Court Awards Plaintiff $1.58M in Racial Harassment Lawsuit Naming UC Regents

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Nicole Birden, a 48-year-old African American and former UCLA Health phlebotomist, was awarded $1.58 million in her wrongful termination and racial harassment lawsuit against the UC Regents. Birden filed the discrimination lawsuit in 2017 citing the University of California Board of Regents for wrongful termination and discrimination.

Birden started working at UCLA in 2015 and claims she experienced a hostile work environment filled with co-workers calling her derogatory names, bullying on the job and even tampering with her work. Allegedly, Birden’s co-workers took the harassment so far that they tampered with blood samples in order to sabotage her work. In response to the escalating harassment and discrimination, Birden complained to her supervisor. She was fired in 2016. Birden was allegedly referred to as the “black girl with the attitude” by a number of co-workers while she was employed at UCLA.

UCLA’s legal representation argued that Birden was terminated due to a pattern or poor performance. He also made it clear to the jurors that the plaintiff never claimed she was treated differently because she was African American in her original complaints. UCLA is disappointed with the verdict and claim to be reviewing their options.

UCLA also claims that they consider ensuring a respectful and inclusive work environment to be essential to the university’s overall mission. They feel they encourage their employees to report any concerns in order to allow the issues to be reviewed and then appropriately addressed by management and administration at the university. They also restated their belief that UCLA Health is dedicated to maintaining a positive workplace without discrimination, harassment or retaliation.

If you have experienced discrimination in the workplace or if you need to file a harassment lawsuit, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik and DeBlouw LLP today.

Immigrant Laborers File Wage Theft Lawsuit to Reclaim Years of Backpay

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In an attempt to reclaim years of backpay they claim they are owed by their employer, immigrant workers in New Jersey filed a wage theft lawsuit just a week after the state imposed stricter penalties. The group of eight immigrants filed a class action lawsuit suing the car wash where they worked alleging they were not receiving minimum wage or overtime payment they were due.

The wage and hour and overtime class action lawsuit alleged that the car wash, Caribbean Car Wash Inc., and the carwash owners were in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act or FLSA and the state wage and hour law. Plaintiffs allege that it was standard policy at the carwash to allow managers to take the tips of their workers and that the company failed to comply with record-keeping requirements with proper and complete time sheets or records.

The exploitation of immigrant workers in the car wash industry is a widespread issue that happens all too frequently. Many immigrant workers are unaware of their employment rights and are afraid that they will lose their job if they speak up. It is important for immigrant workers to know that the law protects them regardless of their immigration status. Plaintiffs in the suit are Rigoberto Andux Mirabal, Gabriel Cano Arango, Yoan Aquino Martinez, Lucas Alberto Pedronzo Toledo, Julio Cesar Ochoa, Nelson Batista Corbo, William Ricardo Antunez Valdez, and the estate of Carlos Alberto. The plaintiffs listed the Caribbean Car Wash, Oscar Ulpiano, and Roberto Ulpiano (both manage employees and operate the business) as Defendants.

According to plaintiffs in the case, the owner (who owns around 100 car washes and gas stations) employs mostly Latino immigrants and regularly orders them to arrive at work early for their shifts but does not allow them to clock in until customers arrive. Workers also allege that when business is slow, they are required to clock out but remain on duty until more customers arrive. This causes workers to put in many hours without pay.

If you are required to work off the clock or your employer is in violation of employment law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik and DeBlouw LLP today.

Discrimination Lawsuit Filed: Alleged Racial Discrimination on Sewer Project

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According to claims made by African-American workers (and the union that supports them), three white supervisors on the largest public works project in Akron history used racist language, discriminated against their black employees by assigning them “stupid” work that paid less than other assignments, and retaliated when employees complained about the harassment by firing them.

The racial discrimination complaint was filed in Summit County Common Pleas Court on behalf of three African American workers from Akron and another African American worker from Copley. All four workers were hired by Kenny Construction and the Obayashi Corporation. They were hired for the $184 million Ohio Canal Interceptor Tunnel (OCIT) project. The project to install a huge concrete-lined sewer pipe requires workers to bore a mile under downtown Akron.

The plaintiffs in the case allege that managers, supervisors, and representatives of the company and project as a whole referred to African-American workers using the n-word, called them “worthless,” referred to them as “yard dogs,” “them boys,” “the blacks in the back,” and “stupid.”

The company’s parent company, Granite Construction Inc. responded to the allegations stating that the Kenny/Obayashi team is proud of the work they have completed on the project and the support they have received from the community and that they deny all allegations made in the complaint. They also stated that they intend to vigorously defend the company against what they referred to as “false and inflammatory” accusations.

Obayashi is one of the largest builders in Japan. On the Obayashi website they describe their company as fulfilling their corporate responsibilities as the best way to “bring smiles to people” and they make this the goal of their overall business activities as they strive to meet the expectations of the public and respond to their stakeholders’ needs.

According to the discrimination lawsuit, the black employees on the sewer project were subject to “racial belittling” and were typically assigned to “yard crews” excluded from work opportunities available to others on the job site like working on the tunnel boring machine. Workers assigned to work on the tunnel boring machine were allowed overtime hours to work around the clock when the project fell behind schedule due to late arrival of equipment, etc. According to allegations made in the overtime lawsuit, management reserved most of the positions on the boring machine for Caucasian employees.

Black employees who spoke up about the situation and the discrimination occurring on the job site were allegedly fired.

If you are not being paid overtime wages you are due or if you need to file an overtime lawsuit, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik and DeBlouw LLP today.

Following Years of Complaints, Uber Proposes a New Minimum Wage for Drivers with a Catch

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A California bill that could be a massive financial blow to Uber and Lyft’s profits is getting closer and closer to becoming a law. In response, the ride-hailing companies are increasing their lobbying efforts in an attempt to block it or destroy it once and for all. Uber emailed drivers and riders this month laying out their own proposals to offer their drivers benefits and protections as requested, but is there a catch?

In the email, Uber stated that they were advocating for a new policy to strengthen protections for rideshare drivers by creating a minimum hourly rate (approx.. $21 per hour while on a trip), including the costs of drivers’ average expenses, offering their drivers access to paid time off, sick leave and compensation if they are injured on the job. They also stated the new policy change suggestions would empower their drivers to have a collective voice and make decisions about their work.

The email is on par with prior comments the company made since the bill was drafted earlier this year, but it added a new specific minimum wage mention. According to information in a 2018 study from Schaller Consulting, rideshare drivers for Uber and Lyft spend 63% of their miles driven (on average) with passengers in the car. This number only applies specifically to when a driver has a passenger in the car or is in route to pick a passenger up (63% of the time). And this isn’t the only part of Uber’s proposal that activists in support of drivers’ rights find misleading. The real take home pay being offered is significantly lower than the apparent $21/hour.

The bill in question, Assembly Bill 5, was passed by the legislative body in May 2019. It depends on the Senate’s appropriates committee to bring it before a full vote of the second chamber. The bill would institute a test to determine worker status as employee or independent contractor. The test contains three parts: determining if a worker is free from the company’s control or direction while they perform job duties, determining if the worker is performing work that falls outside of the hiring group’s typical business, and determining if the worker has their own independent business outside the job for which the entity hired them.

The passage of the bill could be disastrous for the huge gig companies offering ride-hailing services.

If you have questions about your employment rights as a driver in California or if you need to find out how to file a wage and hour lawsuit, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik and DeBlouw LLP today.

Defining the Employment Status of a College Football Player

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In recent news, the question was asked, “Is a college football player an employee of the NCAA?” The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recent affirmed dismissal of a college football player’s lawsuit for failure to state a legal claim clearly indicates they feel the answer is no. The ruling means that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Pac-12 Conference are not legally required to pay a college football player minimum wage and overtime in accordance with federal or California wage laws.

The NCAA, a not-for-profit educational organization, and the Pac-12 Conference were listed as defendants in a proposed class action lawsuit filed by a college football player. The plaintiff claimed they acted as joint employers because they prescribed terms and conditions under which student athletes perform. The appeals court ruled that the football players were not employees under the FLSA due to economic realities in the relationship between the entities listed as defendants and the players. The found that the defendants in the case were regulatory bodies rather than employees and in so doing, upheld a district court’s ruling on the case.

The appeals court stated that the district court was accurate in their dismissal of the college football player’s California overtime claims based on the state’s decision to exclude student athletes from receiving workers compensation benefits combined with the state appellate court’s interpretations of the related legislation.

When considering the district court’s dismissal of the football player’s suit, the 9th Circuit used the “economic realities” test under FLSA. The test considers certain variables:

The plaintiff’s expectation of compensation

The alleged employer’s power to hire and/or fire

Any evidence that action was taken to evade the law

The court found that limitations on scholarships did not establish an expectation of compensation, the players were not able to show that either regulatory entity held the power to fire or hire a player, and that the NCAA rules did not show a clear intent to evade wage and hour law. They also found that the revenue generated by the relationship between the NCAA and their student athletes did not create an employment relationship.

If you have questions about the Fair Labor Standards Act, unpaid overtime or wage and hour law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik and DeBlouw LLP today.

$90M Spent by Popular Ride Share and Food Delivery App Companies to Avoid Better Pay for Drivers

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Uber, Lyft, and Doordash…all familiar names to most Americans. The three have not only become household names because of the services their companies provide, but because they seem to be constantly in the news facing lawsuits from their drivers. Most recently, Uber, Lyft and Doordash are actively fighting against legal actions seeking better pay for their drivers. In fact, they will spend an estimated $90 million just to avoid paying their drivers higher wages.

The three companies, along with other gig companies, have spent months attempting to talk the California legislature out of passing a bill that would effectively strengthen the employment protections of their “drivers.” The bill is now on the verge of final passage with a solid endorsement from the governor. And the chance to talk the legislature over their way of thinking seems to have come and gone. In response, the three powerful gig companies have contributed $30 million each to support a ballot initiative protecting them from the requirement to classify their drivers as employees.

This makes the campaign one of the most expensive in the history of California, right behind the $105 million campaign by dialysis companies last year to beat Proposition 8 because it would have placed limits on how much they charge for their services. In comparison, supporters of the measure were only able to gather $20 million.

The action taken by Uber, Lyft and Doordash creates a virtual $90 million war chest and is another example of how the “big money” is usually not aligned with the interests of the ordinary citizen. This type of big spending is usually a bargain for the donors involved. They stand to gain a lot more from defeating this type of ballot measure that goes against their interests (or supporting the passage of a bill that enriches them) than they are required to spend to make a difference. The $30 million contributions per gig company seems far less substantial when compared to the annual revenues of the companies actively supporting the campaign.

Uber collected $15.7 billion in revenue in the second quarter (that ended June 30th).

Lyft collected $867.3 million in revenue in the second quarter (that ended June 30th).

Both the companies are losing significant revenue (Uber lost $5.2 billion and Lyft loses $644 million in the most recent quarter), but their losses would have been much more significant if they were required to cover the cost of their drivers’ fuel, vehicle maintenance, maintain workers compensation coverage, pay taxes, etc. These are type of expenses that would require reimbursement if the classification of their drivers were to leave them eligible for employment protections under FLSA.

If you have questions about unpaid overtime or if you need to find out how to file a California overtime lawsuit, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik and DeBlouw LLP today.

National Implications of Unpaid Home Care Overtime Lawsuit?

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A Los Angeles County unpaid home care overtime lawsuit could have national implications. The Ninth Circuit Court recently ruled that home care providers paid through the state or county can file suit for unpaid overtime citing the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Prior to this case, workers paid by the state or county to provide home care were exempt from overtime laws at both the state and federal level.

The introduction of a new Department of Labor (DOL) regulation changed the scenario in 2015, but the change didn’t occur without some kickback. The new regulation was set to go into effect on the first day of 2015, but a federal court in Washington, D.C. blocked it. This ruling was overturned later that same year. In response to the legal action, the DOL decided the new regulation would not be enforced until Nov. 12, 2015 (even though it was initially set to go into effect on January 1, 2015).

In California, compliance with the new regulation was pushed until February of 2016. This prompted an LA County home care worker (In-Home Supportive Services (HSS) program employee) to file a lawsuit to recover 13 months of unpaid overtime (overtime that would be due in accordance with the original “effective” date of the new regulation, Jan. 1, 2015). LA County moved to dismiss arguing that the county was simply acting as part of the larger state and under the 11th amendment, had immunity in this situation.

District court ruled in favor of LA County and stated that home care workers could not recover wages from prior to Nov. 12, 2015, the date “enforcement” started. Both parties filed an appeal, escalating the case to the Ninth Circuit Court.

The Ninth Circuit Court judge maintained that the county had 11th amendment immunity and also that home care service providers could file suit to recover unpaid overtime wages earned as of the original Jan. 1, 2015 effective date of the new DOL regulation. The ruling could mean a significant financial blow for LA County since the county currently employs an estimated 170,000 home care workers in the IHSS program. Additionally, the implications could easily reach outside of this particular case in this specific county. The ruling could open the door to further collective actions filed by home care workers employed through various government programs with more collective actions likely to pop up in different counties.

William A. Dombi, President of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) disagrees. He went on record stating that holding county-level government employers liable for overtime wages during a time period when federal court specifically vacated the requirement is unfair. He also noted that any impact would be limited by the two-year limit on filing FLSA actions.

If you have questions about overtime violations or if you need to discuss your rights as an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik and DeBlouw LLP today.