Homosexuality Taunts Lead to $17.4 Million Verdict for LA Sanitation Worker

In recent news, a Los Angeles sanitation worker, James Pearl, who was taunted on the job regarding his perceived homosexuality comes away victorious with a $17.4 million verdict. The LA jury found that he endured routine harassment at the hands of his supervisors, who had falsely assumed he was gay. While the jurors deliberated for two hours, they did come out with a unanimous decision regarding James Pearl’s case.

The jurors decided that Pearl was subjected to verbal abuse, hazing, and bullying. For instance, Pearl’s photo was digitally altered to show him in a same-sex relationship with a subordinate. These altered images were circulated amongst the city employees as a part of the bullying campaign.

One of Pearl’s colleagues alerted a manager in the highest ranks of the Bureau of Sanitation regarding the situation and the mistreatment that was occurring, but according to court documentation, the supervisor did not take action. Pearl started his career with the Bureau of Sanitation in 2002. He was promoted in 2006 to wastewater collection supervisor.

In 2011, Pearl filed a complaint of discrimination with state regulators. In the complaint he alleged that he was transferred to an office in Reseda because he was black and as retaliation because he complained about misconduct in the workplace. Days after the complaint was filed, Pearl was formally notified that the city was recommending his firing. He was accused of falsifying time documents for a subordinate who was also perceived by those in the workplace to be gay. He was then terminated on August 30, 2011. He reported the situation to the state regulators, advising them that the firing was retaliation motivated by his perceived homosexuality. He also attempted to fight back against his firing through internal procedures with the L.A. Board of Civil Service Commission.

After 13 months off the job, the panel determined his firing was unfounded and Pearl was reinstated. While Pearl was off the job, a supervisor continued showing the digitally altered photo of Pearl to employees. When Pearl returned, he received a lower-paying day shift, regularly faced accusations of misconduct, and was given the same supervisor who had been showing the digitally altered photograph to employees. The leadership in the workplace referred to Pearl using derogatory terms and continued the bullying campaign by circulating offensive messages and leaving objects on Pearl’s desk suggestive of or related to homosexual behavior.

In court documentation, the city contended that Pearl did not complain internally regarding the alleged mistreatment that was occurring and also claimed this his work assignments were dictated by budget cuts and a diminished staff.

The California lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2014. Pearl, who is now 55 years old, has been on permanent disability. He suffers from both physical and psychological damage as a result of the discrimination.

If you experience discrimination or harassment in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Guide Dog Discrimination Lawsuit Against Uber Moves Forward

June 22, 2015 - There has been a recent wave of complaints aimed at the popular driving service, Uber (and similar services). In response, there could be a new ruling that raises the bar for accountability amongst such driving services. In fact, the ruling could raise the bar for all tech companies; not just those related to ride-hailing services.

A federal judge in San Francisco allowed the National Federation of the Blind of California (NFB) to file suit claiming that Uber actively discriminates against visually impaired guide-dog users. Allegations indicate that Uber drivers have refused to provide rides for passengers who have service animals in use, which is in violation of ADA laws. The suit claims that drivers have also denied transport to blind individuals without service dogs. In addition, other instances are cited in which the blind individual and their service dog were allowed to utilize the ride service, but the service animals were allegedly mistreated during the drive time. The original civil complaint cites over 30 instances of discriminatory action towards blind people and/or their service animals.

One instance of harassment involved the Uber driver forcing the guide dog of a blind woman named Leena Dawes into the trunk of the sedan before transporting Ms. Dawes. When she realized where the Uber driver had placed her dog, she asked repeatedly if they could pull over so she could retrieve her dog from the trunk, but the Uber driver denied her requests. This is just one of the many instances noted in the suit.

Uber requested the case against them be dismissed on the basis that due to contracts in place, users are required to take complaints/disputes to arbitration and argue as individuals not in the form of a class action lawsuit. They also argued that due to their unique service, they can’t be classified as “public accommodation” and therefore shouldn’t be held liable for ADA requirements.

This reasoning was tossed out by a federal judge who stated that the NDF could more forward with the suit on behalf of those members who have not yet signed the mentioned Uber contracts. This refers to class action lawsuit members who have not necessarily used the Uber service yet.

Other related legal news includes:

  • Uber came under fire last March when their app was rendered useless to blind users after a software bug. They failed to fix it for a number of months.
  • An ongoing suit in Texas argues the question of whether or not Uber offers sufficient access for users in wheelchairs.
  • Lyft was sued as well, but settled out of court.
  • Leap, the San Francisco private bus start up with a $6 fare, found themselves the focus of a suit due to the fact that they don’t provide wheelchair access.

Services such as Lyft, Uber and Leap are important as they make integration more convenient and accessible (through low pricing) for vision-impaired individuals. Most new smartphones’ built-in screen reading functionality makes the app based ride services an excellent option that allows for greater independence when traveling.

Many are hoping that the San Francisco ruling will set a precedent that will leave new, app-based services such as Lyft and Uber, etc. accountable to the same civil rights laws as other businesses and ride services.

For additional news and information on discrimination lawsuits or class action suits, contact the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.