Wrongful Death Lawsuit Related to Coronavirus Plagues Safeway

wrongful death lawsuitWrongful death lawsuit filed against Safeway. Pedro Zuniga was one of 51 employees who contracted COVID-19 while working in a Tracy, California Safeway warehouse in April 2020. After over two decades of employment there, he succumbed to complications of the disease on April 13. He was just 52 years old. His widow has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Safeway, alleging that her husband would not have died had the company adhered to federal and state safety guidelines and enacted common-sense policies. Instead, the suit claims, Safeway focused on company profits at the expense of employee safety and health. 

Precarious Conditions Alleged 

According to the wrongful death lawsuit, warehouse employees were beginning to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. Nonetheless, the company did nothing to address the situation: 

  • No personal protective equipment was issued to employees;
  • Signage in the warehouse actually discouraged the wearing of PPE in March;
  • Social distancing was never attempted and workers were obligated to work in close contact with one another;
  • Employees were “deterred” by managers from calling in sick;
  • Workers who experienced symptoms and expressed concerns about working were threatened with the loss of “points,” which could ultimately result in termination.

In fact, the company made efforts to conceal the warehouse outbreak, which affected at least 3% of the 1,700 employees.   

Zuniga’s Situation 

Mr. Zuniga tested positive for coronavirus on April 1, and was hospitalized shortly thereafter with pneumonia, a serious cough, fever, and trembling. In a matter of hours, he was put into an induced coma in the ICU, only to die days later of cardiopulmonary arrest and respiratory failure. 

Safeway Wakes Up 

After Zuniga perished, Safeway apparently woke up to the seriousness of the situation and began to enact appropriate protective measures at the warehouse. Employees began to have their temperatures checked prior to entering the warehouse in Tracy in an attempt to prevent symptomatic employees from spreading the disease. While it is a step in the right direction for current employees, the change in approach does nothing for Zuniga and his widow, children, and grandchildren.   

CDC Guidelines 

The Centers for Disease Control have a number of guidelines for the workplace, including making workplace hazard assessments, conducting health evaluations on a daily basis, encouraging mask wearing, improving ventilation systems, and implementing social distancing protocols.  Furthermore, disinfection strategies should be employed in common areas, and employees should be reminded of appropriate hygiene practices.  Essentially, workers who feel ill should stay home.  [Read more…]

McDonald’s Lawsuit Ends With $26 Million Settlement

mcdonald's lawsuitAfter years of legal wrangling, a McDonald’s lawsuit was settled in November of 2019. This McDonald’s Class action lawsuit was first filed back in 2013. In this McDonald’s class-action lawsuit, workers claimed that the employer had wrongfully underpaid cashiers and cooks in California. It is yet another prime example of a big corporation that was brought to heel by the courts after engaging in unfair business practices. If you feel your employer may be bending the law at your expense, seeking the help of a local labor attorney may be a good move.

The McDonald’s Lawsuit

McDonald’s employees had several specific claims against the fast food giant:

  • Workers’ shifts were structured so as to deny overtime pay to employees.  The company claimed that if a shift was split up within a 24-hour period, the worker was ineligible for overtime.  So if an employee worked from 9 pm. to 3 a.m. on one shift, and worked from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. in a successive shift, McDonalds refused to pay overtime despite 12 hours of work in a 24-hour period.
  • Breaks were allowed only at the beginnings and ends of shifts, not in the middle when business picked up and when workers could use the rest;
  • Employee uniforms were required to be cleaned and ironed, but employees were not given compensation for their care, particularly when clothing was damaged due to grease and smoke in the workplace.

Seven years of this McDonald’s lawsuit negotiations finally resulted in a truce of sorts.  A settlement, which must still be approved by a judge, serves to both address past employee complaints and ensure compliance to the law in the future.  The agreement has a number of requirements for the corporation:

  • McDonalds’ must pay overtime, and have an electronic tracking system for breaks and wages;
  • Rest breaks must be provided during workers’ shifts, not just at the beginning or end; the company agreed to fork over a one-hour wage premium in the event a meal or rest break is interrupted and employees are asked to work.
  • The employer must replace uniforms following normal wear and tear or damage from the work site.

Although McDonald’s admitted no wrongdoing, nearly 40,000 California employees are reaping the benefits of the $26 million settlement, along with coming changes to daily practice.

The company issued a statement that claims they believed employment practices always complied with labor laws in the state.  Nonetheless, it is working to improve training programs for restaurants owned by the company in an effort to encourage strict compliance with legal requirements. [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…]

Labor Strikes: an Uneasy Choice

labor strikesA number of California workers have faced of late some tough decisions with regard to their employment and labor strikes. Should they support fellow employees who wish to strike, or should they cross the picket line to continue working at their jobs? If you need help understanding the ramifications of either choice, a local employment lawyer is a good source for answers.

Local Calls for Labor Strikes

Strikes by workers are nothing new in this country, and Californians today are seeing several examples of employees fighting for improved wages, better working conditions, and a stronger voice in the workplace through organized strikes, such as:

  • University of California workers staged a three-day strike in hopes of increasing wages and reducing wage inequities. Service workers, security personnel, gardeners, and custodians across a score of California campuses stood on picket lines in an attempt to gain public support and leverage in contract negotiations after AFSCME Local 3299 and university officials were unable to reach an agreement.
  • California Nurses who are part of the CAN/NNU union have been part of a strike involving Kaiser, Oakland Children’s, and Sutter Hospitals.
  • The six day Los Angeles teachers strike just ended yesterday and teachers are back on the job today. A new agreement was reached with the School District for among other items, a 6% raise and the promise of a gradual reduction of class size.

Questions About Labor Strikes

Going on strike is no small matter. Contemplating such an action as a group is a weighty thing, and the stakes are no less significant for every single individual who is confronted with such a decision. The questions surrounding a strike often include the following:

Do Labor Strikes really ever accomplish anything?

Yes and No. Sometimes, striking does not result in wage gains or other benefits in any measurable way, but sometimes it does. Always, it could be argued, it brings attention to the issues and impacts public opinion, which, in turn, could sway policy-makers and employers.

Are Labor Strikes Legal?

Yes. However, strikers may not engage in misconduct, including:

  • Blocking individuals from coming or going into a location;
  • Threatening those who do not wish to join the strike;
  • Attacking employers, managers, or spokespersons on the other side.

Can anyone go on strike anytime?

No. There are rules to striking. The purpose of the strike must be lawful (it can not be to compel an employer to do something that is contrary to state or federal law), and the timing of the strike must comply with legal regulations. Additional restraints are attached to certain groups. For example, striking at a health care facility requires a minimum of 10 days written notice.

Can you be fired and replaced for participating in labor strikes?  

The National Labor Relations Act gives employees the right to strike in order to attempt to secure improved working conditions, wages, and benefits. Strikers, generally speaking, are entitled to be reinstated to their jobs at the end of the strike.

Will striking put you on a targeted list by management?

Maybe.  However, this would put your employer in hot water. [Read more…]

Labor Dispute – McDonald’s Brand Scrutinized

labor disputeLabor dispute; joint employer or franchise? After years of complaints and protests against low wages and other labor issues, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) eventually issued grievances against McDonald’s in 2015. Wage and labor complaints from multiple franchises in California cities and others across the country were consolidated. Beneath all the labor issues lies the question, is McDonald’s USA a joint employer of franchise employees, and therefore responsible for the treatment of employees at individual franchises?

Labor Dispute Issue

The central problem in the lawsuit surrounds franchise operators’ response to employee demonstrations. McDonald’s workers claim they were fired after participating in protests organized by a labor advocacy group called Fight for $15. According to the group, workers across the country lost their jobs simply for participating in these protests.

The Lawsuit

So who is responsible for the actions of individual franchises? Does the mother corporation hold any liability when their franchises are found guilty of labor or safety violations? What implications would a decision one way or the other have on the way business is conducted across the nation?

McDonald’s argued that it simply rents out its brand to individual franchises, and every franchise is an independent business. Policies are particular to each business, and are out of the corporation’s hands.

Conversely, the NLRB hoped to expand the joint employer doctrine, extending liability to corporations to whom they franchise their brands.

Many observers felt that a ruling against McDonald’s—naming it as a joint owner–would increase franchisors’ vulnerability to legal action, toppling the franchise model altogether. Anxious to avoid having to agree that it is a joint employer, McDonald’s agreed to a settlement in which they admitted no wrongdoing, but resolved claims with an undisclosed payout to employees.

Fight for $15 was not quite as eager to settle the case, arguing that McDonald’s needed to publicly take responsibility for surveilling, harassing and firing employees who were simply standing up for themselves against paltry wages by engaging in legally protected activity.

So how did the judge respond to the proposed labor dispute settlement?

Not so Fast…

Administrative Law Judge Lauren Esposito found that unfair practices by the McDonald’s chain were not adequately addressed, and the proposal was summarily rejected.

McDonald’s USA responded with disappointment, noting that expensive, time-consuming labor dispute litigation would extend for months or years to come. The possibility of an appeal of the court’s decision is being evaluated.

Fight for $15 was delighted with the labor dispute ruling, hoping to hold McDonald’s feet to the fire and force the corporation to take responsibility for the wages and working conditions employees suffered.  Everything is on hold while both sides decide how to proceed. [Read more…]

California Fires: When Natural Disasters Impact Your Ability to Return to Work

california firesCalifornia fires have had a disastrous effect on natural structures and communities. In addition to the many homes that have been devastated, businesses have been destroyed as well, leaving many Californians without jobs. If you are one of the many residents of this state who have lost not only a home, but your livelihood, you may be wondering what the obligations of your employer are in terms of salary and leave during this fire disaster.

California Fires and Wage Laws

Under California law, when a natural disaster occurs, employers must pay reporting time pay as per the Wage Order. This means that as employees are scheduled to return to work and they show up ready to work, but are not able to be put to work, or are allowed less than half of their usual work hours, they must be paid half their usual wage. At a minimum, they must be paid for two hours of work at their normal rate of pay. So if, for example, an employee works one hour out of an eight-hour shift, payment for four hours is required. However, if the employee chooses to leave early, this requirement becomes null. If the employee leaves early due to illness, the company’s sick leave policy would then potentially come into play.

When employees are required to attend meetings on days in which they normally do not work, they may be entitled to anywhere from two to four hours of regular pay.

California Fires and Exceptions to Reporting Time Pay

There are certain circumstances under which employers are not expected to pay overtime pay:

  • When persons or property are threatened and authorities determine that work may not begin or continue;
  • When public utilities such as electricity, water, gas or sewer are inoperable;
  • When the problem that caused the work disruption is an Act of God, such as an earthquake.

When Employers do Not Pay Reporting Time Pay as Required

Employees are protected by California law and must be paid under the circumstances described. When employers fail to meet their obligations, individuals may file a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner’s Office, or they may sue their employer to recover lost reporting time pay owed to them.

California Fires – What if Employers Retaliate?

Federal law prohibits discrimination or retaliation against employees for attempting to collect owed monies. If an individual experiences these types of issues, or is fired altogether, it is yet another reason to file a lawsuit against the errant employer. [Read more…]

Workplace Drug Testing

drug testingDrug testing has become a routine part of the job in many industries these days. In the past 30 years, in fact, drug testing has risen by nearly 300%. But is such testing accurate? With over 22 million tests being administered in this country every year, even a 5% false positive rate could result in over one million people’s lives being impacted in a negative way. Furthermore, are workers’ rights to privacy in the workplace being protected? If you feel your rights have been violated due to drug testing, an employment attorney may be able to help.

Drug Testing And False Positives

Recent studies indicate that 5-10% of drug tests produce false-positive results. Poppy seeds—even just a teaspoon—can produce a positive test for opioids, even three days after consumption. Prescription antidepressants and cold medicines can indicate amphetamines or benzodiazepine, and HIV medications can indicate that marijuana is in the bloodstream. Even ibuprofen has been connected with positive results for marijuana.

Drug Testing is Intrusive

Testers worry about potential tampering with test samples. That sometimes leads them to observe the employee, or to remove the sample provider’s outer attire and collect the urine sample in a room in which the water has been turned off.  For many, this experience is degrading and invasive.

Once the sample hits the lab, testing may reveal much more than the presence of illegal substances. Some legal drugs may be in the sample, and human error may make the distinction between legal and illegal substances difficult. False positives are a real possibility. Additionally, pregnancy or the genetic predisposition to diseases may also be detected. Sound impossible?  Unfortunately, there are documented cases in which this has occurred.

Systematic Errors with Drug Testing

While no one would argue that a safe workplace is not in in the best interests of employers and employees alike, many employers simply do not have sound practices in place when it comes to drug testing.

  • Random Testing: If the selection process for employees chosen for testing is not truly random, it may be discriminatory. In California, random testing is only allowed under narrow circumstances.
  • Legal Compliance: The law allows for testing of employees under reasonable suspicion of drug use only if objective facts are in evidence. Barring a good reason, singling out someone for testing is not lawful. Employers need to be aware of specific laws carved out by various municipalities or by other authorities in particular industries.
  • Uneven Implementation: One study indicates that just over 20% of respondents conducted drug testing on workers after employment. If policies are not administered uniformly, employees may have reason to suspect discrimination.
  • Medical Marijuana: While marijuana has been approved for medicinal purposes in California, it is still considered a schedule one drug at the federal level. Employers may have a zero-tolerance policy for marijuana, even though it is legal in the state.

[Read more…]

Immigrant Workers: Protections Expanded in California

Immigrant WorkersImmigrant workers make up roughly one-third of California’s workforce, paying over $5 billion in state taxes each year. Even so, the political climate has undoubtedly been alarming of late, leaving many to feel vulnerable. Many people now worry about losing their homes, jobs, and families.  In these challenging times, understanding California labor law can bring a bit of comfort in the workplace. If you are an immigrant living and working in California, there are laws on the books to protect you. Let our experienced legal team fight on your behalf.

The Battle Against Immigrant Workers Wage Theft

In an effort to combat wage theft, Governor Brown signed SB 588 into law in 2015. Wage theft occurs when employers illegally withhold wages from an employee. It occurs in numerous ways:

  • Offering hourly rates below minimum wage;
  • Failing to pay overtime at the state and federal rates;
  • Compelling workers to put in time “off the clock.”

Research indicates that immigrant workers and low-wage earners tend to be disproportionately impacted by these actions because they are unaware of the laws or they fear losing their jobs if they complain.

SB 588 seeks to give workers greater protections and more leverage when they do file a claim.  Now, employers may face a levy on their business bank accounts or a lien on their property if they are found guilty of wage theft.

Offensive Language Eliminated

SB 432 took effect in January 2016, and it effectively removed the word “alien” from the California Labor Code. The elimination of the derogatory term was intended to recognize the value and contributions of immigrant communities in California.

Eliminating E-Verify Except for Federal Work

The Employment Acceleration Act of 2011 provides key protections to laborers.

California Section 2812 deals specifically with electronic employment verification, known as the e-verify system. It states that, except when required federally, employers may not require employees to use the e-verify system. The exceptions include:

  • When it is required in order to receive a government contract;
  • When required to apply for or maintain a business license:
  • When being penalized for violating other licensing laws.

Basically, this means that it is illegal for an employer to use the federal E-Verify system to check a worker’s authorization status except in the case of government work. This applies to both current and potential workers.

Professional Licensing Available to All Californians

SB 1159 allows all Californians the opportunity to become licensed in 40 different professions.  By allowing the use of either a social security number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), the law essentially allows anyone in the state to obtain a license, irrespective of immigration status. [Read more…]

Gender Wage Gap – California Fair Pay Act

Gender Wage GapThe gender wage gap has been around for a long time, and came to the forefront with Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House. Although Clinton lost the election, the issue she ran on is still alive and well. Are you a woman who suspects disparate wages due to gender discrimination?  You need an experienced legal team to help you recoup the wages you deserve.

Gender Wage Gap in California

An analysis of California wages demonstrates that women were earning about $8,000 less per annum than men in 2012. Women of color lagged even further behind. Latina women earned only 43 cents on the dollar, Black women earned 63 cents on the dollar, and Asian women earned 72 cents on the dollar in comparison to white men. The situation has improved with time, but women on average earn just 79 cents to every dollar a man earns in this country.

Why the Gender Wage Gap?

Research indicates that women traditionally gravitate toward lower paying jobs, such as nursing and teaching. Even in professions such as marketing and technology, women actually ask for roughly $14,000 less than their male counterparts for the same job. That makes it easy for employers to offer women about 3% less than men for the exact same position.

Discrimination may play a role in wage disparities. A Cornell study concluded that when women compete for men for the same job while holding equivalent credentials. Their study corroborates with census data indicating that across industries, job functions, and educational background. Women earn significantly less than men for the same work.

Closing the Gender Wage Gap in California

This fall, Governor Jerry Brown took a step to improve matters when he signed a tough new pay equity law that will come into effect in January 2017. Supplementing state and federal laws requiring equal pay for equal work, the new California Fair Pay Act prohibits bosses from paying employees less for “substantially similar work” when their titles or locations differ. It also bans retaliation against employees who discuss their disparate salaries.

Now, more than ever, rather than differentiating pay at will, employers must apply a reasonable standard based on seniority, merits, quantity or quality of production, education, or experience.  Furthermore, employers must keep accurate records of pay for three years.

Remedies for Discrimination and Retaliation

Under statute, employees may recover wages plus interest and attorney’s fees. If unfairly discharged as retaliation, an employee may pursue civil action and seek reinstatement, as well as pay for lost wages and benefits, plus interest. The employee must make such a claim within one year of the perceived actions. [Read more…]

Collecting Attorney Fees in EEOC Discrimination Case

EEOC Discrimination CaseNew Supreme Court ruling is a boon to employers hoping to collect attorney’s fees in an EEOC discrimination case. If your company is dealing with an EEOC complaint, you will most likely find the Supreme Court’s recent decision in CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to be welcome news. The case involved a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which held that a defendant in a Title VII case (such as an employer) is only entitled to payment for its attorney’s fees if it prevails in court after a “ruling on the merits.” The Supreme Court overturned this decision, and held that it is possible for a defendant to prevail and receive compensation for attorney’s fees, even without a ruling on the merits.

EEOC Discrimination Case Background

CRST’s EEOC discrimination case legal battle (which has lasted for over a decade) began when an employee named Monika Starke filed a complaint with the EEOC in 2005. She alleged that, over the course of her training as a truck driver, she was sexually harassed by two of her trainers. CRST denied the allegations. When the EEOC investigated, it discovered that four other employees had filed complaints. The EEOC ultimately found that there was reasonable cause to believe that an entire class of employees had been subjected to sexual harassment, and filed a lawsuit against CRST under Title VII on behalf of the aggrieved employees.

The EEOC eventually named more than 250 female employees of CRST as victims of sexual harassment. At trial, the District Court found that the EEOC had not satisfied its presuit requirements, and barred the EEOC from seeking relief for any of the employees. When CRST requested compensation for its EEOC discrimination case legal fees, the District Court approved the motion, and awarded CRST over $4 million in attorney’s fees.

An appeal, the Eighth Circuit found that CRST should not receive compensation for attorney’s fees. It reasoned that, due to precedent, only “prevailing” parties can receive compensation for attorney’s fees, and a party can only prevail if there has been a judicial determination of the plaintiff’s case on the merits. Because some of the complaints were thrown out due to the EEOC’s handling of the presuit requirements, the Court found that there had not been a ruling on the merits. According to the Court, there is a distinction between a ruling based on the elements of a claim (which would constitute a determination on the merits), and a ruling based on prerequisites to filing suit.

The Supreme Court disagreed, and held that there should be no requirement that a case be resolved “on the merits” in order for the defendant to be awarded attorney’s fees. According to the Court’s ruling, common sense dictates that a defendant has prevailed whenever a plaintiff’s claim has been rejected. The Court vacated the Eighth Circuit’s ruling, remanded the case for further proceedings, and urged the lower courts to expedite the resolution because the dispute has already taken so much time. [Read more…]


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