3 Million Settlement to Settle Glasswerks L.A. Unpaid Wages Lawsuit

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California employees claimed another victory in a recent unpaid wages lawsuit, Fajardo v. Glasswerks L.A. The commercial glass manufacturer agreed to pay $1.3 million to resolve the class action filed on behalf of workers who claim the company failed to pay overtime and provide meal and rest breaks.

The claims apply to employees working for Glasswerks L.A. between 2012 and 2018 and affects more than 1,000 current and former employees. Each will end up receiving approximately $800, but some will see as much as $2,400 as a result of the settlement. Plaintiffs in the case claim the company shorted them on overtime and failed to provide meal and rest breaks and required by California Labor Law. 

Parties settled the case through private mediation with few details offered to the public. In spite of the lack of information, the settlement supports the continued efforts of the California courts to protect the rights of employees and their legally protected pay.

According to California Labor Law, nonexempt employees are entitled to overtime when they work over eight hours in one day or 40 hours in one week. Nonexempt workers are entitled to a 30-minute uninterrupted, duty-free meal break when they complete more than 5 hours in a shift (on one workday) as well as a 10-minute uninterrupted, duty-free rest break for every 4 hours worked. While the rules seem straightforward, there are often complications. Most confusion regarding these specific labor laws come from the determining who is covered by the protections of the law and which hours count. For instance, independent contractors (rather than employees of the company) do not receive wage and hour law protections. Managerial employees are also exempt.

Another common issue for California wage and hour law involves determining which hours should be counted when determining how many hours an employee has worked in one workday or how many hours they have worked in one workweek. (According to the law, more than 8 hours in one day or more than 40 hours in one workweek require employees to provide overtime compensation). According to recent California court decisions, employers should include small amounts of off-the-clock work time when counting employee hours towards overtime totals. On-call time should also be included even when the employee is not required to be present on the job site. For instance, employees who are required to be on-call at night must be paid for their time even if the employee is asleep during their time on call. Employees asked to take care of simple tasks while on lunch break must have their time count toward wage and overtime calculations and payment.

If you have questions about why you are not receiving overtime pay you are due, or if you have experienced other California Labor Law violations in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP. We have the experience you need on your side to protect your wage and hour rights and help you gain the compensation you deserve.

$2 Million Settlement to End Terranea Resort Workers’ Wage Lawsuit

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Court documents filed on April 30th, 2019 outlined a settlement of $2.15 million paid by Terranea Resort to resolve claims made in a significant wage and hour class action lawsuit. This settlement follows another class action lawsuit the Lowe Enterprises-owned hotel settled in 2013. The previous lawsuit resulted in a $1.125 million settlement.

The recent lawsuit was filed on behalf of hundreds of employees, both current and former, all eligible to receive compensation.  

Allegations Included in the Complaint: Various Forms of Wage Theft

•    Off-the-Clock-Work

•    Missed Rest Breaks

•    Missed Meal Periods

•    Failure to Reimburse Employees for Basic Tools Needed on the Job

•    Falsified Record Keeping to Avoid Paying Meal Break Penalties

The lawsuit also claimed that the resort failed to provide employees with payment for the time they were required to spend shuttling back and forth between the resort and off-site parking lots per company bus. According to allegations made in the complaint, it added an hour or more to employees’ travel each day. Plaintiffs also claim that workers were required to arrive early for shifts to change into their uniforms before clocking in for their shift (constituting off-the-clock-work).

Expenses that the resort failed to reimburse included the cost of essential kitchen items cooks used in the luxury resort kitchen. For instance, cooks claim they purchased their own knives, graters, etc. because the resort did not provide even the most necessary tools.

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

Olive Grove Charter School Facing Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

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A former Olive Grove Charter School employee, Dawn Wilson, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit alleging the school’s leader was misappropriating public funds, engaging in a romantic relationship with a contractor at the school, improperly hiring one of her daughters and fraudulently adjusting the grades of another daughter. The lawsuit was filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

Dawn Wilson was allegedly hired in 2016 as a part time human resources/administrative assistant. She was later promoted on two different occasions and appointed as board treasurer. Just a year ago, Wilson was promoted again to work as controller and chief operating officer with earnings set at around $103,000 until she was terminated from her position on July 31, 2018. Wilson’s termination allegedly came after she raised a number of concerns.

As an alternative public school, Olive Grove Charter School offers homeschooling or a hybrid home/classroom schooling program for both elementary and high school age students. The school has a number of locations: Santa Barbara, Buellton, Lompoc, Orcutt/Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo and New Cuyama. The lawsuit alleges California labor code violations, wrongful termination an intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to Wilson, she complained about the school’s unethical and unlawful behavior to the Olive Grove board of directors. She made allegations of conflicts of interest, misuse of public funds and falsifying grades for students. She alleged that Mudge had an affair with the senior vice president of Charter School Management Corporation, Nick Driver, who also happens to hold the largest contract with the charter school. Wilson pointed out that Mudge failed to disclose her relationship with Mr. Driver to the board which is a violation of the OGCS Conflict of Interest Code (pursuant to California Government Code section 87300). As such, Wilson believed that Mudge’s behavior qualified as unlawful activity.

In addition, Wilson brought to the board’s attention that Mudge hired her daughter, Anna Mudge, to teach, but that the open position was not properly advertised and Mudge’s daughter, Anna, did not have the appropriate credentials to fill the position. California Commission on Teacher Credentialing records indicate that Anna Mudge received an emergency substitute teaching credential in November of 2017 and a single subject teaching credential valid until Jan. 1, 2020. A certificate of clearance will expire Oct. 1, 2022. According to the lawsuit, Anna Mudge was hired as a teacher’s assistant for $48,000 per year which equates to an hourly rate of nearly $38 per hour. This is significantly higher than the hourly rate paid to other teacher’s assistants at the school who received $15 per hour.

Wilson also cited violations of California Penal Code section 424 claiming that her daughter’s inflated salary was a misuse of public funds. In fact, according to the lawsuit, the plaintiff complained about Mudge’s misuse of public funds in this way to Mr. Anaya, school board president, on a number of occasions. The plaintiff also complained about spending to Mudge, questioning the purchase of a $10,000 salt water fish tank for a marine biology class the school did not yet offer, a five-star hotel stay in New Orleans during a conference when closer hotels were available at more reasonable rates, and other questionable expenditures. The expenses Wilson questioned were incurred prior to the board authorization. In April 2018, Wilson complained to the president of the board again that the executive director at the school spent close to $44,000 on computers without first obtaining approval from the board even though the budget set for the purchase was $10,000. Wilson also complained that Mudge misused public funds by booking a hotel room in Santa Barbara, which is against policy due to its proximity to the district office and claimed that she did so in order to engage in a romantic rendezvous with Mr. Driver.

In July, the school board president requested Wilson investigate an “unlawful grade change” that was reported by what he referred to as a “disgruntled employee” who claimed that Mudge unilaterally changed the senior year grades of her daughter, Juliette Mudge. Her poor grades were changed to A’s and B’s, a mathematical impossibility considering the previous state of her academic standing. The situation made it clear that the master teacher did not make the grade change. In investigating the issue, Wilson contacted the school registrar to obtain information. Ten days later, Mudge placed Wilson on administrative leave and terminated her employment at the school. Mudge cited violations of school policy and unsatisfactory job performance as the reasons for termination.

The wrongful termination lawsuit seeks lost earnings, compensatory, general and special damages, punitive damages and costs associated with the legal action. According to court records, this is not the first lawsuit to be filed against the school by a former employee. In fact, former employees filed suit against the school in both 2016 and 2017, but both cases were settled before trial commenced.

If you need help filing a wrongful termination lawsuit or if you need to discuss what constitutes a wrongful termination according to the law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.