Prestigious Horse Training Facilities’ Owner Ordered to Pay $1.3M in Back Wages

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Thirty migrant workers were awarded close to $1.3 million in back wages after allegations were made against two prestigious horse training facilities in the Bay Area and their owner. Kevin Chambers, owner of the Portola Valley Training Center in Menlo Park and Gilroy Gaits in Hollister under EWC & Associates Inc., faced claims of violating work visa program regulations and California labor law through his failure provide workers with federally mandated minimum wage and overtime wages. In addition, he allegedly housed his workers in substandard living conditions for years.

In this case, the 30 migrant workers who were provided with substandard living conditions were housed in converted horse stables that did not even have running water. The workers were H-2B guest workers that were brought into the country under temporary visas in order to fill non-agricultural jobs. According to court documents, employers are owed back wages for various lengths of time during 2015-2018.

The lawsuit was filed against Chambers in the Northern California District of the U.S. District Court in January and alleged that he did not pay his workers when their wages were due, did not pay them required industry standard wages, and other violation allegations. According to court documents, the case was settled shortly after the suit was filed.

Other issues of interest in the case include Chambers’ failure to keep records of overtime worked, deductions made from workers’ pay, and that he required workers to pay back visa processing fees and the costs of transportation to and from their home countries. On the Portola Valley Training Center in Menlo Park website, the facility is described as a 60-acre facility that is a “home to world class trainers and horses.” The facility includes multiple arenas (both jumping and flat), a 5/8 racetrack, an on-site veterinary clinic and 40 acres of land for off-training day rides.

According to the settlement agreement, Chambers will provide $1.27 million in back wages to the 30 migrant workers, as well as $100,000 in civil penalties. Chambers is also barred from applying for any labor certifications (including the previously accessed H-2B guest worker program) for a period of one year.

If you have questions about how to file a California overtime suit or if you are not being provided with minimum or overtime wages as required by law, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at California’s Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Judge Rejects $7.5M Comcast Settlement Due to Systemic Wage and Hour Violations

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A California judge recently rejected the $7.5M settlement proposed in the Comcast case alleging wage and hour violations under both state and federal law. The rejection was apparently based on the judge’s view that the FLSA violations were systemic and the settlement did not relieve his suspicions that defendant’s practices would continue in the future.

A group of technicians filed the lawsuit against O.C. Communications Inc. (OCC), Comcast Corporation and Comcast Cable Communications Management, LLC. The techs handled installation of cable, television, phone, security and internet services and claimed that the OCC and Comcast employed them as “joint” employers. The plaintiffs in the suit were classified by their employer/s as non-exempt employees. They performed installations on behalf of the Defendant throughout the country, working 5-6 days per week and up to 10 hours per day. According to the plaintiffs, they were paid on a hybrid pay system combining hourly rates with piece rates and based on the different jobs and tasks they performed on the job for customers of Comcast.

Plaintiffs in the case insist they were frequently pressured to under-report the number of hours they worked and to report meal breaks that they never took. Plaintiffs also allege that their time cards were manipulated to reduce their hours, reimbursements requests for necessary expenses were refused, they were actively prevented from taking lawfully required meal and rest breaks, and wage statements issued by the company purposefully concealed the rate of pay for work.

Both parties involved in the case agreed on the $7.5 million settlement and requested approval, but the California judge denied the parties’ request noting the substantial merit of alleged wage and hour violations in the case, and the apparent “systemic” nature of the Defendant’s actions. The judge described the proposed settlement as having been achieved at a discount that was difficult or the court to swallow without assurances that the alleged FLSA violations were unlikely to recur in the future.

If you have questions about wage and hour law or if you have experienced FLSA violations in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Shell Refinery has $7.7M Wage Deal on the Table for Pipeline Workers

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Shell Oil owns a number of pipeline terminals and refineries. A putative class of workers pulled from both are likely to see the $7.7 million wage and hour settlement for their case approved. The California federal judge, U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney, has already granted preliminary approval “preliminarily.”

The judge praised the settlement and advised counsel they had done a good job. She did request changes and clarifications including an amended settlement schedule to provide her with time to consider a revised version. She advised parties she would most likely allow the deal to move forward within the week.

David Berlanga, plaintiff, filed suit in January 2017 alleging wage and hour claims and listing four California energy facilities as Defendants in the case:

·      Shell Pipeline Co. LP’s terminal facility in Carson

·      Shell subsidiary Equilon Enterprises LLC’s oil refinery in Martinez

·      CRI Catalyst Co LP’s production facilities in Martinez

·      CRI Catalyst Co LP’s production facilities in Pittsburg

Allegedly, the companies did not provide rest breaks free of job duties or accurate wage statements to employees. Berlanga filed claims under the California Private Attorneys General Act as well as the state’s Unfair Competition Law. He was seeking back wages, statutory penalties, attorneys’ fees and an updated workplace policy in compliance with the law.

The class would include plant operators (since January 2013) who have been required to keep their radios on or respond to calls during their rest breaks that are mandated by state labor law. According to the law, employers must relinquish control over how employees spend time during breaks and employees must be relieved of all their job duties – including the obligation to remain on call.

The settlement is the result of a private mediation in April and will include up to $1.9 in attorney’s fees (or a quarter of the common fund). And incentive award of $7,500 for each of the six class representatives is also sought although the judge indicated this may be too high.

If you have questions about California mandated rest breaks or if you are not receiving accurate wage statements as required by law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Temecula Nail Salon Faces $1.2M Fine for California Wage Violations

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Employees of a Temecula, California nail salon called Young’s Nail Spa were listed as “independent contractors” so the salon owners could avoid payment of overtime or required meal and rest breaks during longer shifts. The salon faces a file of over $1.2 million for misclassification of workers, violation of wage and hour law, failure to pay overtime and provide required meal and rest breaks.

The salon is located on Margarita Road in Temecula and was under investigation by the California Department of Industrial Relations due to complaints about wage theft and other unlawful practices. In the course of the investigation, numerous irregularities were discovered. One of the most problematic was the shifts that Young’s Nail Spa employees were required to complete. Workers were spending 9 ½ to 10-hour days on the job. They were not provided meal or rest breaks. The Labor Commissioner said this was an attempt to get around overtime obligations through misclassification of employees as independent contractors.

In addition to denying workers their rightful pay, misclassification also gives employers an unfair advantage over competing, law-abiding businesses. According to California law, employers who provide their workers with less than minimum wage will be held responsible for paying the wages owed plus an equivalent amount in liquidated damages and interest when they are caught.

During the course of the investigation, auditors from the state went through 40 months of business records before determining that the salon engaged in misclassification and additional forms of wage theft. Citations totaled $670,040 for worker reimbursement and $572,187 in civil penalties.

If you have questions about wage and hour law or if you feel that you have been misclassified on the job, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Contractor Fined $1.9M in Response to Wage Theft Claims

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Fullerton Pacific Interiors Inc., a California drywall contractor, was filed $1.9 million by California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement for failing to allow rest periods for workers (and other wage violations). The violations allegedly occurred on 26 different construction projects in different locations throughout Southern California.

The fine was handed down from California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, a.k.a. the Labor Commissioner’s Office – a part of the California Department of Industrial Relations. The fine was processed because the California drywall company failed to properly compensate almost 500 workers for rest periods as required by state and federal labor law. During the course of investigation, the division also found that almost 300 workers were not paid for overtime hours and almost 30 workers were paid less than minimum wage.

From the summer of 2014 through the summer of 2016, Fullerton Pacific Interiors Inc. was under contract to perform drywall work at a number of recreation centers: hotels, casinos, etc. All were located in three California counties: Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino. The Labor Commissioner noted that many contractors who embrace unscrupulous methods may try to obscure wage theft by providing workers with pay on a flat rate basis rather than an hourly rate. Yet a daily or any other flat rate system of pay does not override minimum wage and overtime requirements as defined by law.

According to the findings of the investigation, Fullerton workers were completing taping and drywall installation at the work sites. They were paid a daily rate that did not consider their overtime hours on the job. They were offered a 30-minute meal period, but no rest breaks throughout the day.

The fine accounts for:

·      $1,892,279 payable to workers (with $798,664 for rest period violations, $386,685 for unpaid overtime, and $692,500 for wage statement violations)

·      $72,400 civil penalty

·      Workers that were not paid minimum age were owed a total of $14,431 unpaid wages, liquidated damages, and waiting time penalties

If you have questions about unpaid overtime or if you are not receiving meal and rest breaks on the job in accordance with state and federal labor law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Another Driver Wage and Hour Lawsuit Coming at GrubHub

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GrubHub is generating headlines again as they face another proposed collective and class action alleging they misclassified delivery drivers as independent contractors in order to get around the legal requirements to pay minimum wage and overtime pay. A pair of workers have filed suit against the company in Illinois federal court. The company, which takes orders for food from customers through a mobile app or online and then has delivery drivers obtain and deliver the items, has dealt with similar accusations in the past.

The two plaintiffs who filed suit, Carmen Wallace and Broderick Bryant, made allegations that the GrubHub Inc. and GrubHub Holdings Inc. violated the Fair Labor Standards Act as well as both Illinois and California labor law when they classify drivers as independent contractors. The plaintiffs claim that the GrubHub delivery service exerts a substantial amount of control over the work performed by their drivers and relies on the completion of their job duties to run the overall business.

According to the complaint, the GrubHub delivery drivers are currently classified as independent contractors but should actually be classified as employees according to standards set down by law as the company directs the drivers’ work in detail, they instruct drivers on where to report for their work shifts, they tell drivers how to dress and where to go to pick up or wait for orders scheduled for delivery.

Virtually identical claims are being made in another Illinois federal court case called Souran v. GrubHub Holdings Inc.

Numerous drivers for the company tried to opt in to the Souran case after the deadline, but GrubHub would not agree to add them so they filed a new case for late-submitted opt-ins. The Souran group was granted conditional certification as a collective action in February 2017, but was stayed by the Seventh Circuit until the U.S. Supreme Court produced a ruling on another case, Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis et al. The high court ruling came down in May ruling employment agreements barring workers from bringing class actions permissible. As GrubHub drivers sign this type of agreement when they start work with the company, the Seventh Circuit sent Souran back to district court for additional proceedings in accordance with the ruling of the high court.

Raef Lawson also has a similar suit pending against GrubHub before the Ninth Circuit. Lawson is urging the appeals court to revive his action. It was dismissed in February after the lower court found he was an independent contractor in spite of his claims that he should be classified as an employee.

The action filed by Wallace and Bryant raises most of the same claims. The plaintiffs note a number of different work conditions that are indicative of employee status: drivers work scheduled shifts, drivers must remain available to accept assignments during shifts, drivers are subject to termination if they don’t listen to the company’s dispatchers who are advising them where to go and when to be there, etc.

If you have concerns regarding misclassification in the workplace or if you aren’t being paid overtime you are due, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Wage & Hour Settlement In Case of Nurses Classified as Exempt

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A settlement was proposed to settle a wage and hour class action lawsuit alleging that nurses and other medical personnel were misclassified as exempt by Health Resource Solutions Inc. The plaintiff group included both registered nurses and clinicians. The proposed settlement was for $738,000 to close out the overtime class action lawsuit.

The case was founded on the allegations that 79 workers were wrongfully classified as exempt from overtime. Both parties involved in the case agreed on the settlement amount. The plaintiffs noted that estimate distribution amounts to claimants should represent close to 90% of maximum individual claims for overtime wages (exclusive of liquidated/other damages under FLSA and IMWL). April 19th was set as the final approval hearing for the settlement.

The company, Health Resource Solutions, will retain $162,000 of the original proposed settlement amount of $900,000. The amount of the proposed settlement was reduced after a smaller number of plaintiffs became claimants (only 79 of the expected 175 that was originally estimated). The unclaimed settlement funds totaling $162,126.77 will be kept by Health Resource Solutions.

Plaintiffs’ counsel requested that the judge approve legal fees to be taken out of the settlement fund totaling $300,000. The fee was 1/3 of the original settlement amount but will be 41% of the final settlement fund if the request is approved. Attorneys argued that their actions resolved the case prior to incurring the expense of lengthy class action litigation, trial costs, and likely appeals to the court’s decisions.

Monique B. originally filed the complaint in 2016 alleging that the company, HRS or Health Resource Solutions, wrongfully classified their employees – leaving them exempt from overtime they legally deserved. This was done in violation of both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law (IMWL). In order for an employee to be legally classified as exempt they must meet very specific requirements.

If you have questions about overtime violations or other violations of California labor law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.