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.

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.

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.

$3.2M Awarded to Fired California Hospital Employee in Wrongful Termination and Discrimination Suit

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On November 5th, 2018, a former warehouse employee at Loma Linda University Medical Center was awarded $3.2 million by a jury. The plaintiff, 44-year old Hugo Lizarraga, claims that he was harassed by his supervisors at the California medical facility for years until he was eventually fired due to his Islamic beliefs.

Lizarraga worked in the California hospital warehouse for 20 years. He claims that he was a victim of both religious and disability discrimination on the part of his supervisors, other employees, and the human resources department for more than six years. Lizarraga filed a California discrimination lawsuit in September 2016.

Legal Definitions:

Wrongful Termination – A situation in which an employee’s contract of employment is terminated by the employer and the termination breaches one or more terms of the contract of employment, a statute provision, or employment law.

Religious Discrimination – A situation in which an individual or entity treats a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of their religious beliefs. The law protects not only those individuals who belong to traditional, organized religious, like Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also those who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.

Disability Discrimination – A situation in which an employer or other entity that is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act or Rehabilitation Act, treats a qualified applicant or employee unfavorably because they have a disability.

According to the lawsuit, Lizarraga worked at the hospital for more than 10 years and never experienced harassment. The harassment began in 2012 after he converted to Islam, broke his thumb and had a physician place him on modified duty. At that point, Lizarraga’s supervisors started to harass him.

The Loma Linda, California hospital disagrees with the jury’s verdict and denies the allegations claiming that Lizarraga was not discharged due to his Islamic beliefs, but because reported threatening conduct. The hospital spokesperson claimed that the facility complies with federal and state laws on discrimination and harassment and does not tolerate either.

If you have concerns about what constitutes workplace discrimination or if you have been wrongfully terminated due to a disability or your religious beliefs, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Years-Long Fight Between Billionaire Siebel and Former Salesman Receives Jury Verdict

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Tech billionaire Thomas Siebel’s legal battle with a former Massachusetts salesman nears an end with jury’s verdict after four years of litigation. The highly contentious and long legal battle resulted in a jury that found Siebel did not owe Gregg Carman, former salesman, additional pay.

The San Jose jury delivered their verdict against former salesman for C3 loT, Gregg Carman. Carman filed suit claiming that he was shortchanged on commissions. The company was able to convince a majority of the jury that Carman did not have a reasonable expectation of receiving additional commissions totaling several hundred thousand dollars. The claim was defeated under “quantum meruit,” a legal theory presented by Siebel’s legal counsel.

Counterclaims the company made against Carman alleging that he misrepresented the nature of deals with a couple utility companies he closed while on the job and actually owed Siebel’s company around $120,000 were also unanimously rejected by the jury. While the jury did agree that Carman was fired either for complaining about his pay or so the company could avoid paying him additional commissions, they did not agree that he had been wrongfully terminated according to California labor law.

Many companies would have quickly settled this type of claim outside of court or in mediation, but Siebel fought the case vigorously after refusing to pay the compromise amount of $360,000 suggested by Carman. In fact, Siebel has a record of aggressively litigating in his defense. His legal representation stated that it was about the principle for Siebel. He does not settle illegitimate claims for compensation.

Under fiscal year 2014, Carman stood to be provided over $1 million in commissions according to the company’s policy. The deals with the two utility companies were actually closed in FY 2015. Carman was not informed of change to the commission policy for FY 2015 until after the deals closed. The policy change left him with approximately ¼ of what he would have received if the deals closed during the previous fiscal year.

The Defendant convinced the jury that this type of policy change (even their retroactive nature) is standard practice in the industry and that Carman, as an experienced salesman in the industry, should have been understood the situation. Wrongful termination damages are trebled under California law so C3 faced a potential $8 million in damages and attorney fees at trial. The plaintiff and his legal representation did not deny the possibility of an appeal.

If you are struggling to get your employer to fulfill agreed upon payment arrangements or if you have been wrongfully terminated, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Marin Woman Files Suit Alleging Hostile Work Environment, Discrimination and Wrongful Termination

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A former church pastor is being sued by an employee/parishioner. The woman, Kimberly Labozzetta, alleges that the preacher, Joe Everly, manipulated her into a sexual relationship, impregnated her, pressured her into having an abortion, shamed her before the church congregation, and then caused her to lose her employment.

Labozzetta is a former parishioner and employee at the Quest church in Novato. She also named Quest church as a defendant in the suit. The church is operated under an incorporated nonprofit organization, Crossings of Novato. Everly resigned from the church earlier this year. According to the president of the church board, Eric Brandt, Everly was pastor for Quest church for approximately 15 years and the church’s congregation was less than 100 members strong.

According to the lawsuit, Labozzetta and her husband joined Quest church in 2011. Everly, their pastor, provided couples counseling on various issues: marriage, sexual relations, family, grief, etc. In 2016, Labozzetta was employed by the church as a youth pastor and the church’s project manager. This left Everly in a unique position: spiritual leader, personal counselor and employer. According to the lawsuit, Everly used necessary work meetings and counseling sessions to create a sexual relationship with Labozzetta. She claims Everly told her that God approved of their relationship and that he was going to leave his wife to be with her.

In February, Labozzetta learned that she was pregnant. Labozzetta’s husband had a vasectomy years before so the baby was Everly’s who immediately began attempting to persuade Labozzetta to get an abortion. He promised her that they would marry and have children later. She did so – despite her moral opposition to doing so. Once the abortion was completed, Everly ended their relationship and announced their extramarital affair to the church’s congregation. Labozzetta was put on administrative leave while the church investigated the situation.

According to the complaint, many members of the flock blamed her for the preacher’s departure, and she was left isolated from the group. She was eventually forced to leave the church – her reputation in the church community was irreparably sullied. The suit seeks unspecified damages and claims sexual assault, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, fraud, gender discrimination, workplace retaliation, wrongful termination, etc.

If you are experiencing a hostile work environment, discrimination in the workplace or wrongful termination, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.