1st Ever Sexual Orientation Discrimination Lawsuit Filed by EEOC

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Scott Medical Health Center was recently ordered to pay $55,000 by a federal judge in the first sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The judge’s three-page order found Scott Medical Health Center, the Scott Township-based pain management and weight loss services provider, responsible for “creating, facilitating, or tolerating” sexual harassment – which can refer to any harassment related to sexual orientation or sex or gender stereotypes/gender role stereotypes. 

Also ordered by the judge, the health center will provide the commission a written report including any and all complaints and/or allegations (both formal and informal) regardless of whether they are reported verbally or in writing related to sexual harassment/sex harassment made by any employee for the upcoming five years. 

EEOC attorneys released a statement hailing the ruling as historic. They set it apart as a precedent that sexual orientation is a protected status in any workplace. The EEOC also stated that protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have been “stepped up” under sex discrimination provisions. They’re making it a priority at the national level. 

Sexual orientation is not actually protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 governing workplace discrimination, but the EEOC interprets sex discrimination as including harassment of both gay and transgender workers. The EEOC sees this case as one of many that point towards the persistent and commonplace problem of anti-LGBT bias in the workplace throughout America. 

This lawsuit based on anti-LGBT bias, was filed in March 2016. The lawsuit describes a situation in which Dale Baxley, a telemarketer for Scott Medical Health Center, was taunted by a manager for being gay. This harassment occurred in Summer 2013. Robert McClendon, the manager accused of harassing Baxley for being gay was already under investigation at the time of the filing. Several female employees made claims against the same manager. According to the EEOC complaint, Baxley quit in August 2013 after complaining to the company president and seeing nothing change. 

In response to the claims, the health center’s lawyer stated that the Defendant was “blindsided” by the allegations, that they were unaware of Baxley’s sexual orientation, and that the commission had no authority to file the claim. 

Earlier this month, the federal district judge, Cathy Bissoon, ordered Scott Medical Health Center to pay damages in the amount of $50,000, which is the maximum penalty for this type of violation against an employer the size of the health center. In addition, the court ordered the company to pay Baxley $5,500 in back wages. 

For more information about sexual orientation lawsuits or to discuss what constitutes a hostile work environment, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Colgate Retirees Alleging Benefit Denial Receive Class Certification

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A class of former Colgate-Palmolive Co. brought denial of benefits claims in an ERISA action. Their suit was filed in June 2016 following an earlier ERISA case that included allegations that Colgate miscalculated retirement benefits. The June 2016 suit resulted in a $45.9 million settlement.

In July 2017, a New York federal judge approved class certification. The certification of the class of former workers essentially shut down the company’s arguments stating that a former employee is not an adequate representative for a class that is seeking resolution on an additional benefits case.

Allegedly, Colgate miscalculated pension benefits for retirees under their “residual annuity amendment” the standard retirement plan/policy. The amendment was generated to correct an error that failed to provide beneficiaries with specific benefits when lump sum payments were taken out. The complaint alleges that Colgate didn’t address those payments until it was included in a previous Employee Retirement Income Security Act action.

The judge’s 15-page decision stated that the plaintiffs met all the requirements for certification (in accordance with Rule 23(a)). Colgate’s challenge to the putative class was based on typicality and adequacy requirements. No arguments were made regarding numerosity or commonality. Colgate specifically claims that plaintiff Rebecca McCutcheon is not an adequate representative because she defers to legal counsel. The judge did not find the argument persuasive enough due to the highly technical nature of the case at hand. McCutcheon, who is not a lawyer, would obviously have difficulty providing answers to questions about claims in the case. She exhibited a general understanding of the case and a general desire to be a “watchdog” for the proposed class in seeking corrections to calculations. The judge felt this was sufficient in fulfilling the adequacy requirements.

Colgate also stated that McCutcheon was atypical of the class and that claims being made were barred by the 180-day contractual limitations period as defined in the retirement plan. The judge disagreed. He found that the limitations period was unenforceable due to the omission from a denial latter Colgate issued in 2014 in reference to an administrative claim for benefits and the letter’s explicit statement that she had a year to file suit regarding the matter. As the judge found that the limitations period does not apply in regard to McCutcheon’s claim, the argument does not currently define McCutcheon as atypical.

The judge granted class certification and appointed McCutcheon class representative as well as naming counsel. The proposed class includes approximately 1,200 members and applies to specific subcategories of retirees that received lump sum payments from their retirement plan and who are still due additional benefits from the company.

According to the suit, Colgate agreed to provide a residual annuity benefit in 2005 that would provide a residual annuity benefit to workers for close to a decade. When the company started to pay the benefit out, they distributed it to some plan participants and not others. They also failed to provide the benefit to certain plan participants (like McCutcheon) who had already received lump sum payments of their benefits – even when they requested payment.

If you need to discuss alleged retirement benefit denial or if you are due retirement benefits you are not receiving, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Postmates is Getting Closer to a $2.5M Deal with Drivers over Credit Check Issue

At the end of June 2017, a California judge gave every indication that a Postmates $2.5 million deal would get the green light. The deal would end class allegations made against the on-demand delivery service. The suit was based on allegations that the Fair Credit Reporting Act was violated when Postmates did not notify 190,000 prospective couriers about their use of background checks.

The deal states that class members must object in writing before attending the final fairness hearing. The judge stated that he would allow class members to object at the final hearing whether they submitted a written objection or not. If the deal is approved, it would end the putative class action originally launched by lead plaintiff Lorretta Nesbitt in July 2015 based on allegations that the company purposefully violated the FCRA’s stand alone disclosure requirement when conducting credit checks for prospective drivers.

According to the lawsuit, Postmates’ required disclosure was hidden in the midst of a legal document that was 10 pages long and surrounded by extraneous information including a very verbose confidentiality agreement. Plaintiff argued that this presentation of the required disclosure did not fulfill legal requirement that it be clear, conspicuous, and in a stand-alone document.

Throughout the life of the case, Nesbitt amended the complaint, adding two additional lead plaintiffs and another putative class action claim with allegations that the company was also in violation of the FCRA’s pre-adverse action notice requirements which requires employers to inform their job applicants if they were to take any adverse action, such as not hiring them for the job at hand, as a result of information pulled in a background check. Employers are also required to provide the background checks to the individuals. According to the allegations in the suit, Postmates did not abide by these regulations.

Postmates continues to defend their practices stating that their disclosures comply with the law. But since the beginning of the suit, the company has made modifications to their disclosure documentations and both parties now agree that it is FCRA compliant.

If you have questions about the FCRA or if you fear you were unfairly treated during the job application process, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Tesla, Inc. Faces Racial Discrimination Suit Plus Retaliation Allegations

A 44-year old African American man out of Oakland, California, DeWitt Lambert, claims he experienced harassment and discrimination while he was employed as an assembly line worker in a Tesla factory in Fremont, California. The original suit was based on racial discrimination as well as a long list of claims of California state labor law violations, but more recently, the plaintiff added an additional charge to the allegations: retaliation.

Lambert claims that management at Tesla ignored his complaints while allowing co-workers to taunt him at work with the “N-word” as well as other obvious racial slurs. Lambert also alleges that Tesla put him on administrative leave in March of 2017. This occurred right after the media published news that he filed a lawsuit.

In addition to the original problem, Lambert’s attorney has noted that Tesla is not providing him with sufficient payment for en employee placed on administrative leave. This after they announced publicly that they were placing on such. Lambert’s attorney noted that he is actually only receiving approximately ¼ of the amount he was receiving prior to filing the California lawsuit and being placed on administrative leave by the company. Typically, an employee on administrative leave receives the same pay that they received while on the job. This drastic “pay cut” led to the additional charge of retaliation.

An electrician by trade, Lambert moved to California in 2012 from his previous home in Alabama. When he landed the job at Tesla’s Fremont, California plant in April 2016, it was his dream job. He worked on the Tesla S model. According to court documents, harassing behavior became routine almost immediately. The harassment came from four male colleagues, all in their 20s. The harassing behavior included: filling Lambert’s pockets with nuts and screws, repeatedly using the “N-word,” inappropriate comments about Lambert’s penis, repeated theft of his phone with video messages left behind upon return, threats to his family, and even a physical assault during which one of the men placed a drill gun in Lambert’s buttocks while the other men watched.

A transcript of a recording made in October 2015 of the harassing behavior was included in the state of claim. The recording was made on Lambert’s iPhone and the following was pulled from the recording, “Nigger, we take your ass home, nigger. Shred you up in pieces, nigger. Cut you up, nigger. Send your ass so everyone in your family so everybody can have a piece of you, nigger. Straight up, nigger. We get down like that, nigger.”

Lambert went on record in a press release published in March of 2017 saying that when he started work at Tesla he was the “happiest” he had ever been. This feeling was followed by experiencing discrimination worse than any he had been exposed to while growing up in Alabama. He stated that the behavior he experienced on the job left him scared for his safety when it was time to leave the plant and head home. He requested help from management at the Tesla plant, but none was offered.

If you fear workplace retaliation or if you are experiencing a negative workplace environment, harassment or discrimination in the workplace, please get in touch with an experienced California employment law attorney at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.