Blog

Suit Alleges Silicon Valley Execs Conspired To Keep Wages Low

By Peter Levine posted in Employment Law on October 30th, 2013

Class action lawsuit in an alleged “overarching conspiracy”

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose has granted class action status to a lawsuit alleging an “overarching conspiracy” amongst major Silicon Valley companies to suppress employee compensation obtained from moving from one company to another.

By winning the class action certification, the more than 60,000 plaintiffs made up of technical employees including: software and hardware engineers, component designers, application developers, among others, now have more leverage to seek larger financial settlements than if they were to sue individually.

In 2011, five software engineers sued Adobe Systems Inc., Intel Corp., Apple Inc., and Google Inc., among others over their hiring practices, alleging that the Silicon Valley companies conspired with other local executives to limit the workers’ pay by barring them from moving from one company to another, thus suppressing employee compensation to artificially low levels.

In conspiring to eliminate competition for labor and depriving workers of job mobility as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation, the defendants were accused of violating the Sherman Act and Clayton Act antitrust laws.

In their original complaint, the plaintiffs sought certification of an “All Employee” class that would include every salaried employee throughout the United States who worked for the defendant companies between 2005 and 2009. That number was estimated to be more than 100,000.

The plaintiffs limited their class action group, now down to 60,000 after Judge Koh said they had yet to show enough in common amongst these proposed class members to allow them to sue together.

Much of the case built on email exchanges

The case has been closely watched in Silicon Valley as much of it has been built on email exchanges between top executives, including the late Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs as well as former Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt.

In granting class-action status to the suit Koh cited what she termed “considerable, compelling common proof” that the Silicon Valley companies engaged in antitrust behavior by agreeing not to try to lure away each others’ employees.

Peter K. Levine
A Professional Law Corporation
http://www.employmentforall.org/

Do Unpaid Internships Benefit the Intern?

By Peter Levine posted in Employment Law on October 29th, 2013

40 people in a room doing entry-level jobs for free

According to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, internships at for-profit companies can be unpaid if the internship is “for the benefit of the intern” and “similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.”

But some recent lawsuits are shining a light on how unpaid internships are more like free labor.
NYU student, Christina Isnardi interned at a local production company the summer after her freshman year. “When I got to the place, it was extremely illegitimate and exploitative. My employer, he basically used me for free labor,” she said. “I had a friend who had to wash dishes for a film company.” Now a junior at NYU, Isnardi has co-founded the organization Fair Pay for Interns and started an online petition at her school to remove unpaid internship opportunities from its CareerNet.

Vice president of Intern Bridge, Robert Shindell, estimates that a million undergraduates take internships each year. And about 20% of those internships are unpaid with no academic credit.

“The bad internships are 40 people in a room doing entry-level jobs for free,” says Mikey Franklin, co-founder of the Fair Pay Campaign, a group attempting to lobby for legislation that would mandate pay for an intern’s labor. “The good internships are only for people who can afford to work for free.”

While unpaid internships are more common in “creative” fields such as film, fashion and politics, a petition on Moveon.org asks the question: “Where can an adult work 50 hours for no pay in 2013?” And answers it with: “The White House Intern program.”

That is real work, Mr. President

The petition has about 8,500 signatures. “That is real work, Mr. President,” the petition reads. “It’s not equivalent to a semester in college.”

Other recent lawsuits include two interns on the set of Black Swan who sued Fox Searchlight Pictures, alleging they did basic tasks undertaken by regular entry-level employees, as well as an ex-Harper’s Bazaar intern who sued Hearst Magazines, an unpaid intern who sued Warner Music Group and Atlantic Records, and a former intern at Donna Karan International.

These companies argue their competitive unpaid internships benefit the students. But for many parents and students these internships prove too expensive.
“There are strict legal guidelines. If you’re doing the work of a for-profit company, it is eminently clear that you should get paid. It is abundantly clear,” Franklin says.

Peter K. Levine
A Professional Law Corporation
http://www.employmentforall.org/

Racial Discrimination Charged by African-American Hooter’s Waitress

By Peter Levine posted in Discrimination on October 27th, 2013

Hair Color Deemed Improper for An African-American Woman

Farryn Johnson, an African-American 25-year-old Hooters waitress, alleges she was let go because of her blonde highlights, even thought white waitresses are allowed to color their hair at the chain restaurant.

In the racial discrimination complaint filed with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, Johnson is claiming she was let go from her job on grounds of having an “improper image” after she refused to remove the blonde highlights from her dark brown hair.

“They gave me write-ups, and they told me I need to take the color out of my hair. And they said I couldn’t have blond in my hair because I’m black. They specifically said, ‘Black women don’t have blond in their hair, so you need to take it out,'” Johnson said.

In her complaint she wrote, “Because Hooters permits non-African-American women with their hair dyed colors vastly different from their natural hair colors to work as Hooters Girls, I believe Hooters only deemed my hair color ‘improper’ because I am an African-American woman. I was discharged because Hooters imposes different and more restrictive beauty standards on African-American women than it does on women of other races.”

…employers can’t have two separate unequal sets of rules

Her attorney, Jessica Weber, had this to say; “The law is clear that employers can’t have two separate unequal sets of rules-one for African-Americans employees and one for everybody else, and yet that’s exactly what Hooters did here in firing Miss Johnson, an African-American employee solely because she’s African-American. They targeted her because of her hair solely because of her race.”

Hooters’ chief human resources officer, Rebecca Sinclair said in a statement, “When you’re representing an iconic brand, there are standards to follow.

Hooters Girls are required to be camera-ready at all times to promote the glamorous, wholesome look for which Hooters is known.” She went on to say, “Hooters adamantly denies that it has different policies and standards for hair based on race. As a global brand, Hooters embraces our culturally diverse employee base and our standards are applied impartially.”

Peter K. Levine

A Professional Law Corporation

http://www.employmentforall.org/

The Increasing Number of Wage and Hour Lawsuits

By Peter Levine posted in Employment Law, Unpaid Overtime on October 13th, 2013

“Wage and Hour” Lawsuits

According to a recent analysis of data by the Federal Judicial Center, “wage and hour” lawsuits in which workers are taking their employers to court over unfair pay have skyrocketed 432 percent in the past twenty years.

The research (conducted by the law firm Sayfarth and Shaw on behalf of the Federal Judicial Center) shows that it jumped 10 percent in just the last year.

An Increase in Lawsuits, But why?

The law firm concludes this increase might be a result of the economy picking up steam as well as “social media,” and the public’s inclination to post their grievances to Facebook, Twitter, etc… An increased number of lawyers are now looking to bring awareness and sensitivity to these issues.

But advocates of workers are more apt to claim a different reason: the inability of the Department of Labor (DOL) to properly ensure employers are in compliance with the law. As a result of the DOL’s lack of resources, workers have had to turn to courts to ensure they are paid fairly.

According to Cathy Ruckelshaus, the legal co-director for the National Employment Law Project, “The employers were emboldened because there wasn’t enforcement, so the violations increased. There was a lot of low-hanging fruit in terms of violations.”

According to ThinkProgress, while all wage and hour lawsuits involve a dispute over how much money a company owes to an employee, the suits typically fall into three sub-categories:

1. Hourly employees claiming they weren’t paid for all of the hours worked,

2. Salaried workers claiming they’re owed overtime,

3. Employees working for the tipped minimum wage claiming they didn’t make enough in tips to bring their pay up to the minimum wage rate.

But the economic downturn might also be to blame as employers were able to squeeze more out of workers concerned with keeping their jobs in an environment of high unemployment.

According to an April 2012 report from the Wall Street Journal S&P 500 companies made an average of $420,000 per employee in 2011, a full ninth more than in 2007.

“When the recession first hit, employers felt even more emboldened to violate the law because there was high unemployment and we rely on workers to complain,” Ruckelshaus said.

Bank of America and Taco Bell were hit with lawsuits

Companies such as Bank of America and Taco Bell were hit with lawsuits alleging they owed employees money during the recession and recovery. Patricia Sloan, a shift manager at Taco Bell is one such employee that has filed a lawsuit against her employer for overtime pay violations.

In her case, Sloan is claiming that managers were sometimes denied pay for their employee attendance, and that they were also forced to adjust time cards in order for the company to avoid paying overtime. If Taco Bell is found to be in violation they could be ordered to pay overtime back wages as well as penalties for their noncompliance to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

According to Ruckelshaus, the boost in lawsuits could be good news for employees because it sends a message to employers that they have to comply with laws, or face the consequences.

“The idea is that employers make decisions that don’t violate the law because they figure ‘we better not do this because we’re going to get caught,'” she said.

http://www.employmentforall.org

Peter K. Levine
A Professional Law Corporation

Bank Of America Ordered to Pay $2.18m in Racial Discrimination Case

By Peter Levine posted in Discrimination, Employment Law, Law on October 4th, 2013

The bank’s “unfair and inconsistent selection criteria” led to the rejection of qualified black candidates

The U.S. Department of Labor is reporting that Bank of America Corp, the second-largest bank in the U.S., was ordered to pay $2.18 million to 1,147 black job applicants for alleged racial discrimination in their hiring process that barred qualified candidates from being hired.

The decision and order made by an administrative law judge at the Labor Department, Linda Chapman, awards back pay and interest to former candidates seeking teller, clerical, and entry-level administrative positions in the bank’s hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Chapman concluded in a statement that Bank of America’s “unfair and inconsistent selection criteria” led to the rejection of qualified black candidates.

About $1.22 million would go to 113 people who were rejected during the hiring process between 2002 and 2005. Another $964,000 would go to 1,034 people who were rejected in 1993.

The Labor Department initially filed its first complaint against Bank of America in 1997. Allegedly, the bank had challenged its authority to pursue the case.

The most recent order followed two settlements of litigation regarding alleged bias that Bank of America disclosed within the last month.

“We are currently reviewing this recommended decision and order,” said Bank of America spokesman, Christopher Feeney. “At Bank of America, diversity and inclusion are part of our culture and core company values. We actively promote an environment where all employees have an opportunity to succeed.”

The Labor Department said Bank of America’s, a federally insured financial institution, qualified as a federal contractor, putting it under the OFFCP’s purview.

This is not the first time Bank of America has been involved in this type of litigation

In August, the bank reached a $160 million settlement with hundreds of black Merrill Lynch & Co brokers who alleged racial bias in the areas of pay, promotions, and allocation of large accounts.

And in September, it reached a $39 million settlement with female brokers claiming they were paid less than their male counterparts and that they had been deprived of their share of major accounts.

“Judge Chapman’s decision upholds the legal principle of making victims of discrimination whole, and these workers deserve to get the full measure of what is owed to them,” said Patricia Shiu, director of the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFFCP).

If you feel that you have been the victim of discrimination in hiring, promotion, layoffs, or any other aspect of employment related actions, you need the services of an Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles. Please contact the Law Offices of Peter K. Levine at (323) 617-4406 or visit the Discrimination page on our website. Call today and we will connect you with Peter K. Levine, an experienced, aggressive, affordable Discrimination Attorney in Los Angeles. After you have spoken with our Los Angeles Discrimination attorney, we can schedule you a free face to face appointment to discuss your circumstances. If you have questions or concerns with any aspect of Discrimination and Employment, we can help! Call us now at (323) 617-4406. We look forward to hearing from you and assisting you with your Discrimination Law case.

Fast Food Chain Accused of Failure to Accommodate Religious Beliefs

By Peter Levine posted in Discrimination, Employment Law on October 1st, 2013

The EEOC has accused two corporations that operate a chain of Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants: Scottish Food Systems, Inc. and Laurinburg KFC Take Home, Inc., of violating federal law by failing to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs and firing her because of her religion.

According to the EEOC’s employment discrimination lawsuit, the employee, Sheila Silver converted to Pentecostalism in 2010. A belief of the Pentecostal church is women should wear skirts rather than pants. In accordance with this religious belief Silver has not worn pants since the fall of 2010.

Silver has worked at various Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant locations since 1992. Scottish Food Systems and Laurinburg KFC Take Home purchased the KFC restaurant where Silver worked in April 2013. At that time, they informed Silver, citing their dress code policy that she must wear pants to work.

Silver told Scottish Food Systems and Laurinburg KFC Take Home she could not wear pants because of her religious beliefs and the companies fired her for refusing to wear pants to work.

Civil Rights Act violations

This alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs as long as doing so does not pose an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.

“Employers must respect employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs and carefully consider requests made by employees based on those beliefs,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC. “This case demonstrates the EEOC’s continued commitment to fighting religious discrimination in the workplace.”

EEOC: Buffalo employee fired after standing up for hiring black worker

By Peter Levine posted in Discrimination, Employment Law, Law on September 29th, 2013

Production manager fired for hiring recommendation

According to a federal lawsuit, Myrna Peltonen, a production manager lost her job at Izza Bending Tube & Wire, a small industrial company for defending her recommendation that a temporary black worker be permanently hired after logging 500 hours with the company.

When the owner of the company, Scott Landgraf, rebuffed the recommendation, he punctuated his point with racist language, and also told Peltonen to let the worker go, alleges the suit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Peltonen was demoted to an office position and had her pay cut when she refused to let the worker go.

The worker, Randall L. Smith, “worked hard and deserved the opportunity for a full-time permanent position with benefits at Izza,” says Peltonen. “This case is about doing what is right and taking a stand against intolerance. Mr. Smith deserved better. Everyone at Izza deserved better.?”

Peltonen then also escalated to Creative Staffing Solutions, the temporary employment agency that placed Smith, about what Landgraf had said. She also told Smith.

The owner of the staffing agency, Rose Vaughn suggested to Smith that he be fired, and she then gave Izza a false reason for why Smith would not be working there anymore. The agency also stopped trying to find work for Smith.

Discrimination charge filed

Peltonen filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC a couple of weeks later. She was then fired from Izza after having been with the company for about 14 months.

The EEOC hopes to win back pay as well as force Izza to put in place an anti-retaliation policy that complies with federal law.
“Myrna Peltonen was a woman who felt she was just doing her job, and did not want to make a fuss,” says Jean Kamp, an associate regional attorney for the EEOC. ” But she felt that this was wrong and that she had to become involved. The EEOC will support such a woman as strongly as we can.”

Car Dealership Accused of Offensive and Hostile Work Environment

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

Council on American-Islamic Relations blames finance manager

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has accused Rizza Cadillac Inc. of violating federal law by allegedly encouraging a work environment that was hostile and offensive to Muslim and Arab sales employees Medhat Adawy, his son Adam, and Mohammed El-Hajjami when they worked from January 2007 to November 2009.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) spokesman Maryam Arain blamed Rizza Cadillac’s finance manager. Allegedly the dealership fired the Adawys in September 2009 and terminated El-Hajjami two months later. That same year the finance manager was promoted to general manager.

The EEOC claims managers at the dealership created a discriminatory work environment by using offensive slurs as well as mocking references to the Quran and the manner in which Muslims pray.

John C. Hendrickson, the EEOC’s regional attorney said, “Employers may not allow managers to repeatedly make offensive slurs and insults about an employee’s religion or national origin.

“Comments implying that all Muslims are terrorists cannot be excused or minimized by calling it mere ‘banter’ about a minority ethnicity or religion.

The EEOC stands ready to protect Muslim and Arab workers when they are subjected to such harassment.”

Rizza Cadillac failed to take prompt and effective measures…

John Rowe, director of the EEOC’s district office, said an investigation showed “Rizza Cadillac failed to take prompt and effective measures to stop and prevent this abusive misconduct, as they were required to do by federal law. Employees should be judged by their performance, not their religion or ethnicity.”

Harassment based on national origin or religion violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The commission filed suit in federal court after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The lawsuit filed against the new car dealership seeks compensatory and punitive damages and requires the dealership to implement measures to prevent a recurrence of harassment as well as a permanent injunction against future discrimination.

Union to Implement Safety Training Program

By Peter Levine posted in Employment Law on September 24th, 2013

Seven people killed in rigging collapse

A settlement has been reached for a stagehands union that was fined $11,500 when seven people were killed during a Sugarland performance at the Indiana State Fair when the stage rigging collapsed onto the crowd on August 23, 2011.

In compliance with the agreement, the union must now work with the state department of labor to implement a new safety training program that includes fall protection and hazard identification training. This training will also be added to its apprenticeship program. It will be a required of each new union member that they complete the safety course.

The settlement was signed by Indiana’s deputy labor commissioner and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 30’s business manager and absolves the union of the penalty.

IOSHA Fines for Serious Violations

The union was fined by the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration in early 2012 after the IOSHA found three serious violations in addition to one non-serious violation in connection with the stage rigging accident. Those violations included the agency’s finding that the union failed to ensure “reasonably safe and healthful” work conditions that were free of hazards that could cause death or injuries.

Seven people were fatally injured when high winds caused the stage rigging as well as the stage roof to collapse and topple onto fans awaiting the concert. Stagehand Nathan Byrd was among these seven people, and several other stagehands were among the more than 40 people injured during the incident.

The union appealed IOSHA’s order, including the finding that the union, not the Indiana State Fair Commission, was the employer of the stagehands working the concert. The union contended that it only provided workers to the State Fair Commission and stage owner Mid-America Sound Corp.
Indiana Labor Commissioner Sean Keefer said that the agreement “creates a safer and more protected workplace for Indiana workers in the theater and stage business.”

John Baldwin, the union’s business manager, said that the settlement avoids litigation and is beneficial for the union. “We want to ensure that everybody’s trained and all the workplaces are safe,” Baldwin said. “It will help workers recognize hazards and make them able to look at things and see if there is a potential hazard that needs to be corrected.”

Domestic Worker Bill of Rights Approved by State Legislature

By Peter Levine posted in Employment Law, Unpaid Overtime on September 19th, 2013

Could mark a huge step forward for domestic worker rights

The California State Legislature has approved a bill, “AB-241,” also dubbed the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, that could mark a huge step forward for domestic worker rights in the state and could make California the second state in the nation after New York to pass such a bill.

Introduced by Democratic Assembly member Tom Ammiano, the bill guarantees overtime pay for domestic workers who work more than nine hours per day or 45 hours per week.

“Growing up, I saw first-hand how hard domestic workers labor without basic worker protections that most of us take for granted,” said coauthor Senator Kevin de León in a press release about the passing. “My mother worked her fingers to the bone cleaning other people’s homes. I’m proud to be a coauthor for this long-overdue measure which will end the historic exclusion of this industry from overtime pay.”

The Senate has approved the bill with amendments 22-12, with the Assembly approving the changes shortly after. Governor Brown now has until October 13 to sign the bill.

Should Brown sign it, he will then convene a committee to review the success of the bill. Lawmakers will have three years to make it permanent.
Brown killed a similar bill last year, arguing that it would place an extra burden on employers, particularly with low-income, elderly or disabled individuals who need constant care.

Senate version focuses on overtime pay for workers

Initially AB-241 included other worker rights, such as meal breaks, sick days and workers’ compensation. The amended version created by the Senate focuses strictly on overtime pay.

“We obviously believe these workers should have all of these rights, but the overtime is by far the most important element we were looking for,” explained Ammiano Communications Director Carlos Alcalá. “We’re happy to go forward with the bill as it is.”

The bill has seen support across the state. In March, hundreds of housekeepers, child-care providers, as well as other domestic workers marched in protest of worker’s rights.

Ammiano’s office said that the bill “rights a historic wrong.”

“Senate passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is one more step in a movement to make sure these workers get the kind of labor protections they deserve,” wrote Ammiano. “This movement is taking place all over the country and won’t be over until domestic workers rights are spelled out in every state. When this bill gets final approval and signature, California will be a leader in that movement.”

Let's Get Started
Schedule a Free Consultation

7+10 =

I have read and understand the disclaimer

Call Us (323) 934-1234

Office Location
Follow Phillips Lerner, A Law Corporation on Twitter Connect with Phillips Lerner, A Law Corporation on Facebook. Linked In Profile for Phillips Lerner, A Law Corporation YouTube
We provide legal services & no cost consultations to individuals in the following languages, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese