Wrongful Termination: Hacienda La Punete Unified Whistleblower Awarded $555K

July 22, 2015 - Betty Ruelas, a former employee of Hacienda La Puente Unified School District, raised concerns about some unusual invoices that were paid to a company running the school district’s after school program. Afterwards, she was forced into early retirement because of her questions regarding the unusual invoices along with a disability and a need to take family medical leave from her work. The questionable invoices were from West Covina-based Institute for Student Success. They were one of two vendors that constituted the operational end of the grant-funded after school programs for Hacienda La Puente Unified School District.

The questionable invoices came from a vendor who was a friend of Superintendent Cynthia Parulan-Colfer. Upon returning from a family medical leave, Ruelas immediately took note of the new vendor and the high numbers attached to their invoices. In Ruelas’ opinion, it was obvious that the vendor was receiving abnormally high compensation for work provided. Parulan-Colfer’s response to accusations about the unfair compensation was that the claims they were highly paid and the fact that she was a friend were unrelated. She claims that Ruelas’ claims were simply false and meant as an attack against the school district.

The claims regarding the invoices were not even addressed by the jury in the case. They stuck to the other two reasons for the alleged wrongful termination.

The vendor began operating the district’s after school program in 2010 and continued through the 2014-15 school year. After a number of questions regarding the invoices, Ruelas claims her superiors on the job harassed her until being placed on disability leave for stress/mental health (April 2012). Once she returned from disability leave, she was transferred to another department. The new department only increased the stress level on the job. When Ruelas requested a transfer back to her old department, the request was denied.

Ruelas again went on disability leave in May 2013. She had developed hives on her eyelids as a result of the severe anxiety that she was suffering at work. She was then forced to retire early at age 53 in July 2013.

On May 13th, the jury ruled in Ruelas’ favor awarding her $555,000 in damages.

If you need assistance with wrongful termination claims or other southern California employment law issues, get in touch with the experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

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.

Discrimination Allegations: Pregnant Women Sue Raley’s

May 7, 2015 - Luciana Borrego, new mother to a baby boy born on Nov. 13, 2013, claims that she lost her job in Ukiah at Raley’s due to her pregnancy.

Raley’s is a part of a West Sacramento-based retail grocery store chain. In June of 2013, Borrego recalls advising her managers of her pregnancy (five months before her baby was born). On July 11, approx. one month later, she came to work with a doctor’s note advising her supervisors that she should not be lifting anything over ten pounds. Within an hour, Borrego claims she was called to the director’s office at the store and advised that she needed to take unpaid leave.

She was advised that she needed to go home, as the company didn’t accommodate pregnant workers even with the doctor’s note. Ms. Borrego claims she was devastated by the treatment she received. She never went back.

Ms. Borrego is one of two plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in Sacramento Superior Court against Raley’s. The suit contains allegations that the policy mentioned by Borrego’s director that Raley’s didn’t accommodate pregnant workers is unlawful. The company policy makes reasonable accommodations for workers injured on the job, but fails to provide any type of accommodation for pregnant workers.

Raley’s spokesperson responded denying the accusations and objecting the suggestion that they don’t care about all their team members, and in particular, their pregnant team members. They continued by indicating that Raley’s has been known to go above and beyond legal minimum requirements in this area. They are known as a strong, family owned business and, as such, it’s important to them that people see them as appreciative of the role women play in their workplace. They will defend themselves against the charges being brought by the plaintiffs.

Raley’s (also operating under the names Bel Air Markets, Nob Hill Foods and Food Source) operate more than 120 supermarkets in Northern California and Nevada.

The plaintiffs are seeking class action status for current/former Raley’s California employees who were denied acceptable accommodations for pregnancy related needs over the past four years.

If you are interested in discussing California laws protecting pregnant women in the workplace, please contact your southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Allegations of Retaliation from Former Korn/Ferry Executive

May 4, 2015 - Korn/Ferry International is the world’s largest executive search firm. This makes it big news that the firm is currently in the midst of an intense legal dispute over the termination of one of their top executives, Robert A. Damon.

Robert A. Damon is a former executive chairman of the Americas. In a recent lawsuit he alleges that he was fired in retaliation for his complaints about Chief Executive Gary Burnison’s treatment of a number of female employees. Mr. Damon made his complaints regarding the inappropriate treatment of his colleagues to board members. As a result of his firing, Damon alleges that he lost over $1.7 million in deferred compensation because he was fired for cause. Korn/Ferry denies the allegations.

Korn/Ferry claims that Mr. Damon’s complaints are simply an attempt to downplay/deflect the actual reason behind his termination. The company states that Mr. Damon was “terminated with cause” due to inappropriate personal behavior, flagrant violations of company policy, and material breaches of his employment contract.

Having the dispute go public holds potential embarrassment for the high-profile search firm as they market themselves as a provider of “talent management solutions.” The suit was filed by one of Korn/Ferry’s very own “talents.” Mr. Damon, age 67, was recruited by Korn/Ferry back in 2004 as president of North America, the company’s most substantial unit. He was later promoted to oversee the company’s Americas region.

Korn/Ferry’s 444 recruiters have helped to place leading executives at major corporations such as: Office Depot, Inc., Target Corp., Major League Baseball, etc. Korn/Ferry has held the top spot in the global and US search industry for over 10 years. Korn/Ferry’s own Mr. Burnison. Who has led the company since 2007, has written three different leadership books during his time as CEO. Mr. Burnison, Korn/Ferry CEO, is named specifically as a defendant in the lawsuit alongside Korn/Ferry with allegations that he engaged in a pattern of abuse and discrimination negatively affecting female employees. Allegations state this the discrimination and abuse towards female employees began in 2010.

Experts indicate that Damon’s suit against Korn/Ferry is exciting because it’s not very often that male employees sue employers for retaliation as a result of speaking out about alleged discrimination and abuse of women in the workplace. 

For answers to your questions about discrimination against women in the workplace, contact Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik, your southern California employment law attorneys.

Gender Bias Case: Silicon Valley Jury Clears Kleiner Firm

May 1, 2015 - A venture capital firm known as Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers (or Kleiner) was cleared of gender discrimination claims by a California jury. A former female partner at Kleiner lodged the discrimination claims. The jury trial took place in Silicon Valley.

In addition to the discrimination claims, the firm was also cleared of allegations of retaliation against Ellen Pao, a former partner at Kleiner. Ms. Pao filed suit against the firm in 2012. She was then fired from her employment. A number of admittedly embarrassing disclosures were made during the course of the jury trial regarding the treatment female employees at Kleiner. Regardless of this information, Pao was unable to receive vindication through a winning verdict. What her efforts did achieve was a newfound awareness of the Silicon Valley corporate culture, leaving many calling into question the very evident lack of diversity.

The suit included allegations that former male partners used business trips as a chance to make inappropriate advances towards their female colleagues (including, but not limited to Pao).

Pao, no longer a partner at the firm, is now the interim chief executive at Reddit, a social-news service. Ms. Pao claims that while she did engage in an affair with Ajit Nazre, a partner at Kleiner, it was brief. She also claims that when she ended the brief affair, she quickly began to lose her footing at work. What she claims was already a workplace unfriendly to female employees, became even worse. She claims that Nazre and Kleiner as a whole started to actively retaliate against her after she ended her affair with Nazre.

The company denies the allegations. They insist they did not support a workplace climate that was unfriendly towards female employees. They also presented evidence that they actually went out of their way to hire women.

Pao was not the only female employee who cited inappropriate sexual advances from partner, Nazre. Allegations were made by another employee, Trae Vassallo. She claims that he showed up at her hotel room during a business trip inappropriately clothed and urging her to join him for a drink. The company provided assurances that these claims were investigated. Post-investigation, Nazre left the firm.

If you have questions about gender bias in the workplace, please get in touch with the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

California Class Action Lawsuit Claims California Wineries are Lacing Products with Arsenic

April 8, 2015 -Many California wine lovers may be eyeing their favorite local wines with a more suspicious eye after recent accusations that 28 different California wineries are generating arsenic-laced products for the public. The class action lawsuit against the low-cost winemakers was filed earlier this month alleging that they were selling wines containing high levels of a known carcinogen: inorganic arsenic.

This alleged action would be in violation of California state law in which it prohibits knowingly producing, marketing and selling wine contaminated with arsenic. The 28 wineries are also accused of failing to provide consumers with a warning of the potential danger of their products. This is also a violation of California state law.

If you’re wondering if you harbor any of the potential offenders in your own wine collection you may want to be aware of the following brands of wineries included in the lawsuit: Glen Ellen, Beringer, Charles Shaw, and Sutter Home. In the lawsuit, it states that there was an independent testing completed by BeverageGrades out of Denver, Colorado. The lab completed tests for 1,306 different wines with 83 of them with “elevated” arsenic levels. The tests were initially completed in order to determine what the wines were “made of,” but after results were received they could only be described as very disturbing.

The Wine Institute, as a representative of over 1,000 wineries, responded to accusations saying that the allegations were “false and misleading.” They continued their statement to define arsenic as a natural element in the environment all around us: in our air, water, food and soil. Wines, as an agricultural product, will naturally contain trace amounts of arsenic (as do juices, vegetables, grains, etc.) They also stressed that there is no valid research that shows that the trace amounts of arsenic found in agricultural products such as wine pose a health risk for consumers. 

The lawsuit does not request specific financial recompense. Instead it seeks civil penalties and damages. For additional information on southern California class action lawsuits contact Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik

Sex Bias Class Action Sued Filed Against Twitter

March 27, 2015 - After complaining that Twitter’s sexist company policies were arbitrary and unjust, a software engineer named Tina Huang was fired. She claims she was fired in retaliation for her complaints and filed a class action. The previous Twitter software engineer claims she was one of Twitter’s earliest hires, but that she was overlooked for/denied promotion opportunities because Twitter discriminates against women. She claims that Twitter management fails to promote equally qualified or even more qualified women to leadership positions in engineering.

In her complaint, Huang points out that Twitter’s promotion system creates a glass ceiling for women that can’t be explained. She claims it does so by:


  • The company has no meaningful promotion process for engineering leadership positions.
  • No company approved, published criteria for promotion, internal hiring, advancement, or application processes.


Ms. Huang started work with Twitter in 2009. At that time, the company had less than 100 employees. She also claims that its dramatic growth in the time since that point is due in large part to the work of its early hires. Many of the early hires now hold senior positions within the company’s structure. Without exception, male employees hold all of those senior positions within the software engineer department.

Huang also claims that the sexual bias problem is one that has been recognized by Twitter. According to the complaint filed by Huang, Twitter has conducted internal diversity studies focusing on barriers blocking female employee advancement. There is a company-wide, pervasive problem with discrimination and acknowledged gender disparities. In an attempt to address the company-wide problem, Twitter recently put in place bias mitigation training throughout the entire company.

During discussions of the acknowledged gender disparity issue, senior management has been known to say that Twitter will “continue improving its ‘diversity standing’…and ‘move the needle.”

In 2013, Huang was put in for a promotion in the software engineering division by her immediate supervisor. Huang claims this is the only method by which to obtain a promotion at the company. The move would have been a critical promotion in Huang’s career. The job would have meant a shift of her focus from coding and individual projects to a leadership role requiring company collaboration. It would also mean access to meetings with high-level management. Huang had provided years of impressive service and work to Twitter. Despite these years on the job, excellent peer and supervisor work evaluations, an absence of any criticism or disciplinary issues, Huang was denied the critical promotion without any explanation. While no official reasons were provided (even when requested by Huang), she was able to pinpoint rumors about her “aggressiveness” and “lack of high quality code” on a particular work project.

In response to her objections to the gender inequality in Twitter hiring and promotion history, she was advised by corporate to take personal leave while further investigation was handled. She then met with the CEO, Costolo, and HR, but they did not provide her with any information about an investigation into her complaint. Her assignments were given to co-workers. Her co-workers were told that she was on personal leave even though they already knew about her complaints regarding Twitter’s promotional process. Huang claims in addition to the original sexual bias, her ability to lead was also undermined by Twitter’s corporate response to her complaint. After three months, she felt she was left with no other reasonable choice, but to resign for the sake of her career.  

Huang feels that Twitter intentionally caused objectively intolerable working conditions and then in full awareness allowed them to continue. She is seeking class certification, her lost wages and benefits, full vesting of her stock options, as well as damages and punitive damages for sex discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination.

For additional information and answers to specific questions about sexual bias on the job, contact the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.