Court Awards Plaintiff $1.58M in Racial Harassment Lawsuit Naming UC Regents

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Nicole Birden, a 48-year-old African American and former UCLA Health phlebotomist, was awarded $1.58 million in her wrongful termination and racial harassment lawsuit against the UC Regents. Birden filed the discrimination lawsuit in 2017 citing the University of California Board of Regents for wrongful termination and discrimination.

Birden started working at UCLA in 2015 and claims she experienced a hostile work environment filled with co-workers calling her derogatory names, bullying on the job and even tampering with her work. Allegedly, Birden’s co-workers took the harassment so far that they tampered with blood samples in order to sabotage her work. In response to the escalating harassment and discrimination, Birden complained to her supervisor. She was fired in 2016. Birden was allegedly referred to as the “black girl with the attitude” by a number of co-workers while she was employed at UCLA.

UCLA’s legal representation argued that Birden was terminated due to a pattern or poor performance. He also made it clear to the jurors that the plaintiff never claimed she was treated differently because she was African American in her original complaints. UCLA is disappointed with the verdict and claim to be reviewing their options.

UCLA also claims that they consider ensuring a respectful and inclusive work environment to be essential to the university’s overall mission. They feel they encourage their employees to report any concerns in order to allow the issues to be reviewed and then appropriately addressed by management and administration at the university. They also restated their belief that UCLA Health is dedicated to maintaining a positive workplace without discrimination, harassment or retaliation.

If you have experienced discrimination in the workplace or if you need to file a harassment lawsuit, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik and DeBlouw LLP today.

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.

A String of Harassment Lawsuits Aimed Right at Tesla

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Many only know Tesla as a company who has goals of changing the world, but more and more are rethinking their opinion of the company as news headlines point out another major component in the Tesla workplace: harassment. The company proudly claims to be forward thinking on environmental matters, dedicated to diversity and center-left politics, and the many ways in which advanced technology can support progress in all these areas of concern. But many are now labeling the company as being caught up in the “bro” culture – a culture that can still be found in many offices throughout California. Other companies experiencing similar accusations include: Uber, Google, Social Finance, Greylock Partners, etc. Major news outlets like Bloomberg and CNBC have actually implied that the problem is worse than we think.

The latest case at Tesla involves Jorge Ferro, an assembly line worker who claims he was harassed because he is gay. He claims he was taunted, told to “watch your back,” and eventually fired. Ferro states that an old scar (from a 16-year old injury) drew the notice of Tesla Human Resources, who promptly dismissed him. But Ferro alleges he was actually fired due to retaliation for reporting the harassment.

When contacted about the issue, Tesla first attempted to side step the issue by claiming that both Ferro and his supervisor were not employees, but independent contractors. They also insisted that Tesla, as a company, takes all forms of discrimination and harassment very seriously. In fact, the Guardian reported that the company responded in even further detail by referencing their own track record, “…no company on Earth [has] a better track record than Tesla…they would have to have fewer than zero cases where an independent judge or jury…found a genuine case of discrimination.”

While Tesla insists that the recent influx of harassment and discrimination claims are due to their own notoriety and the opportunity this presents for media outlets and attorneys seeking acclaim and higher profiles, there have been other accusations of similar behavior in the last few years.

Just a week before Ferro’s claim surfaced, three former African-American workers filed a California lawsuit that they were subjected to verbal and written racist slurs.

Another instance involved a former Tesla engineer who claimed she was fired because she presented examples of gender discrimination at the company to the human resources department.

If you need to discuss instances of discrimination in the workplace or have questions regarding harassment on the job, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Harassment Claims Settled When California Assembly Paid $100,000

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The California Assembly recently paid $100,000 to settle harassment, discrimination, and retaliation claims that were filed in 2014 against Steve Fox who, at the time, was an Assemblyman. Nancy Kathleen Finnigan, former legislative director for Fox, claimed he exposed himself to her and then terminated her employment when she reported his behavior.

The settlement was reached in April and effectively closed out the lawsuit. While settlement documentation does state it resolves the case, it does not contain specifics regarding Finnigan’s harassment claims against the then-Assemblyman. But Finnigan did allege in the lawsuit that at one point during her employment, she arrived at Fox’s apartment in order to pick him up for a legislative session when he overslept where she found him with his pants unzipped and unbuttoned and not wearing any undergarments. Finnigan also claimed that Fox made a number of unwanted sexual advances against another employee as well as requesting that she do work that was not related to her legislative duties in the office. The suit also included allegations that Finnigan was fired for reporting that harassing behavior.

Fox was elected in 2012 on the Democratic ticket in a northern Los Angeles County district. He had previously run as a Republican. After serving one term, he was defeated in 2014 and again in 2016 by Tom Lackey, Republican Assemblyman. Neither party wished to comment on the settlement agreement.

This news was released in the same week a letter was signed by close to 150 women (including lobbyists, lawmakers, and legislative staff) detailing just how pervasive the culture of harassment against women is in California’s Capitol. Various women told their stories of harassment including being groped and touched without consent, enduring inappropriate comments about their bodies or abilities, insults, sexual innuendo disguised as jokes…all of which undermined their professional positions and downplayed their capabilities on the job. The letter did not make accusations against any men by name.

The Finnigan settlement named Fox and his former Chief of Staff Ann Turtle, the Assembly and Lynda Roper, the Assembly’s deputy administrative officer, as Defendants. It wasn’t the first time similar accusations were made against Fox either. In 2015, the Legislature paid $110,000 to Kristina Zahn, former employee, who alleged she was asked to do “other” work on legislative time, not paid overtime, etc.

If you have questions about how to handle harassment in the workplace or if you need help handling a harassment lawsuit, contact one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.