Years-Long Fight Between Billionaire Siebel and Former Salesman Receives Jury Verdict

Years-Long Fight Between Billionaire Siebel and Former Salesman Receives Jury Verdict.jpg

Tech billionaire Thomas Siebel’s legal battle with a former Massachusetts salesman nears an end with jury’s verdict after four years of litigation. The highly contentious and long legal battle resulted in a jury that found Siebel did not owe Gregg Carman, former salesman, additional pay.

The San Jose jury delivered their verdict against former salesman for C3 loT, Gregg Carman. Carman filed suit claiming that he was shortchanged on commissions. The company was able to convince a majority of the jury that Carman did not have a reasonable expectation of receiving additional commissions totaling several hundred thousand dollars. The claim was defeated under “quantum meruit,” a legal theory presented by Siebel’s legal counsel.

Counterclaims the company made against Carman alleging that he misrepresented the nature of deals with a couple utility companies he closed while on the job and actually owed Siebel’s company around $120,000 were also unanimously rejected by the jury. While the jury did agree that Carman was fired either for complaining about his pay or so the company could avoid paying him additional commissions, they did not agree that he had been wrongfully terminated according to California labor law.

Many companies would have quickly settled this type of claim outside of court or in mediation, but Siebel fought the case vigorously after refusing to pay the compromise amount of $360,000 suggested by Carman. In fact, Siebel has a record of aggressively litigating in his defense. His legal representation stated that it was about the principle for Siebel. He does not settle illegitimate claims for compensation.

Under fiscal year 2014, Carman stood to be provided over $1 million in commissions according to the company’s policy. The deals with the two utility companies were actually closed in FY 2015. Carman was not informed of change to the commission policy for FY 2015 until after the deals closed. The policy change left him with approximately ¼ of what he would have received if the deals closed during the previous fiscal year.

The Defendant convinced the jury that this type of policy change (even their retroactive nature) is standard practice in the industry and that Carman, as an experienced salesman in the industry, should have been understood the situation. Wrongful termination damages are trebled under California law so C3 faced a potential $8 million in damages and attorney fees at trial. The plaintiff and his legal representation did not deny the possibility of an appeal.

If you are struggling to get your employer to fulfill agreed upon payment arrangements or if you have been wrongfully terminated, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Guard Veterans Told to Repay Enlistment Bonuses

Close to a decade ago the Pentagon used a classic maneuver to entice soldiers to reenlist: hefty bonuses. Now, officials are demanding that thousands of those vets pay the money back. One California veteran affected by the situation is Christopher Van Meter. He was awarded the Purple Heart after being thrown from an armored vehicle during a deployment to Iraq. When the moment came for him to retire back in 2007 after serving for 15 years in the Army, he was encouraged to reenlist. According to Van Meter, he was encouraged with a reenlistment bonus of about $15,000. About a decade later, officials realized that Van Mater and many others like him were not technically eligible to receive the bonuses they were given to reenlist.

Bonus Eligibility: In recent news, bonus eligibility has been discussed – particularly the fact that only soldiers holding certain assignments (i.e. intelligence, noncommissioned officer posts, civil affairs, etc.) were eligible for the bonuses. Investigation into the situation uncovered both fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials who were desperately offering the bonuses in order to meet their enlistment target numbers.

In 2011, the California Guard incentive manager, retired Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, pleaded guilty to filing false claims of $15.2 million. During the course of her admission, she stated that from Fall 2007 through Fall 2009, she routinely submitted fictitious claims on behalf of California National Guard members to pay bonuses to members she knew were not eligible, and to pay off officer’s loans she knew were ineligible for loan repayment. She was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Three other officers involved pleaded guilty, were required to pay restitution and put on probation. As a result, thousands of soldiers are now being asked to pay a hefty price for the fraudulent/fictional claims. Millions in enlistment bonuses are basically being recalled.

Van Meter, mentioned above, was shocked to receive a letter stating he owed $46,000: a combination of $15,000 enlistment bonus, a student loan repayment amount and an officer bonus…plus a processing fee. After his retirement in 2013, he had three years to pay back the debt. That meant monthly payments of more than $1,300 –leaving Van Meter struggling to provide the basics for his family. They were eventually forced to refinance their mortgage in order to pay off the staggering debt that they didn’t even know they had accumulated. The Van Meter family is one of many in similar situations. Some claim that approximately 9,700 current and retired soldiers have been told to repay some or all of the bonuses they received years ago, but the military auditor handling the process, Col. Michael Piazzoni, stated that the number was lower.

According to Piazzoni, 11,000 soldiers were included in the audit. 1,100 were discovered as receiving unauthorized distributions that need to be repaid. 5,400 soldiers were discovered to have missing paperwork or proper documentation of eligibility and have to pay back the money they received. Approximately 4,000 soldiers were found to be eligible for the payments as they were distributed. The process is not yet complete, but auditors have already confirmed 2,300 instances of unauthorized bonus payments to about 2,000 soldiers. The total comes to $22 million in unauthorized bonuses. That number includes 1,100 soldiers who received unauthorized money and the soldiers from the 5,400 who were unable to show proof of eligibility. The remaining recipients will need to produce the proper documentation proving their eligibility for the funds or they could be held liable to repay the amounts back to the Defense Department.

The audit and recoupment is being handled through a federal program jointly administered by the National Guard Bureau and the Department of the Army. The California National Guard has stated that it does not have the authority to waive the debts and that their hands are tied in this situation. As of now, there is no law passed by Congress to waive the debts so they stand, leaving the California National Guard in a difficult position as there isn’t much they can do to advocate for their soldiers. Affected soldiers are able to petition to have a debt waived. The military does hole the authority to waive an individual repayment, but only on a one-by-one basis. There is no authority held by the military to issue a blanket waiver to cover all soldiers affected by this situation.

Soldiers are being encouraged to take advantage of the appeals process while the Pentagon, the Army, the National Guard Bureau, the California Army National Guard and other relevant authorities and institutions work together to work towards a resolution. Soldiers affected who have petitioned for debt forgiveness have been denied, Van Mater multiple times. Van Meter is just one California vet who accepted an incentive payment in good faith. Many of them paid a heavy price for their military service; many even experienced severe injuries after reenlisting. And now, years later they are offered processing fees, interest charges, wage garnishment, tax liens and fines. It’s possible that Congress will take action to resolve the issue when members return from election recess.

If you have questions or concerns regarding enlistment bonuses, or proving your eligibility for bonuses please get in touch with one of the experienced southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 vs. Your Boss’s Request to Never Disclose Your Salary

It goes without saying that your boss doesn’t want you to talk about your pay with your co-workers. Why does it go without saying? Because…they’ve probably said it. The majority of American workers from fast food workers to administrative assistants to dental hygienists have been advised by their superiors/employers not to discuss their pay with their co-workers. It’s so commonplace that when employers make the request most workers don’t bat an eyelash or question the validity of their employer’s right to make such a demand.

If you consider this request in terms of employment law, any time an employer requests or demands that you keep your pay rate or salary a secret from your co-workers they are breaking the law. 

According to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA), all workers are provided the right to exhibit “concerted activity for mutual aid or protection” as well as to “organize to negotiate with [employers regarding their] wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.” In six states, the law goes further and actually states that workers retain the right to discuss their payment rate.

Employers insisting that you not discuss your pay rate with co-workers are in violation of the law, regardless of whether the request/demand/threat was made verbally or in writing and regardless of what the consequences are of ignoring the often unspoken rule. Sometimes it results in firing, but sometimes consequences are more subtle, i.e. a cold shoulder from supervisors/management.

Gag rules are currently thriving in the American workplace. According to a recent study by the Women’s Policy Research, approximately 50% of the American workforce (across all industries) is not to discuss their pay with their co-workers (either explicitly prohibited or strongly discouraged). The percentage is higher in the private sector (closer to 61%). Gag rules violate fundamental labor rights and create workplace environments that support discriminatory pay structures. Reforms are necessary.

President Obama did recently sign two executive actions that address transparency and accountability in the workplace. These will assist those who work for federally contracted employers, but others are currently on their own. Another bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, would address the situation for the rest of America’s workers, but it has not yet been passed.

If you have questions regarding the gag rule and wrongful termination, please contact the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik. 

Starbucks Agreed to Pay up to $3M Settlement for Mileage Reimbursement Suit

An agreement is in place for Starbucks to pay up to $3 million to settle the lawsuit based on allegations that the popular coffee house did not reimburse named California employees for mileage related expenses incurred while on the job. Employers who typically incur mileage expenses while on the job include: store managers, assistant managers, and shift supervisors. These employees working at Starbucks stores located in California employed from March 2003 through March 2008 are eligible for payments of $30-75 each.

Attorney’s fees are included in the $3 million settlement as well as an undisclosed amount given to the representative plaintiff as an incentive award and a payment to the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency of $25,000.

In the documentation, Starbucks agreed to class-action status for settlement purposes along – they do not accept liability. Within the settlement paperwork it was agreed that the plaintiff and plaintiff’s attorneys are not to respond to questions from the media. The only exception is to allow them to refer to court documents on file. Jonelle Lewis filed the lawsuit in March 2007. She had worked at Starbucks since December of 2005. She resigned within one month of filing the lawsuit. The lawsuit filed by Lewis claimed that she consistently used her personal vehicle for work purposes (i.e. bank deposits, obtaining supplies, etc.) She also claimed that she attempted to request reimbursement for the mileage, but that Starbucks’ response was not to reimburse as a matter of “policy.”

If you feel you that company “policy” in your workplace is conflicting with your rights as outlined in employment law, get in touch with the experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.