California Judge Certifies Class of Kaiser Traveling Nurses

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U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero certified a class of Kaiser Foundation traveling nurses after the caregivers alleged they were shorted on overtime pay, denied required meal breaks and rest periods, etc. The judge granted class certification after the nurses raised valid issues about broad policies that were applicable to all class members.

The judge granted a bid to certify a class of R.N.’s and licensed practical nurses who were all employed by AMN Healthcare Inc. The health care staffing contractor staffed Kaiser Foundation hospitals with nurses in California. The suit included numerous allegations of wage and hour violations of California Labor Law.

The judge concluded that the plaintiffs met the requirements for both commonality and predominance prior to granting class certification. Judge Spero said the nurses’ theories that the defendants in the case discouraged overtime and didn’t adequately prevent underreporting raised a number of common issues that were susceptible to common proof.

In reaching this conclusion, Judge Spero rejected a number of arguments presented by Kaiser, the defendant in the case, who was arguing against class certification: evidence of minor variations in how the company policies were implemented in various facilities and that potentially removed the commonality of issues regarding the nurses’ overtime payment.

When there is evidence of a common business policy that is applicable to all members of a class with concerns to the payment of overtime, and all the class members can be said to share the same core duties that tend to routinely lead to unscheduled overtime, the judge argued that some class members who did not find themselves working unscheduled overtime or who were provided adequate compensation for the overtime hours was not sufficient to defeat predominance. Based on this logic, the court found that the common issues predominate over individualized inquiries in consideration of the overtime claims being presented by the plaintiffs.

The Kaiser nurses’ suit was removed to federal court in early 2016. The original lawsuit alleged that the Defendant suppressed overtime by advising their traveling nurses that it wasn’t permitted and that they further discouraged overtime by keeping an over-difficult overtime approval process in place. The plaintiffs also alleged that they were not provided with the required meal breaks and rest periods. This was accomplished through a number of different policies the company implemented.

In addition to AMN Healthcare, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Southern California Permanente Medical Group Inc. and the Permanente Medical Group Inc. were also named as defendants. All are Kaiser entities.

If you have questions regarding proper meal breaks and rest periods or if you need to find out what the legal requirements are for overtime pay, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

NY Federal Judge Certified 20,000-Plus Member Class in NYU ERISA Plan Suit

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U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest certified a 20,000-plus member class including investors from two New York University retirement plans, finding that workers can sue together due to the fact that their Employee Retirement Income Security Act suit does present common questions. The questions presented by the NYU ERISA plan suit can be broken down to just two:

1. Did the school pay too much to maintain their investments?

2. Did the school offer poor investment options?

When seeking qualification for certification, U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest depended on the U.S. Supreme Court certification bar established in the 2011 decision in Walmart v. Dukes because the questions being asked and claims being filed were similar. Plaintiffs in the case claim that the university breached their fiduciary duty through plan mismanagement. If this is, in fact, the case, the breach would be to all plaintiffs.

This ERISA suit is just one of any federal suits filed by workers at universities/colleges. Allegations of mismanagement of employee retirement plans are more and more common. Other universities facing similar allegations include: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University, etc.

Allegations of violations include:

Failing to remove underperforming funds.

Paying unreasonably high prices to third parties to service the plan.

Allowing third parties to require the plan to offer their in-house funds.

In order to gain class certification, a group is required to show that it has many individuals united by a common theory that are victims of a crime (allegedly) and are represented by named plaintiffs who qualify. Judge Forrest stated that the workers in this case fulfill all requirements for certification. The class will number at least 19,000 at all times during the period represented and maxes out at 24,000 in 2014. This easily meets the qualification for “many.” All seek to resolve claims hinging on how the court answers a series of common questions and all have a shared experience as investors in the same plans (commonality).

NYU attempted to argue that the plaintiffs were poor representatives for the class, but Judge Forrest rejected the argument.

If you have questions about ERISA or if you feel your retirement funds are being mismanaged, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Federal Judge Grants Tens of Thousands of Oracle Corp. Plan Participants Class Certification

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On Tuesday, a federal judge out of Colorado granted tens of thousands of Oracle Corp. 401(k) plan participants class certification. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) suit alleges that the tech company piled up excessive record-keeping fees for the plan as well as holding on to funds that were performing poorly.

Plan participants allege Oracle was breached its duties in accordance with ERISA when they piled up tens of millions of dollars of excessive fees and failed in their duty to implement a prudent process for investment funds. The 18-page decision issued by U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn created a class of all plan participants and beneficiaries of the named plan since January 2009. This will include tens of thousands of members. The judge did stipulate that the class will only apply to excessive fee claims since the original proposed class definition was too broad.

Judge Blackburn created two additional classes in connection to the case. One class was designated for plan participants in the Artisan Fund and the other was for plan participants in the TCM fund. Both will have time limitations applied to and will apply to imprudent investment claims. The other fund identified in the suit, PIMCO, did not receive a class certification because there was not a class representative listed.

Counsel for the plaintiffs intend to show at trial that the employees/retirees lost valuable retirement assets due to the excessive fees and poor plan management.

The original suit was filed in early 2016 by a group of plan participants. The group alleged that Oracle and its 401(k) committee breached their fiduciary duties. Allegations also claim that the company breached its duties by engaging in ERISA prohibited transactions and specifically claimed that the company filed to act on behalf of the interests of their plan participants.

According to the suit, Oracle’s record-keeping fees to Fidelity Management Trust Co., the plan trustee, were calculated on a revenue-sharing model that was scaled with the plan’s assets instead of calculating the fees in accordance with the number of participants. Plaintiffs claim that this lack of a fixed fee per participant resulted in significant losses for plan participants due to unreasonable expenses. In the time period between 2009 and 2014, the fund’s assets went from $3.6 billion to over $11 billion. So, while Fidelity revenue saw a drastic increase, the services they provided in exchange remained the same.

When alleging poor plan management and the retaining of poorly performing funds, the suit specifically identified Artisan, PIMCO and TCM, claiming that they caused significant overall losses.

If you have questions or concerns regarding a breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Supreme Court and Questions Defining “Employers” Liable for Wage Violations

Ramifications of Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers could result in changes for California workers. The California Supreme Court unanimously affirmed a Court of Appeal decision that reversed the denial of class certification in the independent contractor misclassification case. Judge Werdegar, Justice Baxter and Justice Chin all concurred that the Court of Appeal correctly reversed the trial court decision that denied certification in the case of Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers. In the case, Newspaper delivery workers filed against a daily newspaper. They were classified as independent contractors and as such, were denied minimum wage payment, overtime pay, minimum rest and meal period premiums, as well as employer contributions toward Social Security.

The trial court held that there were too many individual inquiries necessary in order to determine how the various newspaper delivery workers handled their day to day operations, but the Supreme Court felt that the trial court missed the point of the case: whether a common law employer/employee relationship exists dependent upon the degree of the hirer’s right to define/control the relationship or how the end result is actually achieved. The Supreme Court further explained their decision by pointing out that while there was evidence of variation in work habits between newspaper carriers, which supports claims made by Antelope Valley’s position that they didn’t control their carriers’ work, this fact didn’t negate the actual question at hand. How much right does the employer (Antelope Valley) have to control what their carriers’ do?

This case reinforces the common proof method that turns to governing contracts: a common method used to determine the answer to the independent contractor vs. employee question. The Court has pointed out that at the certification stage, the form contract’s importance is not particularly in what it says, but in what degree of control it defines and whether it is uniform across the class.

Countless California workers are misclassified as independent contractors even though their employers retain control of their working conditions. If you are one of these California workers and you’d like to join with fellow workers to address the issue of misclassification claims, contact Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik. There’s precedence in the legal system that empowers you to raise your wage claim.