Is Starbucks Misgendering Trans Woman a Violation of Labor Law?

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Starbucks recently claimed that misgendering or calling an employee by the wrong pronoun is not harassment, which is in direct contradiction to their employee guidelines. A former Starbucks employee, Maddie Wade, filed a complaint at the Fresno Superior Court in California suing the company for harassment and discrimination.

Wade, a former barista at a Starbucks in Fresno, alleges that when she began her transition, her manager at the time reduced her work hours and refused to call her by preferred pronouns. She also claims that her former Starbucks manager began posting transphobic material online through social media outlets. Wade claims that she was bullied and targeted by her manager at the Fresno Starbucks daily after she came out as transgender.

Allegedly, the mistreatment by her boss, Dustin Guthrie, escalated to unbearable levels and Wage had to transfer to a different Starbucks location. The harassment continued at the next Starbucks location. Wade claims her manager at the new site encouraged her to take the matter to the District Manager, and she did, but the situation was not resolved. After nine years of employment, Wade eventually left her position at Starbucks at the advice of her therapist due to the mental stress and “intolerable conditions” she was forced to endure.

Wade seeks general damages, special damages, punitive damages, and attorneys fees from her former employer. She states that the loss of health insurance prevented her from receiving the treatment and procedures she needs to complete her transition. Wade also claims that Starbuck’s value marketing group for its LGBTQ employees on the Facebook page, Starbucks Partners – Pride Alliance Network, refuses to allow her to post on its wall.

It is ironic that as we enter Pride Month, Starbucks seems to be making moves counter to its public record highlighting LGBTQ acceptance. The company is reasonably well known for its LGBTQ acceptance: scoring 100 out of 100 on Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 Corporate Equality Index, releasing annual LGBTQ-focused products, rolling out trans-inclusive health care included in their benefits package, etc. Attorneys representing the massive coffee provider are filing a motion for summary judgment and arguing that there is not enough evidence to show that Guthrie was calling Wade by incorrect pronouns on purpose. Without proof of intent, the Defendant contends that the behavior in itself cannot constitute discrimination under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

If you have questions about filing a discrimination lawsuit or if you experienced discrimination in the workplace, the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP can help. Get in touch with employment law office nearest you: San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange or Chicago.

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.

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.

Nike Faces Lawsuit Alleging Systemic Gender Discrimination

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Two women formerly employed by Nike claim in a recently filed lawsuit that women are devalued and demeaned by the company through systemic gender discrimination. The two former employees, Kelly Cahill and Sara Johnston, claim that they were paid significantly less than male co-workers for similar work and that they were also passed up for promotions due to their gender. The suit was originally filed in Nike’s home state of Oregon by the two former employees seeking class action status. The federal suit alleges that Nike violated the Equal Pay Act.

The plaintiffs want the court to order the company to institute new policies that would alter the way the company treats women, providing equal opportunity for employees regardless of their gender and combatting the negative effects of their current (and past) unlawful employment practices. The plaintiffs also seek reinstatement at Nike and back pay.

The spokesperson for Nike cited Nike’s long-standing commitment to inclusion and diversity and claimed that the company opposes any type of discrimination. She also went on to say that Nike is committed to competitive pay and benefits for all employees. She declined to answer specific questions about the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs point to respected news sites in their complaints (The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times) as having described Nike’s culture as allowing gender bias and sexual harassment. Additionally, is has been reported that the CEO, Mark Parker, apologized to employees at the company over the handling of workplace misconduct allegations and 11 or more executives have left the company in the last several months. Other changes happening at Nike that could be related to the current legal trouble is that Nike announced pay increases for 7,000 employees last month. The company described the move as an attempt to support a culture where employees can feel included and empowered.

According to the Suit, Cahill was a former Nike producer and director from 2013 to 2017. She left the company due to a “hostile work environment” and ineffective handling of complaints to HR. She also alleges that she was paid $20,000 less than a male co-worker with similar job duties. Cahill also claims that a former Nike vice president used derogatory names to refer to women and singled out a female employee for overly harsh criticism by yelling at her repeatedly in public.

Complaints were allegedly filed to HR about the employee by Cahill and other women at Nike, but the Nike vice president was promoted in 2017. According to reporters at The Wall Street Journal, he was forced to leave the company in April.

Johnston, the second plaintiff, was employed by Nike from 2008 to 2017. She alleges that she received inappropriate sexual messages and nude photos of himself by a male co-worker after a Nike-organized party. After telling him to stop sending her messages that were not related to work, he continued to send inappropriate messages and photos. He also later started to refuse to attend meetings that she organized at work. The harassment was reported to Johnston’s supervisors, but the response she received from one of the supervisors was that the Nike culture revolved around alcohol and that the rise of the internet and cell phones have simply make drunk messages of that nature a part of the current generation. Johnston complained to HR about the situation, but the male co-worker was shortly after promoted to a management position that required her to work closely with him. She claims she was denied higher ratings on her annual review in retaliation for her response to the situation and her complaints of sexual harassment. Johnston also alleges that her starting salary was $2,000 less than a male co-worker for the same job. She claims she had more relevant work experience and superior credentials and even helped train him on the job.

If you are experiencing discrimination in the workplace or workplace retaliation for reporting violations, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Woman Claims Discrimination and Harassment: Suit Filed Against Facebook

May 11, 2015 - Chia Hong, a former Facebook employee, filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Facebook, alleging discrimination, harassment and that she was belittled during her time as a Facebook employee. Hong worked at Facebook first as a product manager and then as a technology specialist. Her employment lasted about three years. She was terminated in October of 2013. Hong claims that upon her termination, Facebook filled her position with a less qualified and less experienced male worker.

Facebook denies the allegations made by Hong while Hong goes into more detail regarding the inappropriate behavior. Hong states that company officials actually asked her why she didn’t stay home to take care of her kids. She also states that she was consistently and regularly ignored and that her professional opinions were belittled in workplace meetings at which she was among a notably smaller group of female employees. Hong also lodged allegations that she was required to organize parties/serve drinks for male colleagues. This was in no way a part of her job description as either a project manager or a technology specialist.

Hong is of Taiwanese descent and claims that she was told that she hadn’t been able to integrate well with the team at Facebook because she “looked and talked” different than the other team members.

Facebook denies that claims made by Hong – insisting that they did not mistreat her in any way during or after her employment with the company. They claim that they put great effort into diversity, gender and equality issues in the workplace and they believe they have done well in improving in those areas.

The case against Facebook involves a multitude of factual disagreements. Hong insists that her treatment at the company was sub-par with numerous instances of discrimination because she was female and because of her race. Facebook insists that the record will show that Chia Hong was treated fairly as an employee.

If you need help because you are experiencing gender discrimination or harassment at work, contact the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.