Uber’s Travis Kalanick Leaves a Sexist Workplace Culture in his Wake

Many credit Travis Kalanick with “building” Uber, the ride-sharing and delivery service company, after his own image and in his own style. He is often described as bold, brash and unapologetic – a frat-boy whose personality seems stamped all over the massive company that experienced such rapid growth that it expanded into cities over the heated objections of politicians with the help of excessive smear campaigns designed to bully obstacles out of the way. The strategy was an effective one for years. In fact, Uber grew into a $70 billion business before suddenly running into some bumpy roads.

The bumps came in the form of a cascade of sexual harassment allegations and public relations disasters that finally led to Kalanick’s resignation as Uber’s CEO. Kalanick’s resignation comes just a week after Uber announced that he would take an indefinite leave of absence at the recommendation of a report by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who was commissioned to conduct an investigation into Uber’s “toxic” workplace culture.

The temporary dismissal of Uber’s frat-boy founder apparently wasn’t enough to waylay the fears of nervous investors. The New York Times reported that five of Uber’s top investors demanded Kalanick resign. The ultimatum was delivered in a letter titled, “Moving Uber Forward.” In the letter, the five investors demanded a change of leadership and Kalanick agreed. While Kalanick resigned as CEO, he will keep a seat on Uber’s board of directors.

Almost from its very founding, Uber has been putting out fires on a number of issues. They have dealt with accusations of driver mistreatment: hired as independent contractors in order to avoid the costs of health insurance and overtime. They have dealt with political opposition in a number of locations over concerns regarding the largely unregulated model of livery service as well as the potentially negative impact that hundreds or thousands of new cars on city streets could have. They have faced significant fines due to failing to ensure their drivers adhered to anti-discrimination laws. The first massive blow came in 2015 when the state’s Labor Commission ruled in favor of drivers in the argument of misclassification.

Uber’s response to all of the above was to launch counter-offensives. For instance, when facing opposition in New York City, Uber launched a multi-million ad campaign targeting Mayor Bill de Blasio and other opposing politicians. In Seattle, Uber hired a firm liked to the CIA to investigate the city’s union laws when Uber drivers were offered the right to bargain collectively. And in cities everywhere, Uber utilized “greyball” software to evade government regulators and disguise the accurate depth of operations.

Dozens of Uber passengers have filed lawsuits alleging rape, kidnapping, assault, harassment, etc. with the additional claims that the company next to nothing to prevent them from happening. Reports have also circulated of aggressive tactics being considered as retribution against journalists who attempted to expose the more shady side of the company. And the boardroom reeked of problems as well. In a publicly shared blog post, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler outlined several instances of sexual harassment, which were all followed by a complete disregard on the part of executives with which she shared her concerns.

Granted, this is the same company:

  • That signed off on an ad campaign built around the phrase “hot chick” drivers.
  • That hired a senior VP who had been fired from a previous job for sexual harassment.
  • Whose founder and CEO referred to the company as “Boober.”

Earlier this month, Uber fired more than 20 employees as a result of an investigation into hundreds of sexual harassment, discrimination, and workplace retaliation claims. Yet the sexist culture prevails. On the same day the repot about corporate sexism was released to the public, a board member cracked a sexist joke to Arianna Huffington, a fellow board member. The offender quickly resigned, yet it serves as proof of the strength of the “legacy” left behind by the departing Kalanick.

If you have concerns regarding workplace retaliation or if you experience discrimination or harassment on the job, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at California’s Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Homosexuality Taunts Lead to $17.4 Million Verdict for LA Sanitation Worker

In recent news, a Los Angeles sanitation worker, James Pearl, who was taunted on the job regarding his perceived homosexuality comes away victorious with a $17.4 million verdict. The LA jury found that he endured routine harassment at the hands of his supervisors, who had falsely assumed he was gay. While the jurors deliberated for two hours, they did come out with a unanimous decision regarding James Pearl’s case.

The jurors decided that Pearl was subjected to verbal abuse, hazing, and bullying. For instance, Pearl’s photo was digitally altered to show him in a same-sex relationship with a subordinate. These altered images were circulated amongst the city employees as a part of the bullying campaign.

One of Pearl’s colleagues alerted a manager in the highest ranks of the Bureau of Sanitation regarding the situation and the mistreatment that was occurring, but according to court documentation, the supervisor did not take action. Pearl started his career with the Bureau of Sanitation in 2002. He was promoted in 2006 to wastewater collection supervisor.

In 2011, Pearl filed a complaint of discrimination with state regulators. In the complaint he alleged that he was transferred to an office in Reseda because he was black and as retaliation because he complained about misconduct in the workplace. Days after the complaint was filed, Pearl was formally notified that the city was recommending his firing. He was accused of falsifying time documents for a subordinate who was also perceived by those in the workplace to be gay. He was then terminated on August 30, 2011. He reported the situation to the state regulators, advising them that the firing was retaliation motivated by his perceived homosexuality. He also attempted to fight back against his firing through internal procedures with the L.A. Board of Civil Service Commission.

After 13 months off the job, the panel determined his firing was unfounded and Pearl was reinstated. While Pearl was off the job, a supervisor continued showing the digitally altered photo of Pearl to employees. When Pearl returned, he received a lower-paying day shift, regularly faced accusations of misconduct, and was given the same supervisor who had been showing the digitally altered photograph to employees. The leadership in the workplace referred to Pearl using derogatory terms and continued the bullying campaign by circulating offensive messages and leaving objects on Pearl’s desk suggestive of or related to homosexual behavior.

In court documentation, the city contended that Pearl did not complain internally regarding the alleged mistreatment that was occurring and also claimed this his work assignments were dictated by budget cuts and a diminished staff.

The California lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2014. Pearl, who is now 55 years old, has been on permanent disability. He suffers from both physical and psychological damage as a result of the discrimination.

If you experience discrimination or harassment in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

Chipotle Now Facing Alleged Racism Allegations in Another Lawsuit

Chipotle is having a rough year – at least in regards to legal allegations. From class action food poisoning lawsuits, animal welfare issues, drops in both sales and stock price…the popular restaurant chain can’t seem to catch a break in 2016. What are they facing now? Chipotle is making news again, but this time because they are facing allegations of racial discrimination and harassment at one of their California franchise locations.

The California lawsuit filed by Sheqweshu Clark, a previous employee at the El Segndo, California location, states that Latino managers assign day shifts to other Latino employees, but leave “black” staff, like herself, with the less desirable night shifts. But this is not the only claim being made by Clark in the recent lawsuit. She also alleges that management denied there was a problem with either shift assignment or discrimination and then fired Clark a few weeks later without offering an explanation. Clark claims she when she attempted to confront by Chipotle supervisors about preferential treatment, she was summarily dismissed and advised that “black girls” always have “attitude.” Formal allegations included in the lawsuit against Chipotle include: retaliation, wrongful termination, workplace harassment, racial discrimination, and failure to prevent harassment.

Chipotle is not commenting on the allegations at this time, but do state that they have received the suit and will consider its merits in order to determine a course of action. The Chipotle spokesperson did advise that, generally speaking, the filing of a lawsuit constitutes a series of allegations, but does not actually represent proof of wrongdoing.

If you have questions about wrongful termination, discrimination in the workplace, or workplace retaliation, please contact one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik as soon as possible.    

Yellowstone Worker Sees Red: Claiming Retaliation Over Asbestos Report

A Yellowstone National Park maintenance worker named Jon Kline reported that he and several other employees at the park were exposed to asbestos at Old Faithful Inn, a hundred year old lodge/hotel at the park. After submitting the report, Kline claims he was subjected to workplace retaliation from the park concession company, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, a subsidiary of Anschutz Corp. The company holds contracts to operate facilities focused on tourist attraction at a number of U.S. national parks including: Oregon’s Crater Lake, California’s Death Valley, Arizona’s Grand Canyon, and Utah’s Zion National Park.

Kline alleges that Xanterra Parks & Resort began to give him poor work reviews and eventually declined his contract renewal after the incident with asbestos exposure last March that he properly reported to authorities. The employee retaliation claim that Kline filed is still pending. In describing the circumstances where he and others were exposed to asbestos he states that they were told “not to worry about it” and that it was “safe.” The exposure occurred while he was part of a crew working on steam lines wrapped in asbestos at the Old Faithful Inn, originally opened in 1904. His opinion of the situation was that it was not worry free or particularly safe.

Asbestos got loose from an old pipe insulation when broken pipes that occurred during the winter began to emit steam in March. The pipes were restored in order to provide heat to the west wing before the plumbing could be turned on. The asbestos was present in at least eight rooms in the west wing of the seven-story structure known as Old Faithful. Workers were not alerted to the presence of asbestos before they tore into the walls to get to the ruptures. The asbestos was cleaned up by a certified company prior to opening the popular Yellowstone hotel to guests the following May. The Old Faithful Inn is ranked as one of the world’s largest log structures and is very well known. In fact, it’s one of the most stunning and immediately recognizable hotels in the entire U.S. national park system.

As a result of four workplace safety citations due to exposure, Xanterra paid $15,300 in fines last September. Workers involved were not wearing appropriate safety gear. They were provided with inadequate respirators thus exposing them to the cancer-causing substance (according to representatives from the Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administrator). Xanterra representatives declined to comment on the case or respond to allegations, but did state that the safety of their employees and guests are a top priority.

If you have questions regarding workplace retaliation and how to recognize labor law violations in southern California, please get in touch with the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik today.

Wrongful Termination and Retaliation Suit: California Firefighter Awarded $2.3 Million

In recent news, Todd Milan, 47, was awarded $2.3 million by a Solano County Superior Court jury in a civil wrongful termination and retaliation lawsuit. Milan claimed that he was targeted by a couple of his superior officers after he informed the Division of Occupational Safety and Health of procedure irregularities during a residential fire that occurred on September 29, 2011. When entering the disabled man’s burning mobile home, Milan assumed Captain Erick Diez would enter alongside him. Diez never entered the burning structure, which was a violation of regulations requiring that firefighters always work in pairs. Diez’ failure to enter the structure left Milan inside alone for 90 seconds. Milan also claims that Diez did not have his gloves on when responding to the fire. The resident of the mobile home fire later died.

 

Workplace Retaliation: Similar to harassment and “hostile workplace,” workplace retaliation is not actually about people in the workplace exacting revenge or getting back at someone else for their behavior. Instead, it is focused more on making them afraid to complain or to assert their right. It is a subtle distinction, but necessary to delineate in certain situations where violations of employment law have occurred.  

 

Milan also claims that Fire Chief Paige Meyer advised Milan that he would be okay as long as his account of the fire matched those of other firefighters at the scene. Milan’s allegations made it clear that he claimed the City of Vallejo and the Fire Department covered up the events that occurred at this particular fire, which was the focus of an investigation by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. 

 

After this occurrence, Milan took an examination, which he did not pass. He claims that the Fire Department’s refusal to allow him to re-take the examination was in retaliation for his previous actions in reporting departures from procedure at the September, 29th, 2011 mobile home fire. At the time of the incident in question, Milan was an apprentice firefighter. He is now a teacher for a class for paramedics.

 

After a nine-week trial, the jury deliberated for two days. They awarded Milan with $2.3 million in compensation for past and future wage losses as well as emotional distress suffered as a result of the event.

 

If you have information regarding workplace retaliation, please get in touch with the southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik

Discrimination & Workplace Retaliation: KKK Hood Placed in Worker’s Station

Isiah Washington, a 27 year old African American factory worker, claims he was fired in retaliation after he reported what can only be described as an inappropriate action taken in the workplace: racist co-workers hung a Ku Klux Klan “hood” in his workstation. This alleged act of racial discrimination also constituted a hostile work environment for the former employee of Sierra Aluminum Company in Riverside, California. As a result of the occurrence last April, Isiah filed a racial discrimination suit against the company.

Washington claims that the “hood” was clearly a symbol of the KKK, one of the most violent and ruthless organization in the history of the country. He also claims that when it was reported, the company not only didn’t respond, but they didn’t even pretend to take it seriously, even though Washington noted that this particular incident was the final move in a months long campaign of discrimination. He stated that he was scared and felt very threatened in the situation. When he asked his supervisor to “please take it down” the supervisor blew Washington off. He states that the supervisor started talking to other employees and that they all began laughing. Washington remembers that he was scared for his life and “everyone was laughing” (including his supervisor to which Washington had just reported he incident). Washington claims in the lawsuit that the offensive (and terrifying) white sheet remained above his workstation for another hour while he continued his work. He clarifies that he did not see it as a prank or a joke, but as an intimidation technique – a threat.

Washington filed a complaint with the company’s HR department about the incident. It was ignored. The firm actually claimed that the “sheet” must have been blown in with a gust of wind. Seeing the action as a threat that wasn’t addressed in any way by the company, Washington alleges he had to continuously watch his back on the job – resulting in extreme emotional distress, fear and even anxiety. From that day on, Washington had to put up with derogatory comments from his co-workers.

At Washington’s request, the company agreed to move him to a different shift, but he ran into trouble again a few months later. After accidentally cutting his thumb on some aluminum, Washington covered the cut with a band-aid. On the following day, his supervisor questioned him about the incident – wondering why he had accessed the First Aid box on site. He replied and advised his supervisor that he was fine at which point the supervisor insisted that Washington visit the company driver and that he allow someone to drive him. Wary because of the recent negative activity in the workplace, Washington declined the ride to the doctor and advised the supervisor he could drive himself. The supervisor became angry and advised Washington he could no longer go to the company doctor. He went anyway and received clearance to work. When he returned to work the next day, he was fired. The reason he was offered for his termination was that he did not follow company policy.

Washington feels that the company obviously used this situation as an excuse so they could fire him, which could be referred to as wrongful termination.

If you have concerns about discrimination in the workplace, workplace retaliation or wrongful termination, please contact the experienced southern California employment law attorneys with your questions at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.

 

Desperate Housewives Star Files Retaliation Lawsuit

Many have heard of the popular TV series called the Desperate Housewives. Of those who watch the show, almost all should be familiar with Nicollette Sheridan. She has been called the most “risqué” of the women on the show. In most recent news, she may be better known for her recently filed lawsuit.

According to Sheridan, she got into a verbal argument on set with the writer/creator of the show, Marc Cherry. She claims that the argument ended when Cherry slapped her. According to Sheridan, this was battery. According to Cherry, this was stage direction.

Sheridan responded to the incident by complaining to the network as well as the show’s producer. The next year, her character, Edie Britt, was killed in the midst of the show. Sheridan saw this as retaliation for her complaints regarding the “battery” on set the previous year and filed a lawsuit claiming such. The lawsuit was twice dismissed by trial courts and revived twice by the court of appeal.

What secret, sordid detail led to such an intriguing on again, off again response from the courts? It’s not nearly as intriguing as one might expect from a plaintiff known for being “spicy.” In fact, it’s downright boring. The question that is causing the confusion is this: Did Sheridan have to file an administrative complaint with the Labor Commission before suing?

According to the court of appeals, she did not have to file such a complaint. Their decision was based on a brand-new labor code stating:

“A person is not required to exhaust administrative remedies…unless the section under which the action is brought expressly requires it.” The sections referenced in this case are not seen to “expressly require” it as they use the term “may” instead of “shall” in regards to filing a claim with the Labor Commission. The court of appeals does not feel that the word “may” indicates a mandatory requirement. This resulted in the reinstatement of her case allowing Sheridan the opportunity to seek resolution in court.

If you need to discuss on the job battery or if you have other questions regarding southern California employment law, please get in touch with the experienced attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.