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.

Dick’s Sporting Goods Facing Class Action for Texting Program

A proposed class action against Dick’s Sporting Goods, Inc. has been filed in California federal court. Accusations that the sporting goods retailer violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) allege that the company sent text messages to consumers after they had opted out of the subscription based alert advertising program. Plaintiff, Phillip Ngiehm, states that he originally agreed to participate in the marketing program, but that he opted out in December 2015 by texting the word “stop” as instructed. According to the terms of the program, this would result in a halt of messages from the program to the subscriber – effectively removing him from the subscriber list.

Dick’s acknowledged that they received the termination of his consent to receive automated text ads, but the advertising messages continued. In fact, Ngiehm received an immediate response when he texted “stop” in order to halt his involvement in the program:

“You have been unsubscribed and will no longer receive messages from us. Reply ‘help’ for help.”

After receiving this acknowledgement, he received eight text messages. This led to the filing of the lawsuit that Dick’s Sporting Goods is currently facing. Plaintiff’s attorney states that all the SMS texts that were received by the plaintiff after he opted out as instructed, were sent without his consent and were thus unauthorized. This leaves the messages in violation of the TCPA. He seeks certification of a national class of people who were in receipt of messages from Dick’s Sporting Goods that were unauthorized. He estimates that the number of eligible class members could be in the thousands. The suit will seek statutory and treble damages as well as an injunction to prohibit Dick’s Sporting Goods from distributing unwanted advertisements by text. The suit will also seek attorneys’ fees and associated costs.

If you have questions regarding class action status and what it means to be eligible for class action membership status, please get in touch with the southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik. We can assist you in determining how California labor law applies to your situation. 

Employers Reclassifying Workers to Save Money

July 16, 2015 -Courts and regulatory agencies are increasing the scrutiny coming at employers regarding the relationship with their workers: businesses and independent contractors, contractors and subcontractors, employers and employees. In response, many employers are utilizing different tactics to classify their workers; reclassifying workers to save money by taking them off formal payroll and lowering costs. 

For years, employers have shifted work off their actual employees and on to independent contractors. This relabeling of the workforce with slight alterations to their work conditions left many in court or owing settlements. As this misclassification of employees as independent contractors is receiving such intense focus across industries, many businesses are now turning to other types of employment relationships:

Setting up Workers as Franchisees

Setting up Workers as Owners of LLCs

Both of these methods help to shield the business from tax and labor statutes that are attached to the formal payroll for actual employees of the company.

These new tactics have state and federal agencies aggressively putting a stop to the setup: passing local legislation to address the issue, filing briefs in worker’s lawsuits, and closely keeping an eye on the increasing popularity of what regulatory agencies see as an equally questionable alternative to the independent contractor employment model that has experience such a crackdown.

As employers are finding it more difficult to save costs by avoiding an official payroll, workers are finding that they are required to assume more risk. They suddenly need to shoulder more of the burden for health care premiums, retirement income and even job security. This shift in responsibility from the employer to the worker seems to be spurring the major influx of misclassification suits and allegations.

Employers are seeking more creative ways to misclassify workers. If you feel that you are misclassified or you need to discuss the issue of misclassification with a southern California employment law expert, contact an employment law attorney 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