Harassment on A Large Scale in City Government

By Peter Levine posted in Law, Sexual Harassment on September 3rd, 2013

Seventeen Women allege Sexual  Harassment

In the past weeks, starting on July 10, at least 17 women have alleged harassment saying the 70-year-old former Congressman and current San Diego Mayor, Bob Filner, made unwanted sexual advances.

Irene McCormack Jackson, the mayor’s former press secretary, was the first woman since the scandal broke to bring a lawsuit against the mayor, claiming that the mayor had harassed her. An 11-page suit, filed in San Diego County Superior Court, accuses Filner on one occasion of placing McCormack Jackson in what she described as a virtual “head lock” – while he suggested they get married and asked, “Wouldn’t it be great if we consummated the marriage?” The complaint quotes Filner on a separate occasion, in the press secretary’s City Hall office, as telling her, “When are you going to get naked? Come on and give me a kiss.”

“I had to work and do my job in an atmosphere where women were viewed by Mayor Filner as sexual objects or stupid idiots. I saw him place his hands where they did not belong on numerous women,” McCormack Jackson has said.

McCormack Jackson was hired by Filner in January but resigned in June and is now director of communications for another city department.

“I am saddened by the charges that were leveled against me”

In response to the lawsuit Filner has said, “I am saddened by the charges that were leveled against me. Once due process is allowed to unfold, I am certain there will be a better understanding of this situation. I remain committed to the people of San Diego and the work that needs to be done. My dreams and plans for moving this City to new heights are continuing.”

Calls for Filner’s resignation began on July 11, when former San Diego city councilwoman and fellow Democrat Donna Frye joined two attorneys in leveling allegations that at least one woman had accused the mayor of harassing her.

Filner responded then by acknowledging that he had “failed to fully respect the women who work for me and with me, and that at times I have intimidated them.”
A number of prominent local Democrats have also publicly urged Filner to quit.

Filner resigned Friday August 30. A special election to replace him has been set for November 19.

Workers Ticketed by Police While Protesting Work Conditions

By Peter Levine posted in Employment Law, Law on September 2nd, 2013

Ticketed strikers refused to leave in order to send a message

Ten current and former Walmart workers and two organizers were ticketed by police outside the retailer’s Washington, D.C., office during a protest over working conditions.

OUR Walmart, an affiliate of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, is spear-heading the strikes and said most of the workers had taken part in recent high-profile strikes and as a result later lost their jobs.

A D.C. police spokeswoman said the protesters were cited for “blocking passage” after refusing to disperse from the sidewalk during the demonstration.

Cindy Murray, an employee at the retailer’s store, reported she and her fellow strikers had refused to leave in order to send a message. Murray said they were protesting what OUR Walmart claims were 20 firings as well as dozens of disciplinary actions that occurred as a result of the worker strikes that started on Black Friday 0f 2012.

“We stood our ground. We felt Walmart needs to know how we truly feel about what we’re doing,” said Murray. “Our demands were that they take back what they did to our 60 workers, and we’re giving them until Labor Day to do that.”

They were fired as a result of violating Walmart’s attendance policy

Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, disputed the claims that the workers in question had been retaliated against, and said they were fired as a result of violating the company’s attendance policy and not because they had gone on strike or took part in protests.

“No associate has ever been retaliated against at Walmart for raising concerns, nor would they be,” Lundberg said. “Many of these associates didn’t show up for days.”

Walmart workers participated in scattered strikes during last year’s Thanksgiving shopping season, calling for higher pay, better access to health care coverage, and more reliable work hours.

OUR Walmart has filed unfair labor practice charges against Walmart on behalf of workers who lost their jobs. The current and former employees who were later detained visited the D.C. headquarters of the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that enforces labor law and investigates such charges.

According to Murray, the workers presented an NLRB official with a petition in support of their cause that included 180,000 signatures.

Murray said OUR Walmart plans to escalate its public protests if the disciplinary actions against strikers aren’t reversed.
“We want every worker that they fired due to our strike to be reinstated,” she said.

Murray, a 13-year Walmart veteran, said she earns $12.40 per hour. The $100 ticket she received Thursday for “blocking passage” is almost exactly equal to a day’s wages.

Warehouse workers suspended for taking “heat” breaks

By Peter Levine posted in Law on August 30th, 2013

“We take heat breaks two or three times a day”

Ten workers at a Walmart supplier’s Southern California warehouse said they were suspended indefinitely after taking a five-minute break in temperatures of more than 90 degrees.

“We take heat breaks two or three times a day,” Ricardo Hernandez, an employee of the warehouse, said. “But then on Friday, they told us they were suspending us for taking a heat break.

The workers believe they were suspended from the warehouse in retaliation for previously raising concerns about their working conditions.

This past May the union filed a complaint with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging blocked fire exits, inadequate access to water, and collapses of towers of boxes. State workers inspected the warehouse following the complaint. The investigation is still ongoing and should conclude about end of November.

Video cameras in employee break rooms

But soon after the inspection, the warehouse installed video cameras in employee break rooms and brought in consultants who advised workers not to discuss working conditions, reported Hernandez.

So in late July about 30 of the roughly 200 workers at the warehouse participated in a 2-day strike to protest what they call intimidation; spying and retaliation for raising concerns about working conditions.

“There’s even [a camera] by the restroom. They can see every time you go the restroom,” Hernandez said. “I think they’re trying to intimidate us, to see every move we make.”

“I want management to hear us and take a walk in our shoes to see what we go through every day. This warehouse is really tough to work in under such hot temperatures with no cool water,” he said, but “they ignore us. They take us as a joke.”

Heidi Baizabal, a single mother of four who had worked at the warehouse for five years before being suspended believes her suspension was as a result of her participation in the July strike and for asking for better working conditions. “I feel bad. I feel depressed because my family depends on this,” Baizabal said.

Guadalupe Palma, director of Warehouse Workers United, said all 10 of the recently suspended workers participated in that two-day strike in late July.
Warehouse Workers United, a labor union that supports the workers but does not officially represent them, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board for each of the 10 suspended workers.

The use of credit checks and convictions in employment applications

By Peter Levine posted in Employment Law, Law on August 27th, 2013

Court OKs credit history and past convictions as employment criteria

The U.S. District Court for Maryland made it even harder for workers with poor credit histories and past criminal convictions to secure employment when it dismissed a federal lawsuit brought by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Freeman, a privately held event management company.

The lawsuit charges Freeman with violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. According to the EEOC, the employer’s hiring practice of performing detailed inquiries into applicant’s credit histories and criminal backgrounds amounted to discrimination because it disproportionately impacted African-American and male job applicants.

Any applicant meeting any of 12 different categories of reported credit-unworthiness were excluded from certain positions.
The Freeman court joined a number of other employers praising what some consider a “common sense” practice of performing credit and criminal background checks. Supporters of this practice ignore studies demonstrating that credit problems do not predict employee performance, as well as studies documenting atrocious error rates on credit checks. A report released by the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year found that a quarter of consumers identified errors (that might impact credit scores) on their credit report.

In 2011, California limited the use of credit checks in employment. The law also established broad exceptions to the “prohibition” on employment-related credit checks, essentially blessing the use of credit checks across jobs and industries where the necessity had previously never been demonstrated.

Employment Application: Have you ever pleaded guilty to, or been convicted of, a criminal offense?


Freeman’s standard employment application form also asked, “Have you ever pleaded guilty to, or been convicted of, a criminal offense?” Applicants were told certain convictions would not be considered in the hiring process. However, the company acknowledged a “bright-line rule” that disqualified any applicant who “failed to disclose a conviction, seriously misrepresented the circumstances of a criminal offense, or made any other materially dishonest statement on the application.”

These types of cases, often called “disparate impact” cases, stand or fall on the persuasiveness of the presented statistical evidence. In the EEOC v. Freeman case, the court let loose on the EEOC’s expert, criticizing his methodology and ultimately calling his findings “an egregious example of scientific dishonesty.”

These cases are being watched closely by consumer and civil rights advocates, who hope the EEOC’s oversight of these employment policies will reduce the use of background checks to screen out applicants. The decision nonetheless reinforces misconceptions and legal standards that are hostile to anyone applying to join the workforce.

Apple sued for unpaid wages and overtime compensation

By Peter Levine posted in Law, Unpaid Overtime on August 25th, 2013

Apple required off-the-clock security bag searches

Two former Apple Inc. retail employees have sued the tech giant for “millions of dollars” for unpaid wages and overtime compensation. They allege hourly employees had to wait in line and undergo off-the-clock security bag searches after they had clocked out.

Amanda Frlekin alleges when she clocked out for her uncompensated meal breaks and at the end of her shift, she waited for at least five to 10 minutes, without compensation, as other employees had their bags checked. In total this comes to about 50 minutes to 1.5 hours a week of unpaid overtime, totaling to about $1,500 in wages not paid over the course of a year.

The other plaintiff, Dean Pelle, is making similar claims about required bag inspections when he worked in Apple’s stores.

Like other retail employees, the company’s employee conduct manual specifies that all employees are subject to personal bag searches, and if refused employees, can be subject to termination.

Apple charged with California Labor Code violations

The plaintiffs allege by not compensating its retail workers for this waiting time, Apple has violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as the California Labor Code for nonpayment of the minimum wage, overtime wages and wage statement penalties, in addition to the California Unfair Competition Law for “unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice,” and New York Labor Law for nonpayment of wages and unpaid overtime.

Yana Walton, communications director for the retail worker advocacy group, Retail Action Project, stated her organization has “secured back wages for hundreds of retail workers who have experienced wage theft” in New York City.

“Unfortunately, retail workers experience wage theft in many ways, and like employees at Forever 21 and Polo Ralph Lauren who filed similar suits, unpaid mandatory job functions are tantamount to wage theft,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Apple told ABC News that the company does not comment on pending litigation. The plaintiffs and their attorneys did not respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.

Frlekin and Pelle are hoping to expand their lawsuit into a class action that represents Apple retail employees over the past three years. Lawyers representing the plaintiffs are also hoping to represent retail employees in Apple’s California and New York stores for even longer periods, the Associated Press reported.

Congressional Report Cites Thousands of Cases of Elder Abuse

By Peter Levine posted in Law on August 20th, 2013

The widespread problem of elder abuse has even come to the attention of Congress. Reported instances of abuse appear to be on the rise. The percentage of nursing homes cited for violations has increased every year since 1996, according to the House Government Reform Committee. Serious physical, sexual and verbal abuse reports are “numerous” among the nation’s nursing homes, says a congressional study released recently.

The study, prepared by the minority (Democratic and Independent) staff of the Special Investigations Division of the House Government Reform Committee, finds that 30 percent of nursing homes in the United States — 5,283 facilities — were cited for almost 9,000 instances of abuse over a recent two-year period, from January 1999 to January 2001.

Common problems included untreated bedsores, inadequate medical care, malnutrition, dehydration, preventable accidents, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene, the report said.

Many of the abuse violations caused harm to the residents, the report said.

In 1,601 cases, the abuse violations were serious enough “to cause actual harm to residents or to place the residents in immediate jeopardy of death or serious injury,” it said.

“What we have found is shocking,” says Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the committee’s minority leader, who instructed the staff to do the study.

Staff members accused of committing physical or sexual abuse

In some reported cases, a member of the nursing home’s staff was accused of committing physical or sexual abuse. In others, staff were cited for failing to protect people from abuse by other residents.

The report documents instances of residents being punched, slapped, choked or kicked by staff members or other residents, causing injuries such as fractured bones or lacerations.

Some of the violations uncovered are particularly disturbing. In one case, according to the report, an attendant walked into a resident’s room, said “I’m tired of your ass,” and hit her in the face, breaking her nose.

In another case, attendants bribed a brain-damaged patient with cigarettes to attack another resident, then watched the two fight. The report also described a case in which a male attendant molested an elderly female resident while bathing her.

The federal government is the biggest contributor of nursing home care

The homes cited by the study for instances of abuse accommodate some 550,000 residents. Nationwide, some 1.6 million people reside in 17,000 nursing homes and 11,000 of them are for-profit businesses.

The federal government is the biggest contributor of nursing home care, mostly through Medicaid, a joint federal-state health care program for the poor, and Medicare, the federal program for elderly and disabled people. Federal heath and safety standards are designed to protect nursing home residents from abuse.

Elder Abuse Lawyer Los Angeles – Peter K. Levine

Source: “Congressional Report Cites Thousands of Cases of Elder Abuse,” 30 July 2013

Wrongful Termination Ends in $2 Million Verdict

By Scott 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.

Employment Lawyer los Angeles – Peter K Levine

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 Scott 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.

Employment Lawyer Los Angeles

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

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