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.

California Youth Prison Worker Threatened Black Co-Worker with Noose

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According to a recent lawsuit, a maintenance worker at a California youth prison outside Los Angeles threatened a black co-worker, Gales, aged 57, with a noose. The maintenance worker who threw a noose over a light fixture at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility in May 2017 kept his job, but Darren Gales, the black co-worker to which the threat was made, was forced to go on leave after experiencing retaliation in connection with the event.

When Gales' co-worker threw the noose over a nearby light fixture and said, "someone or something needs to be hanged today," Gales, the sole black employee in the prison's procurement department, filed a discrimination complaint and let his manager know about the incident. He later overheard the maintenance worker who made the threat in a conversation with another manager in which the manager pledged to support the maintenance worker.

After overhearing this conversation, Gales went on a doctor-ordered medical leave to reduce both anxiety and stress. His physician extended the leave until January 2, 2018, when Gales returned to his job. Upon returning, Gales was told his job duties were revised in his absence – he was limited to desk duty and required to notify his boss every time he left his desk. Gales' benefits were reduced, and he received a disciplinary notice regarding the incident that started it all (well after the 30-day window to issue this type of notice passed).  

Gales was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder related to the alleged discriminatory incident and left his job again on February 7, 2018. He has not been able to return to the job. He seeks compensation for lost wages and benefits as well as damages for emotional pain and suffering.  

If you need to discuss an incident of discrimination in the workplace, please call one of Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP's various locations: San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange or Chicago. We are ready to be your advocate as you seek resolution for labor law violations in the workplace.

Mattel Faces Age Discrimination Lawsuit

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A former Mattel employee sued Mattel for age discrimination. 71-year old Benny Binshtock filed the age discrimination lawsuit against Mattel in Los Angeles Superior Court listing several allegations: wrongful termination, age-based harassment, age-based discrimination, retaliation in the workplace, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, fraud, and concealment. Binshtock claims he was falsely accused of unnecessarily calling women over to his workspace as a justification to fire him, but that the real reason was his age. The age discrimination lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Binshtock firmly believes that his age was a contributing factor in the decision of management to terminate his employment and that the company intentionally sought to bring younger employees into the plaintiff’s position in the workplace. Binshtock’s time with Mattel began with his hiring in 1968. He was initially hired as an apprentice model maker and later received a promotion to supervisor. According to the complaint, the plaintiff’s department full of model makers like himself had not seen new hires in a significant number of years. Binshtock’s lengthy term of employment lent his complaint authority when he noted that the people in his department ranged in age from 40 to 65 years and that Mattel had employed them for many years.

In March 2018, Mattel employees saw the beginning of a round of layoffs. Binshtock claimed it was evident that defendants had clear intentions to terminate older employees. Within a month of the initial layoffs, Binshtock was called in for a meeting with Human Resources. In this meeting, he was advised that they had received a complaint against him of sexual harassment in the workplace. The “complaint” indicated that Binshtock always called female co-workers over to this office for his amusement rather than for work-related necessities. The plaintiff claims the sexual harassment complaint was completely baseless – fabricated to defame him of the reputation he spent years building on the job at Mattel.

In the same meeting with Human Resources, the HR rep changed her accusation against Binshtock from sexual harassment to “making women uncomfortable.” The plaintiff was called into another meeting in May 2018, where HR told him that an investigation had been conducted into the matter and had resulted in the decision to terminate his employment. Within the month, Binshtock, 70 years old at the time, was fired.

If you have been fired and need to discuss filing a wrongful termination lawsuit, please don’t hesitate. Get in touch with an experienced employment law attorney at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP. Our convenient locations in San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, and Chicago make it easy for us to be your advocate and seek the justice and compensation you deserve.

“2 Investigates” Features Wrongful Termination Lawsuit: Plaintiff Wins

In South San Francisco, California KTVU 2 Investigates completed a report on the situation of Ivania Centeno, a 13-year employee of Bon Appetit Café inside Genetech. Centeno alleges wrongful termination due to a family-leave discrepancy. The story helped spark an award for the plaintiff totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Centeno claimed she was released from her position in 2017 because she took time off to care for her mother-in-law who was dying; doing so was allegedly against the company's policy. Centeno attempted to fight for justice in her case for a year before 2 Investigates completed a report and aired it in a February segment that highlighted the situation and the more significant issue at hand: a legal loophole in California that prevents employees from accessing protection provided under current family-leave laws when the case applies to in-laws.

According to California paid leave law the care of in-laws is covered, but under the California Family Rights Act, care of in-laws is not covered. As the two laws contradict each other, and it is not clear which law takes precedent, legislative changes are necessary for any long-term resolution.

In the current case of Centeno and Bon Appetit Café, Centeno claims her mother-in-law because seriously ill and Bon Appetit granted Centeno permission to fly to Nicaragua to provide the needed care. Centeno traveled to Nicaragua and provided her mother-in-law with the necessary care until she passed. After her mother-in-law died, Centeno returned to the states to go back to her job. When she arrived, Bon Appetit fired her, insisting that she missed too many days of work and that caring for her mother-in-law was not a protected activity under the family leave policy.  

Management at the company claims that computer software made the decision to terminate Centeno. The trip to care for her mother-in-law, as well as previous absences due to a work-related injury, were input into the software, which then generated the conclusion to terminate Centeno's employment.  

In April 2019, the case was resolved with Centeno receiving an undisclosed amount of back pay, unemployment benefits, and an award of $211,795 in attorney fees and an additional $25,603 in court costs.

If you have questions about wrongful termination or what constitutes wrongful termination, the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP can help. Get in touch with the Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP location nearest you: San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange or Chicago.

Settlement Reached with Former Port Hueneme Employee Who Filed Harassment Claim

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A former Port Hueneme employee claims she experienced harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Carmen Nichols, a former employee of Port Hueneme, filed a claim alleging both.

In response, Port Hueneme is to pay Carmen Nichols $550,000. While according to the terms of the settlement, Port Hueneme officially admits no wrongdoing, the settlement counts as a win. Nichols resigned from her position in August 2017 after being employed for 22 years. One month after she left, she filed a claim alleging misconduct by Hensley as well as other employees who allowed the Hensley’s harassment and discrimination of Nichols to continue.

In the complaint, Nichols alleged that City Council member Jim Hensley harassed and discriminated against her on numerous occasions beginning around January 2015 and continuing until she was finally forced to quit her job in August 2017. Harassment and discrimination aimed at Nichols were based on gender and race and was, in the words of Nichols, “continuous.” While opposing party claims Nichol has zero evidence of her claims, Nichols listed several instances of harassment and discrimination in her complaint.

Nichols claims that Hensley regularly referenced her looks, insinuated she wasn’t doing her job, opposed a pay raise for her when she was named for a promotion (even when she earned less than men in the same position), referenced her ethnicity (referring to her as a “Latina”), and openly expressed his dislike for Hispanics.

In a separate case citing Port Hueneme as Defendant filed by City Council member Jim Hensley, a judge found the federal lawsuit seeking monetary damages for lost wages and benefits related to his removal from some committees as well as emotional distress without merit. U.S. District Court Judge André Birotte Jr. granted the request for summary judgment. By granting the summary judgment, the judge essentially rules that Hensley’s claims were not strong enough to hold up in court and allow the case to move forward. Judge Birotte reviewed the Plaintiff’s pleadings as well as records of City Council meetings pertaining to the situation and determined there were no “genuine issues of material fact.” Hensley and his counsel feel the judge’s conclusion was inaccurate and plan to appeal.

If you have experienced harassment or discrimination in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Olive Grove Charter School Facing Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

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A former Olive Grove Charter School employee, Dawn Wilson, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit alleging the school’s leader was misappropriating public funds, engaging in a romantic relationship with a contractor at the school, improperly hiring one of her daughters and fraudulently adjusting the grades of another daughter. The lawsuit was filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

Dawn Wilson was allegedly hired in 2016 as a part time human resources/administrative assistant. She was later promoted on two different occasions and appointed as board treasurer. Just a year ago, Wilson was promoted again to work as controller and chief operating officer with earnings set at around $103,000 until she was terminated from her position on July 31, 2018. Wilson’s termination allegedly came after she raised a number of concerns.

As an alternative public school, Olive Grove Charter School offers homeschooling or a hybrid home/classroom schooling program for both elementary and high school age students. The school has a number of locations: Santa Barbara, Buellton, Lompoc, Orcutt/Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo and New Cuyama. The lawsuit alleges California labor code violations, wrongful termination an intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to Wilson, she complained about the school’s unethical and unlawful behavior to the Olive Grove board of directors. She made allegations of conflicts of interest, misuse of public funds and falsifying grades for students. She alleged that Mudge had an affair with the senior vice president of Charter School Management Corporation, Nick Driver, who also happens to hold the largest contract with the charter school. Wilson pointed out that Mudge failed to disclose her relationship with Mr. Driver to the board which is a violation of the OGCS Conflict of Interest Code (pursuant to California Government Code section 87300). As such, Wilson believed that Mudge’s behavior qualified as unlawful activity.

In addition, Wilson brought to the board’s attention that Mudge hired her daughter, Anna Mudge, to teach, but that the open position was not properly advertised and Mudge’s daughter, Anna, did not have the appropriate credentials to fill the position. California Commission on Teacher Credentialing records indicate that Anna Mudge received an emergency substitute teaching credential in November of 2017 and a single subject teaching credential valid until Jan. 1, 2020. A certificate of clearance will expire Oct. 1, 2022. According to the lawsuit, Anna Mudge was hired as a teacher’s assistant for $48,000 per year which equates to an hourly rate of nearly $38 per hour. This is significantly higher than the hourly rate paid to other teacher’s assistants at the school who received $15 per hour.

Wilson also cited violations of California Penal Code section 424 claiming that her daughter’s inflated salary was a misuse of public funds. In fact, according to the lawsuit, the plaintiff complained about Mudge’s misuse of public funds in this way to Mr. Anaya, school board president, on a number of occasions. The plaintiff also complained about spending to Mudge, questioning the purchase of a $10,000 salt water fish tank for a marine biology class the school did not yet offer, a five-star hotel stay in New Orleans during a conference when closer hotels were available at more reasonable rates, and other questionable expenditures. The expenses Wilson questioned were incurred prior to the board authorization. In April 2018, Wilson complained to the president of the board again that the executive director at the school spent close to $44,000 on computers without first obtaining approval from the board even though the budget set for the purchase was $10,000. Wilson also complained that Mudge misused public funds by booking a hotel room in Santa Barbara, which is against policy due to its proximity to the district office and claimed that she did so in order to engage in a romantic rendezvous with Mr. Driver.

In July, the school board president requested Wilson investigate an “unlawful grade change” that was reported by what he referred to as a “disgruntled employee” who claimed that Mudge unilaterally changed the senior year grades of her daughter, Juliette Mudge. Her poor grades were changed to A’s and B’s, a mathematical impossibility considering the previous state of her academic standing. The situation made it clear that the master teacher did not make the grade change. In investigating the issue, Wilson contacted the school registrar to obtain information. Ten days later, Mudge placed Wilson on administrative leave and terminated her employment at the school. Mudge cited violations of school policy and unsatisfactory job performance as the reasons for termination.

The wrongful termination lawsuit seeks lost earnings, compensatory, general and special damages, punitive damages and costs associated with the legal action. According to court records, this is not the first lawsuit to be filed against the school by a former employee. In fact, former employees filed suit against the school in both 2016 and 2017, but both cases were settled before trial commenced.

If you need help filing a wrongful termination lawsuit or if you need to discuss what constitutes a wrongful termination according to the law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Former Personal Chef to Receive Settlement from Sean “Diddy” Combs in Harassment and Wrongful Termination Case

Sean “Diddy” Combs’ former personal chef filed a sexual harassment claim against him in 2017. She also claimed that the music superstar didn’t pay her overtime for working hours in excess of what is legally recognized as full time.

Rueda, Combs’ former personal chef, was employed in April 2015 and worked for the music mogul through May 2016. During her time employed by Combs, Rueda claims she would regularly work from 9am to 1:30am and that she would also frequently accompany him on the road for weeks at a time without receiving anything in addition to her regular $91,000 annual salary. Rueda claims that when she took the position as personal chef, she advised Combs that she couldn’t travel due to the fact that she had small children who needed her to be nearby. 

Rueda claims that Combs was frequently hostile to her – creating an uncomfortable work environment. She described one instance in which he yelled at her for showing up to work late and disturbing him and Gina Huynh, a woman he was romantically linked to. She claims he swore at her and demanded, “Can’t you see I have company?” Rueda then claims she was instructed to bring them breakfast in his private quarters. She did so and when she arrived, she saw them having sex. She made additional claims that Combs’ manager made sexual comments to her.

It was reported that when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen first considered Rueda’s case, she didn’t accept it because of a work contract Rueda signed stating that all employment disputes be handled by arbitration. Rueda’s lawyers argued that the contract was both misleading and heavily favored Combs in the verbiage.

Despite Judge Allen’s initial reaction to the case, Rueda’s lawyers revealed the case was settled on February 19th. They did not provide details. When news of the suit surfaced in 2017, a Combs representative described Rueda as a disgruntled employee, but claimed she was fired for just cause. The reason she was terminated was never released. Rueda also sued Combs for wrongful termination.

If you have been wrongfully terminated from your job or if you are experiencing a hostile work environment, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.