Strippers $3.65M Lawsuit Settlement

Strippers Federal Lawsuit SettlementIn an industry fraught with unscrupulous club owners, the financial plight of strippers has gone largely unnoticed by the legal system. That is, until AB5 gave strippers a leg up on the issue. 

Disparities in the Industry

In a general sense, strippers go to work, take the deal club owners offer, and make it out of there with as much cash as possible. Unfortunately, the amount they wind up with can be pretty paltry.  More often than not, strippers work strictly for tips, which they are often required to share with bartenders, wait staff, house moms, managers, and DJs. In addition to that, dancers fork over a variety of fees to club owners, including stage fees, dance fees, or other house fees. Sometimes, fees are based on the degree of nudity achieved by the end of a performer’s act. Naturally, the dancers are considered independent contractors, meaning they are ineligible for sick leave, workers’ compensation, insurance, and other benefits. Overall, the finances of the business seem pretty shady in many cases.  

Strippers Lawsuit Emerges

A class action lawsuit was filed against Spearmint Rhino strip clubs claiming that dancers were being misclassified as independent contractors. The suit alleged that the law was being violated because strippers were not being paid minimum wage, and they were not even allowed to keep a significant portion of their tips. They were also responsible for purchasing their own wardrobes. Finally, dancers were never provided legally required wage statements.

The Settlement

Although the suit was brought in 2017 before AB5 was on the books, the plaintiff clearly saw the writing on the wall, and agreed to a settlement of $3.65 million. Here is how it was broken down:

  • $10,000 to be divided between the four strippers who brought the original suit;
  • $75,000 to the state’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency;
  • Just over $900,000 for attorney’s fees;
  • $2.6 million to be divided among all eligible class members who submit a claim.

In addition to the strippers financial payout, dancers have been reclassified as employees.

Tensions Over AB5

Despite the influence of AB5 in this case, there are many in the exotic dancing field who see the other side of the coin. They prefer the flexibility of being independent contractors and like choosing multiple clubs on the schedule that is convenient to them. Giving up their independence and having to be under the control of an employer is the last thing they want, and they said as much in a protest in front of Los Angeles City Hall [Read more…]

Commute Time Compensation?

commute time compensationCommute time compensation? Most people who work spend a fair amount of time commuting to the job site. Furthermore, many jobs require workers to commute as part of the job. With such variety in the expectations and commuting requirements for various occupations, how can you know whether or not your employer is treating you fairly when it comes to commute time? Actually, the courts have come up with some pretty clear guidelines on this topic.   

Commuting in a Company Vehicle

Installation and repair crews for Pacific Bell Telephone Company believed they should be paid for their commute time to and from home because they were driving vehicles that were provided by Pacific Bell, and those vehicles were equipped with the tools and equipment necessary to address customer needs. They decided to pursue the issue in court.  

Details of the Commute Time Case

Technicians were paid hourly for an eight-hour day to address customer issues at customer’s homes. While driving the prescribed vehicle and using company tools was required, employees had a couple of choices when it came to those vehicles:

  • Technicians could take the company vehicle to and from their own homes. This option was known as the Home Dispatch Program (HDP). Technicians received no pay for their commute time driving to a customer’s home prior to 8:00, and they were not compensated for the time spent driving home after their last appointment.
  • Employees could drive their personal vehicles to the Pacific Bell garage to exchange it for a Pacific Bell vehicle. These employees were paid for their time spent going to the garage in the morning, and from the garage home at the end of a shift.

In either case, employees were compensated for the commute time driving to and from the warehouse when they needed to restock materials for the job.

Court Findings

The California Supreme Court defined hours worked as those hours during which an employer maintains control of an employee. The issue of employer control was central to their findings, and was directly correlated to whether or not riding in employee-provided transportation was required. The court referred to Morillion v Royal Packing Co., which dealt with a similar issue. In that case, workers were required to meet at a particular place in order to take the company bus to the worksite. Employees were under the control of their employers at that point because they could not make the decision to stop at a drive-through window for coffee, could not pick up or drop off kids on the way, and could not run other errands while on the bus. Therefore, the commute time on the bus counted as hours worked.  

In the case of the Pacific Bell Workers, employees were not required to drive a company vehicle to and from home. Additionally, they were free to make stops during their commute time in the company vehicle, meaning the worker was not under the control of the company. Therefore the commute time spent under the HDP plan was not compensable. [Read more…]

The End of The “No Rehire” Clause

end of no rehire clauseHave you been forced to sign a no rehire clause in order to settle a workplace dispute? When California Highway Patrol analyst Camryn Fields experienced sexual harassment at work, she followed company protocol and reported the issues to her supervisors. They, in turn, did nothing to quell the problem, leading Fields to seek legal redress. California Highway Patrol eventually settled the suit, and included in the final documentation a no rehire clause. It meant that Fields could not find work in any related state agencies after signing the agreement, which led her to a senate hearing where she bemoaned the unfairness of the double victimization. 

What is a No Rehire Clause?

As the name implies, a no rehire clause bars employees from future employment with an entity following her departure. In Field’s case, even other government agencies were empowered to dismiss her applications without consideration because she had signed such an agreement.

California’s Ban

In October 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB-749 into law, banning the use of these clauses after an individual has settled an employment dispute. While individuals who have engaged in sexual assault or harassment may be barred from future employment with an entity, a victim of such cannot. The law takes effect in January 2020, and faces stiff opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce. Their fear is that employees fired for legitimate reasons will be able to claim that they were retaliated against if they are not rehired down the road.  Nevertheless, employers should take the law seriously, and revise any agreements accordingly in the new year. The details of the bill have provisions banning the following:

  • Contracts of any kind that restrain individuals from lawful employment;
  • Settlement agreements that limit an aggrieved individual’s right to work for an affiliate or subsidiary of a parent company, in another division of an employer’s business.

Who is Not Protected by AB-749?

Limited options are available for employers who are unhappy with the new law. No Future Employment provisions may be included in agreements if there have not been legal claims initiated by the aggrieved party, which is someone who has filed a claim in any of the following places:

  • A court;
  • An administrative agency;
  • Through an employer’s complaint process;
  • Any formal forum used to address disputes.

Other instances where rehire ineligibility may be legal include when there is documentation of an employee’s misconduct or subpar job performance, or when there is reasonable evidence that the employee engaged in sexual assault or harassment. [Read more…]

Do Your Problems at Work Constitute a Hostile Environment?

hostile environment at workLet us say you really hate your job, and it is mostly because of the people with whom you work.  A negative and hostile environment at work makes it miserable day after day. Does what you are experiencing rise to a level that might be worth seeking legal help?  The short answer is… maybe. 

Hostile Environment at Work

If the environment at work is leading to feelings of depression or anxiety, it is possible that your employer is not taking state and federal harassment laws seriously.  Particularly if the bullying behavior or abuse is a repetitive problem against a protected class, a lawsuit may be your best option going forward. In California, any unwanted behavior toward a person in a protected class that would be judged as offensive to a reasonable adult could legally be classified as a hostile work environment

Protected Classes

Federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against any person based on the following:

  • Race, color, nationality;
  • Religion;
  • Sex;
  • Age;
  • Disability;
  • Citizenship;
  • Genetics.

In California, the anti-discrimination laws are more extensive, and prohibit discrimination abased on the following:

  • Sexual orientation;
  • Gender;
  • Military status;
  • Politics;
  • Marital status;
  • Having been a victim of assault, domestic violence, or stalking.

Is it Illegal?

The fact of the matter is plenty of nasty or annoying behavior is not necessarily illegal. In order to cross the legal standard, one of three things about the behavior must be true:

  • It is discriminatory;
  • It violates specific company policy;
  • It leads to safety issues in the workplace.

Additionally, in California issues are generally part of a series of actions that compile to create a hostile workplace environment.

Who Might be Guilty of Harassment?

Many people mistakenly believe that harassment might only occur at the hands of a supervisor or co-worker.  In actuality, clients, vendors, or customers might be guilty of harassment, and an employer has a responsibility to address issues involving even these groups.

What if the Harassment is Unintentional?

If there is one thing the #MeToo movement has brought to light, even comments or behaviors that were not intended to offend could be considered harassment, particularly if they continue after a request has been made to stop. Furthermore, a victim of harassment does not necessarily have to be the target of the comments or behavior. Anyone who is exposed to offensive, intimidating, or abusive conduct and who experiences offense or discomfort may have the right to pursue action against the offender. [Read more…]

Mandatory Arbitration Mostly Prohibited in California

Mandatory Arbitration Mostly Prohibited in CaliforniaCalifornia law on mandatory arbitration is about to change. Will the new law be better or worse for employees and businesses? Do you have a bone to pick with your employer? If employment policies or practices are illegal and unfair, you may wish to pursue legal action against your employer.  Starting in January 2020, that right will be afforded to you, thanks to a new bill that was just signed into law here in California. 

AB 51

Governor Newsom signed AB 51 into law, prohibiting employers from requiring employees to waive their right to sue when it comes to allegations of impropriety in the workplace. This could include anything from discriminatory behavior, labor violations, sexual harassment, retaliation, and any other offenses that may be illegal. While up until now many businesses compelled employees to agree to private arbitration in lieu of a lawsuit, the new legislation eliminates forced arbitration altogether.

Understanding  Mandatory Arbitration Agreements

Arbitration agreements are designed to handle workplace disputes without involving the courts.  Employers generally favor them for a number of reasons:

  • Arbitration is faster than a courtroom proceeding;
  • Arbitration is generally less expensive than lawyer fees and court costs;
  • Claims against employers never make it to a jury, avoiding massive payouts from employers.

For employees, however, mandatory arbitration can be a huge disadvantage when they have a solid case of wrongdoing.  Juries are often quite supportive when it comes to the mistreatment of workers, and have been known to award hefty damages. Even the threat of a jury trial can result in higher offers from companies who wish to avoid a courtroom battle.

Is Arbitration Fair?

In some cases, arbitrators, who are themselves employed by arbitration firms, tend to have a certain amount of bias toward employers who regularly utilize them. Researchers call this the repeat player effect, and report that workers are 500% less likely to prevail against an employer who had previously used a particular arbiter. In situations when workers did win, they were paid significantly less in settlements.

A Tricky New Law

What makes the whole thing somewhat controversial is the fact that the Supreme Court has previously determined that mandatory arbitration agreements are, indeed, legal. In California, it means that, while these agreements may be offered, and may be enforced if signed, employees now have a choice when it comes to signing such an agreement.  Employers may not retaliate against anyone who refuses to sign this document, and may not revoke any job offers in the event a would-be employee chooses not to sign on to such an agreement. [Read more…]

New Law Related to California Sexual Harassment Training

california sexual harassment training deadlineCalifornia sexual harassment training laws, deadline extended. If you work for a company that has not trained its employees on the laws regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, the likelihood of such harassment occurring is naturally higher. That is expressly why California sexual harassment training law requires employers to provide this important information to all employees. Recent changes to the law impact the expectations for this training. If you have concerns about sexual harassment, a local labor and employment attorney may be able to help. 

Importance of Effective Training

Recent allegations of sexual harassment plague the headlines. The failure to provide effective training can lead to employee missteps in the form of improper “jokes,” or even outright threats, intimidations, and written, verbal, or physical assaults. Any of these can make the workplace feel unsafe for employees, and are examples of behaviors that are untenable under California law.  While the perpetrator of such actions can be held liable for such actions, employers who fail to address them in a proper and timely fashion are also accountable by law.

New California Sexual Harassment Training Law Deadline

Prior legislation required employers with five or more employees to arrange for a sexual harassment training by 2020.  SB 778, which was signed into law in August 2019, extends that deadline to 2021.

California Harassment Training Requirements

The requirements for California sexual harassment training remain the same — two hours of education on the issues for all supervisors within six months of gaining such a position, at least once every two years. The training must speak to issues of abusive conduct according to California law.

Seasonal Employees

Temporary or seasonal workers also must undergo training. This must occur within 30 days or 100 hours of work, whichever comes first, if the worker has been hired to a position that will last six months or less. 

Resources

There is no excuse for employers who claim they do not know who to go to for California sexual harassment training materials. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has been tasked with creating online materials that employers may use. These materials must have an interactive section, necessitating participant interactions wherein they answer questions periodically in order for the program to continue running. When employees have questions throughout the course, the human resources department of the employer is required to address them.  [Read more…]

Natural Hairstyle Discrimination Banned in California

natural hairstyle discriminationHave you missed out on employment opportunities because of natural hairstyle discrimination of your afro, braids, or locks?  Starting in January 2020, employers will no longer be allowed to discriminate against people based on natural hairstyles that they may not like. The Governor signed SB 188 into law, strengthening California’s prohibitions on race discrimination. If you experience issues related to your natural hair in the workplace, it may be worthwhile to contact local employment attorney about next steps.  

History of Natural Hairstyle Discrimination

While both state and federal laws ban racial discrimination, hairstyles have not always been protected in all federal courts. The issue came into the spotlight in December 2018, when a young black wrestler in New Jersey was made to choose between his dreadlocks and being forced to forfeit a wrestling match. It was a horrible decision that no person, let alone a high schooler, should be have to make. The California legislature acknowledged a number of historical trends in the text of SB 188:

  • Traits associated with blacks, including dark skin and kinky hair, have historically been viewed as a sign of inferiority in this country;
  • Society’s understanding of “professionalism” has been largely linked to European norms of appearance;
  • Irrespective of strides to reduce racism, hairstyles remain a significant source of racism in California and throughout the country;
  • This racism has very real impacts on the health and economic status of Black people and communities;
  • Workplace dress codes that ban natural hairstyles, including braids, afros, locks, and twists, disparately impact Black people;
  • Since hair is ultimately a proxy for race, discrimination of the basis of hair constitutes racial discrimination.

Practical Meaning of the Law

The impacts of this new law are significant. For individuals who have experienced discrimination based on hairstyles, affirmative relief is now a reality. This could mean a number of remedies are available, including:

  • Reinstatement to a former position;
  • Back pay for amounts lost due to termination or job reassignment;
  • Out-of-pocket expense reimbursements;
  • Grants of tenure previously denied;
  • Promotions previously denied;
  • Training opportunities for which the employee was previously deemed ineligible.

A Name with Meaning

Senate Bill 188 specifically identifies traits generally associated with race as being on the list of issues deserving of legal protections, along with sexual orientation, disability, sex, race, color, religion, and national origin. It has been given the acronym the CROWN Act, in order to promote the idea of respect for natural hair. No longer will Californians have to make grooming choices related to natural hair that could have significant ramifications in the workplace or at school. Instead, the Senate, which passed the bill unanimously, hopes that an expanded view of what constitutes “professionalism” will promote greater acceptance of the black experience in the state. [Read more…]

Women’s Soccer and Gender Discrimination

womens soccer and gender discriminationAfter winning the World Cup title, the U.S. women’s soccer team has amassed a huge amount of support as they fight for equal pay and better working conditions. Their claim of the institutionalized gender discrimination dominating the sport for years will now be heard in a Los Angeles courtroom. 

Specifics of the Women’s Soccer Claim

While the obvious complaints around pay inequity are well publicized, the women assert a number of other discriminatory problems, including:

  • Where they are allowed to play;
  • The number of games played;
  • The quality/quantity of medical treatment and coaching available;
  • Travel arrangements for away games.

The suit against U.S. Soccer is a prime example of similar struggles in the world of women’s sports in this country. W.N.B.A. players and American hockey players have all been struggling to improve working conditions and salaries for women for years, and have been coordinating with the U.S. soccer players and their union to bolster the efforts.

Equal Pay Grievances Aired

Taking the lead in speaking up for the women’s team is Megan Rapinoe, the team’s captain. She notes that the women’s team plays more games than the men’s team, and has a significantly better record. Nevertheless, they have spent decades getting far less pay than the men’s players.  The problem extends beyond U.S. Soccer. FIFA, the world-wide governing body for soccer, has been charged with a number of discriminatory actions, involving issues related to World Cup bonuses and standards for referees to soccer fields made of artificial turf. FIFA has responded by doubling World Cup prize money for women and by eliminating play on artificial turf for the past couple of years. The women were also afforded the luxury of flying on a chartered plane for the tournament, and provided improved meal and accommodation stipends.

Nothing Simple Here

Although many people agree that equity is essential in the world of sports, some point out that the contracts for men and women are very different, and it is not a simple apples-to-apples comparison. Even if the contracts were identical, women’s sports are simply not as popular or as profitable as their male counterparts’ games, and that is a fact that must be part of any compensation calculation, according to the naysayers on the other side of the argument. Yes, women work just as hard and experience incredible success. But ticket sales directly connect to compensation, and therein lies the rub.

That being said, does it make sense that the prize money for the men’s World Cup is nearly 10 times the amount for the Women’s championship? The women answer with a resounding no. It remains to be seen how the court will respond to these complicated issues. [Read more…]

$7.5 Million Comcast Wage Lawsuit Settlement

comcast wage lawsuit settlementComcast wage lawsuit settlement. On the heels of two years of litigation between Comcast/O.C. Communications and roughly 4,500 technicians, a class action suit was settled for $7.5 million plus litigation fees. The battle was over failure to pay workers for all of their hours, failure to pay for piecework, neglecting to pay overtime, and, in some cases, refusing to pay minimum wage. If you have experienced similar problems in the workplace, an efficient and knowledgeable labor law attorney may be able to help. 

Details of the Comcast Wage and Hour Lawsuit Case

According to the wage lawsuit settlement records, O.C. Communications, who teamed up with Comcast Cable Communications Management, hired a number of non-exempt cable technicians to install and maintain cable connections. The workers claimed that they were not paid for rest and/or meal breaks. In addition, they were not reimbursed after submitting detailed expense reports. These claims of underpayment were compounded by the assertion that workers’ wage statements were neither itemized nor accurate.  

Workers shared personal accounts to illustrate the problems:

  • One employee was assigned four times his normal workload one day. His boss told him to eat his lunch while driving from one installation site to another, and get the job done without taking breaks;
  • Another employee was required to supply his own tools and supplies, including everything from screwdrivers and staple guns to various types of cable and drill bits.  This, in addition to work boots and pants.
  • One former employee asserted that working conditions were often unsafe, saying that typically workers might climb 28-ft. ladders and shimmy through confined spaces like attics all in the same day. Oftentimes, buildings were rat-infested and crawl spaces were littered with rat feces. Nonetheless, workers were not given protective equipment.
  • Mandated overtime was the biggest complaint for another employee, who said 12-hour days were the norm, adding up to 60-hour work weeks on a regular basis.

Reaching a Settlement

The court refused to sanction the original settlement agreement for a number of reasons:

  • Judge Chhabria believed the claims to hold “substantial merit,” and the labor code violations appeared to be a systemic problem for the defendants.
  • The settlement involved an amount that was well below what employees were entitled to, and the judge was reluctant to give the companies such a big break unless there was evidence that their business practices would be brought into compliance with Labor Codes.

Ultimately, the parties did settle, and the $7.5 million will be divided among the 4,500 workers who formulated the class action. [Read more…]

Unpaid Internship? Not so Fast!

unpaid internsipIf you have been offered an unpaid internship and are jumping at the chance to get some experience under your belt, you should be aware that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has something to say about it. There are multiple stipulations associated with the ability to legally contract with unpaid interns, and if the company does not meet all of them, they must pay such trainees.

FLSA requirements for an Unpaid Internship

The FLSA criteria are unflinching: All six of the following requirements must be met in order for a company to offer an unpaid internship:

  • The training involved must be comparable to that which would occur in a vocational school. In best-case scenarios, a training program will be developed with specific goals designed to help the intern gain qualifications for real-world work. Although operational tasks and duties might be part of the internship, a classroom and/or educational setting should be a part of the training involved. Ideally, the training would go hand in hand with coursework and credit or certification of some kind.
  • All training should be designed to be for the primary benefit of the intern. Duties should provide necessary and marketable skill development.
  • Interns cannot be used in lieu of regular employees. Rather, they must work under close supervision. Presumably, they would assist regular employees with critical work, but would not be entrusted with the responsibility for such tasks on their own.
  • Employers should derive no particular or specific immediate benefits by having interns on the premises, and, in fact, may actually experience some degree of slow-down in processes or outcomes for a period of time, as employees’ time will be split between training and their regular responsibilities.
  • Interns should have no guarantee of future employment with the company at the end of the internship. A written agreement stating as much should be a part of an internship agreement.
  • Both the intern and the employer must have a common understanding that wages will not be a part of the agreement. A written contract must stipulate that the training will occur with no expectation of or intention to assign wages in exchange for any work done by the intern.

Ultimately, when courts are asked to examine the legality of an unpaid internship, they tend to consider who the primary beneficiary in the arrangement is. If the intern gains substantially from the training experience, it could legally be deemed a trainee experience, and salary is not required. If the employer is the primary beneficiary and gains through the intern’s work product to a substantial degree, the intern must be viewed as an employee, and compensation is required. [Read more…]

Disclaimer

The information on this website should not be considered to be legal advice, nor construed to be the formation of any manner of attorney client relationship. Prior to taking any form of legal action, please consult with an attorney experienced in the appropriate area of law germane to your situation. Case results and testimonials presented on www.californialaborandemploymentlaw.net or any of its related websites are germane to the facts present for each individual case and is not a promise of similar outcomes for any other cases. This website is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the State of California.