Caltech Whistleblower Case Jury Trial Currently Underway

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Farshid Roumi, a Caltech scholar, was allegedly fired for whistleblowing. Roumi worked in Pasadena-based Caltech’s engineering and applied science division. In 2017, Roumi filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging retaliation and wrongful termination.

Roumi claims that he was fired after he exposed misappropriation of funds from the Department of Energy. Superior Court Judge Monica Bachner is presiding in the downtown Los Angeles Stanley Mosk Courthouse courtroom.

Roumi finished his doctoral dissertation at Caltech in 2010, “Shape Changing Transformations: Interactions with Plasticity and Electrochemical Processes.” He currently works as the Chief Executive Officer of his own company, Parthian Energy.

The whistleblower retaliation lawsuit Roumi filed is not the first that Caltech will face. In 2014, a Caltech professor, Sandra Troian, filed a complaint alleging retaliation after she provided the F.B.I. with information about a researcher who released restricted data to Israel and then made it public. Troian alleged that retaliation followed in the form of false accusations of research misconduct, prevention of her participation in campus events, and being denied over $1 million in grant funding.

Caltech’s official policy clearly prohibits retaliation. To quote policy, Caltech  “prohibits retaliation against an individual who makes a good faith disclosure of suspected wrongful conduct.” The Institute also maintains whistleblower hotlines online or by phone.

If you need to discuss labor law violations or if you are experiencing retaliation in the workplace, take action to get the resolution you deserve. Get in touch with the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw L.L.P. With conveniently located employment law offices in San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, and Chicago; we are here when you need help.

Former Freelancer Loses Lawsuit Against LA Times

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In recent news, the LA Times took home a win after the California Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a former freelancer’s defamation and employment lawsuit. The former freelancer, Frederick Theodore Rall III, was a political cartoonist and blogger for the well-known media conglomerate. In his lawsuit, he brought claims of defamation, wrongful termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, retaliation, and other employment law violations, against the paper – all stemming from the LA Times’ decision to disassociate itself with Rall and publish a note to readers that questioned the accuracy of a blog post Rall posted describing an interaction he had with police. Rall claims that he was handcuffed, thrown against a wall, and in the process his ID was thrown into the gutter.

After an investigation, the LA Times concluded that there were serious questions regarding the accuracy of the recounting of events and allegations made against the police in the recounting. They noted factual inconsistencies and stated that the paper would no longer be publishing the writer’s content. After reader responses, the paper published an additional item that offered a more detailed analysis of the event with their investigation findings including the LAPD records of the event, etc.

The LA Times filed an anti SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion to strike the complaint in response to Rall’s lawsuit. The motion was granted by the trial court. The dismissal was confirmed by the California Court of Appeal – holding that the LA Times sufficiently established that the report offered to readers and the decision by the paper to stop publishing work by Rall were protected activities under the First Amendment and the “fair report privilege.”

If you have been wrongfully terminated or if you need to discuss your rights in the workplace and how to seek justice when you have been discriminated against on the job, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Some Companies Are Responding to Worker Demands to Limit Arbitration

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In response to the social and political climate, some companies are already starting to limit arbitration on their own. Mounting pressure from employees as well as the general public after the #MeToo movement had several Silicon Valley tech giants altering their policy and no longer requiring workers to take their sexual harassment cases to arbitration. The first to make the change were Uber and Microsoft. Google and Facebook announced plans to follow suit not long after.

While the change is heading in the right direction, some employees are still unhappy with the state of affairs. They say the exclusion for sexual harassment claims is nowhere near enough. For example, Google experience major backlash after a recent article in the New York Times offered details about how the tech giant paid out millions in exit packages for male executives who were accused of sexual harassment, while staying silent about the actual harassment.

Anger over this situation only added to the already mounting frustration at Google over ethical and transparency issues. The tension built up to a walkout on November 1st. Over 20,000 Google employees and contractors walked off the job in protest of Google’s method of dealing with sexual harassment claims. Employees demanded that Google executives end forced arbitration for discrimination claims (including sexual harassment, racial discrimination and gender discrimination), amid other demands. The company agreed to some of the employee’s demands a week later, but only agreed to drop mandatory arbitration for claims of sexual harassment and assault.

Organizers of the walkout were glad that Google responded with some positive change, but were disappointed that they ignored completely the opportunity to address widespread racial and gender discrimination claims.

If you need to discuss discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace, and you aren’t sure where to start, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Wrongful Termination Suit Aimed at NBCUniversal Amidst Sexual Harassment Allegations

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Gina De Marco, a former Los Angeles employee for NBCUniversal, claims she experienced a hostile work environment including sexual harassment from a direct supervisor. She further alleges that the media conglomerate failed to fully investigate the alleged sexual harassment and that it constituted a hostile work environment. 

In an attempt to resolve the situation, De Marco filed a wrongful termination lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that NBCUniversal failed to respond appropriately to her complaints of inappropriate, gender-based, sexual comments that she faced on a regular basis at work. She also alleges that she was forced to endure retaliation after reporting the harassment. 

De Marco filed the lawsuit in California state court in September and NBCUniversal Media is fighting the suit. Last month the case was removed to federal court. As is stated in the suit, De Marco worked for NBCUniversal as a senior digital fulfillment specialist between 2016 and August 2017. Due to “work restrictions” she worked from home. De Marco alleges that her direct supervisor, John Vitulli, began harassing her and creating a hostile work environment beginning in November 2016. Amongst other alleged inappropriate behavior, De Marco claims that Vitulli referred to his genitalia as a “lightsaber” and told De Marco about his own and other male employees’ “masturbation practices.” 

Two other instances noted in the lawsuit of inappropriate behavior on the part of Vitulli included his response to De Marco’s question about an upcoming LBGTQ event with, “I don’t take part in those gay things” and responding to De Marco advising him that another female employee was out of the office due to a domestic abuse related hospital stay with, “She should have learned to keep her mouth shut…she should have limped into the office.” 

After reporting the issues to NBCUniversal’s human resources department, De Marco alleges that no adequate investigation occurred. She was also not assigned a new supervisor. Later in the suit, De Marco states that she experienced mental and/or physical disabilities in June 2017 due to the continued harassment and workplace retaliation that limited both her personal and professional life. De Marco was eventually put on sick leave until she was let go. De Marco claims she was wrongfully terminated due to her complaints about Vitulli, her complaints about he post-complaint harassment/retaliation and her disabilities/need for accommodations and leave. 

NBCUniversal claims the termination of De Marco stemmed from the move of her position from an at-home position to an in-office position, but De Marco claims she was not provided with an opportunity to accept an in-office position if one was available. In court the media giant shows the action as frivolous and are demanding their attorneys’ fees paid. 

If you have concerns regarding wrongful termination or if you have experienced workplace retaliation, please touch base with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Uber’s Travis Kalanick Leaves a Sexist Workplace Culture in his Wake

Many credit Travis Kalanick with “building” Uber, the ride-sharing and delivery service company, after his own image and in his own style. He is often described as bold, brash and unapologetic – a frat-boy whose personality seems stamped all over the massive company that experienced such rapid growth that it expanded into cities over the heated objections of politicians with the help of excessive smear campaigns designed to bully obstacles out of the way. The strategy was an effective one for years. In fact, Uber grew into a $70 billion business before suddenly running into some bumpy roads.

The bumps came in the form of a cascade of sexual harassment allegations and public relations disasters that finally led to Kalanick’s resignation as Uber’s CEO. Kalanick’s resignation comes just a week after Uber announced that he would take an indefinite leave of absence at the recommendation of a report by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who was commissioned to conduct an investigation into Uber’s “toxic” workplace culture.

The temporary dismissal of Uber’s frat-boy founder apparently wasn’t enough to waylay the fears of nervous investors. The New York Times reported that five of Uber’s top investors demanded Kalanick resign. The ultimatum was delivered in a letter titled, “Moving Uber Forward.” In the letter, the five investors demanded a change of leadership and Kalanick agreed. While Kalanick resigned as CEO, he will keep a seat on Uber’s board of directors.

Almost from its very founding, Uber has been putting out fires on a number of issues. They have dealt with accusations of driver mistreatment: hired as independent contractors in order to avoid the costs of health insurance and overtime. They have dealt with political opposition in a number of locations over concerns regarding the largely unregulated model of livery service as well as the potentially negative impact that hundreds or thousands of new cars on city streets could have. They have faced significant fines due to failing to ensure their drivers adhered to anti-discrimination laws. The first massive blow came in 2015 when the state’s Labor Commission ruled in favor of drivers in the argument of misclassification.

Uber’s response to all of the above was to launch counter-offensives. For instance, when facing opposition in New York City, Uber launched a multi-million ad campaign targeting Mayor Bill de Blasio and other opposing politicians. In Seattle, Uber hired a firm liked to the CIA to investigate the city’s union laws when Uber drivers were offered the right to bargain collectively. And in cities everywhere, Uber utilized “greyball” software to evade government regulators and disguise the accurate depth of operations.

Dozens of Uber passengers have filed lawsuits alleging rape, kidnapping, assault, harassment, etc. with the additional claims that the company next to nothing to prevent them from happening. Reports have also circulated of aggressive tactics being considered as retribution against journalists who attempted to expose the more shady side of the company. And the boardroom reeked of problems as well. In a publicly shared blog post, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler outlined several instances of sexual harassment, which were all followed by a complete disregard on the part of executives with which she shared her concerns.

Granted, this is the same company:

  • That signed off on an ad campaign built around the phrase “hot chick” drivers.
  • That hired a senior VP who had been fired from a previous job for sexual harassment.
  • Whose founder and CEO referred to the company as “Boober.”

Earlier this month, Uber fired more than 20 employees as a result of an investigation into hundreds of sexual harassment, discrimination, and workplace retaliation claims. Yet the sexist culture prevails. On the same day the repot about corporate sexism was released to the public, a board member cracked a sexist joke to Arianna Huffington, a fellow board member. The offender quickly resigned, yet it serves as proof of the strength of the “legacy” left behind by the departing Kalanick.

If you have concerns regarding workplace retaliation or if you experience discrimination or harassment on the job, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at California’s Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Tesla, Inc. Faces Racial Discrimination Suit Plus Retaliation Allegations

A 44-year old African American man out of Oakland, California, DeWitt Lambert, claims he experienced harassment and discrimination while he was employed as an assembly line worker in a Tesla factory in Fremont, California. The original suit was based on racial discrimination as well as a long list of claims of California state labor law violations, but more recently, the plaintiff added an additional charge to the allegations: retaliation.

Lambert claims that management at Tesla ignored his complaints while allowing co-workers to taunt him at work with the “N-word” as well as other obvious racial slurs. Lambert also alleges that Tesla put him on administrative leave in March of 2017. This occurred right after the media published news that he filed a lawsuit.

In addition to the original problem, Lambert’s attorney has noted that Tesla is not providing him with sufficient payment for en employee placed on administrative leave. This after they announced publicly that they were placing on such. Lambert’s attorney noted that he is actually only receiving approximately ¼ of the amount he was receiving prior to filing the California lawsuit and being placed on administrative leave by the company. Typically, an employee on administrative leave receives the same pay that they received while on the job. This drastic “pay cut” led to the additional charge of retaliation.

An electrician by trade, Lambert moved to California in 2012 from his previous home in Alabama. When he landed the job at Tesla’s Fremont, California plant in April 2016, it was his dream job. He worked on the Tesla S model. According to court documents, harassing behavior became routine almost immediately. The harassment came from four male colleagues, all in their 20s. The harassing behavior included: filling Lambert’s pockets with nuts and screws, repeatedly using the “N-word,” inappropriate comments about Lambert’s penis, repeated theft of his phone with video messages left behind upon return, threats to his family, and even a physical assault during which one of the men placed a drill gun in Lambert’s buttocks while the other men watched.

A transcript of a recording made in October 2015 of the harassing behavior was included in the state of claim. The recording was made on Lambert’s iPhone and the following was pulled from the recording, “Nigger, we take your ass home, nigger. Shred you up in pieces, nigger. Cut you up, nigger. Send your ass so everyone in your family so everybody can have a piece of you, nigger. Straight up, nigger. We get down like that, nigger.”

Lambert went on record in a press release published in March of 2017 saying that when he started work at Tesla he was the “happiest” he had ever been. This feeling was followed by experiencing discrimination worse than any he had been exposed to while growing up in Alabama. He stated that the behavior he experienced on the job left him scared for his safety when it was time to leave the plant and head home. He requested help from management at the Tesla plant, but none was offered.

If you fear workplace retaliation or if you are experiencing a negative workplace environment, harassment or discrimination in the workplace, please get in touch with an experienced California employment law attorney at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

According to a 2015 Study, Women in Forest Service Face Assault & Retaliation

In a recently released study or “workplace environment assessment” of the Pacific Southwest Region obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, it is reported that women in the Forest Service industry working in California reported enduring sexual misconduct, harassment and fear of retaliation if they voiced complaints. General satisfaction with the workplace was voiced by many employees, but the 2015 survey indicates that there is a clear difference when responses are considered by gender. Women were significantly more likely to identify serious problems.

The grievances covered in the study ranged widely from misdeeds to mismanagement, but they did seem reminiscent of complaints lodged by women in the military and other general federal agencies. Some notable concerns included: inappropriate behavior from supervisors on the job, derogatory or patronizing attitudes towards women on the job, a lack of accountability when issues arise, a lack of respect towards subordinates, etc.

One conclusion noted in the study was that a male-dominated workforce can lead to a number of negative consequences for women in the field.

The report was commissioned by the Forest Service. It was prepared by a consulting firm, ICF International, and provided to McClatchy on May 18th after a December 1st FOIA request. The report falls in line with other, similar investigations conducted by congressional committee as well as the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General. All the sources identified similar “management missteps” and alleged mistreatment of women on the job in the National Park Services. Some view it as an exposure of a systemic problem in the government’s public lands departments and agencies. It was indicated that remote locations where a separate code of conduct for providing discipline is seen as acceptable might have contributed to the problem.

Members of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues hoped to have a hearing later in 2017 regarding the National park Service and Forest Service workforce controversies.

If you have questions about workplace retaliation or if you experience sexual harassment in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.