Gender Pay Discrimination Allegations Made Against Hewlett-Packard Enterprises

Gender Pay Discrimination Allegations Made Against Hewlett-Packard Enterprises.jpg

In the fourth quarter of 2018, R. Ross and C. Rogus of Santa Clara, California, filed a class action California unpaid wages lawsuit against Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE). The lawsuit describes a discriminatory pattern demonstrating gender-based pay discrepancies at the company. We’ve seen tech giants in the news before for similar practices and facing similar allegations, but this case does present a few interesting issues.

1.     Wage history perpetrating discrimination.

2.     Employer policies discouraging employees from talking about their salary as prevention of discovery of discrimination under California’s Equal Pay Act

3.     Using Secret Wage Classification and Promotion Systems to easily avoid meaningful reform.

In this California unpaid wages lawsuit, Hewlett Packard is accused of systematically paying female employees less than their similarly situated male co-workers and failing to advance them at the same rate as male employees performing similar work at a similar skill level. The business practices are apparently in place throughout all of California and are built on preexisting practices at Hewlett-Packard.

As of January 1st, 2018, employers in California are prohibited from asking job applicants about their salary history or using a salary history to determine what salary to offer a new employee. This was an effort to decrease the long-term effects of past salary discrimination. This law, however, does not offer protection to workers hired prior to that date or current employees who are seeking an internal promotion. Long-term workers who are seeking to make a career with a single employer will not find assistance for past pay discrimination in the law that went into effect January 1st, 2018. In the complaint against HPE, it is alleged that long-term employees tend to stay at the lower-paid job level 1 or 2. In comparison, new hires start at or quickly rise to a higher paid level 3.

Raises at the company are based on a percentage of the employees’ existing HPE salary, so they not only support the gender pay gap, but widen it. The longer a female is employed by HPE, the less she will be paid in comparison to her male counterparts even when fulfilling similar job duties at an equal or better rate. Gender discrimination paired with age discrimination combine to leave older female employees double affected.

Pay secrecy policies are still a common practice, particularly in the tech industry. Policies requiring silence about pay have been prohibited in most industries since 1935 by the National Labor Relations Act. Pay secrecy policies are also banned by California Labor Code section 232. Since 1985, the law has specifically prohibited the requirement of any employee to refrain from disclosing their wage or requiring an employee to waive the right to discuss their wage, or to discipline an employee for discussing their wage. Yet many employees are unaware of their rights and many employers still discourage (officially or unofficially) pay secrecy.

Similarly, when wage and promotion structures are not transparent, workers are prevented from acting on discriminatory behavior. Many employees are reluctant to act or share information with co-workers but find themselves suffering from vague or opaque employer pay scales and promotion structures.

If you are suffering from the effects of gender-based pay discrimination or you need help seeking equal pay in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

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

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

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.

Torrance Catholic School Wrongful Termination Following Theft Scandal

Torrance Catholic School Wrongful Termination Following Theft Scandal.jpg

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.

California Catholic School May Face Lawsuit After Firing Teacher

California Catholic School May Face Lawsuit After Firing Teacher .jpg

Kristen Biel, a former teacher at St. James Catholic School in Torrance, needed time off from her job after recently being diagnosed with breast cancer in Spring 2014. She was in need of a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Biel requested a leave of absence during the upcoming fall semester from Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper, the school’s principal. Just weeks later, Biel was fired.

Last month, Biel was granted the right to sue the school in federal court for discrimination when an appeals court overturned the lower court decision that she was a “minister” in the eyes of the court and barred from suing a church-operated school. This isn’t the first time St. James School and Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper have faced legal allegations. Kreuper, along with another nun, was accused of stealing from student tuition checks, fees and fundraisers for the school for over a decade. The issue was recently announced by school officials.

Kreuper, 77 years old, and her vice principal, Sister Lana Chang, 67 years old, essentially rerouted hundreds of thousands of dollars into a church bank account that was overlooked by many for years. They then used this overlooked account to pay for personal expenses. Parents were advised of the situation at a meeting in Redondo Beach recently. Parents asked about the situation said that the nuns were open in talking about gambling trips to Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe vacations, but that they claimed Chang had wealthy relatives that paid their expenses.

Auditors working alongside the Archdiocese in Los Angeles have accounted for $500,000 of stolen funds, but the number will most likely continue to grow as the investigation continues. Initially, the archdiocese intended to handle the investigation internally and not press charges, but later they changed course stating that they would be cooperating with police and that they plan to be a complaining party in the criminal case. Criminal complaints have not yet been filed. The police investigation is ongoing. Police are requesting copies of old tuition checks from parents and details regarding any cash donations.

Biel, 53 years old, started working at St. James in March 2013. She was hired as a long-term substitute teacher. By the end of the year, she was hired as the school’s full-time fifth-grade teacher. She received a formal, positive evaluation from Kreuper that praised her “good work” in promoting a safe and caring learning environment. Areas of improvement included in the one official review noted two students were coloring in their books and some of the students had cluttered desks.

When Biel was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2014, she advised Kreuper she would start treatments within the month. A few weeks later, Kreuper advised Biel she wouldn’t be renewing her contract and claimed it was because it would be unfair for student to accommodate her leave by having two teachers in one year. She also accused Biel of not running a strict classroom even though that complaint was not included in Biel’s one official evaluation.

Biel filed a federal lawsuit against St. James in 2015. She included allegations of discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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

North Beach Strip Clubs Facing Unexpected Consequences from New Rules

North Beach Strip Clubs Facing Unexpected Consequences from New Rules.jpg

Dancers employed at Penthouse Club received their first employee paychecks in November 2018. When they were handed their checks, many of the 30 dancers at the popular North Beach strip club felt a surge of panic and shock. Some decided immediately that they were finished with their job.

Dancers in establishments like the Penthouse Club in North Beach were traditionally engaged as independent contractors. They were accustomed to leaving the club each night with cash (often hundreds of dollars) after they completed a shift. When clubs started enforcing the California Supreme Court ruling from April 2018 that set new standards for employee classification, everything changed. The gig economy was shaken to its core, but the new standards also affected some unexpected areas where workers were traditionally not classified as employees: hair salons, adult entertainment industry businesses, etc.

When the changes swept through local clubs in San Francisco, it resulted in a mass exodus of employees who were not happy with the effects of their new employee status. One single mother who has worked as a dancer at the Penthouse Club described her problem with the change by citing that the entire point of that type of work was being able to go in for a shift, earn quick cash without documentation and keeping all of it. She was one of the dancers who cut ties with the club after they adopted the new standards.

Club owners respond to employee complaints by stating that the new changes are actually costing them as well. As a result of lawsuits and ongoing demands by dancers who sued for employment violations, clubs have been compelled by Court order to eliminate the independent contractor option – dancers will be required to be club employees paid hourly wages and commissions on dance sales. It’s estimated that 200 dancers quit in response to the change. Club management indicated that it dramatically affected overall business and business profitability costing the clubs several million annually with matching payroll taxes, unemployment compensation, workman’s compensation, Health San Francisco costs, Affordable Care Insurance costs, sick leave pay, etc.

The changes were brought about after a California Supreme Court decision on a case brought by two Dynamex drivers. The ruling on the case stated that workers may now be considered employees if they complete job duties during the usual course of the company’s business. This would apply to dancers working at a strip club so club owners who want to play it safe should be paying minimum wage and comply with wage and hour law.

The changes left many dancers scrambling to make ends meet and seeking other employment as the new pay structure offered minimum wage plus commission on dance sales, but the commission pay structure was also altered leaving many of them with significantly less take home pay.

If you need to find out how to seek justice for wage and hour violations or if you are misclassified in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Amazon’s Push for Delivery Guys Leaves Them Facing Employment Law Claims

Amazon’s Push for Delivery Guys Leaves Them Facing Employment Law Claims.jpg

This past summer, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced a need for aspiring entrepreneurs and offered them a chance to make $300,000 per year by starting their own Amazing delivery business with as little as $10,000 required to get started. Amazon is highly dependent on the creation of a network of independent drivers around the country as they struggle to keep up with demand. To entice entrepreneurs, Amazon uses their buying buyer to get their partners good deals on necessary items, like: vans, insurance, etc. Then they provide them with a steady stream of items to be delivered.  

The entrepreneurs tackling Amazon’s delivery needs are actually facing the bigger challenge as they attempt to recruit and hire drivers who can meet the high standards of Amazon at a low pay rate.

The structure leaves Amazon in a bit of a gray area legally. They have to be careful how much control they are exerting over the people employed by their delivery companies. Amazon already faces a number of lawsuits from delivery drivers that claim they were not paid wages as required by federal law while employed by Amazon partners and they’re including Amazon in the list of responsible parties since their job duties were on behalf of the giant online retailer. If Amazon finds a legal way to add drivers and vans without spending their own company funds, the risk could be worth it for them in the long run.  

Amazon has already gathered tens of thousands of entrepreneurs excited for this type of ground floor opportunity. The aspiring entrepreneurs go through phone interviews and several days of training. Within a few months, hundreds of new businesses have popped up all over America and they’re employing thousands of delivery drivers. More hopefuls fill a waiting list for further expansion in the coming year.

The business model appears profitable for Amazon as they avoid both the costs of training and maintaining drivers throughout the nation. The business model also appears profitable for entrepreneurs looking for a chance to run their own business with the power of Amazon supporting their efforts – many entrepreneurs are already enjoying the fruits of their efforts as Amazon partners. Yet Amazon’s new delivery model is drawing lawsuits that allege Amazon partners are violating overtime pay requirements by paying their drivers daily rates instead of hourly wages. A case in Illinois referred to the Amazon Partner Delivery Model as an “unlawful scheme” trying to avoid responsibility for providing legal wages to delivery drivers. FedEx paid out a $13 million lawsuit settlement to resolve claims of “misclassification” of workers leading to lost wages. They altered their business model in response, now requiring service providers to keep drivers on payroll. Amazon ended up settling in a similar lawsuit filed in California alleging that contract delivery drivers (listed as independent contractors) were underpaid.

Finding people willing to do quality work at low wages is a significant challenge. Most drivers are paid around $15/hour. This particular challenge has been passed from Amazon to the Amazon partners responsible for managing routes and drivers. Many expect this to be a slight redirection of the problem rather than a solution.

If you are dealing with misclassification in the workplace or you need to find out how to obtain overtime pay you are owed, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Former Bodyguards Receive Settlement After Suing Depp for Employment Violations

Former Bodyguards Receive Settlement After Suing Depp for Employment Violations.jpg

Two former bodyguards for Johnny Depp, Eugene Arreola and Miguel Sanchez, filed a California lawsuit in May 2018 alleging claiming Depp was in violation of employment law. Sanchez and Arreola claimed they were overworked and not paid overtime. The bodyguards also claimed they were subjected to unsafe working conditions. The lawsuit has now been settled.

Depp came to an agreement with the two former bodyguards who filed suit in 2018 and the case has been closed with all future hearings cancelled. Court documents indicate that the bodyguards reached a conditional settlement the resolves the matter. Settlement details were not released.

Arreola and Sanchez claimed in their lawsuit that Johnny Depp overworked and underpaid them during their time with him as bodyguards. They specifically cited a two-year period during which they described their time on the job as intolerable. They claimed they were expected to act as Depp’s babysitter. The duo claimed that between April 2016 and January 2018, they did not receive any overtime pay and they were deprived of food and rest breaks due to their work looking after the Depp family.

The original lawsuit was riddled with intense allegations. One claim described a situation in which the bodyguards were required to wipe drugs from Depp’s face at a nightclub in order to prevent others around the celebrity from seeing him using. The bodyguards describe their time with Depp during this time period as watching him spiral into a financial hurricane and act as babysitters for his children. One of the bodyguards claimed that one of his major job duties was to ensure that one of Depp’s children was looked after appropriately because they were living in an outhouse on Depp’s compound in Los Angeles.

Arreola and Sanchez asked for unspecified damages and compensation to make up for money they were owed due to overtime violations, etc. The two bodyguards described their job as requiring them to protect Depp from himself and his vices while he was in public – effectively making them caretakers.

Sanchez and Arreola (a 38-year-old LAPD veteran) worked happily for Depp for years while they were employed by a security company the celebrity hired, but then the problems started. Early in 2016, the bodyguards noticed Depp’s’ behavior start to change as well as the atmosphere in his Hollywood Hills compound. He started to make sudden and drastic changes to his staff and management team. The moves resulted in a substantial financial crunch for everyone except Depp.

In April of 2016, in the midst of his rocky marriage with Amber Heard, Depp fired the security company that employed both Sanchez and Arreola, Premier Group International. The bodyguards claim that Depp and his entourage made the change to “cut out the middle man” and hire the bodyguards directly so they could avoid the agency fee.

Once the guards were employed by Depp directly, their pay checks and hours were not properly tracked. They were expected to work 12-hour days and back to back shifts. And their job duties expanded to include safeguarding Depp and others who were around him as they engaged in “illegal activity.” They were often in situations that required more of them that what a bodyguard would reasonably be held responsible for. They were frequently being asked to perform the tasks of drivers for Depp and his family. They were repeatedly asked to drive vehicles that contained illegal substances as well as open containers and minors. They were asked to monitor unstable people in Depp’s life. Sanchez was specifically tasked with looking after one of Depp’s children (either 19-year old Lily rose or 16-year old John Depp III, the lawsuit did not specify which child). In fact, more often than not, Sanchez who was hired to protect Depp’s children, was more often than not the primary caregiver for Depp’s minor child who loved on the Depp compound, but in a separate home. Sanchez was advised to give in to every whim of Depp’s children. He worried that if he didn’t, he would be terminated from his position.

If you are being forced to work in a toxic or dangerous work environment or if you are not being paid overtime as required by federal law, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.