Fontana Unified Police Dispatcher Awarded in Wrongful Termination Case

July 21, 2015 - Jolee Berdnik, a police dispatcher, formerly with the Fontana Unified School District, alleges that she was fired from her position as a result of reporting an officer who was accused of sexual assault and rape of fellow dispatchers. After a month long trial, the jury verdict came back in her favor, awarding the wrongfully terminated police dispatcher over $315,000.

Berdnik’s 2012 wrongful termination lawsuit claimed that she was let go in retaliation for reporting officer John Garcia’s alleged conduct. Her superiors responded to her report of Officer Garcia’s behavior by terminating her from her position.

Three other current and former employees of Fontana Unified’s police division have made claims that Officer Garcia sexually assaulted or raped them on the school grounds. All three attacks allegedly took place in 2010 and 2011. All three have obtained representation to pursue legal recourse. 

After an investigation into the allegations originally reported by Berdnik, Officer Garcia was fired from his job, but he was not brought up to face official criminal charges.

If you are unclear what it means to be wrongfully terminated from your position review the standard definition of the phrase below:

Wrongful termination – a broad term/phrase that has a very specific legal meaning. Many individuals are terminated from their positions. And many will feel that the loss of their employment is “wrongful.” But the legal definition of “wrongful termination” is limited to only those very specific circumstances in which an employee is fired from their job for an illegal reason.

Common reasons that constitute “wrongful termination” include: your sex, your age, your race, your religion, complaints of sexual harassment, or reporting company wrongdoing to authorities (whistleblowing).

If you need additional assistance in determining whether or not you have been the victim of wrongful termination, please get in touch with the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Cooper Wrongful Termination Lawsuit: Set for September Trial

June 29, 2015 - Former Lafayette Parish School Superintendent Pat Cooper is scheduled to go to trial the week of September 21st. Cooper was fired from his job by the Lafayette Parish School Board in November. About two weeks after the board made the decision to fire him, Cooper filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.

In his lawsuit, Pat Cooper claims wrongful termination on the basis that he was fired without cause. He claims he was ousted from his position for political reasons as well as plan old vindictiveness. The board already spent over $120,000 in legal fees prior to firing Cooper in November.  

Wrongful Termination has become a very widely used term. Generally speaking, it can mean many things, but legally speaking, it refers to a very specific situation in which very specific consequences may follow for employers involved. Many individuals are terminated from work positions. A lot of these workers who have lost their jobs may feel that their job loss was “wrongful.” But the legal definition of wrongful termination is more limited that the general meaning the combined words may indicate upon first hearing the phrase. Legally speaking, wrongful termination refers to circumstances in which an employee is fired from their position for an illegal reason. This could include being fired for discriminatory reasons (race, religion, age, gender, etc.), being fired in violation of employment contracts in place, workplace retaliation, etc.

If you need additional information regarding what constitutes wrongful termination so you can determine if you were wrongfully terminated from your job, contact the southern California employment law experts 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.

Alleged Discrimination: Female Farmers Attorney Employee Sues

June 18, 2015 - A class action lawsuit was filed by Lynn Coates against Farmers Insurance on behalf of female attorney employees containing allegations that the insurance conglomerate has policies and procedures in place that are discriminatory against women in the workplace.

Accusations made in the class action lawsuit indicate that the Los Angeles, California based insurance company was illegally paying their female attorneys significantly lower wages than their male attorneys that were performing the same work duties.

The suit claims that Farmers fails to compensate female attorneys on staff in equal measure when compared to their male counterparts performing equivalent work and that they actually systematically offer female attorneys less pay than the men. The men are also disproportionately offered higher profile work assignments, more opportunities for promotions and pay increases as well as workplace recognition for accomplishments on the job. In short, the suit claims that Farmers advances their mail attorneys’ careers much faster than that of their female attorneys. The suit even goes so far as to claim that rather than being treated equally, the female attorneys are treated more like support staff for the male attorneys.

  • Coates was paid less than male attorneys who had decades less experience on the job.
  • While Coates was working for Farmers, younger, male attorneys received the best cases.
  • Procedures and practices discriminating against women have been in place at Farmers since the 1970s.

A previous lawsuit was filed in the 1970s by the Secretary of Labor against Farmers claiming unequal pay, Marshall v. Farmers Ins. Co., Civil Action No. 75-63-C2. In this suit, Farmers’ salary policy was found to be discriminatory. Specifically, it was found to exclude women in the workplace from appropriate promotion, etc.

Coates, the original plaintiff in the current suit against Farmers, is a resident of California. She worked in the Farmers’ San Jose branch legal office in the 1990s and again in 2010. Coates received positive reviews regarding her work and periodic raises, but even so, male attorneys on the job with decades less experience were making significantly more for comparable work. One male attorney on staff with similar experience and equivalent workload was making up to 50% more than Coates.

As soon as Coates became aware of the pay discrepancy, she attempted to discuss it with a supervisor. As a result, she was demoted from her position as an attorney to that of a paralegal. Coates states that the demotion was in retaliation for complaining about the unfair pay policies.

If you feel that there are discriminatory policies or unfair practices in place at your workplace, please get in touch with the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Wrongful Termination Suit: California Woman Fired for Deleting a 24/7 Location Tracking App from her Phone

June 12, 2015 - California’s own Myrna Arias is a former employee of Intermex. While she worked for the company she was issued an iPhone. As an employee of the money transfer company she was also required to download Xora (which is an application/tool designed to help businesses to streamline their scheduling and travel routes for employees in the field).

Myrna Arias was allegedly fired for uninstalling the location-tracking application. Her boss required it to be downloaded on the company issued phone for company’s use in maximizing employee time while on the clock.

Her boss allegedly admitted to Ms. Arias that use of the app meant that her location would be tracked both during AND after business hours as the app ran 24/7. Ms. Arias stated that he even went so far as to brag that he knew the exact speed she was traveling at any given point during the day or night.  

Myrna Arias states that she didn’t have an issue with the application tracking her through GPS function during her work hours, but that she definitely objected to the continued use of the tracking application during non-work hours. She complained about it to her boss, John Stubits, telling him that it was an invasion of her privacy. He replied to her complaints in an unsatisfactory manner. Reminding her that she was required to keep her phone on 24/7 in order to accept phone calls from clients. She deleted the application in April 2014. 

The use of this type of employee tracking app is a new phenomenon that is becoming more and more popular. Some see this type of application as a major cause of the breakdown of traditional boundaries between professional and private lives. 

Arias filed suit in Kern County Superior Court seeking damages over $500,000.

If you would like to discuss the possibility that you are a victim of wrongful termination, contact the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Workplace Claims: Should Workers Be Paid for Mandatory “Call Ins?”

June 1, 2015 - Victoria’s Secret Stores LLC workers are raising the question of whether or not retail employees who are required to call in to see if a shift is available or not should be paid simply for the mandatory call. It’s a new type of workplace claim that will be put to the test in federal appellate court.

Plaintiffs in the putative class action lawsuit seek payment for mandatory calls in their workplace. The petition for interlocutory appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals followed a rare grant from U.S. District Judge George H. Wu to file due to what he referred to as the “novelty” of the legal question being presented.

Since the only precedent for the case is Judge Wu’s original dismissal followed by his grant to file for interlocutory appeal, the 9th Circuit holds a lot of power in their hands. They will be the deciding factor. The employment law industry will either see this new and “novel” issue nipped in the bud or they could see an entirely new and fertile area for workplace grievances leading to worker lawsuits. This case could result in a new area of claims for employees as many large chains have call in policies for their workers.

The lawsuit was filed by Mayra Casas and Julio Fernandez. The suit is based on California’s reporting time laws requiring a minimum amount of pay when an employee is required to report to work, but they aren’t needed or no work is available at the appointed time. California is one of eight states with similar reporting time laws (including New York). The California reporting time laws guarantees employees will receive up to 4 hours of pay when they report for an 8-hour shift that is cancelled, resulting in the employee being sent home without working. Up until this point, the focus has been on employees who physically report in to their workstations. Whether or not similar guarantees should be in place for call in claims is the current question.

In the current lawsuit between Victoria’s Secret Stores LLC and Casas/Fernandez, it has been pointed out that employees abiding by the retail chain store’s call in policy must arrange their entire schedule around the need to call in 2 hours prior to a potential shift. Sometimes employees are required to do so up to five times in one week. Legal representation for the plaintiffs are pointing out the difficulties this poses in regards to scheduling daycare, etc. as proof of the need for a change.  

For additional information on California workplace claims and California reporting time law, contact the southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Wrongful Termination Suit: Former VP Files Suit Against Blue Shield of California

May 20, 2015 - Blue Shield of California was named as the Defendant in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by a former chief technology officer (CTO). Aaron Kaufman, former CTO, claims he was fired one day prior to receiving a $450,000 bonus because he raised concerns about a costly contract. The former CTO claims that he repeatedly recommended that the insurer sign a fixed-price $1.6 million contract for a “Veritas data project”. He claims his repeated recommendations were denied by Blue Shield CIO, Michael Mathias, who instead opted in December 2014 for an open-ended $4.6 million contract through a different vendor.

Kaufman claims that at one point he was in Mathias’ office making the recommendation and that Mathias responded insisting that Kaufman leave his office and never bring up the $3 million cost savings issue again. According to Kaufman, Mathias did not provide an explanation for why he seemed beholden to the other, overpriced vendor.

Kaufman’s employment as CTO was terminated on March 11th. The company cited alleged violations of Blue Shield’s travel and expense policies. The termination was completed the day before Kaufman was due to receive his $450,000 bonus (earned as of December 31, 2014).

A spokesman for Blue Shield disagreed with the complaints made by Kaufman, but didn’t want to provide additional comments regarding the suit.

Recently, criticism that Blue Shield of California behaves like a for-profit insurer has been rampant. The group even lost their tax-exempt status. In 2014, the company posted $13.6 billion revenue. They hold over $4 billion in their reserves. A former executive, Michael Johnson, has called on Blue Shield to return about $10 billion in public assets to the state accord to recent stories in the media. The organization also faces heavy pressure to lower its premiums for Californians.

If you need additional information on wrongful termination call or email the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.