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.

Prestigious Horse Training Facilities’ Owner Ordered to Pay $1.3M in Back Wages

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Thirty migrant workers were awarded close to $1.3 million in back wages after allegations were made against two prestigious horse training facilities in the Bay Area and their owner. Kevin Chambers, owner of the Portola Valley Training Center in Menlo Park and Gilroy Gaits in Hollister under EWC & Associates Inc., faced claims of violating work visa program regulations and California labor law through his failure provide workers with federally mandated minimum wage and overtime wages. In addition, he allegedly housed his workers in substandard living conditions for years.

In this case, the 30 migrant workers who were provided with substandard living conditions were housed in converted horse stables that did not even have running water. The workers were H-2B guest workers that were brought into the country under temporary visas in order to fill non-agricultural jobs. According to court documents, employers are owed back wages for various lengths of time during 2015-2018.

The lawsuit was filed against Chambers in the Northern California District of the U.S. District Court in January and alleged that he did not pay his workers when their wages were due, did not pay them required industry standard wages, and other violation allegations. According to court documents, the case was settled shortly after the suit was filed.

Other issues of interest in the case include Chambers’ failure to keep records of overtime worked, deductions made from workers’ pay, and that he required workers to pay back visa processing fees and the costs of transportation to and from their home countries. On the Portola Valley Training Center in Menlo Park website, the facility is described as a 60-acre facility that is a “home to world class trainers and horses.” The facility includes multiple arenas (both jumping and flat), a 5/8 racetrack, an on-site veterinary clinic and 40 acres of land for off-training day rides.

According to the settlement agreement, Chambers will provide $1.27 million in back wages to the 30 migrant workers, as well as $100,000 in civil penalties. Chambers is also barred from applying for any labor certifications (including the previously accessed H-2B guest worker program) for a period of one year.

If you have questions about how to file a California overtime suit or if you are not being provided with minimum or overtime wages as required by law, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at California’s Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Bosh’s Former Driver Sues for Overtime Pay Violations

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Chris Bosh’s former driver is suing him for violating overtime law. Michael Ray, the former driver, alleges that the NBA star failed to pay him overtime that he was due after moving to Austin, Texas in the summer of 2018.

In a federal lawsuit that Michael Ray filed in Austin, Texas, he claimed he started work as Bosh’s driver when the NBA player and his family were residents of the state of California. According to the lawsuit filed by Ray there were five people employed in the Bosh family home. Two were household managers. Two were employed to maintain the yard and the exterior of the home. And the fifth was Michael Ray himself, employed as Bosh’s driver.

 While the family was living in California, Ray claims that Bosh paid him by the hour and did not usually require any overtime hours. But on the rare occasion that Ray did put in overtime hours at Bosh’s request, he was paid overtime wages for the hours worked. This changed in July 2018 when Chris Bosh moved with his family to Austin, Texas. In the process of the move, Bosh cut back on his staff and placed his driver, Michael Ray, on a fixed salary.

At this point, Ray claims his duties were expanded to include more household duties, including unpacking boxes from the family’s move from California to Texas, putting together new furniture ordered for the new household, taking out the garbage, and supervising contractors and pest control workers while they were working on the Bosh property. According to the suit, Ray was also required to run errands for the family. For instance, he was required to go the pharmacy, the grocery store, pick up food ordered from restaurants, etc. The additional duties increased Ray’s working hours to over 70 hours per week.

Ray claims, despite the drastic increase in hours and obvious overtime, Bosh refused to provide him with any overtime pay. According to Ray, Bosh declined to provide him with overtime pay because Ray was on a salary and Bosh insisted that as that was the case, Bosh could require he work as many hours as necessary. Ray claims that within days of raising the issue of overtime pay, Bosh terminated his employment. Ray, who is now back in California, is seeking unpaid wages, reinstatement of his job and other damages.

If you have been denied overtime pay or if you need to discuss what constitutes an overtime pay violation, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at California’s Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Judge Rejects $7.5M Comcast Settlement Due to Systemic Wage and Hour Violations

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A California judge recently rejected the $7.5M settlement proposed in the Comcast case alleging wage and hour violations under both state and federal law. The rejection was apparently based on the judge’s view that the FLSA violations were systemic and the settlement did not relieve his suspicions that defendant’s practices would continue in the future.

A group of technicians filed the lawsuit against O.C. Communications Inc. (OCC), Comcast Corporation and Comcast Cable Communications Management, LLC. The techs handled installation of cable, television, phone, security and internet services and claimed that the OCC and Comcast employed them as “joint” employers. The plaintiffs in the suit were classified by their employer/s as non-exempt employees. They performed installations on behalf of the Defendant throughout the country, working 5-6 days per week and up to 10 hours per day. According to the plaintiffs, they were paid on a hybrid pay system combining hourly rates with piece rates and based on the different jobs and tasks they performed on the job for customers of Comcast.

Plaintiffs in the case insist they were frequently pressured to under-report the number of hours they worked and to report meal breaks that they never took. Plaintiffs also allege that their time cards were manipulated to reduce their hours, reimbursements requests for necessary expenses were refused, they were actively prevented from taking lawfully required meal and rest breaks, and wage statements issued by the company purposefully concealed the rate of pay for work.

Both parties involved in the case agreed on the $7.5 million settlement and requested approval, but the California judge denied the parties’ request noting the substantial merit of alleged wage and hour violations in the case, and the apparent “systemic” nature of the Defendant’s actions. The judge described the proposed settlement as having been achieved at a discount that was difficult or the court to swallow without assurances that the alleged FLSA violations were unlikely to recur in the future.

If you have questions about wage and hour law or if you have experienced FLSA violations in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

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.

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Mistakenly Releases Opinion Listing Deceased Judge

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The U.S. Supreme Court held recently that the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was in error when they released an opinion that listed a deceased judge as the author while also counting his vote. The deceased judge, Judge Stephen Reinhardt had died 11 years earlier.

In an unsigned opinion the nation’s high court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s April 9, 2018 decision in the case that interpreted the federal Equal Pay Act. In the opinion, it was found that…the opinion of the court, without Judge Reinhardt’s vote (the deceased judge that was mistakenly listed as author) that was attributed to him in err, would have been approved by only 5 of the 10 members of the en banc panel who were alive when the decision was filed. The other five judges did concur in the judgment, but they concurred for varying reasons. The issue to be made clear is that Judge Reinhardt’s vote that was mistakenly included made a difference in the outcome.

The question posed to the Supreme Court was whether or not it was lawful. Since Judge Reinhardt was no longer a judge when the en banc decision was filed for the case, the Ninth Circuit decided that the Ninth Circuit did, indeed, err when counting him a member of the majority. In doing so, they effectively allowed the deceased Judge Stephen Reinhardt to exercise the judicial power of the United States post mortem. Since federal judges are appointed for life – not eternity – the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals clearly erred.

Prior to his death, Judge Reinhardt did actively participate in the case and author the opinion. The majority opinion and concurrences were final and voting was completed prior to Judge Reinhardt’s death on March 29, 2018. The opinion listing the deceased judge in error was publicly released on April 9th. The Supreme Court found that the justification for counting Reinhardt’s vote was not consistent with well-established judicial practice, federal law, and judicial precedent.

The heavily debated opinion came in a discrimination case that was filed in the District Court for the Eastern District of California by a math consultant for the Fresno County Office of Education named Aileen Rizo. Rizo alleged she was paid less than her male counterparts.

If you need help protecting your legal rights in the workplace or have questions about how to file a California discrimination lawsuit, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Strengthened Protections for California Workers have Bay Area Restaurant Workers Collecting Lost Wages

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In response to a recent class action lawsuit alleging wage violations, a popular Bay Area restaurant, Gordo Taqueria, agreed to pay workers $690,000. The case is the latest in a string of similar labor cases that involve well known Bay Area restaurants. The new legal trend is due at least in part to the results of a years-long effort by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office to strengthen protections for workers and improve their ability to collect lost wages.

In January 2019, another Bay Area restaurant, Rangoon Ruby, agreed to pay a settlement to over 300 workers that totaled $4 million in wages plus penalties. In 2018, La Taqueria settled with workers in a similar case for $500,000. Additional recent cases based on similar allegations include cases against: Burma Superstar, Mango Garden, Kome Buffet, and Mission Beach Café.

Jose Martinez, former Gordo dishwasher, worked at the Gordo Taqueria on College Avenue in Berkeley from 2013 to 2015. He brought complaints to the attention of Legal Aid at Work in San Francisco and with their help, he filed a class action lawsuit in December 2016 against the restaurant chain. In the class action lawsuit representing 240 workers, Martinez alleged that workers for the Bay Area restaurant received tips only as a lump sum annually instead of daily or at the end of each pay period as required by California state employment law. He also claimed that workers were not receiving all the overtime pay they were due for hours worked beyond 8 in one day and/or 40 in one work week.

Gordo owners responded to the allegations through their attorney by saying that the restaurant has served the Bay Area since the 1970s, always provided great food and a been a great place of employment. They also stated that they quickly responded to the lawsuit in December of 2016 by engaging in negotiations with the plaintiff’s counsel and instituting early alternative dispute resolution measures to negotiate a deal that the restaurant believes is fair to all parties. They also denied all allegations listed in the complaint.

An Alameda Superior Court Judge approved the settlement agreement in December on a preliminary basis. The settlement agreement would resolve the class action suit. The claims included in the suit filed by Martinez are similar to others filed against many other area restaurants in recent cases: inadequate rest breaks, unpaid overtime, improper distribution of tips, minimum wage violations, and instances of retaliation against workers who speak up for their rights.

If you have concerns that you are not being provided fair overtime pay or if you are not being compensated as required by California state labor law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.