California Court Grants Wells Fargo Loan Officers Class Action in Pay Dispute

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California-based Wells Fargo loan officers recently filed suit alleging that they were improperly compensated (Kang v. Wells Fargo Bank). The lawsuit could now have even greater implications as the plaintiffs have been granted class certification by the California court.

The issue in the case is to determine whether state was violated when Wells Fargo allegedly conducted “clawbacks” of hourly wages, vacation and separation pay from earned sales commissions. Allegedly, Wells Fargo made a practice of compensating its mortgage sales force using advances on their commissions at a basic rate of around $12/hour, then “clawback” the hourly pay from commissions and vacation pay as they were earned.

James C. Kang, plaintiff in the case, claimed that the clawbacks were in violation of a number of state labor laws that related to employee compensation, including: overtime pay, minimum wage requirements, and vacation pay requirements because they left members of the sales force affected by the practice unpaid for tasks they were required to fulfill by the company that were unrelated to direct sales. Kang also alleged in court documents that members of the sales force who were promised vacation pay did not actually receive it due to the clawbacks.

The bank claims that the pay structure used to compensate home mortgage consultants is compliant with California wage and hour laws, including paying for all hours worked and that the compensation structure allows mortgage workers to earn a competitive, performance-based wage.

Since Well Fargo implemented a mandatory arbitration provision for its sales force on December 11, 2015, the judge ordered those hired or rehired after that date to be excluded from class certification. All other nonexempt employees of Wells Fargo as of October 27, 2013 working as home mortgage consultants or private mortgage bankers, junior HMCs or junior PMBs are part of the class. A subclass is included in the class certification for individuals who were terminated from their employment.

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

Tender Heart Home Care Agency Overtime Wage Suit Sees Decision Reversal

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Many have heard the story of the California caregiver who alleged she was not paid overtime. Followers of the story will be interested to know that the case has been remanded back to a lower court by a state appellate court. Judge Mark Simons, on the bench of California’s 1st District Court of Appeals, issued the ruling on January 11th, 2019. His reversal of the Contra Costa County Superior Court’s decision in the Duffey v. Tender Heart Home Care Agency LLC has the story back in the news.

In the ruling, the judge stated that the trial court was in error when they exclusively applied the so-called “common law” test and that there is a dispute of fact as to whether or not Duffey was an employee of Tender Heart Home Care Agency LLC.  

Duffey filed suit against Tender Heart alleging that the health care company was in violation of the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights or DWBR. This California state law requires domestic workers to receive overtime pay if they work more than nine hours in a day or more than 45 hours in a week.

Case documents indicate that the plaintiff signed a form contract with the company, Tender Heart, in 2011 that was titled “Professional Caregiver Agreement.” The agreement stated that Tender Heart is a “caregiver placement agency whose business is to obtain contracts for caregivers in dwellings and to refer by subcontract such contracts to professional independent caregivers.” It also stated that Duffey was an “independent domestic worker…in the business of providing care giving services in dwellings and hereby solicits such contract for services from [the company].”

Once DWBR was put in place in 2014, Duffey did not receive pay for her overtime hours. She filed suit against Tender Heart in December 2015. The lower court, Contra Costa County Superior Court, decided in favor of the health care agency, considering that Duffey was an independent contractor and not an employee of Tender Heart.

If you need help obtaining overtime compensation or if you need to talk to an experienced California employment law attorney about whether or not you are eligible for overtime wages in the workplace, please get in touch with Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP as soon as possible.

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.

Coding School Agrees to $1M Settlement After Alleged Labor Law Violations

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A coding school, General Assembly Space, Inc., recently agreed to pay over a thousand of their current and past instructors $1 million in order to settle allegations that the school misclassified them as independent contractors rather than employees. As a result of the misclassification, the instructors were not paid minimum wage and overtime wages according to their complaint filed in California federal court.

The motion for preliminary settlement approval the plaintiffs’ counsel stated that they planned to request 1/3 of the settlement amount – approximately $333,333 for attorneys’ fees and another $15,000 for expenses in addition to regular fees. Plaintiffs’ counsel felt this amount was fair as it would allow each class member to receive around $28.35 for every qualifying week they completed on the job.

If the settlement deal is approved it would provide resolution for the 10-count complaint that was filed by John Marin, lead plaintiff in the case. The suit was filed in July 2017 against General Assembly Space, Inc., a New York based online school.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Marin, began working for the school as a lead instructor, full-time in June 2016. He taught three consecutive 3-month immersive data science courses in Lost Angeles, California.

According to Marin, he consistently worked 70-80 hour work weeks and was not given the meal and rest breaks required by law. He also claims he was not paid overtime for his hours over the standard 40 hour work week or given accurate/itemized wage statements. After he completed the instruction of the third consecutive course, he was terminated abruptly. The company then replaced Marin with an employee who was classified as exempt from overtime. Marin was denied unemployment benefits by the company, but California’s Employment Development Department later reversed this denial.

The original complaint asserted claims under the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) in addition to claims under California state labor law and the state’s Unfair Competition Law. He also made claims under the Private Attorneys General Act (allowing workers to sue in order to recover civil penalties on their own behalf and on behalf of other employees in their situation), and the state of California for labor code violations.

Marin later amended his complaint to add another former instructor, Keyan Bagheri, as a lead plaintiff. The district court cut the claims brought under FLSA and soon after, the two parties entered mediation. The parties notified the court that they had reached a settlement agreement in May.

If you have questions about overtime pay or if you are not receiving your meal or rest breaks in accordance with California state labor law and/or the Fair Labor Standards Act, please get in touch with the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Judge Certifies Class of Kaiser Traveling Nurses

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U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero certified a class of Kaiser Foundation traveling nurses after the caregivers alleged they were shorted on overtime pay, denied required meal breaks and rest periods, etc. The judge granted class certification after the nurses raised valid issues about broad policies that were applicable to all class members.

The judge granted a bid to certify a class of R.N.’s and licensed practical nurses who were all employed by AMN Healthcare Inc. The health care staffing contractor staffed Kaiser Foundation hospitals with nurses in California. The suit included numerous allegations of wage and hour violations of California Labor Law.

The judge concluded that the plaintiffs met the requirements for both commonality and predominance prior to granting class certification. Judge Spero said the nurses’ theories that the defendants in the case discouraged overtime and didn’t adequately prevent underreporting raised a number of common issues that were susceptible to common proof.

In reaching this conclusion, Judge Spero rejected a number of arguments presented by Kaiser, the defendant in the case, who was arguing against class certification: evidence of minor variations in how the company policies were implemented in various facilities and that potentially removed the commonality of issues regarding the nurses’ overtime payment.

When there is evidence of a common business policy that is applicable to all members of a class with concerns to the payment of overtime, and all the class members can be said to share the same core duties that tend to routinely lead to unscheduled overtime, the judge argued that some class members who did not find themselves working unscheduled overtime or who were provided adequate compensation for the overtime hours was not sufficient to defeat predominance. Based on this logic, the court found that the common issues predominate over individualized inquiries in consideration of the overtime claims being presented by the plaintiffs.

The Kaiser nurses’ suit was removed to federal court in early 2016. The original lawsuit alleged that the Defendant suppressed overtime by advising their traveling nurses that it wasn’t permitted and that they further discouraged overtime by keeping an over-difficult overtime approval process in place. The plaintiffs also alleged that they were not provided with the required meal breaks and rest periods. This was accomplished through a number of different policies the company implemented.

In addition to AMN Healthcare, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Southern California Permanente Medical Group Inc. and the Permanente Medical Group Inc. were also named as defendants. All are Kaiser entities.

If you have questions regarding proper meal breaks and rest periods or if you need to find out what the legal requirements are for overtime pay, 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.

$9.2M Settlement Could Resolve Driver Wage Claims

A number of trucking companies including Roadrunner Intermodal Services LLC agreed to pay $9.2 million in order to end claims made in California federal court by a putative class of truck drivers. The 796 California drivers in the class claim that they were misclassified as independent contractors. Defendants in the case are: Roadrunner, Central Cal Transportation LLC and Morgan Southern Inc. Drivers in the class worked for the various transportation companies as independent contractors from February 2011 to the time of the proposed settlement. Class members would receive $7,255 on average if the proposed settlement is approved.

Drivers allege that the trucking companies should not have classified them as independent contractors. They allegedly should have been classified as employees and therefore should have been provided with overtime wages, benefit from minimum wage requirements, separation wages, business expenses, meal and rest breaks, and accurate wage statements. Allegedly, the companies failed to fulfill these requirements in violation of a number of state and federal labor laws. The trucking companies deny the alleged violations.

Three different groups of drivers sued the Defendants with similar allegations over the course of three years:

·      February 2015, California state court – moved in April 2015 to federal court

·      September 2015 in federal court

·      January 2016

The above three cases were combined in early 2017. The putative class’ counsel estimated the maximum amount of damages faced by the drivers at $77 million. Yet the drivers are aware that there is no guarantee that they would receive anywhere close to this amount if the case were to proceed to certification and trial. Additionally, there is no guarantee that defendants would be capable of paying anywhere close to that estimated maximum considering the companies’ financial situation.

The motion for preliminary approval estimates that the class members participating in the suit would have access to $5.8 million after fees for attorneys, etc. are deducted. As long as the qualifying workweeks remain unchanged at 41,846 the drivers should receive approximately $140 per work week that is eligible.

If you need assistance with wage claims or you fear that you aren’t receiving accurate wage statements or overtime pay as required by law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.