Vivint Smart Homes Faces Racial Harassment Complaints

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Vivint Smart Homes, a Provo-based company, is facing racial harassment complaints filed by four former employees. The four complaints arrive on the scene only months after two former Vivint Solar employees filed similar harassment complaints in June 2018.

The four men who filed racial harassment complaints all identify as black or Latino. The lawsuits were filed in October 2018 in the Superior Court of California in LA. Claims included racial harassment, workplace retaliation, wrongful termination and racial discrimination in the workplace on the part of co-workers.

The previous, but similar, complaints came just four months after two other former employees, one white and one black, leveled allegations of racism and hostile work environment in a Vivint Solar office right here in California. These complaints came after a supervisor and other workers on site built a cardboard “fort” in the warehouse and then used spray paint to write “white only” on the outside of the makeshift, cardboard fortress. 

Vivint Solar and Vivint Smart Home are two separate entities. But both companies are controlled by the same private equity firm in New York. Both also grew out of APX Alarm, a Provo company that was founded almost two decades ago. The two companies, Vivint Solar and Vivint Smart Home, enjoy a strategic partnership.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs suggest that it’s obvious that there is a real cultural problem in the Vivint family. Christopher Brown, one of the plaintiffs, claimed that shortly after he arrived to work in California as a sales representative for Vivint Smart Home, his supervisor on the job started to use the “n-word” and make racist comments. Chris made a complaint but got an extremely minimal response from the company. In fact, Brown is fairly certain the supervisor in question is still employed at the company and that no disciplinary action was taken regarding the racial harassment.

Other complainants include: Andrew Kirchner, Terence Major and Vaaron Watts. All claim that they were subjected to racial slurs, images and videos posted to a GroupMe chat hosted by a co-worker.

If you have been subjected to a hostile work environment or if you are discriminated against at work, please get in touch with one of the experienced 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.

Did Misclassifying Drivers as Contractors Save Uber $500M?

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In recent news, a lawsuit claims that the popular ridesharing firm, Uber, saved more than $500 million by misclassifying their drivers as independent contractors. The California class action seeks justice in response to Uber allegedly ignoring a previous ruling issued earlier in the year.

The class action lawsuit was brought to California federal courts on behalf of local business, Diva’s Limousine. The suit alleges that Uber unfairly stole business from traditional taxi service-based companies by using deceitful methods and unethical tactics that purposefully skirted around the law. According to the complaint, Uber low-balled drivers’ wages in order to increase the company’s profit margin through misclassification of drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

The plaintiff claims that these deceitful methods/tactics are a workaround that goes against the ruling issued previously this year by the California Supreme Court in the case Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court. The plaintiff also claims that by ignoring the previous ruling to misclassifying drivers, Uber stands to avoid payment of approximately $9.07 per hour in expenses/benefits to their drivers (i.e. minimum wage, mandated breaks, unemployment compensation, social security, Medicare, etc.)

Uber employees across the world have been fighting this particular battle and it has not been an easy fight. Late in 2017 a London tribunal classified drivers as employees. This directly conflicted with rulings in US courts where the opposite was believed to be true. Uber is currently appealing a lawsuit in Brazil resulting in similar findings. A Philadelphia courtroom ruled earlier this year that the provisions under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act prevented UberBlack drivers from being classified as employees. This was the first ruling of its kind; classifying Uber drivers as non-employees under federal law.

If you have questions about misclassification or if you have been misclassified by your employer, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

$24M Settlement to End JPMorgan Discrimination Suit

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In recent news, JPMorgan Chase and Co. agreed to a settlement to end the discrimination lawsuit from black advisers. Members of the class action lawsuit who alleged discrimination, six current and former employees of the New York-based bank, will receive $19.5 million. The members claimed that because they were black they were sent to less lucrative JPMorgan branches, denied professional opportunities, kept out of a program reserved for richer clientele, and paid less than their white colleagues.

In court documents, the plaintiffs claimed that the racial disparities are a result of the company’s systemic, intentional race discrimination as well as from Chase policies and practices that, due to their disparate impact on African-Americans, are unlawful.

Plaintiffs in the case are: Jerome Senegal (from Texas), Erika Williams (from Illinois), Brent Griffin (from Wisconsin), Irvin Nash (from New York), Amanda Jason (from Kentucky), and Kellie Farrish (from California). As part of the settlement agreement, JPMorgan also agreed to put $4.5 million in a fund set aside to back recruitment, bias training, a full review of branch assignments in light of the case findings, and a coaching program reserved for JPMorgan’s black advisers.

JPMorgan has been hit with alleged discrimination before. Last year the bank was accused of willfully violating the U.S. Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act from 2006-2009 as well as a reckless disregard for the rights of a minimum of 53,000 minority borrowers. Other banks have been scrutinized for similar practices.

Last year, a black employee filed a complaint alleging that Goldman Sachs removed her from profitable accounts and overlooked her for promotions. Earlier this year Wells Fargo faced claims of cultivating gender-bias within the organization’s wealth-management operations.

If you need to discuss discrimination in the workplace or if you have other questions about labor law violations, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Southern California Burgers & Beer Restaurant Chain Faces Sex Discrimination Lawsuit

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The popular Southern California Burgers & Beer restaurant chain faces a sex discrimination lawsuit alleging that they are in violation of California employment law by maintaining a mostly female server workforce. The suit was filed in San Diego by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Allegedly, Burgers & Beer violated federal employment law by denying male applicants the same employment consideration they offered females applicants.

The Southern California restaurant chain has routinely rejected male applicants and employees seeking server positions since 2015 – based simply on their sex. According to the EEOC, Burgers & Beer maintains a server workforce that consists of approximately 90% female servers. This violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on sex.

According to its website, Burgers & Beer has six restaurant locations: Temecula, Yuma, El Centro, etc. The lawsuit against the restaurant chain was filed only after the EEOC attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through a conciliation process. The EEOC now seeks injunctive relief prohibiting the chain from unlawful discrimination based on the basis of sex in the future. They also seek compensatory and punitive damages for the victims of the sex-discrimination.

The EEOC, reflecting on the case, stated that the denial of an applicant of even the opportunity to compete for a job based strictly on their gender is a violation of federal law – even if the employer is working off the assumption or the knowledge that their patrons would prefer to be surrounded by servers who are limited to one sex or the other. They further clarified their position by stating that presumed preferences are not an excuse for discrimination of any kind and that the EEOC would continue to pursue employers exhibiting this type of discriminatory hiring practice.

If you are concerned about discrimination in the workplace or if you have been the victim of discrimination during the hiring process, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Scope of Gender-Discrimination Lawsuit Against Salk Limited by Judge

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In recent news, a California judge limited the scope of a gender-discrimination lawsuit filed against by Salk Institute for Biological Studies by cancer researcher, Beverly Emerson, by throwing out a retaliation claim. The judge dismissed the claim on August 30, 2018.

The claim was made by molecular biologist Beverly Emerson. She claimed that the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California purposefully let her contract expire in December 2017 because she filed a gender-discrimination lawsuit. (The gender-discrimination lawsuit was filed by Emerson in July of that same year).

A key piece of evidence for Emerson’s retaliation claim was an email from the institute’s former president, Elizabeth Blackburn. In the email Blackburn suggested the litigation could hurt Emerson’s career, but the court ruled this email as confidential material that should not be presented before jurors. Emerson alleges gender-discrimination based on systemic bias at Salk that resulted in limited pay, limited professional advancement, and limited access to resources and funding for research.

In the course of the August 17th hearing in San Diego, California, the Salk Institute’s legal counsel argued that most of the cited events that occurred during Emerson’s 30 years at the institute happened too long ago to be included in the suit (i.e. a delayed promotion). According to California state law people have only one year to file a lawsuit including charges of gender discrimination after an event or incident occurs, unless they have proof to present that the gender discrimination was a continuing occurrence.

Emerson’s legal counsel responded with instances that illustrated just such a pattern of recurring gender bias. Judge Eddie Sturgeon noted that when viewing the evidence as a whole, the court “cannot conclude as a matter of law that there is no continuing violation.” Emerson’s gender-discrimination suit is scheduled for trial on December 7th.  

If you are experiencing discrimination in the workplace or if you have questions about workplace discrimination, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

AT&T Faces Sales Representative Overtime Lawsuit

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An AT&T/Charter retail store employee, Andrew Prizler, filed a lawsuit (Prizler v. Charter Commc’n, Inc., S.D. Cal., No. 3:18-cv-01724) alleging that his overtime pay was miscalculated because the sales commissions and bonuses were not accurately included in the calculations. 20 of Charter’s appearances in federal court in the past 5 years (3.3%) were for wage and hour cases. For AT&T, it’s 216 cases (10.9%).

When a company calculates an employee’s overtime pay rate, federal law requires that commissions and bonuses be counted in as part of their regular rate of pay. The regular rate of pay is multiplied by one-and-a-half. When an employer does not include amounts that should be included in the “regular rate of pay,” it can significantly decrease their overtime pay rate.

Prizler, the plaintiff, filed suit on July 27th in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. The proposed class action was filed on behalf of all other retail employees with AT&T/Charter who earn commissions and/or bonuses. (The lawsuit also named two Charter subsidiaries: Spectrum and Time Warner Cable).

When asked about the lawsuit, an AT&T spokesperson responded that the defendant was reviewing the complaint and the allegations claimed by the plaintiffs in the case. They also stated that their policy is to always follow the law – including wage and hour laws. Charter did not respond when asked for comments regarding the suit.

If you have questions about overtime pay calculation or if you feel you aren’t being paid the overtime you deserve, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.