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.

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.

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.

California Exxon Subcontractor On-Call Claim Settled for $2.3M

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In recent news, an electrical subcontractor for ExxonMobil Corp. and Freeport McMoRan Oil & Gas agreed to a settlement to resolve employment law violation claims related to on call workers without pay. The $2.3 million settlement will resolve allegations that workers were due back pay after they were on duty at all hours and were not allowed to leave the offshore oil and gas platforms.

102 workers were involved in the claims based on both the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and California law. The proposed class action lawsuit listed Ardent Companies, Inc. as the Defendant. Allegations were made that the Defendant in the case required their employees to remain on-call at all times: during meal breaks, during rest periods, when they were not scheduled for a shift. The lead plaintiff in the case claimed that while employees were provided meals and lodging as a condition of their employment, the value of those benefits wasn’t included in their “regular rate” of pay when calculating any overtime pay due to workers.

The Defendant, Ardent, argued that the workers were appropriately compensated for their time and that California state wage and hour law requirements were not applicable to the situation because the platforms where the employees fulfilled their job duties were located in federal waters and that employees were able to leave the platform upon request.

The plaintiffs’ case was supported by a pending case scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in April. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s dismissal of the case, Newton v. Parker Drilling Mgmt. Servs, Ltd. They held that state minimum wage and overtime law were applicable to the case rather than FLSA in reference to the oil platform workers involved in the case working on the Outer Continental Shelf. A decision on this case is expected in June.

This is good news for California workers as California employment laws tend to offer more protection to employees than their federal counterparts – and on-call work is no exception to this trend. Under FLSA, employees are generally considered on call if they are required to remain on the job site/the employer’s premises. Employees who are to remain on call at home or who are required to leave a message where they can be reached, are not (in most cases) considered on call according to federal law. Exceptions may occur in situations where there are additional constraints on the employee’s freedom.

California state employment law, on the other hand, entitles employees to pay under a wider scope of circumstances. For instance, California state court recently expanded the requirements with the finding that on-call workers may be entitled to pay even when they are not scheduled to work (see Ward v. Tilly’s, Inc., B280 151 (Cal. App. Ct. Feb. 4, 2019)). In the Tilly’s case, workers who were required to call in hours before their shift to verify if they were scheduled or not, were not paid unless they were actually called in to work. The court agreed with the plaintiffs in the case that employees calling in hours before their shift constituted “reporting for work” and as such, they were entitled to pay under state law even though, ultimately, they were not required to work their shift.

If you have questions about California wage and hour law or if you need to discuss wage and hour or overtime requirements, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

California Court Rules On-Call Tilly’s Workers Should Receive Pay

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Some employers require workers to call in in order to find out if they have to work their shifts. Some employees are required to call in just hours before they may need to start work. This practice triggered California’s requirement that workers be given “reporting time pay.” A split California appeals panel recently brought this up when reviving a proposed wage class action against Tilly’s Inc. In doing so, they potentially opened up many other California retailers to similar (potentially expensive) suits.

The Second Appellate District said Tilly’s on-call policy triggers California State’s Wage Order 7, in which it states that employers must provide workers with pay when they report to work but are not put to work or provided with at least half of their usual/scheduled day’s work. Since workers are “reporting” when they call in, Wage Order 7 means employers must pay them between 2-4 hours worth of wages depending on the length of the scheduled shifts being referenced.

Tilly’s practice of having their workers call in to see if they need to work their shifts just hours before they would need to start work, is exactly the type of policy that reporting time pay was intended to stop. The appellate court decision overturned a lower court ruling that tossed the suit when they concluded that the on-call scheduling alleged in the case against Tilly’s triggers Wage Order 7’s reporting time pay requirements. They noted that on-call shifts are a burden to employees who cannot take other employment, attend school or make plans socially because they may need to work, but simultaneously may not receive payment for the time they have set aside unless they are ultimately called in to work.

Tilly’s argues that workers “report” for work under Wage Order 7 only if they physically show up for the start of a scheduled shift. The appellate court concluded that the requirement should be read to include those required to check in before physically arriving on the job before granting worker Skylar Ward’s appeal.

The appellate court noted that while policies like Tilly’s call-in requirement probably didn’t exist when Wage Order 7 was adopted by the state, the reporting time requirement covers situations other than those specifically considered by the drafters.

If you have questions about what is covered by Wage Order 7 or if you are required to call in to report before a shift, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP so we can help you protect your rights in the workplace.

Ex-Dairy Worker Fights Back After Company Responds to Wage Suit by Trying to Have Him Deported

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Jose Arias, former Northern California dairy worker, recently won a million-dollar settlement against his ex-employer’s attorney. Arias originally filed a lawsuit against the dairy alleging wage theft. According to the plaintiff, Arias, the company’s attorney responded by contacting immigration officials to try to get the ex-dairy worker deported.

The retaliation suit against his former employer, Angelo Dairy of Acampo was already settled when the $1 million settlement was announced in the suit against attorney Anthony Raimondo. The settlement followed a federal court’s decision to reinstate Arias’ case. Representation for the plaintiff see the case as an example showing employers that they can’t game the system by cheating their employees of wages and then responding to complaints with threats to deport them.

The attorney who allegedly made the deportation threat, Raimondo, has 20 years of legal experience representing dairies out of Fresno. He denied retaliating against Arias and claimed that his former insurance company insisted the case be settled. Raimondo insists that he is the only person involved in the case who did not break the law.

Arias, an undocumented immigrant, started work with Angelo Dairy in 1995 as a milker. The dairy was supposed to file documents with federal officials that would verify Arias’ work authorization. Instead the employer used his undocumented status as a weapon to limit Arias’ options and keep him in their employ. In 1997, Arias told a company owner that he had a job offer from another dairy. The owner advised him that he would report the other dairy to immigration authorities if Arias took the offer. Arias stayed in his current position, but sued Angelo Dairy in 2006. He claimed the company’s failure to pay overtime and provide required meal and rest breaks were violations of labor law. In 2011, just prior to going to trial, Arias claims Raimondo, the dairy’s lawyer, contacted immigration agencies to purposefully derail the case.

Arias settled the wage suit and dropped his claims against the dairy farm. He says he did so, in substantial part, to avoid deportation. The court documents state that Raimondo contacted ICE a minimum of five times regarding other employees. He also allegedly confirmed his practice of contacting ICE in a June 2013 email to Legal Services Corp., in which he stated that he had acted in the past to deport workers who were suing his clients. Recent statements from Raimondo describe the events differently, insisting that the idea that he retaliated against Arias is ridiculous.

If you are experiencing retaliation in the workplace or if you need to discuss filing suit against an employer due to employment law violations, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Employee Back Pay Lawsuit Settled by Los Robles Regional Medical Center

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Thousand Oaks, California’s Los Robles Regional Medical Center agreed to pay $2.95 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that they shortchanged their employees’ hourly pay. The settlement agreement addresses litigation due to a 2014 filing by plaintiff, Jeanette Munden, a former nurse at the medical center. Munden alleged her hourly pay was routinely rounded in a way that short-changed her paycheck.

Judge Kevin DeNoce of Ventura County Superior Court approved the settlement against Los Robles, ruling that the center would pay $2.95 million over a lawsuit alleging that it shortchanged hourly pay of employees and prevented them from taking lunch breaks (as well as other labor code violations). The settlement includes 3,000 current and former employees who split close to $1.9 million. The average payout for workers included in the suit will total around $618. The hospital will also be covering attorney fees ($973,500) and state labor code penalties for alleged violations ($10,000).

The company settled on a no-fault basis and does not admit any wrongdoing, although this is not the first time they have faced this type of employment law violation allegation.

Timeline of the Case:

2005: A federal judge approved a $4.75 million settlement for a lawsuit against Low Robles Medical Center claiming over 1,000 employees were owed wages for missed breaks and overtime.

2014: Jeanette Munden, former Los Robles nurse, alleged her hourly pay was regularly rounded to short her paycheck. She claimed Los Robles owed her overtime and that she was also consistently denied lunch breaks and rest periods during her employment at the facility.

2015: Munden resigned from her position at Los Robles to take another job but was not paid compensation she was owed by the company.

2017: Nurses negotiating contracts with the facility in September 2017 claimed that staffing was so limited that they could not take breaks or even, sometimes, go to the bathroom.

As the lead plaintiff in the case, Munden will receive a $15,000 award. Only one of the current and former employees included in the suit objected to the settlement.

If you have questions about how to file an overtime lawsuit or if you need to discuss when employers are required to provide overtime pay, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.