Category Archives:Employment Law

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Paula Deen Workplace Discrimination Lawsuit

Paula Deen is an American celebrity chef, former cooking show host, restaurateur, author, actress and Emmy Award-winning television personality. Recently, Deen has suffered a tremendous fall out based on allegations of racism stemming from a controversy regarding Deen’s admission, during a deposition for a lawsuit, that she had used racial slurs.

The accusations against Deen stem from a lawsuit filed by a former manager of Deen’s restaurants in Savannah, Georgia. Lisa T. Jackson’s lawsuit alleges that Deen and her brother, Bubba Hier, committed numerous acts of violence, discrimination and racism that resulted in the end of Jackson’s five-year tenure at Deen’s Lady & Sons and Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House eateries in Savannah. Deen rejects the allegations.

In a deposition for the lawsuit, Deen was asked whether she had ever used the “N-word.” Deen answered that she had probably used the racial slur when talking to her husband about “when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head” — an incident that took place 30 years ago.

Jackson’s lawsuit also claims Deen wanted to plan a party in the style of a Southern plantation, staffed with black waiters dressed to resemble slaves. In her disposition, Deen said she was speaking of an experience she had had in which the wait staff composed of black men in white jackets and bow ties, and that she had said she would love for Hier to “experience a very Southern style wedding” such as that.

Amid the firestorm, The Food Network dropped did, as did Smithfield Foods, one of her key sponsors. There are questions now over whether other businesses, including QVC and Walmart, may cut ties with Deen.

If you have ever been a victim of workplace discrimination, and are afraid to speak out against your employer’s illegal employment practices, our firm can assist you in the successful resolution of your matter. Our firm handles cases for both employees and employers, allowing Don Ho Law to have a unique perspective on every type of employment law matter. Call us today at 714-748-7715 for a free consultation.

Published by Don Ho Law. Don Ho is an experienced criminal defense and employment law attorney in Riverside and Orange County, California.

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LAPD Officer wins $1.2million Discrimination Lawsuit

A black Los Angeles police officer was awarded $1.2 million by a jury this week in a suit alleging racial discrimination and harassment against the city and department.
Officer Earl Wright, a 23-year veteran on the force, said he faced discrimination and harassment at the department dating back to 2009, but that the department didn’t take complaints seriously, which caused him to be hospitalized and miss seven months of work because of stress and anxiety.
Alleged instances of discrimination include those from high-ranking officers. In November 2009, Sgt. Peter Foster, a white officer, called Wright back from the field to present him with a cake for his 20-year anniversary with the department. The cake was topped with a fried chicken leg and a slice of watermelon. In September 2009, photos of Wright and his partner’s faces were superimposed on a “Sanford and Son” poster that was plastered around the department and called a family portrait.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated less than four hours before announcing its verdict following Wright’s four day trial. In Wright’s case, the jury awarded $600,000 for past economic damages and $600,000 for future damages, Smith said.
The case is the latest in a series of big figure settlements and jury awards in cases brought by LAPD officers against the department. Last week, City Council approved a $1.25 million payout to a current and a former officer who said their supervisor repeatedly harassed them because they are lesbians.
If you have been the victim of workplace discrimination based on your race, sex, or gender and fearful of speaking out because of employer retaliation, Don Ho Law can fight for you!
Published by DonHo Law. Don Ho is a criminal defense and employment law attorney in Orange County, California. 

Pregnant Woman Fired For Premarital Sex

A San Diego woman is suing San Diego Christian College, alleging the school fired her once it was revealed she was pregnant out of wedlock. Teri James, 29, alleges she was let go from her job as a financial specialist at San Diego Christian college because her pregnancy revealed she had premarital sex.

Upon employment James signed a two-page long “community covenant”, a solemn agreement between the students and employees at San Diego Christian College, which outlined, among other restrictions, a covenant that she would abstain from sexual behavior and if she engaged in such behavior, she may face disciplinary action.
James claims that she was humiliated. She claims she was called into her supervisor’s office, interrogated about rumors surrounding her pregnancy, and subsequently fired when she confirmed that she was pregnant. Shortly after being fired, James’ position at San Diego Christian College was offered to her then fiancé, they are now married, even though it was known that he, too, engaged in premarital sex.
James is suing for wrongful termination in addition to gender discrimination and is seeking damages from the school in an unspecified amount. 
If you have been the victim of workplace discrimination based on you sex, gender, age, or race, contact Don Ho Law today for assistance with your case. Don Ho is an an experienced employment law attorney who can focus on your case and who will fight for you!
Published by Don Ho Law. Don Ho is a criminal defense and employment law attorney in Orange County, California. 
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Former Reporter Sues KTLA for Workplace Discrimination

Kurt the CyberGuy, real name Kirt Knutsson, filed a lawsuit against KTLA, the Tribune TV station in Los Angeles, and at least eight other TV stations, for breach of contract, misappropriation of his name and likeness, unfair competition and age discrimination.

Knutsson says in the suit that he started his relationship with KTLA in 1995 after he established himself as an expert reporter on technology. He agreed to provide his services and reporting in return for exposure and technical support, for less than his usual fee. Within two years, his reports were also being syndicated to about two dozen other TV stations.

He signed a five-year deal with KTLA in 2008, but in December 2010, Knutsson says his contract was suddenly terminated. He says two KTLA executives told him they would renegotiate but he would be paid less. Instead, in February 2011, he got a phone call from KTLA news director Jason Ball and Tribune human resources who told him he would no longer appear on the station at all, and that they would notify the other stations that his relationship with them had come to an end.

Despite being let go, Knutsson says his name and image continued for some time on the TV station’s websites, but when a viewer clicked on the link, they were shown consumer technology reports by Rich DeMuro instead, that were broadcast from the same studio as CyberGuy, with the same format and style. Knuttson charges “the decision to terminate Knutsson’s employment was motivated … particularly during the last years of his employment by a company bias against age, specifically with regard to on-air talent.”

If you have been the victim of workplace discrimination based on your sex, race, or gender, contact Don Ho Law today for assistance with your case.

Published by Don Ho Law. Don Ho is a criminal defense and employment law attorney in Orange County, CA. 

OWN Network Sued For Sex Discrimination

Carolyn Hommel, a former executive at OWN, has filed a lawsuit against Oprah Winfrey‘s network claiming she was a victim of sex discrimination.

In the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Hommel claims she was hired in 2010 as senior director of scheduling and acquisitions at the network. Hommel says her duties were reassigned to a temporary employee because of her pregnancy and pregnancy-related medical conditions.

OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network (Canada)

Hommel’s direct superior at the network had reportedly given the former senior director of scheduling and acquisition positive performance reviews prior to her pregnancy and negative and untruthful performance reports following. Hommel says her duties were gradually taken away from her and given to the temporary employee, and she was later excluded from numerous meetings when she returned to the office.

The complaint alleges that on March 19, 2012, a month after Hommel gave birth to her daughter, Hommel was told she was being laid off. Further, the complaint alleges her position was eliminated due to restructuring and she was passed over for a position as a vice president in favor of the temporary employee.

The former OWN employee claims her demotion and layoff are a direct result of her becoming pregnant and requiring a medical leave. She is seeking unspecified damages.

If you are an employee who has been a victim of discrimination in the workplace, contact Don Ho at (714) 748-7715. Don Ho is an experienced attorney who focuses on employment law matters who can discuss your options with you.

Published by Don Ho Law. Don Ho is a criminal defense and employment law attorney in Orange County, California.

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OC Probation Employees Fired

Six Orange County Probation Department employees were fired and an additional seven others were suspended after an investigation into security lapses at a juvenile facility, which was prompted by reports of two youths in custody having sex.

The details were released Friday in a report by Orange County’s Office of Independent Review, which said it had been monitoring the probation department’s “large and significant investigation into staff diligence” at a juvenile detention facility in Orange.

The investigation began after two teenagers were found having sex in one of the dormitories of Juvenile Hall’s Unit T when the “staff theoretically should have become aware of the issue as part of its routine monitoring protocols,” according to the report. During the internal investigations, officials found that routine checks were supposed to be done on minors every 15 minutes repeatedly were skipped in the high-security unit, where the most serious underage offenders are housed. The two offenders involved in the sex incident both had been arrested for violent, gang-related offenses but had been left unsupervised for hours in one of the rooms of the coed unit.
Since the incident, the man has since been transferred to state prison, and the woman was transferred to the county’s women’s jail.

The investigation also found that electronic logs meant to keep track of the checks “had been filled out inaccurately to cover for this lack of due diligence,” according to a previous report from the Office of Independent Review.
No claims or lawsuits have been filed in connection with the sex incident.

The report, signed by Office of Independent Review Executive Director Stephen J. Connolly, said the department responded “quickly and assertively” in its investigation. It identified 16 employees who had potentially failed in their responsibility to keep tabs on the youths in custody.

Of the 16 officers placed on administrative leave, two later left the department on their own. Four were found to have committed lower levels of misconduct and were allowed to return to work but were disciplined in the form of suspensions.

The department initially decided that the performance of 10 employees warranted termination, the report said.  But after an appellate process, three were brought back, although they faced “significant” suspensions. One person’s case is still pending.

Published by Don Ho Law.  Don Ho is a criminal defense and employment law attorney in Orange County, California.

California Will Be Ringing In 2013 With New Laws

Governor Jerry Brown signed approximately 900 bills into law in 2012, most of which take effect January 1st, 2013. The legislation encompasses a variety of topics such as: pension changes for public employees, new funding mechanisms for the state park system, and new employment laws.  

Homeowners will have increased protections from foreclosure under some of the hundreds of state laws taking effect with the new year.

Meanwhile, lower-income, private-sector workers whose employers do not offer retirement plans may be able to take advantage of the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program.

SB1234 and SB923 would require employers to withhold 3% of their workers’ pay unless the employee opts out of the savings program. But the program cannot start enrolling workers until it receives final authorization from the Legislature.

Pensions for public employees will be reduced under a separate bill, a change that is expected to save taxpayers billions of dollars over the coming decades. AB340 increases retirement ages for new public employees, caps annual pension payouts, prohibits several practices used to inflate pensions and requires public-sectors workers to pay more if they are not already contributing half their retirement costs.

The pension changes were sought by Brown as part of an overall plan to reduce government spending.
Several other laws respond to recent news developments.

Coaches and administrators in K-12 schools as well as higher education employees who have regular contact with children will be required to report suspected child sexual abuse. AB1434 and AB1435 were prompted by the scandal involving former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys. Authorities say some former co-workers knew of the abuse but failed to report it to law enforcement.

“Caylee’s Law” is named after the 2-year-old daughter of Florida’s Casey Anthony, who was acquitted of the girl’s murder in 2011 despite waiting a month before telling authorities that her daughter was missing. AB1432 makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail if a parent or guardian fails to report the disappearance or death of a child under the age of 14 within 24 hours.

Attempts to pass similar laws in some other states failed because lawmakers were concerned the changes would be too broad.

AB45 is named after 19-year-old Brett Studebaker of San Mateo, who died in 2010 after drinking on a party bus and crashing his own vehicle while driving home an hour later. It holds party bus operators to the same standards as limousine drivers, making them legally responsible for drinking by underage passengers.
California employers will be required to comply with a number of new laws in 2013. 

Employers Must Accommodate Religious Dress and Grooming (AB 1964/Government Code 12926 and 12940): Employers must accommodate an employee’s or job applicant’s “religious dress” or “grooming practices.”  Religious dress includes the wearing or carrying of religious clothing, head or face coverings, jewelry, and artifacts.  Religious grooming practices include those pertaining to head, facial, or body hair that are part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed.  This new law specifically provides that segregating the employee from the public or other employees is not a reasonable accommodation. 

New Regulations Related To Pregnancy Disability Leave:  New pregnancy regulations redefine the number of days that employees may take for pregnancy disability leave.  Instead of the previously defined “four months” of leave, the leave is now defined as 17 1/3 weeks to account for the uneven number of days in certain months.  Employers are also required to notify employees in writing when a medical certification is required for the leave of absence.  In light of these changes, employers are required to post new notices in the workplace that notify employees of the changes. 

Employers Must Provide Employees Written Commission Agreements, But Some Exceptions Apply (AB 2675/Labor Code 2751): Employers who pay regular commissions must provide employees with an executed written contract setting forth both the formula for calculating commissions, as well as the method of payment.  Failure to comply with this new law may subject an employer to penalties under California’s Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”) in the amount of $100 for each affected employee for an initial violation and $200 per employee for each violation thereafter.  The term “commissions” does not include:  (1) short-term productivity bonuses such as those paid to retail clerks; (2) temporary incentives that increase commissions; or (3) bonus or profit-sharing plans, unless they are based on a fixed percentage of sales or profits. 

If you or someone you know believes they have a workplace complaint, call Don Ho Law at 714-748-7715 to speak with an experienced employment law attorney who can discuss your options with you.
Published by Don Ho Law.  Don Ho is a criminal defense and employment law attorney in Orange County, California.

Wal-Mart May Be Named in Lawsuit Over Lost Wages

On November 30th, warehouse workers in Southern California have filed a petition in court to name Wal-Mart as a defendant in a federal wage-theft lawsuit, marking a significant turn in low-wage supply chain workers’ fight with the world’s largest retailer. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit seek back pay and damages for workers who allege they were cheated out of wages at a Mira Loma warehouse that serves Wal-Mart.

The addition of Wal-Mart in the ongoing federal suit would draw the nation’s largest retailer into a case that raises questions about the human cost of the company’s tightly controlled supply chain.

A court document filed in Los Angeles claims, “recent discovery has established that Wal-Mart bears ultimate responsibility for the violations of state and federal law committed against plaintiff warehouse workers,” who “perform hard physical labor for long hours with little pay under hot, hazardous, and dust-filled conditions, unloading and loading trucks destined for Wal-Mart stores and distribution centers throughout the United States.”

A lawyer for the workers stated,  “we believe Wal-Mart knows exactly what is happening and is ultimately responsible for stealing millions of dollars from the low-wage warehouse workers who move Wal-Mart merchandise.”

The class-action lawsuit, filed in October 2011, accuses Schneider Logistics Transloading and Distribution, owner of a warehouse complex in Mira Loma, and two staffing agencies of shorting contract workers on pay.

In an email, Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman argued the allegation that the company was accountable for the maltreatment of the warehouse workers.

“We disagree with the characterization,” Fogelman said. “Wal-Mart is Schneider’s customer. We have a set of business needs that we pay them to meet, just like any company might hire an accounting firm to do taxes or an advertising firm to help launch a new product.” Fogelman also states the third party service providers, which Wal-Mart utilizes, are responsible for running their day-to-day business and manage their people independently of Wal-Mart. In a statement earlier this month, however, Fogelman said Wal-Mart was aware of problems at warehouses that serve the company. According to Fogelman, Wal-Mart had started inspecting facilities where concerns had been raised and would begin audits of warehouses such as Schneider “within days.”

The lawsuit alleges that Schneider and staffing agencies Premier Warehousing Ventures and Impact Logistics conspired to “cover up the extent of their wrongdoing by failing to keep mandatory payroll records, falsifying records of hours worked and compensation owed, and concealing, denying and/or misrepresenting to the workers the amount of their earnings and on what basis these earnings were calculated.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit have already secured several favorable rulings. If the court approves adding Wal-Mart, the Schneider warehouse’s only customer, to the case, lawyers for the workers will seek to prove that the company pressured Schneider to hold down costs by underpaying subcontractors who loaded semitrailers with goods destined for Wal-Mart stores. As many as 1,800 workers in Southern California could receive back pay and damages as a result of the case, and the impacts could be felt in other warehouse centers as well.

The success or failure of the suit could have wider implications for workers who try to sue subcontractors. Much of the retail sector’s supply chain is now founded on a system of outsourcing, where larger, brand-name players subcontract the work to smaller, little-seen players, who hold the legal liability for workers’ well-being. A similar prearrangement now persists in many food-processing and manufacturing operations as well.

Many hardworking laborers are exploited by the companies they work for, often being denied the very basic right to know what they had earned for the work that they were doing. Some workers are denied minimum wage, while others are not being paid appropriately for overtime worked. 

If you or someone you know believes they have a workplace complaint, call Don Ho Law at 714-748-7715 to speak with an experienced employment law attorney who can discuss your options with you.
Published by Don Ho Law.  Don Ho is a criminal defense and employment law attorney in Orange County, California.

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Judge Favors NASA Lab In Work Discrimination Case

English: The NASA insignia. Español: Insignia ...

A California judge has tentatively ruled in favor of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by a former computer specialist, David Coppedge, who alleged he was singled out in part because of his belief in intelligent design.

Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige issued a provisional ruling saying he was leaning toward finding in favor of JPL, which had argued at trial that David Coppedge was let go because he was combative and did not keep his skills sharp, not because of his belief that life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone. Hiroshige, who presided over the civil trial in April, ordered a final ruling drawn up and issued within 30 days.

Coppedge, a self-described evangelical Christian, had worked on NASA’s Cassini mission to explore Saturn for 15 years until he was dismissed in 2011.

His attorney argued that Coppedge was let go because he promoted intelligent design in the workplace, handed out DVDs on the theory and argued with a colleague about Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California. In his lawsuit, Coppedge claimed he was demoted in 2009 and then let go for engaging his co-workers in conversations about his views. Coppedge’s attorney argued at trial that a supervisor told Coppedge to “stop pushing your religion,” and that Coppedge was retaliated against for disputing a written warning and filing a lawsuit against the lab.

The case has been closely followed by intelligent design supporters, but Coppedge’s attorney maintain the one-paragraph tentative ruling should not be seen as a referendum on the theory. He has said, “it does not specify the court’s reasoning and it would be foolhardy to discern from its general language that the court had anything to say about the validity of intelligent design as a scientific theory or as a religious belief… We don’t believe it was about religious belief, but David’s co-workers perceived it as one and that’s equally offensive under the law.”

At trial, JPL attorney Cameron Fox contended Coppedge was a stubborn and disconnected employee who decided not to observe warnings to get additional training, even when it became clear the Cassini mission would be downsized and computer specialist positions eliminated. Coppedge often was confrontational and insensitive to customers and colleagues, who had complained about his behavior and his advocacy of intelligent design, Fox said.

Coppedge is active in the intelligent design domain and runs a website that interprets scientific discoveries through the lens of intelligent design. His father wrote an anti-evolution book and founded a Christian outreach group. Coppedge also is a board member for Illustra Media, a company that produces video documentaries examining the scientific evidence for intelligent design. The company produces the videos that Coppedge was handing out to co-workers.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the law forbids religious discrimination in the workplace when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. An employer does not have to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices if doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromise workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.

If you or someone you know believes they have a workplace complaint, call Don Ho Law at 714-748-7715 to speak with an attorney who can discuss your options with you.

Published by Don Ho Law.  Don Ho is an attorney in Orange County, California who practices criminal and employment law.

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Price is Right Model Awarded $7.7 million in Termination Suit

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury has awarded $7,763,440 in damages to former The Price Is Right model Brandi Cochran. The jury awarded Cochran $776,000 in compensatory damages and tacked on $7 million in punitive damages the next day.

Brandi Cochran, 41, showcased items and presented prizes to contestants on the long-running game show from 2002 to 2009. She sued FremantleMedia North America and “The Price Is Right” productions, claiming pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination. Cochran claimed producers rejected her when she tried to return to work in 2010 after maternity leave. A California jury awarded her the punitive damages.

Cochran, 41, was pregnant with twins after years of trying to conceive but, she said, the show’s executive producer was not pleased. She claimed that when she told the producers that she was pregnant and expecting twins in December 2008, they began treating her poorly, made disparaging remarks about her eating habits and weight gain, and removed her from the show’s website.

The former model said her co-workers called her a “wide load” and said she would break the set with her added pounds from pregnancy. When Cochran’s baby bump started to show, the producers stopped calling her completely.

Months after her maternity leave in 2010, Cochran tried to return to the show but was rejected, she said. “They ignored me, for probably about four months, trying to get a direct response about working,” she said.

After informing the judge numerous times they were deadlocked, the jurors in the case found that Cochran, a former Miss USA and Miss Teen USA, was entitled to $776,000 in compensatory damages, but rejected her claims of mental hardship. The following day the jurors came back after the second phase of the trial and awarded Cochran $7.7 million in punitive damages.

FremantleMedia is appealing the verdict. In a statement, FremantleMedia has said, “we believe the verdict in this case was the result of a flawed process in which the court, among other things, refused to allow the jury to hear and consider that 40 percent of our models have been pregnant and other important evidence to our defense.” FremantleMedia has stated that they expect to be fully vindicated.

The verdict is a rare one for a program that has seen other lawsuits. Longtime host Bob Barker, who retired in 2007, was sued by some of the show’s hostesses for sexual harassment and wrongful termination. Most of the cases involving “Barker’s Beauties”, the nickname given the gown-wearing women who presented prizes to contestants, ended with out-of-court settlements.

According to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, a woman who takes a pregnancy disability leave and returns within the four-month period is guaranteed the right to return to her same position. An employer can reinstate a woman who takes a leave to a comparable position only if her same position is no longer available, such as in a layoff due to plant closure. If that is the case, the employer should offer a position that is comparable in terms of pay, location, job content, and promotional opportunities unless the employer can prove that no comparable position exist. An employer cannot refuse to return a woman who has taken a pregnancy leave to her original position if they like her temporary replacement better or if while she was out on leave her employer identified performance deficiencies that existed prior to her leave.

Published by Don Ho Law.  Don Ho is an attorney in Orange County, California, focusing on criminal and employment law.

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