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City to pay former clerk $150,000 to dismiss whistleblower claim

By Peter K. Levine posted in Employment Law on August 16th, 2013

Whistleblower claims can go to court whenever there is some sort of corruption suspected, and an employee is retaliated against in any way for reporting those believed to be illegal activities. This means that cities can be sued, as well as large corporations and even small individually owned businesses.

One city learned this first hand after a former city clerk filed a whistleblower lawsuit after reporting what she believed to be illegal activities that the mayor was partaking in.

According to the woman’s lawsuit, she was fired from her position in December of 2009 after she reported to the state’s department of law enforcement that the mayor was charging the city for personal expenses – like a cell phone bill and a trip – without reimbursing the city. In addition, the former clerk also discovered that the mayor was not being forced to pay certain utility bills, like his city cable or water.

After reporting these findings, she was fired, and the city’s mayor told the state’s department of law enforcement that the charges were honest mistakes.

An investigation into the charges also decided that he was not purposely attempting to charge the city for his own personal gains.

In the end, the city decided to settle with the former city clerk and will pay her $150,000 in exchange for her dropping the whistleblower lawsuit. According to sources, the settlement does not equate to the city of mayor admitting guilt in any way.

Cases like this former clerk’s happen all the time throughout the country, including in California. Luckily, employees do have rights, and if they suffer from any type of retaliation after reporting what they believe to be illegal activities, there are legal actions that can be taken against that place of employment.

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Source: The Walton Sun, “City paying $150K to settle whistleblower lawsuit,” 7 March 2011

Three California police officers suing for discrimination

By Peter K. Levine posted in Discrimination on August 16th, 2013

California police officers appear to be facing wide-spread discrimination lately. Earlier this week, we talked about a California lieutenant in Concord who recently settled his retaliation lawsuit with the department. Now, we will talk about three Latino officers who say they have been passed up for multiple promotions on the basis of their race.

Three officers with the Westminster Police Department has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that they are suffering from race discrimination. In particular, they argue that they have been passed over for promotions, with the department opting to promote less experienced white officers over them.

One plaintiff gave a specific example of his application for a detective position a few years ago. The Latino officer is a U.S. Marine Corps major and has received many positive performance reviews while on the police force. Despite his credentials, the position was given to a white candidate with no military experience, no college degree and only one year on the job as an officer.

The Latino officer described that “it’s glaring to the point where I can’t figure out anything else except discrimination.” Together, the three men say that they have been denied at least 30 promotions. Most of the time, they say, officers who had less experience and fewer qualifications were given the positions over the Latino officers.

Of the 90 police officers in the Westminster Police Department, only 12 are Latino. Three of them are involved in this lawsuit, which they hope will cause the department to correct its discriminatory practices. They men are requesting monetary damages as well as promotions to the positions they have been passed over for.

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Source: San Jose Mercury News, “Police officers file employer discrimination suit,” Amy Taxin, 2 March 2011

Despite Equal Pay Act, Women are Still Paid Less in California

By Peter K. Levine posted in Discrimination on August 16th, 2013

Nearly half a century ago, women made great strides in advocating for equality and the Equal Pay Act was enacted with the goal of abolishing sex discrimination when establishing wages. Almost 50 years later, a wage gap continues to exist in California.

According to data collected by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Department of Labor, women who worked full time, a minimum of 35 hours per week, in 2009 were still paid 20 percent less than their male counterparts were. The average salary for women was $657 while men earned on average $819 per week.

While some women made much more than the average, gaps existed in each level of employment. Women who worked in management, held positions as chief executives, compliance officers and other positions of authority made 72.7 percent of what the men made in the same classification group.

Not only are women in similar jobs are paid overall less, but entire job sectors that are considered to be stereotypically suitable for women receive less compensation. Those jobs include teachers as well as the food preparation industry.

According to the data, sex discrimination continues to exist. In one study, researchers found that sex discrimination was not only exhibited by employers, but by customers as well. The research study was based upon customer satisfaction responses after observing a male and female “worker” who said the exact same words and made the exact same motions as one another in a video. The study found that 19 percent of customers gave the male a higher “satisfaction” rating.

Source: Around Dublin “Gender Wage Gap Still Exists in California” 1/6/11

Welcome to Our Los Angeles Employment Law Blog

By Peter K. Levine posted in Employment Law on August 16th, 2013

At the Los Angeles law firm of Peter K Levine, we know that an employee’s expectation of a consistently fair playing field in the work place is often undermined by behaviors that harass, discriminate and otherwise violate his or her legal rights.

As an employment law firm headed by an attorney with decades of proven success representing clients who have suffered from the adverse work behavior of an employer and/or other employees, we are exceptionally well- placed and strongly disposed to do something about that. We routinely resolve both individual and class action cases concerning all types of employment law violations.

Our firm offers strong and smart advocacy across a full spectrum of employment matters, including the following:

  • Wage and hour disputes, including unpaid overtime
  • Wrongful termination
  • Discrimination
  • Employer retaliation
  • Sexual harassment
  • Whistleblower claims
  • Unpaid meals and rest breaks
  • Employer paychecks with insufficient funds
  • Use-it-or-lose-it vacation policies

We view our blog as an important educational component of our practice, and seek to have it provide timely and important information to clients with employment concerns. We welcome feedback and thank you for visiting.

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Contact us for a free consultation with an experienced employment attorney.

We’re Too Busy for a Break

By Peter K. Levine posted in Unpaid Overtime on August 16th, 2013

If you have ever worked an hourly wage position, you probably heard in training that the employer was “required” to give you a 30-minute lunch break every shift over a certain number of hours. Employers make a big deal about legal responsibility and break times, yet many employees experience times when they are forced to work through their lunch hour because it was “just too busy” that day.

It is true that a 30-minute meal break is required under California Law for every 5 hours worked by each employee. This means that the employee must take a complete break from any and all work duties. If they are answering phone calls, returning phone calls, answering questions, updating records or anything else they are not on an uninterrupted lunch break.

If you work an 8.0 hour day without a lunch break, you should be credited with 30 minutes of overtime pay. What this basically means is that for every 30 minute lunch break the employer fails to give the employee, they must pay that employee for one hour of work time. An employer cannot claim that an employee waived their right to lunch if the employee chooses to work through lunch because they are too busy and there is no one available to relieve them.

Violations of this law have led to serious lawsuits for employers. A large retail store was required to pay more than $170 million in compensatory damages to approximately 116,000 employees who worked at several of the retailer’s California stores. If you feel that your right to a lunch break has been violated in any way do not be afraid to seek the advice and assistance of an employment law attorney.

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Source: Dateline USA “Automatic 30-minute deductions for lunch may be illegal” Joe Sayas 9/14/10

Wrongful Termination Ends in $2 Million Verdict

By Peter K. Levine posted in Law on August 16th, 2013

“Even if I had all the money in the world, I would want to work. It gives you self-worth, a purpose in life.” Those were the words spoken by a minimum-wage card dealer after a Sonoma County jury awarded her more than $2 million in a wrongful termination law suit.

The jury determined that the former card dealer had been terminated in retaliation for reporting the sexual harassment she experienced while working the 101 Casino in Petaluma, California. She was awarded $516,000 in compensatory damages for past and future harassment and retaliation. $1.5 million in punitive damages were added to the award after determining that the company brought in approximately $5 million revenue in the past year and had a net worth of around $3 million.

The former card dealer worked at the casino for a few months before her supervisor began making sexual comments and innuendos. “When I first started, I looked forward to going to work every day… Everything seemed to be looking up and going forward in my life – until the sexual harassment started,” the 43-year old mother stated.

The former card dealer had suffered the harassment for months before and after she reported the behavior to the human resources department. The club’s general manager even put his arm around her lower waist when she tried to alert him about the supervisor’s behavior. Not only did her complaints go unanswered, but the supervisor also began disciplining her for insignificant or fictitious issues. She said that the negative work environment had caused loss of appetite and sleep and the stress had a harmful impact on her home life as well. When the stress became too much and she sought legal advice, the company found out and subsequently terminated her employment.

This case was not the first time that the company was accused of harassment. The human resources chief, to whom the card dealer had brought her complaints, settled her own suit against the company. Four other female employees were witness at the card dealer’s trial gave testimony that they had been sexually harassed as well.

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Source: The Press Democrat “$2 million harassment verdict against Petaluma card room” Lori A. Carter 8/4/10

Public Employees Could Suffer Pension Cuts

By Peter K. Levine posted in Law on August 16th, 2013

Federal and state deficits are at an all time high while the economy is experiencing a significant downturn. California is not exempt from the economic situation and budget reform has been a hot topic in the gubernatorial race. Amidst the political swirl of debate, public employees are asked to aid in the budget reform.

Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor has stated that if he were to be elected governor, he would be asking labor leaders to “put everything on the table” and make compromises. One of the compromises that he mentioned was cutting pension benefits for state employees.

The gubernatorial candidate has felt the pressures of budget reform and although generally supported by members of the labor union, he admitted in a recent speech that in order to fix the budget crisis, he is “going to have to do some things that organized labor doesn’t like. Everybody’s got to get outside their comfort zone.” Brown reminded voters that in his previous terms he “vetoed pay raises for the state employees not once, but twice.” He cautioned employees that if they did not contribute to the pension system, that the only alternative to pay for the system would be to increase layoffs or decrease salaries.

“If you’re looking for frugality, I’m your man,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. The candidate professes honesty with the people. If elected, he promises that he would release his budget plan earlier than any other previous governor would and that he would not institute any new taxes unless the public voted for them.

Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial opponent, Meg Whitman also plans to get the budget under control by effecting changes that would involve state employees and the labor union.

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Source: San Francisco Chronicle “Jerry Brown says he’d be a frugal governor” Carla Marinucci 9/4/10

Discrimination lawsuit filed against California nursing facility

By Peter K. Levine posted in Discrimination on August 16th, 2013

A former kitchen worker at a California nursing facility has filed a lawsuit against her former employer claiming that Manor Care and its owners and operators failed to look into her complaints of race discrimination and sexual harassment, and even went as far as to encourage the degrading work environment. The woman also claims that other female workers were also forced to work in the hostile and offensive work environment.

According to the lawsuit, the former kitchen worker was employed by Manor Care in California from 1999 to 2010. During that time she was frequently harassed because she is Asian, and the kitchen manager supposedly allowed other male staff to sexually demean the female employees.

In addition she claims that at some points she was physically assaulted by other co-workers kicking food carts into her, and that some co-workers even went as far as to throw food at her. Other co-workers also supposedly degraded the woman with racial and ethnic slurs.

The lawsuit claims that the former employee did not speak up sooner about the discrimination and harassment because she was afraid of retaliation, but when her daughter did send an email to Manor Care complaining about the way her mother was being treated at work, the nursing facility retaliated by having the former employee work an extra two hours per week.

The lawsuit goes on to say that in August of 2010, the former employee ended up suffering from a panic attack while at work, but that Manor Care failed to provide any medical attention to her. A week later the women ended up resigning from the job she had for 11 years because of the working conditions she had been subjected to and the fact that the facility supposedly did nothing to deter the discrimination and harassment from happening.

The lawsuit is seeking an unspecified amount in punitive and economic damages, and claims that due to the harassment the woman suffered from anxiety, panic attacks, muscle spasms, digestive problems and depression.

Source: Reuters, “Former nursing home worker claims race, gender harassment,” Linda Coady, 9 may 2011

Lawsuit seeks class action status for unpaid overtime

By Peter K. Levine posted in Unpaid Overtime on August 16th, 2013

Two former utility workers have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that they were forced to work extra hours, but were not compensated for the overtime hours they worked. The lawsuit claims the company had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, and is seeking unpaid wages and punitive damages.

The attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the two former employees is also seeking class action status, which would allow other former and current employees with similar complaints to also join in on the lawsuit. The claim is that all of the hourly customer service associates who worked for the company for at least the past three years were forced to work in excess of 40 hours per week, but were not compensated for their time.

According to the two employees who filed the recent lawsuit, they were required to work more than 40 hours a week but were not paid for their overtime, which should have been time and a half of their regular pay. Part of this overtime pay also stems from supposedly having to come in earlier before shifts to prepare work spaces and cash drawers, and then have to also continuing working after clocking out to count their cash drawer and deposits.

In addition to the unpaid overtime, the lawsuit also claims that the company forced them to work through breaks, and that they were not paid for their lunch breaks.

One of the employees who filed the lawsuit said that she was considered a “floating” associate who would sometimes have to travel to three different company locations during the day, but that she was not paid for her travel time.

Looking to the future of this case, an attorney for the former employees is seeking class action status, but there is no word yet on how many employees that could potentially include.

Source: San Antonio Express, “SAWS hit with lawsuit on pay,” Guillermo Contreras, 18 May 2011

Driver awarded $1.5 million in California sexual harassment case

By Peter K. Levine posted in Sexual Harassment on August 16th, 2013

A former truck driving trainee has won a $1.5 million judgment in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against CRST Expedited and its parent company, CRST International. The 45-year-old who had worked out of the company’s California terminal claimed that she had been assigned to a driving trainer who had touched her inappropriately and made sexually suggestive comments, and that the company did nothing to deter the behavior.

According to the sexual harassment lawsuit, after a mandatory 28-day training session the woman trainee quit just one day after getting her first assignment. She said the emotional turmoil experienced during the training forced her leave and search for another line of work.

The court ruling, which included more than $1.1 million for punitive damages allowed under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, found the trucking company failed to prevent a hostile working environment by allowing the trainer to make verbal and physical sexual advances.

The chief executive officer of CRST International said the company plans to appeal.

This lawsuit was also not the first time that CRST Expedited has come under scrutiny for failing to protect female truck drivers from other male employees. Even just last year the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had filed a class action lawsuit against the company for similar complaints, however, that case was dismissed due to the EEOC’s legal procedures that were used.

However, since then, another claim has also been filed against the trucking firm by a married couple who had wanted to work together as a team for CRST Expedited. The pair filed a complaint that a trainer had made improper sexual advances toward the wife, and had also used degrading Mexican-American racial slurs.

According to the couple, after the two complained about the behaviors, CRST Expedited retaliated and the two were given bad driving assignments and bad dispatch assistance, which caused them to drive off-route and cost them money out of their own pockets.

CRST Expedited has yet to respond to the claims made in that lawsuit.

Source: Business 360, “Female driver wins $1.5 million harassment judgment against CRST Expedited,” David DeWitte, 9 May 2011

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