“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.

Former MedMen CFO Files Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

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In the last month, three senior executives have left Culver City-based MedMen Enterprises Inc. Since January, the retail cannabis company has experienced the departure of close to 100 employees. Most recently, as announced in an April 19th, 2019 press release, MedMen General Counsel LD Sergi Trager and Chief Operating Officer Ben Cook resigned. MedMen Senior Vice President in charge of corporate communications, Daniel Yi, also left the company.

The departures of execs and employees followed a wrongful termination suit filed against the company in January by the former MedMen Chief Financial Officer James Parker. Parker claimed that he was stripped of his powers and left unable to fulfill his job duties in the workplace. Parker's wrongful termination lawsuit is currently pending in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

What is Wrongful Termination? Sometimes referred to wrongful dismissal or wrongful discharge, wrongful termination occurs when an employer terminates an employee's contract of employment in a way that breaches one or more terms of the contract of employment or a statute or provision or rule in employment law.

Bierman responded in February through a company blog post insisting that the claims made by Parker were malicious and an attention-getter and concluding that the lawsuit was without merit. He emphasizes the accusations made in the wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Parker went directly against the company's core values and that the workforce is one of the most diverse in any industry. MedMen has operations in numerous states, including California, Nevada, New York, Arizona, and Illinois. Third-quarter revenues projections were at $36.6 million for the period that ended March 30th. Final results are expected to be published by the company May 29th.

If you have questions about wrongful termination or if you have been a victim of wrongful termination, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP as soon as possible.

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.

Former Freelancer Loses Lawsuit Against LA Times

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In recent news, the LA Times took home a win after the California Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a former freelancer’s defamation and employment lawsuit. The former freelancer, Frederick Theodore Rall III, was a political cartoonist and blogger for the well-known media conglomerate. In his lawsuit, he brought claims of defamation, wrongful termination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, retaliation, and other employment law violations, against the paper – all stemming from the LA Times’ decision to disassociate itself with Rall and publish a note to readers that questioned the accuracy of a blog post Rall posted describing an interaction he had with police. Rall claims that he was handcuffed, thrown against a wall, and in the process his ID was thrown into the gutter.

After an investigation, the LA Times concluded that there were serious questions regarding the accuracy of the recounting of events and allegations made against the police in the recounting. They noted factual inconsistencies and stated that the paper would no longer be publishing the writer’s content. After reader responses, the paper published an additional item that offered a more detailed analysis of the event with their investigation findings including the LAPD records of the event, etc.

The LA Times filed an anti SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion to strike the complaint in response to Rall’s lawsuit. The motion was granted by the trial court. The dismissal was confirmed by the California Court of Appeal – holding that the LA Times sufficiently established that the report offered to readers and the decision by the paper to stop publishing work by Rall were protected activities under the First Amendment and the “fair report privilege.”

If you have been wrongfully terminated or if you need to discuss your rights in the workplace and how to seek justice when you have been discriminated against on the job, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Former Assistant Sues Mariah Carey for Wrongful Termination & Harassment

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Mariah Carey’s former assistant, Lianna Shakhnazaryan, responded to the pop star’s lawsuit by filing a suit of her own alleging wrongful termination, sexual harassment and battery. News of Carey’s $3 million lawsuit against her former executive assistant citing the violation of a non-disclosure agreement.

Shakhnazaryan’s lawsuit in response to Carey’s also included Carey’s former manager, Stella Bulochnikov, and listed a number of allegations.

Allegations Included in the Lawsuit Carey’s Former Executive Assistant Filed:  

·      Wrongful Termination

·      Retaliation

·      Failure to Prevent Discrimination & Harassment

·      Breach of Covenant of Good Faith & Fair Dealing

·      Racial Discrimination

·      Sexual Harassment

·      Failure to Pay Earned Wages Upon Termination

·      Breach of Oral Contract

·      Rescission of Contract

·      Violation of the Bane Act

·      Violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act

·      Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

·      Battery

Shakhnazaryan claims in the lawsuit that she started work as an executive assistant for Mariah Carey in September 2015. The oral agreement for her employment was for $328,500 in annual wages. Shakhnazaryan claims that she was required to meet constant demands and that demands based on excessive expectations and frequently came with an extreme shortage of time with very tight due dates. She claims she also served as the personal assistant to Bulochnikov and was an overall coordinator managing relations between the pop singer star and her manager.

In the course of her employment Shakhnazaryan claims she was subjected to outrageous and abusive conduct by Carey’s manager including racially charged insults. Shakhnazaryan claims she was also subjected to physical abuse including: slapping of her butt and breasts, and being tackled to the ground and urinated on by Bulochnikov in the presence of others (on multiple occasions). Shakhnazaryan claims Mariah Carey had knowledge of the inappropriate conduct and that much of the inappropriate behavior was in Carey’s presence or with her knowledge/permission. Carey, and others in her employ, were aware of the behavior and even witnessed the behavior and did nothing to stop it. When Shakhnazaryan reported the alleged behavior to Carey she claims she was immediately terminated in response to the complaint. In her suit, Shakhnazaryan claims she suffered severe emotional distress, anxiety, humiliation and embarrassment and that she continues to suffer all of the above due to the alleged actions that took place during her employment. Battery charges are based on claims that Shakhnazaryan was allegedly subjected to aggressive, abusive and harmful physical conduct by Carey during the time she spent living at Carey’s home from November 2015 through the middle of 2017 as a part of her employment agreement.

Shakhnazaryan is demanding a trial by jury and seeks compensatory damages including lost wages, past and future earnings and unpaid overtime as well as money for physical injury, mental pain and anguish and extreme emotional distress, general damages, attorney’s fees, the costs associated with the lawsuit, and punitive damages.  

If you are the victim of wrongful termination or you are being subjected to harassment in the workplace, please get in touch with the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Torrance Catholic School Wrongful Termination Following Theft Scandal

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St. James Catholic School in Torrance was already facing a nun theft scandal. Now that the appeals court has overturned the lower court’s decision ruling that Biel, a former teacher at the California Catholic school, is a “minister” and barred from suing the church-operated school, they may be facing wrongful termination and discrimination claims as well.

History of Employment for Biel at St. James Catholic School in Torrance:

March 2013 – hired as a long-term substitute teacher

May 2013 – hired as the school’s full-time fifth-grade teacher

April 2014 – Biel was diagnosed with breast cancer

April 2014 – Biel advised Kreuper she would start treatments in May. Just a few weeks later, Kreuper advised Biel her contract would not be renewed. The reason stated was that it would not be fair to ask students to accommodate her needed leave by having two teachers in one year. Kreuper also stated that Biel did not run a strict classroom.

2015 – Biel filed a federal suit alleging discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

January 2017 – Biel was barred from suing the school under the ADA when a lower court’s ruling decided she was legally a “minister” and thus fell under the “ministerial exemption” that bars a minster from filing civil rights claims against their religious organization. This decision was based on the fact that Biel’s teaching duties included sharing Catholic doctrine, including a 30-minute religion class four days a week.

Dec. 17, 2018 – the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, saying Biel could not be a minister as she had no Catholic pedagogy training upon her hire and the school did not have any religious requirements for her job. Additionally, they noted that her title was teacher, not minister. The archdiocese intends to contest the ruling.

It’s important to note when considering Biel’s history of employment at St. James Catholic School in Torrance that there is only one formal evaluation on record for Biel and it was positive. The evaluation was completed by Kreuper, the principal, in which she praised Biel’s “very good” work and noted that she promoted a safe and caring learning environment. Areas for improvement that were listed in the formal evaluation were: two students were coloring in their books, and some students had cluttered desks.  

Biel claims she was terminated because of her cancer diagnosis and necessary treatment; because the school didn’t want to accommodate her finite leave of absence.  

The fact that the principal, Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper, was the one making employment decisions on behalf of the school and is currently implicated in the theft scandal rocking the school for activities that occurred during the same time period may throw additional doubt on her testimony regarding the case.

If you have been wrongfully terminated from a job or if you are being discriminated against due to a disability, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP today.