Recent News Labels Litigation Trend “Shakedown” Lawsuits

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In response to a recent uptick in the number of lawsuits – particularly employment law claims against restaurants, the restaurant industry is scrambling to come up with standard advice for owners and managers in the industry. In response to what they are labeling "shakedown" lawsuits, restaurant owners and managers are encouraged to employ precautions and counter strategies to mitigate and avoid lawsuits. Corporations and business owners desperately want to avoid the costs of paying out thousands or even millions in settlements due to class action employment lawsuits.

Common Alleged Violations Cited in Class Action Employment Suits Against Restaurants:

Discrimination Lawsuits: While many businesses have inclusive company policies, diversity standards, clear, supportive LGBTQ policies, etc. this does not guarantee that managers and supervisors will behave in accordance with stated company policy. Many companies with positive, inclusive, and diverse standards supported by written and enforced company policy still face harsh allegations due to other employees, supervisors and managers who are acting against company policy as a representative of the company.

Fair Credit Reporting Act Lawsuits: Employers are required to offer job applicants and employees with notice when information is collected through third party credit reporting agencies including credit reports, background checks, prior history info and ownership asset reports. As the general public becomes more aware of their rights to know prior to having their data accessed, the number of lawsuits citing fair credit reporting violations increases.

Fair Labor Standards Act Lawsuits: Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) lawsuits focus on wage and hour violations with the most common being overtime violations and minimum wage violations. One of the main issues that crop up when employees claim FLSA violations is misclassification. Employers seeking to save money and maximize their workforce sometimes willfully deny their workers benefits and pay they have a legal right to by misclassifying them as exempt or as independent contractors.

If you have been misclassified on the job, please get in touch with Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP. Our employment law attorneys have the resources and experience companies fear in litigation.

Getaround Employs a New Tactic to Defeat Employee Lawsuits

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Gig economy businesses continue to face lawsuits demanding answers regarding whether or not workers should be classified as employees or independent contractors. Many gig economy companies rely on contract work for their business model. These companies have seen the most significant increase in misclassification lawsuits. As the number of misclassification lawsuits increased, so did the number of tactics businesses used to manage the employee lawsuits. These tactics have included PR campaigns, lobbyists, presenting legal arguments that they are not employers – just software programs, and more. The recent lawsuit filed against Getaround Inc. has resulted in a new tactic.

Getaround Inc. assists people hoping to rent their personal vehicles out online. But at the moment they may be best known in certain circles for employing an uncommon legal tactic to a common issue in today’s world. In a preemptive strike against a class action lawsuit, Getaround mailed out dozens of checks to former workers with paperwork attached asking them to sign away their legal right to sue. The interesting part is that a provision included in the documents stated the deposit of the enclosed check counted as an agreement to waive the right to sue – even without signing the included contract. Almost everyone who received the paperwork deposited the check.

The tactic is not unheard of, but it seems to be particularly effective in the gig economy. This may be due, in part, to the fact that industry workers lack financial stability. Attorneys asked to respond to the topic have described it as “insidious” since most former workers can’t afford to seek legal counsel for advice on depositing the check or holding out for a larger payout from an eventual lawsuit. Low wage workers are particularly vulnerable to this type of legal maneuvering.

The legal strategy in Getaround’s case highlights how creative gig companies are willing to be to avoid scrutiny of their worker classification methods. Many gig companies of this nature are not profitable, and reclassifying workers and providing employment benefits would mean even less profitability for the company. Many gig companies throughout California are still in a flat spin following California Supreme Court’s sweeping ruling last year limiting the scope of work they can classify as “contract” labor.

Settling worker claims using the “Pick Up Stix” tactic (as it is often referred to) is unusual in the gig economy, but this may be largely due to the fact that most gig economy companies require workers to sign class-action waivers as part of their arbitration agreements.

Are you misclassified on the job? If you have questions about what it means to be classified as an independent contractor versus an employee, don’t hesitate to 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.

Comcast Contractor Faces Settles Up to Resolve Allegations of Unpaid Overtime and Labor Law Violations

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O.C. Communications Inc., a Comcast Contractor that supplies tech talent, agrees to pay a $7.5 million settlement to resolve an unpaid overtime lawsuit. Court documents include allegations that company employees were not paid overtime, were denied meal breaks in violation of state labor law, and not reimbursed for business expenses (i.e., tools necessary for the job).

The federal overtime class-action lawsuit was filed in San Francisco naming O.C. Communications (a California firm) and Comcast as Defendants. The two Defendants agreed to settle the case after an extensive amount of litigation that included the production of 1.5 million documents related to the case. Both Defendants, while agreeing to pay the settlement amount identified above, continue to deny any wrongdoing.

One of the lead plaintiffs in the class action overtime lawsuit, Desidero Soto of Concord, California, claims that O.C. Communications scheduled him to complete 32 job stops during one workday even though the typical complete workday included a total of eight stops. Supervisors instructed him to work through meal breaks to make it work regardless of what he was required to write on official time sheets. He claims any time taken to eat during the workday was while driving from job to job and even then, he was required to be accessible by cell phone at all times and to respond to work calls at any time.

Another plaintiff in the class action lawsuit, Jacky Charles of Margate, Florida, was a tech for the Defendant from September 2016 through May 2017. He claims that he was required to buy his own wireless drill, drill bits, screwdriver, staple gun, and a variety of cables, and work clothes to fulfill his job duties. Hundreds of other techs presented similar claims to the court.

According to court records, the $7.5 million settlement that O.C. Communications and Comcast agreed to pay plaintiffs on March 1st could have the 4,500 techs splitting the amount (minus legal fees).

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

Overtime Claims Filed By Offshore Oil Rig Workers: Governed by FLSA or California State Law?

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The Supreme Court recently ruled unanimously that state wage and hour laws do not apply to offshore drilling workers when federal law addresses the issue in question. In the recent case, Parker Drilling Management Services v. Newton, No. 18-389, the question the Supreme Court was asked to answer was whether California law governs minimum wage and payment for “standby time” for workers on oil rigs working in federal waters off the California shoreline.

When they held that California’s wage and hour laws do not apply, the Supreme Court rejected the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision. The Supreme Court concluded that under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), California state law is not applicable as surrogate federal law unless federal law presents a significant void or gap concerning the specific issue. The Supreme Court decision is a decided victory for companies currently operating or servicing oil rigs off the California coast in federal waters.

The Allegations Made in the Wage and Hour Case:

Brian Newton, the plaintiff in the case, worked on oil drilling platforms off the coast of California as an employee of Parker Drilling Management Services, Ltd. Newton alleges that he regularly worked 14-day shifts involving 12 hours of “on duty” hours per day and 12 hours of “standby” per day. During the standby hours, Newton claims he could not leave the platform, yet he was not paid for the standby hours.

Newton filed a class action lawsuit in California state court alleging that the company’s standby policies violated California’s wage and hour laws as well as other claims of labor law violations in connection to Parker Drilling’s failure to provide workers with pay for standby hours. After the case was removed to federal district court, parties involved agreed that the oil drilling platforms where Newton performed his job duties were covered under OCSLA.  

If you are dealing with issues of wage theft and you aren’t sure how to seek justice for the wages you have lost, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP can help. Get in touch with the employment law office nearest you: San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange or Chicago.

Wavedivision Holdings, LLC Faces Class Action Lawsuit for Alleged Meal and Rest Break Violations

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Wavedivision Holdings, LLC, a video, internet and phone services company, faces a class action lawsuit alleging that they failed to provide required overtime wages, legally required off-duty meal breaks and mandatory rest periods to their California employees. Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw filed the class action on February 9, 2018.

The class action against Wavedivision Holdings, LLC is currently pending in the San Mateo County Superior Court, Case No. 18CIV00684.

Allegations in the class action include:

·      Failure to lawfully calculate overtime

·      Failure to pay overtime

·      Refusing to allow employees to take off duty meal and rest breaks

·      Refusing to fully relieve employees of job duties for meal periods

Details in the lawsuit indicated that employees were sometimes unable to take off duty meal breaks or rest periods. When they were provided with meal breaks, they were sometimes not fully relieved of their job duties. According to allegations made in the class action lawsuit, Wavedivision Holdings employees were required to work over five hours in a shift with no off-duty meal break; a violation of California labor law.

California labor law requires that all employers offer their employees who are working shifts over five hours in length with an uninterrupted meal break of at least thirty minutes before the employee’s fifth hour of work is completed. California employers are required to provide a second uninterrupted meal break for employees who work ten hours.

According to the lawsuit, class members were paid using a non-discretionary incentive program. Under the program, Wavedivision Holdings offered employees hourly compensation with additional incentive compensation if they were able to successfully meet performance goals put in place by the company. Yet when the company calculated the overtime rate of pay for these same employees, the company allegedly did not include the incentive compensation as part of the “regular rate of pay.” In doing so, the company or Defendant, Wavedivision Holdings LLC, was miscalculating their employees’ overtime pay rate as a matter of policy.

If you have questions about how to file a class action lawsuit or how to qualify as a member of a class action lawsuit, please get in touch with one of the experienced class action and employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Recent Suit Claims Fresenius Left On-Call Time Out of OT Calculations

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When Fresenius Medical Care Holdings Inc. calculated employee pay rates at their Ohio hospitals, they allegedly failed to include a stipend for on-call hours. In doing so, they effectively robbed their employees of overtime they were legally obligated to pay. As a result, Fresenius is now facing a proposed class action that was filed in Boston federal court (Freeman v. Fresenius Medical Care Holdings Inc. et al., case number 1:19-cv-10439).  

Fresenius Medical Care Holdings, a German company with North American headquarters in Massachusetts, is the world’s largest provider of dialysis products and services. David M. Freeman, plaintiff in the suit, was employed as a nurse by the company in 2009. During his time with the hospital, he worked at a number of their various facilities throughout Northern Ohio. As payment for his work, Freeman claims he received flat-rate stipends for time he spent on call on top of his hourly rate of pay. According to the lawsuit, Fresenius company policy does not recognize on-call time as hours worked and Freeman claims that this policy defies the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by excluding the on-call pay from the regular rate for the purposes of overtime calculations.

Freeman believes that the company knew that on-call pay and other, similar forms of payment for employment must be included according to employment law when computing an employee’s regular rate of pay for overtime calculations. Due to the obvious disregard of the illegality of their policy, Freeman alleges that Fresenius acted in reckless disregard for the illegality of their actions when excluding on call pay. The plaintiff argues that the practice of excluding on call pay in this manner runs counter to both longstanding U.S. Department of Labor regulations and case law.

For example, an agency regulation that was issued in the early 1980s states that on-call payment is “clearly paid as compensation for performing a duty involved in the employee’s job.” The regulation goes on to say that as on-call payment is payment for a job duty, it must be included as part of the employee’s regular rate of pay.

The lawsuit brings claims for OT violations under both federal and state law and seeks declatory and injunctive relief. It also establishes a putative class of individuals employed by Fresenius Medical Care North America during the last two years. In addition to naming Fresenius as a Defendant in the suit, Freeman named its subsidiary, Renal Care Group Inc. due to the claim that they issued checks on behalf of Fresenius.

If you have concerns about how your employer calculates your overtime pay or if you are not receiving overtime pay, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP today.

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.