Is Starbucks Misgendering Trans Woman a Violation of Labor Law?

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Starbucks recently claimed that misgendering or calling an employee by the wrong pronoun is not harassment, which is in direct contradiction to their employee guidelines. A former Starbucks employee, Maddie Wade, filed a complaint at the Fresno Superior Court in California suing the company for harassment and discrimination.

Wade, a former barista at a Starbucks in Fresno, alleges that when she began her transition, her manager at the time reduced her work hours and refused to call her by preferred pronouns. She also claims that her former Starbucks manager began posting transphobic material online through social media outlets. Wade claims that she was bullied and targeted by her manager at the Fresno Starbucks daily after she came out as transgender.

Allegedly, the mistreatment by her boss, Dustin Guthrie, escalated to unbearable levels and Wage had to transfer to a different Starbucks location. The harassment continued at the next Starbucks location. Wade claims her manager at the new site encouraged her to take the matter to the District Manager, and she did, but the situation was not resolved. After nine years of employment, Wade eventually left her position at Starbucks at the advice of her therapist due to the mental stress and “intolerable conditions” she was forced to endure.

Wade seeks general damages, special damages, punitive damages, and attorneys fees from her former employer. She states that the loss of health insurance prevented her from receiving the treatment and procedures she needs to complete her transition. Wade also claims that Starbuck’s value marketing group for its LGBTQ employees on the Facebook page, Starbucks Partners – Pride Alliance Network, refuses to allow her to post on its wall.

It is ironic that as we enter Pride Month, Starbucks seems to be making moves counter to its public record highlighting LGBTQ acceptance. The company is reasonably well known for its LGBTQ acceptance: scoring 100 out of 100 on Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 Corporate Equality Index, releasing annual LGBTQ-focused products, rolling out trans-inclusive health care included in their benefits package, etc. Attorneys representing the massive coffee provider are filing a motion for summary judgment and arguing that there is not enough evidence to show that Guthrie was calling Wade by incorrect pronouns on purpose. Without proof of intent, the Defendant contends that the behavior in itself cannot constitute discrimination under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

If you have questions about filing a discrimination lawsuit or if you experienced discrimination in the workplace, the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP can help. Get in touch with employment law office nearest you: San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange or Chicago.

Jury Awards $11M in California Sexual Harassment Case

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The $11 million verdict awarded by a California jury is just the second sizeable verdict against an employer to stem from a sexual harassment lawsuit this year. Billionaire Beverly Hills producer of holograms and celebrities, Alki David, faced sexual harassment allegations filed by his former employee, Chastity Jones.

In the complaint, Jones claimed that David touched her inappropriately, hired a stripper to put on a show at work, and insisted that she watch pornographic videos with him. Jones testified in court that because she refused to have sex with David, she was fired.

The first sexual harassment case of 2019 to receive a significant jury award on behalf of the plaintiff was also handed down from a Los Angeles jury. In January, two employees were awarded over $11 million after alleging they were sexually harassed and then retaliated against because they complained about the sexual harassment. The plaintiffs in this case, Megan Meadowcroft and Amber Brown, were former employees of Keyways Vineyard and Winery in Temecula, California. The two alleged that Carlos Pineiro, the company’s general manager, harassed them on the job.

During the Jones trial, the plaintiff’s attorney stated during opening statements that David ran his hands up Jones’ legs and ordered her to watch porn with him. Jones later testified that ea David hired a male stripper to come to the workplace and perform in celebration of an executive’s birthday. Jones stated that the stripper’s performance was offensive and qualified as another instance of sexual harassment.

While the jury agreed with Jones, David responded to the ruling by announcing that he intends to appeal.

If you need more information about what to do when you are sexually harassed in the workplace or if you need to file a workplace harassment or retaliation lawsuit, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Dodger Team Sued for Alleged Sexual Harassment

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The longtime Dodger usher, Vickie Gutierrez, is suing the team and her boss for alleged sexual harassment and backlash for reporting the behavior. The 72-year old claims that the situation has negatively affected her health.

Gutierrez filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court naming defendants Los Angeles Dodgers LLC, Los Angeles Dodgers Holding Co. LLC and Shahram Ariane and seeking unspecified damages. According to Gutierrez's claims, Ariane was the 'Dodger's executive in charge of security for the stadium and Dodger management.

Violations Cited in the Complaint Include:

•       Retaliation: one of the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination as well as one of the most common discrimination findings.

•       Sexual Battery: Unwanted contact with an intimate part of the body for sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse.

•       Sexual Harassment: Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

•       Sexual Discrimination: Sex or gender discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because of their sex.

•       Hostile Work Environment: When discriminatory behavior in the workplace creates an environment that makes it difficult or uncomfortable for another person to complete their job duties.

•       Failure to Take Appropriate Preventive or Corrective Action: When a company or superior fails to make improvements to an 'organization's processes after a complaint is made to eliminate the cause of inappropriate behavior or undesirable situations.

•       Violation of State Business and Professional Code: The business and professional codes regulate business operation in California.

If you have been the victim of discrimination or harassment in the workplace, please 'don't hesitate. Get in touch with the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP today so we can help you protect your rights on the job.

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.

Harassment and Discrimination Lawsuit Filed Against America’s Funniest Home Videos Producers

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America’s Funniest Home Videos’ production company is currently facing a lawsuit including a wide range of allegations including gender violence, racial discrimination, wrongful termination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and more. The class action was filed on March 19th in Los Angeles Superior Court by three anonymous women cited only as Jane Roes 1, 2, and 3. The class action was filed on behalf of “all other aggrieved employees” naming Vin Di Bona Entertainment, Fish Bowl Worldwide Media, and individual employees as Defendants.

The lawsuit alleges that the company did not take appropriate action in response to the behavior of Philip Shafran, Roe 1’s supervisor. Roe 1, a black female employee employed at the time as a senior manager in the company’s digital unit, alleges systemic racial bias and ostracism by white supervisors running meetings. Another supervisor at the company allegedly called out Roe 1 from the podium during an industry fundraiser referring to her as a “crack whore” and encouraging her to stop “doing blow” in the bathroom.

Allegations of sexual harassment were also made in the lawsuit. Shafran allegedly sexually harassed Roe 2 while she played a virtual reality game in his office by taking unauthorized photos of her, including photos up her skirt. Investigations into the matter were inadequate and other supervisors at the company were heard to say that Roe 2 just needed to get over it. Months later, Roe 2 filed a police report regarding the situation and Roe 3 told another supervisor she struggled to work alongside Shafran due to what he had done to Roe 2. According the suit, Roe 3 was called into a meeting shortly thereafter in which she was advised it was not nice to spread rumors and they didn’t see a solution to the problem as she was going to be in meetings and Shafran was going to be in meetings.

Roes 2 and 3 advised VDB that they felt unsafe in the workplace. They also told the company that they had no choice but to resign under the circumstances. Both were advised that one supervisor did not want them coming back to the office. They went home early on October 2, 2018 and were told to return before work hours the next day to collect their things. They were also advised not to speak to anyone. The two were terminated on October 3, 2018.

Once the Roes obtained legal counsel and filed a lawsuit, Shafran was placed on administrative leave while the company conducts an “investigation” into the situation. The suit seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages as well as new policies at the company regarding investigation of sexual misconduct and/or assault of employees, immediate cessation of retaliation against employees reporting inappropriate and/or unlawful actions in the workplace, and appropriate action taken against the main perpetrator, Shafran.

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

Former Executive Claims Van Nuys Clothing Co. President Forced Into Sexual Relationship

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Identified as Jane Doe in an attempt at privacy, a former executive of Van Nuys clothing company has filed suit alleging that she was fired after she complained that the company founder’s married son coerced her into a sexual relationship. The lawsuit was filed in Low Angeles Superior Court and cites Jerry Leigh of California Inc. (JLC) and Andrew Leigh as Defendants. Andrew Leigh is described as the current president of the firm in the lawsuit. The firm was founded in 1962 by his father, Jerry Leigh.

The plaintiff in the case described her experience at the company in frank terms. She claims that she felt like Mr. Leigh’s personal sex slave and that she had to comply with his demands, at any time, whenever he wanted to have sex. She claims he even arranged for her to say in a “sex pad.” Allegations included in the suit are: wrongful termination, gender violence, sexual harassment, sexual battery, retaliation and failure to provide a harassment-free workplace. The plaintiff seeks unspecified damages.

The Defendant, JLC, has a number of licensing agreements with high profile companies, including: Sanrio Co. Ltd., Disney, Warner Bros., etc. They also own 100% of the David Lerner New York brand.

The plaintiff was hired by JLC with primary job duties to work with Lerner and report to Andrew Leigh. In June 2012, she was promoted to Vice President of Design of the Lerner fashion line. During her first two years with the company, Andrew Leigh flirted with Doe, who was also married. Initially, the plaintiff brushed off Leigh’s flirtatious advances because she had worked extremely hard to obtain the highly competitive spot as brand director and didn’t want to cause any trouble at the company.

In August 2013, Andrew Leigh and Doe were on a business trip to Las Vegas. During this trip, the situation escalated when Leigh’s flirtatious advances evolved to inappropriate touching. The inappropriate touching occurred after the Doe agreed to dance with Leigh. Doe, the plaintiff, states that she was shocked and alarmed when this occurred and that she told him to stop.

For the few months following the Vegas incident, Andrew Leigh pursued Doe continuously. During this same time period, Andrew Leigh developed a dispute with Lerner and Lerner was fired.

In October 2013, Andrew Leigh invited himself into Doe’s hotel room during a business trip to Portland. He then opened a bottle of wine and forced himself on the plaintiff. Later, Andrew Leigh leased a company-subsidized apartment in Century City where he kept alcohol and expected Doe, who was experiencing trouble in her own marriage, to have sexual relations with him so he didn’t need to worry about his wife finding out about his activities.

In October, Doe sent a text to Andrew Leigh requesting a leave of absence so she could deal with her stress, nothing that the sexual relationship with him was causing her “severe distress, both at work and in her personal life.” Andrew Leigh found the message irritating and did not apologize, try to accommodate Doe’s request or make amends in any way. October 23rd, Doe submitted a note from a doctor that justified her request for medical leave, but she received a termination letter and a final check from JLC the next day. The plaintiff alleges that she was terminated from her position in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment and in retaliation for requesting medical leave.

If you are dealing with sexual harassment at work or if you have been wrongfully terminated due to sexual harassment claims or other employee protected legal actions, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Former Planet Fitness Manager Makes Allegations of Harassment and Rape

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A former manager of a Planet Fitness sued the well-known gym claiming that the company supported a male-dominated, and “debaucherous” workplace. Among her complaints are allegations of sexual harassment and rape. Senior management for the Planet Fitness location headquarters organized drinking activities for the employees. For example, “Fireball Friday.”

Fireball Friday games had employees competing to drink the most shots in the least amount of time at work. One manager also brought vodka-based gummy worms to work. Casey Willard joined the company in 2015. When she was new on the job, she followed her managers’ direction and doing so sometimes left her at work and drunk by 11:00 in the morning.

Willard filed suit against Planet Fitness in September. Amid a number of employment law violations, Willard also alleges that she was drugged and raped by a company manager and his friends during a September 2017 business trip to California. According to the lawsuit, she reported the rape to the local police and to Planet Fitness. It is not clear what became of the police report or what action was taken by law enforcement. Willard discussed the problem with two Planet Fitness attorneys and clearly stated that she didn’t want others at the company to know what happened to her, but later discovered that other managers knew of the situation.

Willard also claimed in the lawsuit that one of her managers initiated a sexual relationship with her; which was in violation of the company’s anti-fraternization policy. She was concerned that she might lose her job due to the situation. She eventually let the company know (earlier this year) that she couldn’t return to work.

Willard described the work environment at the Planet Fitness corporate offices as “debaucherous.” Senior management was mostly male and most of them made “openly sexual comments, sexual innuendo, and engaged in pretend sexual contact toward female employees.” In response to Willard’s claims, Planet Fitness states that they investigated Willard’s claims and fired an employee for violation of Planet Fitness policy. The company stated that they also discovered that Willard engaged in a consensual relationship with a supervisor that she didn’t bring to the company’s attention. That supervisor was also fired. The company disputes Willard’s other allegations and claims they are baseless.

Willard seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages arising from sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, discrimination and wrongful termination.

If you are fighting sexual harassment in the workplace or if you need to discuss what to do when your employer supports a hostile work environment, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.