Mistreated Employee Lawsuits Find a Favorable Climate in California

mistreated employee lawsuitsIt appears that the current California legal climate is favorable for pursuing mistreated employee lawsuits. If a potential, current, or previous employer has discriminated against or otherwise mistreated you in California, you are in a good position to exact revenge if you so desire. That is because California is well known to be amenable to rectifying the wrongdoing of errant employers Certainly, many factors play in to California’s protective attitude toward wronged employees. The #MeToo movement brought issues related to sexual harassment and retaliation to the forefront of public discussion. Even before #MeToo hit the public airways, though, California legislators were paving the way to an even playing field for anyone involved in a workplace dispute. In fact, the American Tort Reform Foundation went so far as to say that California courts go out of their way to assign responsibility to companies in employer liability lawsuits by allowing for no-injury litigation through PAGA lawsuits, making California the most employee-friendly state in the nation.

What is PAGA?

We’ve blogged about PAGA before. PAGA, or the Private Attorneys General Act, gives employees the right to sue their employers civilly for violations of the Labor Code. The process requires a submission of the complaint to LWDA (Labor and Workforce Development Agency) with the potential for an investigation of the matter. Aggrieved employees wishing to pursue civil action are authorized to do so through Labor Code 2698-2699. Some of the requirements for such legal action include:

  • Online filing with a copy of the complaint sent to the employer via certified mail;
  • Employer responses also filed online, with copies sent to the employee vie4a certified mail;
  • Paying required filing fees;
  • Waiting up to 60 days for a LWDA review;
  • Court approval of settlements, with copies of all judgments provided to LWDA.

Mistreated Employee Lawsuits – Successful Court Cases

Mistreated employee lawsuits have found juries to be sympathetic to their plight in recent years:

  • When Allstate Insurance fired a 30-year employee based on his arrest record, that employee fought back in court, ultimately being awarded nearly $3 million in compensation. While roughly one-third of the award was for wrongful termination, the rest was for defamation. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. The jury added another $16 million to the award in punitive damages, sending a clear message to the employer that wrongful termination will not be tolerated.
  • When two employees asserted that they had suffered sexual harassment from the general manager of Keyways Vineyard and Winery, things did not end there. After registering their complaint, the women experienced retaliation in the form of being removed from the weekly schedule. A jury awarded the plaintiffs $11 million.

[Read more…]

FMLA Violations and Harassment Lead to Court for Employers

Individuals and families often have legitimate medical issues that lead to a request for time off of work. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the state’s California Family Rights Act (CFRA) lay out the responsibilities of employers (applicable to those with 50 or more employees) when it comes to family, medical, and/or parental leave. While the leave may be unpaid, it is job-protected time off. In the majority of situations, employees must be allowed to return to their previous position or an equivalent position as it relates to pay, benefits, working conditions, status, and fringe benefits. Crucially, employees are entitled to request and take leave without fear of retribution from employers.

FMLA – Employee Rights

Eligible employees are entitled to as much as 12 weeks of leave annually. This leave may be taken to deal with an array of issues, including:

  • Personal illness;
  • Caring for a family member who is ill;
  • Bonding with a newborn baby, a child who has been adopted, or a foster child;
  • A family member’s military service when associated with a qualifying exigency (FMLA provides 26 weeks to care for service members who have been injured).

Pregnancy Disability – FMLA

California’s CFRA laws apply to employers with five or more employees, and provide eligible employees as much as four months of pregnancy disability leave (PEL). This is in addition to FMLA bonding time.

When FMLA and CFRA Laws are Ignored

Failure to adhere to state and federal laws regarding leave is one of the most common reasons employees seek redress through civil lawsuits. In particular, retribution from irked employers gets them into trouble. Consider the case of Maria Salgado:

When Maria Salgado was called “psychotic” and “psycho” by a coworker, it understandably added to her stress at work. This was not helpful, especially since she suffered from anxiety and depression before the harassment began. Notably, the name-calling occurred shortly after Salgado informed her supervisor of her mental health status. Could the supervisor have breached ethical and legal boundaries by sharing this confidential information with Salgado’s co-worker?  If so, it would be the latest in a long list of harassment experienced by Salgado at the hands of her supervisor, including:

  • Objections for taking time off to deal with medical issues related to an injury, diabetes, and mental health problems;
  • Disciplinary action related to Salgado’s providing less than 24-hour notice prior to taking sick days or medical leave;
  • Confrontations and berating for expressing concerns in an open meeting hosted by the union to deal with medical leave issues;
  • Retaliating by insisting that Salgado be fired after three tardies totaling 13 minutes;
  • Failing to address co-worker harassment that occurred in the presence of the supervisor.

[Read more…]

California Employees’ Right to Organize a Union

labor unionUnion organization changed the lives of California workers decades ago. Arguably, it was the work of those early activists that propelled many of the working class into the middle class, providing them with opportunities to own their own homes and earn disposable income. Despite the heroic beginnings of the union movement, only 16% of today’s California workers carry union cards. If you are experiencing illegal employer actions to block your efforts to organize labor, you may wish to seek the counsel of a local labor attorney.

Dreams of Historic Union Organizers

Caesar Chavez famously fought for the rights of farmworkers, and Harry Bridges was on the front lines advocating for longshoremen. They, and others like them, organized strikes and other actions to improve working conditions and wages for American workers. Pat Brown endeavored to eliminate employers’ right to make employment decisions based on skin color. Anna Smith led demonstrations protesting the horrendous conditions during the depression.

Despite these gallant soldiers of the working class, union membership is in serious decline. Likewise, the median income of California workers has experienced a parallel decline, along with a drop in homeownership rates.

Starting a Union

Forming a union is within the rights of every American worker. Employees are allowed to discuss and push an agenda putting forth the ideas surrounding organizing as workers. If you wish to start the wheels turning, here are some important tips worth heeding:

  • Be aware of your rights, and have clear goals;
  • Create an organizing committee and gather information about the workplace structure, employee contact information, and facts about the employer’s union history;
  • Create a platform highlighting the issues you’d like to address;
  • Investigate local unions and determine which one is best for you;
  • Solicit input from a local union organizer;
  • Sign up a majority of workers quickly so elections can be held;
  • Signed cards are required to petition the labor board or the state for the ability to hold an election. This may take some weeks, so keep the fire burning:
  • Negotiate a bargaining contract with the employer.
  • Keep employees organized and motivated.

Employer Resistance to a Union

Despite state and federal laws permitting employees to organize in this fashion, many employers resist such movement. They may put a lot of money into a campaign to destroy organizer’s momentum. While they have every right to defend their position, employers may not:

  • Threaten organizers;
  • Limit free speech during employee breaks;
  • Make employment decisions based on union activity;
  • “Get even” with organizers in any way.

[Read more…]

I’m Being Retaliated Against at Work But How Can I Prove It?

retaliated against at workI’m being retaliated against at work but how can I prove it? As the definition of “protected conduct” in the workplace broadens, the number of employer retaliation lawsuits have increased exponentially. In turn, companies have found clever ways to get rid of employees who have reported them to authorities for protected class violations at work.

If you feel you are being retaliated against at work for protected conduct then you very well may be.

What is protected conduct?

Protected conduct is described by the EEOC under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Basically, there are provisions covered in the EEOC statutes that make it unlawful for an employer/entity to take action against an employee who complains (implicitly or explicitly) about discrimination in the workplace. Areas of protected conduct include employees’ rights to: religious preference, gender identification, race, age, disability, military status, freedom of speech and protest, equal pay, harassment and protection for rape victims.

Here are some examples of complaints/actions that an employer may not retaliate against: 

  1. A threat from a 56 year old employee to file a complaint against alleged age discrimination because of demotion
  2. A female employee who complains that her male co-worker is making more money performing the same job
  3. Employees who picket the workplace
  4. Employees who slow production as a form of protesting unfair labor practices
  5. An employee who suddenly comes to work wearing a hijab
  6. Complaints about graffiti in the workplace that are derogatory to women
  7. A concerned employee who complains that her supervisor is making fun of the receptionist in a wheelchair
  8. An employee who refuses to obey an order that they believe is discriminatory
  9. An employee who requests reasonable religious accommodation to take a half day off for Good Friday

There are various tactics that employers can use that may violate retaliation laws, some subtle and some not, that may be intended to coerce you into quitting your job. Be aware that retaliatory tactics can and often include what psychologists call the “outcast effect” that is best described when co-workers socially align with the “in crowd”. You will know this is happening when your friends at work shun you and label you as socially undesirable. Basically, the entire workforce may turn against you in a big way and it can be cruel.

 This Forbes Magazine article clearly describes just how miserable co-workers and supervisors can make an employee feel who reports protected conduct to authorities.

I’m Being Retaliated Against at Work

Social isolation does not stand on its own as a case for retaliation. It is only one cog in the wheel of a divisive harassment campaign that companies may use against you. A typical retaliation campaign might include, along with social isolation, poor performance reviews, petty reprimands, cuts in duties and pay, unequal treatment between complaining and non-complaining employees, hostility, being moved from a bright office to a dull cubicle, loss of responsibilities and increased work load meant to make you fail.

What must an employee go through to prove a workplace retaliation claim?

Employees must provide evidence:

  • that they engaged in protected conduct;
  • that they suffered a tangible, adverse employment action; and that there is a causal connection between their protected conduct and the adverse action.
  • that there is a causal connection between their protected conduct and the adverse action.

Further, employees must prove causation by providing incidents, documents, witnesses and dates, with tangible evidence of:

  1. unfair treatment between employees;
  2. the timing between the adverse actions and the protected conduct (courts expect employers to retaliate quickly);
  3. lack of a formal investigation into the employee’s complaint;
  4. petty or vague reasons for reprimands, demotions, loss of status or duties;
  5. a documented timeline of systematic company harassment after the time of the protected conduct.

If you feel you are being retaliated against at work and think you need assistance in proving causation please contact us at our Beck Law P.C. Santa Rosa Labor and Employment Law office so that we can discuss the circumstances of your situation.


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.