Farmworkers Overtime Pay Lawsuit Before Washington Supreme Court

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The Washington Supreme Court will decide whether or not farmworkers must receive overtime wages – after striking down agricultural pay practices twice in recent years. While a hearing isn't yet set, both sides are preparing their case with potentially hundreds of millions of dollars a year in additional costs at risk. According to state law, workers receive overtime pay after eight hours a day or after a 40-hour week. The question before the Washington Supreme Court is whether or not the state law requiring overtime pay should apply to farmworkers. Naysayers insist that inflicting this high cost on a vital portion of the state's economy is unreasonable. But does exempting agriculture from paying workers time-and-a-half for overtime hours violate the state constitution?

Other recent farm-pay lawsuits led the Supreme Court to find that piece-rate workers must be paid separately for rest periods and downtime.  The current overtime lawsuit launched off a 2016 lawsuit against a local dairy farm in Yakima County. Court records indicate that Jose Martinez-Cuevas and Patricia Aguilar, named plaintiffs in the case, worked at DeRuyter Brothers Dairy for just over a year. The owners sold the dairy settled the majority of the claims, but the Superior Court judge's ruling on overtime specifically was inconclusive. This case's main issue will skip the court of appeals as the Supreme Court agreed to take on the question.

In 1959 the Legislature exempted agriculture from the state's minimum wage law guaranteeing workers overtime pay. The lawmakers were acting under the 1938 federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Legal counsel for the plaintiffs argues that the federal agricultural exemption has historic racism at its roots. They claim Southern lawmakers created the exemption to limit the pay of black farmworkers. They argue that Washington lawmakers adopting the legislation did not consider the exemption's racist history. Arguments for the plaintiffs are based on a combination of the alleged racial history of the law excluding agricultural workers and the current racial makeup of the excluded agricultural workforce being close to 100% minority. Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case insist the exclusion should be declared unconstitutional.

Those arguing against the Plaintiffs' case claim the fixation on the racial makeup of the current agricultural workforce has no relevance, noting that in 1959 the farmworker population was 85% white workers. They attribute the exemption to the nature of agriculture rather than racism. As an inherently seasonal business, proponents of the current interpretation of the law argue that overtime during certain times of the year is natural and necessary for the industry.

If you have questions about overtime law or who receives overtime pay, the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP can help. Get in touch with the location nearest you: San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange or Chicago.

Employee Back Pay Lawsuit Settled by Los Robles Regional Medical Center

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Thousand Oaks, California’s Los Robles Regional Medical Center agreed to pay $2.95 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that they shortchanged their employees’ hourly pay. The settlement agreement addresses litigation due to a 2014 filing by plaintiff, Jeanette Munden, a former nurse at the medical center. Munden alleged her hourly pay was routinely rounded in a way that short-changed her paycheck.

Judge Kevin DeNoce of Ventura County Superior Court approved the settlement against Los Robles, ruling that the center would pay $2.95 million over a lawsuit alleging that it shortchanged hourly pay of employees and prevented them from taking lunch breaks (as well as other labor code violations). The settlement includes 3,000 current and former employees who split close to $1.9 million. The average payout for workers included in the suit will total around $618. The hospital will also be covering attorney fees ($973,500) and state labor code penalties for alleged violations ($10,000).

The company settled on a no-fault basis and does not admit any wrongdoing, although this is not the first time they have faced this type of employment law violation allegation.

Timeline of the Case:

2005: A federal judge approved a $4.75 million settlement for a lawsuit against Low Robles Medical Center claiming over 1,000 employees were owed wages for missed breaks and overtime.

2014: Jeanette Munden, former Los Robles nurse, alleged her hourly pay was regularly rounded to short her paycheck. She claimed Los Robles owed her overtime and that she was also consistently denied lunch breaks and rest periods during her employment at the facility.

2015: Munden resigned from her position at Los Robles to take another job but was not paid compensation she was owed by the company.

2017: Nurses negotiating contracts with the facility in September 2017 claimed that staffing was so limited that they could not take breaks or even, sometimes, go to the bathroom.

As the lead plaintiff in the case, Munden will receive a $15,000 award. Only one of the current and former employees included in the suit objected to the settlement.

If you have questions about how to file an overtime lawsuit or if you need to discuss when employers are required to provide overtime pay, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Labor Laws in the New Year: It’s 2015

With the New Year, labor law changes are coming again. Some might wish that the legislature would simply leave things alone, but the fact of the matter is that things are always changing and that includes action on the part of California employers who want to stay in compliance with labor laws and avoid costly fines and potentially, even costlier litigation.

This year, the California Legislature is making sure that employer regulation stays on the top of everyone’s minds. 574 bills were introduced in 2014 that mentioned the word “employer.” In comparison, there were only 186 bills mentioning the word “employer” introduced in 2013.

It’s important to note that most of those 574 bills were not passed. It’s just as important to note that the several that did pass were not signed into law by the governor. One bill would have penalized employers for limiting the job prospects for unemployed applicants or for discriminating against them due their unemployed status. This bill was blocked by veto.

Having said that, there are a number of significant new laws that could affect private employers in the state of California as well as all employees of private employers in the state that went into effect January 1, 2015. Check back soon for a listing of some of the changes that you might need to be aware of in order to make sure you know how to protect yourself in the workplace.

For information on the latest news and updates regarding California employment law get in touch with the employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 vs. Your Boss’s Request to Never Disclose Your Salary

It goes without saying that your boss doesn’t want you to talk about your pay with your co-workers. Why does it go without saying? Because…they’ve probably said it. The majority of American workers from fast food workers to administrative assistants to dental hygienists have been advised by their superiors/employers not to discuss their pay with their co-workers. It’s so commonplace that when employers make the request most workers don’t bat an eyelash or question the validity of their employer’s right to make such a demand.

If you consider this request in terms of employment law, any time an employer requests or demands that you keep your pay rate or salary a secret from your co-workers they are breaking the law. 

According to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA), all workers are provided the right to exhibit “concerted activity for mutual aid or protection” as well as to “organize to negotiate with [employers regarding their] wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.” In six states, the law goes further and actually states that workers retain the right to discuss their payment rate.

Employers insisting that you not discuss your pay rate with co-workers are in violation of the law, regardless of whether the request/demand/threat was made verbally or in writing and regardless of what the consequences are of ignoring the often unspoken rule. Sometimes it results in firing, but sometimes consequences are more subtle, i.e. a cold shoulder from supervisors/management.

Gag rules are currently thriving in the American workplace. According to a recent study by the Women’s Policy Research, approximately 50% of the American workforce (across all industries) is not to discuss their pay with their co-workers (either explicitly prohibited or strongly discouraged). The percentage is higher in the private sector (closer to 61%). Gag rules violate fundamental labor rights and create workplace environments that support discriminatory pay structures. Reforms are necessary.

President Obama did recently sign two executive actions that address transparency and accountability in the workplace. These will assist those who work for federally contracted employers, but others are currently on their own. Another bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, would address the situation for the rest of America’s workers, but it has not yet been passed.

If you have questions regarding the gag rule and wrongful termination, please contact the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik. 

7 Tips on Negotiating Severance

If you suspect or are completely aware that you are about to be presented with a separation agreement at work, you might want to start thinking about your severance package. What’s important to you? What do you expect? What can you accept? What can you NOT accept? If you have no idea where to start when attempting to outline a basic needs and wants list for your soon to be presented severance package, take a few minutes to figure it out before you are asked for a decision on the matter.

Here are 7 Things to Consider in Relation to Any Severance:

  1. Know both sides of the agreement: Don’t just know what you’re getting from the company; know what the company is getting from you. And vice versa. You separation agreement signature is worth money since it limits the number legal issues you, the “terminated employee”, can bring against the company.
  2. The range of potential financial outcomes is “wide”: Top executives can usually expect to see their severance terms spelled out in their contract of employment. For others, from corporate ranks to upper-level management, things are more unclear. Informal guidelines and the rule of thumb come into play. The rough average is two weeks of pay for every year of employment (it can range from 1-4 weeks depending upon the circumstances at hand).
  3. What you get depends on specific factors: Tenure on the job, performance records, reason for the termination, etc. can all come into play when the numbers are being discussed.
  4. Work History: The first thing you probably want to examine with an employment lawyer in relation to severance negotiations are any documents that are available that chart your history at the company and how well you performed for them on the job. Documentation could determine whether you have a discrimination case to pursue or not. At the very least, hints of untoward behavior could lead to increased leverage for you during negotiations.
  5. Your knowledge of company flexibility: It’s useful if you have some knowledge regarding what is off limits and what you can openly ask for when negotiating your severance. Some things are simply outside of your boss’s control. For instance, your boss can’t make exceptions to laws in place. There’s also not a lot of leeway regarding employee benefits. But many employers have funds earmarked for outplacement services.
  6. Tap into relationships: If it’s useful, call relationships you have with bosses, human resource directors, etc. into play during negotiations. It can make a difference. If you have a close relationship with the boss or someone who will be on the other side of the severance negotiation table use it. And make sure to let you employment lawyer know that the relationship exists, too.
  7. Look to the future: It’s not all about money. This agreement could affect your long-term career. You want to consider future job references and work history, etc. before you sign off on the severance.

Remember, at that first meeting when you are presented with your severance, you’ll be in shock. Even if it’s not a complete surprise, don’t sign anything. Try to politely request a meeting at a later date to wrap things up and get in touch with an employment law attorney at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik to handle your severance negotiation

Netflix and Amazon Beat Blacklisting Lawsuit

Claims filed by Jerry Kowal against Netflix and Amazon included defamation and wrongful termination. The two companies, Netflix and Amazon, are competitors. They both provide online video content. But these two competitors got to share a victory together in court when the Los Angeles Superior Court judge Michael Stern dismissed claims against the two online video content giants. The claims were brought by Jerry Kowal, a former employee of both of the companies listed in the suit. He alleged that he had been wrongfully terminated by Amazon after Netflix blacklisted him.

Kowal worked at Netflix as a director of content acquisition. He had what he described as an exceptional reputation, but quickly noticed that the atmosphere at the company was cold, hostile and cutthroat. As a result, he decided to take a job at Amazon. He claims that shortly after he started at Amazon, Netflix attorneys sent a letter to Amazon accusing Kowal of unfair competition and insisting that they have access to search Kowal’s email accounts and computer/s for any business information belonging to Netflix. Kowal allowed that Netflix information could still be on his devices, but he adamantly denied using any of it for work at Amazon.

The burden of proof fell on Kowal. He needed to prove that there was a likelihood of prevailing on the merits of his claims. The judge decided that he did not meet the expected standard due to the fact that several of his allegations were based on speech protected by California Civil Code 47(b), which covers speech “made…in the initiation or course of any other proceeding authorized by law.” In this particular case, the letter Netflix sent to Amazon alleged unfair competition by Kowal.

For questions about wrongful termination, contact Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik, the southern California employment law experts

Unpaid Interns Now Protected from Sexual Harassment

Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill introduced by Berkeley Assembly member Nancy Skinner that protects unpaid interns and other unpaid volunteers from sexual harassment in the workplace. The governor signed the Assembly Bill on Tuesday. It expands Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights so that people in the workplace who are unpaid are included in the protection against sexual harassment in the workplace in California.

Skinner argues that basic civil rights should obviously be extended to all including interns and volunteers who are working it the workplace regardless of pay rate or no pay. They deserve the same legal protections against discrimination and harassment as paid employees. This was in response to a ruling last year by a federal district court in New York that ruled that the law doesn’t apply to unpaid interns because they are not technically employees. 

The New York case was based on allegations by a Syracuse University student that she was sexually harassed, i.e. groped and kissed by a supervisor on the job during her media company internship. She also claims that after she refused his sexual advances that he retaliated against her.

California is now the 3rd state in the country to explicitly ban sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace specifically directed towards unpaid interns. Protection is also offered for gender-based discrimination through the new California law. Other states that have similar laws include: Oregon, New York, and the District of Columbia.

If you have any questions regarding discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace whether you are an employee or an intern, please get in touch with the employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik