civil litigation blog

Hugh Robertson Quoted on FoxNews.com on "How Celebs Buy Homes"

Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Hugh Robertson recently commented on www.foxnews.com to explain how celebrities use a trust to purchase a home.  Using the trust to list the home under helps these famous people to keep their anonymity.  You can read the full story at http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2011/06/05/how-celebs-buy-homes-in-secret/.

Does Schwarzenegger's Liaison with Housekeeper Constitute Sexual Harassment?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The news that Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child with his Latina housekeeper has raised plenty of interesting questions related to divorce, child support and custody, and prenuptial agreements.  One other issue that deserves greater scrutiny in the context of this case is the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace.  If a boss and employee are involved in a “romantic” or sexual relationship, do the laws of sexual harassment apply?

The laws defining sexual harassment in the workplace are suitably ambiguous when it comes to consensual relationships in the workplace.  In other words, federal anti-harassment laws do not specifically forbid a romantic relationship between an employer and an employee.  However, much of this may hinge on whether the sexual advances made by the employer were welcomed by the employee. 

It's not that easy to define whether sexual advances were unwelcome.  For instance, an employee may be uncomfortable with an employer’s sexual advances, but may not have protested or resisted at the time.  Even in such cases, the employee may be able to prove later in a sexual harassment lawsuit that the employer’s advances were highly unwelcome.

It's also likely that an employee - like a Latina housekeeper who desperately needs the job - may not be in a position to resist an employer’s overtures.  Such a relationship is always skewed with the balance titling heavily in favor of the employer.  However, Los Angeles sexual harassment lawyers would advise those who are currently facing sexual advances from their employer, to resist and protest these advances.  Being silent and going along with things just keep your job may not work to your favor during a sexual harassment lawsuit.  Lawyers for defendants may try to argue that you did not report the advances, signifying that they were welcome.  Also, sexual harassment laws often don't apply to domestic help like housekeepers and nannies who work in a household.

Nicolette Sherridan's Lawsuit against Desperate Housewives Creator Goes to Trial

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Former Desperate Housewives star Nicolette Sherridan will have her day in court after a court ruled that her wrongful termination lawsuit against ABC and the creator of the hit TV show could go to trial.  However, the judge threw out her sexual harassment and assault claims. 

The case arises out of an incident that allegedly occurred in September 2008.  According to Sherridan, the creator of the show, Marc Cherry, had an argument with her on the set.  Soon after, she alleges, her character in the show was killed off in an accident, and she was fired.  She also alleged sexual harassment and assault. 

According to attorneys for ABC and Cherry, the decision to terminate Sherridan's character in the show was related to budgetary concerns, and was one that had been made long before the argument between Sheridan and Cherry took place.  Sherridan disputes those arguments, because her character was killed off midseason, when she was still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars on her contract.

Now, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White has held that her wrongful termination claim has enough merit to go to trial.  However, the sexual harassment and assault claims have been rejected.  Sherridan will now be seeking damages for wrongful termination, battery and unlawful retaliation claims.  She may even be eligible for punitive damages.  The trial will begin on June 8th.

Employer-employee relationships in California are “at will” which means that the employer can terminate the services of the employee for any reason as long as these are not illegal or discriminatory.  This can pose a challenge to a wrongful termination claim.  There are some things that an employee can do to help ensure a successful wrongful termination claim.  For instance, it would help your California wrongful termination attorney if you retain copies of any correspondence involving your employment, including employment letters, employee handbooks, performance evaluations and other documentation involving your job.

Fresno's Club One Casino Target of Race, Age Discrimination Lawsuit

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Allegations of age discrimination in the hospitality and casino industry are not new to California employment discrimination lawyers.  These industries thrive on an image that values looks and youth.  Popular Fresno Casino Club One is facing allegations of age and race discrimination by a group of senior and Asian American employees.

The employees are being represented by the Southern California-based Asian Pacific American Legal Center, which is now asking former employees of the club to join the class-action lawsuit.  The class-action complaint has been filed against Club One Casino and its owner Kirk Kirkland.  Two separate complaints have been filed.  In these, 16 workers allege national origin and race discrimination, while six workers allege age discrimination.  The lawsuit seeks several hundred thousand dollars in compensation.  The plaintiffs allege that when they spoke out about the discrimination, they were fired.

The plaintiffs held a conference this week talking about their experiences at the company.  According to the older employees, they were fired because of their age, and younger, less experienced employees were hired in their place.  Some of these employees have dozens of years of service to their credit, including one employee who had worked for the former operator of Club One for 22 years. 

In 2008, Kirk Kirkland bought the Club One Casino from its former owner.  Right from the beginning, he made it clear that he wanted to turn the casino into a Las Vegas-style facility, and part of that image makeover was hiring young, good-looking women.  Many of the older employees were told they were no longer welcome. 

There are also allegations based on age discrimination at the company.  Approximately 30% of Club One casino dealers are of South East Asian descent, but they complain that none of them were chosen as front and center dealers at three celebrity poker events that were hosted by the casino.  Some of them were fired when Kirkland took over the casino.  According to them, the casino informed them that they did not know how to deal probably, and could not speak proper English.

Levi Strauss to Pay More Than $1 Million in Overtime Back Wages

Friday, April 01, 2011

After an investigation conducted by the San Francisco District Office of the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division found that Levi Strauss & Co. had violated federal record keeping and overtime provisions, the company has agreed to pay more than $1 million in overtime back wages. 

The investigation which California employment attorneys had followed closely, found that Levi Strauss & Co., misclassified several groups of workers as exempt from overtime.  In all, 596 employees nationwide were shown as exempt.  These included assistant store managers at newly-acquired stores. 

There were also several recordkeeping violations.  The company failed to properly record all of the employees in the payroll system.  Instead, the company misclassified assistant store managers requiring them to work off the clock during early-morning openings, late-night closings and staffing shortages.  Besides, the company also misclassified several administrative employees as being exempt from the provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

The San Francisco-based company has agreed to pay back wages, totaling $1,011,413.  The company has also upgraded its time and attendance system, and has agreed to comply with FLSA provisions in the future.

Employees covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act must be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for all hours worked, plus time and half of the regular pay, if the employee works more than 40 hours a week.  Employers are required to keep accurate and precise records for all employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  There are some exceptions to the law.  For instance, administrative, professional and external sales employees may be exempt from these provisions.

3M to Pay $12 Million to Settle Age Discrimination Lawsuit

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

3M Company has agreed to pay $12 million to settle an age discrimination lawsuit.  The settlement will resolve the claims of as many as 7,000 members in the class-action lawsuit.  According to 3M, the settlement absolves the company of all liability.  The company says that it has reached the deal to eliminate this distraction, and control its mounting legal fees.

The plaintiffs are all employees of 3M in Minnesota, and claim that the company had a policy of systematic discrimination against persons aged above 46 years old.  The discrimination lasted between 2001 and 2005.  According to the lawsuit, management at the company believed older workers to be less willing or able to apply new business methodologies in their duties.   Older workers at 3M were often denigrated.  Further, the lawsuit claims that younger employees were frequently favored for training that could have resulted in promotions.

The class-action age discrimination lawsuit was filed in 2004.

This is the second time that 3M has reached a settlement in a lawsuit alleging age discrimination.  The company had reached a settlement in a separate lawsuit that had been filed back in 2009.

As the number of older Americans heading back into the workforce increases, California employment attorneys have been noticing more and more complaints alleging age discrimination in the workplace.  There are some industries that seem to have a much higher rate of such age bias complaints, like the tech industry.  Older workers in this industry have often felt that they are a prime target of bias, including lack of training opportunities, dismissive comments, jokes, and other forms of discrimination.  Last year, Google suffered a setback when a court allowed an age discrimination lawsuit against the company to proceed.  However, the rest of American industry has also not been left unaffected by growing complaints of bias by senior workers.

Toshiba Slapped with $100 Million Gender Discrimination Lawsuit

Friday, March 18, 2011

More than 8,000 employees of Toshiba's US business have joined together to file a $100 million lawsuit against the Japanese electronics giant for its alleged discriminatory practices against female employees in the workplace. 

The employees are alleging disparities in pay and promotion as compared to male employees, and other unfair practices.  The lawsuit was filed against Toshiba America Inc.  The plaintiffs claim that the company failed to pay women equal salaries and bonuses, compared to men who performed the same kinds of duties.  Besides, according to the lawsuit, the company segregates women into lower-level positions.  Male employees at the company have an advantage when it comes to promotions.  The lawsuit seeks class-action status for the lawsuit, which includes more than 8,000 female Toshiba employees.

For California employment lawyers, this lawsuit seems to have some reflections of the broader gender disparity and workplace discrimination issues that can be seen in Toshiba's home country, Japan.  In that country, labor discrepancies between the genders are much broader than in the US.  In the US, for instance, women's wages constitute about 80% of male wages, according to statistics for 2008.  In Japan, women's wages are just 68% of the wages of men in the same year.  The Japanese Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare blames these disparities on the fact that there are far fewer women employees in executive/middle manager positions in Japan.  According to a 2009 survey, just 1.2% of executives at listed Japanese firms are female, compared to 13.5% at American Fortune 500 firms. 

There are a whole range of social reasons for this gender-based disparity in pay and promotions in Japan.  More relevantly for California employment lawyers, however, Toshiba needs to address whether its gender-based labor issues in Japan are being reflected in its US business too.

Increase in Employment Lawsuits Related to Medical Leave & Disability

Thursday, March 17, 2011

California employment lawyers and employers alike have noticed an increase in the number of employment lawsuits related to disability and leaves of absence.  While this spike has been visible for the past few years, these cases have multiplied substantially since the recession. 

However, the recession is unlikely the sole reason for the spike in disability claims and cases related to leaves of absence.  It is very likely that employees are becoming more aware of their rights under California employment law, and now don't hesitate to bring forward a claim when they recognize disability discrimination.  Besides, employers too are now more alert to the fact that they may be exposed to potential liability.  In 2006, a jury handed a $19 million verdict in the Roby v. McKesson Corporation case for an employee who suffered from panic attacks.

 Although that verdict was later reduced to $4 million, the damage to employers was done.  It became clear that failing to modify policies, and taking the wrong approach to addressing employee concerns about leaves and disability, could have serious financial consequences.  Since then, California employment lawyers have also noticed employees who feel more confident about their rights.  An employee on maternity leave could be shocked to find out that she has been laid off while on a medical leave of absence.   But, this happens all the time, and while the consequences for employers weren't as devastating earlier, the situation has changed dramatically now. 

There's also been a change in the kind of medical conditions that are eligible for claims.  California employment lawyers, for instance, now file claims for employees with medical leaves of absence for stress and anxiety.  That's a change from earlier, when most claims were filed for a serious physical problem, like cancer.

 

Woman Awarded $125,000 in Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Ukrainian woman has been awarded $125,000 in a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employer who also happened to be a former romantic interest. In 2005, the woman Alla Sazonova, met Clifford Crane on a dating website. She moved from the Ukraine to the United States on a work visa, and began working for Crane’s companies, including Security Marketing Concepts and Apollo Security Sales. The two then began an on-again off-again relationship.

In April 2009, they stayed at a hotel where Crane pressured Sazonova to have sex with him. She refused. A few days later, Crane sent a letter to US officials informing them that Sazonova’s employment had been terminated, and recommending that her work visa canceled.

Sazonova filed a wrongful termination lawsuit alleging that the termination was a direct result of her refusal to sleep with Crane. Lawyers for Crane alleged that the reason for the termination had nothing to do with their romantic relationship, but with the economic situation of the company. A jury has now found in favor of Sazonova, and has awarded her $125,000 for her losses.

Often, California sexual harassment lawyers come across cases where the harassment is not in physical in nature. Sexual harassment in the workplace does not have to include groping, patting or leering. If you have been in a situation where you're constantly being asked out by your employer or superior at work, or are being subjected to sexually inappropriate comments, you may have grounds for a sexual harassment claim. In fact, bawdy jokes can constitute harassment if these make you feel uncomfortable and unable to concentrate on your work. Besides, if you're been in a situation where other persons in the workplace have been spreading rumors about your sexual life or you have been threatened with dire consequences unless you have sex with co-workers or superiors, this could constitute harassment too.

2010 Records Increase in Workplace Discrimination Settlements

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The year 2010 saw not just an increase in the number of workplace discrimination lawsuits being filed, but also an increase in the monetary value of settlements. Overall, the financial value of settlements of the top 10 private plaintiff employment lawsuits totaled $346.4 million, an increase of four times over the previous year.

The Velez et al. v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation accounted for a major share of that total. The lawsuit filed by 5,600 former and current employees of Novartis, ended in a settlement of $175 million. California employment lawyers also witnessed some differences in 2010 as far as employment litigation was concerned. Last year saw a drop in the total amount of settlements from wage and hour lawsuits. Last year, the top 10 private wage and hour settlements totaled $336.5 million. That is a decline of 7.4% from the previous year. However, wage and hour settlements were the most frequently filed lawsuits in 2010. There were more numbers of wage and hour class-action lawsuits and collective action decisions by both federal and state court judges than any other kind of workplace discrimination litigation.

Overall, 2010 saw much action in the employment litigation area, especially in age bias complaints. The number of age discrimination lawsuits being filed last year saw a continuance of a trend that began in 2008. As more and more companies began laying off employees, elderly workers found themselves on the receiving end, sparking off an increase in the number of age bias claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Silicon Valley was the scene of much of age bias litigation last year. Many technology companies, including Google, were the focus of age bias complaints.