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.