Former Personal Chef to Receive Settlement from Sean “Diddy” Combs in Harassment and Wrongful Termination Case

Sean “Diddy” Combs’ former personal chef filed a sexual harassment claim against him in 2017. She also claimed that the music superstar didn’t pay her overtime for working hours in excess of what is legally recognized as full time.

Rueda, Combs’ former personal chef, was employed in April 2015 and worked for the music mogul through May 2016. During her time employed by Combs, Rueda claims she would regularly work from 9am to 1:30am and that she would also frequently accompany him on the road for weeks at a time without receiving anything in addition to her regular $91,000 annual salary. Rueda claims that when she took the position as personal chef, she advised Combs that she couldn’t travel due to the fact that she had small children who needed her to be nearby. 

Rueda claims that Combs was frequently hostile to her – creating an uncomfortable work environment. She described one instance in which he yelled at her for showing up to work late and disturbing him and Gina Huynh, a woman he was romantically linked to. She claims he swore at her and demanded, “Can’t you see I have company?” Rueda then claims she was instructed to bring them breakfast in his private quarters. She did so and when she arrived, she saw them having sex. She made additional claims that Combs’ manager made sexual comments to her.

It was reported that when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen first considered Rueda’s case, she didn’t accept it because of a work contract Rueda signed stating that all employment disputes be handled by arbitration. Rueda’s lawyers argued that the contract was both misleading and heavily favored Combs in the verbiage.

Despite Judge Allen’s initial reaction to the case, Rueda’s lawyers revealed the case was settled on February 19th. They did not provide details. When news of the suit surfaced in 2017, a Combs representative described Rueda as a disgruntled employee, but claimed she was fired for just cause. The reason she was terminated was never released. Rueda also sued Combs for wrongful termination.

If you have been wrongfully terminated from your job or if you are experiencing a hostile work environment, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Strengthened Protections for California Workers have Bay Area Restaurant Workers Collecting Lost Wages

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In response to a recent class action lawsuit alleging wage violations, a popular Bay Area restaurant, Gordo Taqueria, agreed to pay workers $690,000. The case is the latest in a string of similar labor cases that involve well known Bay Area restaurants. The new legal trend is due at least in part to the results of a years-long effort by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office to strengthen protections for workers and improve their ability to collect lost wages.

In January 2019, another Bay Area restaurant, Rangoon Ruby, agreed to pay a settlement to over 300 workers that totaled $4 million in wages plus penalties. In 2018, La Taqueria settled with workers in a similar case for $500,000. Additional recent cases based on similar allegations include cases against: Burma Superstar, Mango Garden, Kome Buffet, and Mission Beach Café.

Jose Martinez, former Gordo dishwasher, worked at the Gordo Taqueria on College Avenue in Berkeley from 2013 to 2015. He brought complaints to the attention of Legal Aid at Work in San Francisco and with their help, he filed a class action lawsuit in December 2016 against the restaurant chain. In the class action lawsuit representing 240 workers, Martinez alleged that workers for the Bay Area restaurant received tips only as a lump sum annually instead of daily or at the end of each pay period as required by California state employment law. He also claimed that workers were not receiving all the overtime pay they were due for hours worked beyond 8 in one day and/or 40 in one work week.

Gordo owners responded to the allegations through their attorney by saying that the restaurant has served the Bay Area since the 1970s, always provided great food and a been a great place of employment. They also stated that they quickly responded to the lawsuit in December of 2016 by engaging in negotiations with the plaintiff’s counsel and instituting early alternative dispute resolution measures to negotiate a deal that the restaurant believes is fair to all parties. They also denied all allegations listed in the complaint.

An Alameda Superior Court Judge approved the settlement agreement in December on a preliminary basis. The settlement agreement would resolve the class action suit. The claims included in the suit filed by Martinez are similar to others filed against many other area restaurants in recent cases: inadequate rest breaks, unpaid overtime, improper distribution of tips, minimum wage violations, and instances of retaliation against workers who speak up for their rights.

If you have concerns that you are not being provided fair overtime pay or if you are not being compensated as required by California state labor law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Court Grants Wells Fargo Loan Officers Class Action in Pay Dispute

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California-based Wells Fargo loan officers recently filed suit alleging that they were improperly compensated (Kang v. Wells Fargo Bank). The lawsuit could now have even greater implications as the plaintiffs have been granted class certification by the California court.

The issue in the case is to determine whether state was violated when Wells Fargo allegedly conducted “clawbacks” of hourly wages, vacation and separation pay from earned sales commissions. Allegedly, Wells Fargo made a practice of compensating its mortgage sales force using advances on their commissions at a basic rate of around $12/hour, then “clawback” the hourly pay from commissions and vacation pay as they were earned.

James C. Kang, plaintiff in the case, claimed that the clawbacks were in violation of a number of state labor laws that related to employee compensation, including: overtime pay, minimum wage requirements, and vacation pay requirements because they left members of the sales force affected by the practice unpaid for tasks they were required to fulfill by the company that were unrelated to direct sales. Kang also alleged in court documents that members of the sales force who were promised vacation pay did not actually receive it due to the clawbacks.

The bank claims that the pay structure used to compensate home mortgage consultants is compliant with California wage and hour laws, including paying for all hours worked and that the compensation structure allows mortgage workers to earn a competitive, performance-based wage.

Since Well Fargo implemented a mandatory arbitration provision for its sales force on December 11, 2015, the judge ordered those hired or rehired after that date to be excluded from class certification. All other nonexempt employees of Wells Fargo as of October 27, 2013 working as home mortgage consultants or private mortgage bankers, junior HMCs or junior PMBs are part of the class. A subclass is included in the class certification for individuals who were terminated from their employment.

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

Alaska Air Will Attempt to Overturn $78M Lawsuit Ruling

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Alaska Air (or Alaska Air Group) seeks to overturn the $78 million lawsuit ruling. They are confident they will prevail upon appeal in the California class action lawsuit against a class of over 1,800 former flight attendants for Virgin America.

The judge ordered the company and its new owner, SeaTac-based Alaska, to pay the $78 million to cover damages and interest to the group of former flight attendants. This ruling followed three years of legal negotiation and litigation. Yet the SeaTac-based airline stated clearly in their 10K annual securities filing this past February 15, 2019 that it is confident that it will prevail upon appeal. The company is confident that the appellate court will agree with them that the claims made in the case are without factual and legal merit. No money has been set aside to cover the potential loss that would occur if they do not prevail on appeal.

The $78 million in damages was awarded by the Northern California U.S. District Court after they ruled the Virgin America and its successor Alaska Air Group Inc. (which took over in 2016) were responsible for various damages and associated penalties that the group of flight attendants sought by filing suit. The flight attendants’ legal representation argued that the airlines violated California state labor law and San Francisco city labor law when the Virgin America employees were not provided with overtime pay, meal breaks or rest periods as required by law.

The airline seeks to overturn the ruling in appellate court based on claims that the California laws on which the previous judgment was based do not apply to the situation due to the company’s status as a national airline (pursuant to the U.S. Constitution and federal law).

If you need help obtaining overtime pay that you have earned or if you are the victim of other employment 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.

California Exxon Subcontractor On-Call Claim Settled for $2.3M

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In recent news, an electrical subcontractor for ExxonMobil Corp. and Freeport McMoRan Oil & Gas agreed to a settlement to resolve employment law violation claims related to on call workers without pay. The $2.3 million settlement will resolve allegations that workers were due back pay after they were on duty at all hours and were not allowed to leave the offshore oil and gas platforms.

102 workers were involved in the claims based on both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and California law. The proposed class action lawsuit listed Ardent Companies, Inc. as the Defendant. Allegations were made that the Defendant in the case required their employees to remain on-call at all times: during meal breaks, during rest periods, when they were not scheduled for a shift. The lead plaintiff in the case claimed that while employees were provided meals and lodging as a condition of their employment, the value of those benefits wasn’t included in their “regular rate” of pay when calculating any overtime pay due to workers.

The Defendant, Ardent, argued that the workers were appropriately compensated for their time and that California state wage and hour law requirements were not applicable to the situation because the platforms where the employees fulfilled their job duties were located in federal waters and that employees were able to leave the platform upon request.

The plaintiffs’ case was supported by a pending case scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in April. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s dismissal of the case, Newton v. Parker Drilling Mgmt. Servs, Ltd. They held that state minimum wage and overtime law were applicable to the case rather than FLSA in reference to the oil platform workers involved in the case working on the Outer Continental Shelf. A decision on this case is expected in June.

This is good news for California workers as California employment laws tend to offer more protection to employees than their federal counterparts – and on-call work is no exception to this trend. Under FLSA, employees are generally considered on call if they are required to remain on the job site/the employer’s premises. Employees who are to remain on call at home or who are required to leave a message where they can be reached, are not (in most cases) considered on call according to federal law. Exceptions may occur in situations where there are additional constraints on the employee’s freedom.

California state employment law, on the other hand, entitles employees to pay under a wider scope of circumstances. For instance, California state court recently expanded the requirements with the finding that on-call workers may be entitled to pay even when they are not scheduled to work (see Ward v. Tilly’s, Inc., B280 151 (Cal. App. Ct. Feb. 4, 2019)). In the Tilly’s case, workers who were required to call in hours before their shift to verify if they were scheduled or not, were not paid unless they were actually called in to work. The court agreed with the plaintiffs in the case that employees calling in hours before their shift constituted “reporting for work” and as such, they were entitled to pay under state law even though, ultimately, they were not required to work their shift.

If you have questions about California wage and hour law or if you need to discuss wage and hour or overtime requirements, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

PAGA Benefits Both Employees and Employers

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The United States of America was found on a system of checks and balances. The most recent addition to this system of checks and balances is The Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). PAGA was passed by the Legislature in order to oversee California employers at no cost to the state. Under PAGA, private citizens can prosecute labor code violations. In fact, PAGA prosecutions don’t only cost the state nothing, but they benefit the state financially and reduce the citizens’ tax burden because 75% of all funds collected go directly to the state of California.

PAGA prosecutions have already brought hundreds of millions of dollars to California. It has also resulted in California laying claiming to one of the most thorough levels of labor law enforcement in the nation. This means California employers are well aware that they can’t cheat to compete without serious risks involved.

The PAGA paradigm generates an additional benefit for California in the form of an exceptional employment bar (representing employers and workers) that commands compliance with state labor laws under serious threat of prosecution for non-compliance under PAGA. In order to comply with employment law, employers must conduct a balancing act with fear and greed. Under PAGA, the fear of enforcement is enhanced, therefore reducing the greed at the employer level and making the job of the employer’s bar (seeking compliance with labor law) significantly easier.

When considered from all angles, PAGA should not just be recognized for helping the state become the place where all companies have a chance to succeed due to an even playing field but should also be recognized as the set of factors creating the chance for better enforcement of environmental laws, health and safety laws. The Supreme Court said it best when they noted, “The general intent of PAGA is to allow employees to pursue civil penalties through the legal system when the LWDA and related state agencies do not have the resources to do so, with a goal of increasing the deterrent effect of the civil penalties and compliance with labor laws.”

If you have questions or concerns regarding how PAGA affects you in the workplace or if you need to discuss labor code violations on the job, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Court Rules On-Call Tilly’s Workers Should Receive Pay

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Some employers require workers to call in in order to find out if they have to work their shifts. Some employees are required to call in just hours before they may need to start work. This practice triggered California’s requirement that workers be given “reporting time pay.” A split California appeals panel recently brought this up when reviving a proposed wage class action against Tilly’s Inc. In doing so, they potentially opened up many other California retailers to similar (potentially expensive) suits.

The Second Appellate District said Tilly’s on-call policy triggers California State’s Wage Order 7, in which it states that employers must provide workers with pay when they report to work but are not put to work or provided with at least half of their usual/scheduled day’s work. Since workers are “reporting” when they call in, Wage Order 7 means employers must pay them between 2-4 hours worth of wages depending on the length of the scheduled shifts being referenced.

Tilly’s practice of having their workers call in to see if they need to work their shifts just hours before they would need to start work, is exactly the type of policy that reporting time pay was intended to stop. The appellate court decision overturned a lower court ruling that tossed the suit when they concluded that the on-call scheduling alleged in the case against Tilly’s triggers Wage Order 7’s reporting time pay requirements. They noted that on-call shifts are a burden to employees who cannot take other employment, attend school or make plans socially because they may need to work, but simultaneously may not receive payment for the time they have set aside unless they are ultimately called in to work.

Tilly’s argues that workers “report” for work under Wage Order 7 only if they physically show up for the start of a scheduled shift. The appellate court concluded that the requirement should be read to include those required to check in before physically arriving on the job before granting worker Skylar Ward’s appeal.

The appellate court noted that while policies like Tilly’s call-in requirement probably didn’t exist when Wage Order 7 was adopted by the state, the reporting time requirement covers situations other than those specifically considered by the drafters.

If you have questions about what is covered by Wage Order 7 or if you are required to call in to report before a shift, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP so we can help you protect your rights in the workplace.