Friday, November 30, 2018

New York Times Investigation Supports Bryan Schwartz Law's Race Harassment Class Action Against Tesla

One year ago, Bryan Schwartz Law, along with co-counsel Larry Organ and the California Civil Rights Law Group, filed a rare racial harassment class action, because use of the "N-word" and other harassment are so common at Tesla's Fremont auto manufacturing plant. Today, after an in-depth investigation, the New York Times published a feature discussing the disturbing pattern at Tesla.

The story begins:

Owen Diaz had seen swastikas in the bathrooms at Tesla’s electric-car plant, and he had tried to ignore racist taunts around the factory. "You hear, ‘Hey, boy, come here,’ ‘N-i-g-g-e-r,’ you know, all this," said Mr. Diaz, who is African-American.

Similar accounts of race harassment follow, profiling a number of the witnesses in Bryan Schwartz Law’s case. 

If you have information about race harassment at Tesla, contact Bryan Schwartz Law today.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Pass the Gravy, But Don't Hold the Wages

Tomorrow, many Americans will prepare their Thanksgiving feast from a box of assembled ingredients, opting to skip the crowded grocery store frenzy by ordering their Thanksgiving meal from a meal kit delivery service. However, customers may be left with a bad taste in their mouths to learn that many of the workers that assemble their meals are being subjected to unsafe, unlawful working conditions and unfairly compensated for their work. 

That is the subject of a recent class action lawsuit filed in Northern California against Blue Apron, claiming that Blue Apron failed to pay workers overtime and failed to provide them with mandatory meal and rest breaks.

Meal kit delivery services are growing in popularity, and there are number of brands to choose from like Blue Apron, Martha and Marley Spoon, HelloFresh, or Sun Basket. Forbes reports the trend for these online meal-kit delivery services will continue, forecasting online sales of meal kits to top $10 billion by 2020, up from about $1 billion in 2015. These meal kit delivery services have capitalized on their success by reinventing dinner, making it easy and accessible for cooks of all skill levels. 

However, there is one group of people who have plenty of complaints about this new industry: the workers

Blue Apron employs over 1000 employees at their warehouse center in Richmond, California where nearly 8 million meal kits are assembled each month. Even under fair conditions, the job is difficult. Blue Apron workers assemble the perishable meal kit boxes inside warehouses kept at a temperature below 40 degrees. According to an investigative report by Buzzfeed, Blue Apron employees reported working 12 hour shifts, five to six days each week on the assembly line in order to meet production deadlines. 

On October 5, 2018, a class action lawsuit was filed against Blue Apron in the Alameda County Superior Court, alleging that Blue Apron failed to properly pay its workers, failed to provide its workers with meal and rest breaks, and failed to provide workers with accurate itemized wage statements. The lawsuit covers all Blue Apron hourly employees that work/worked in California from October 5, 2014 to the present. Plaintiff and the putative class are represented by the Turley & Mara Law Firm, APLC. The case was removed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on November 19, 2018 (Fairley v. Blue Apron, Inc., Case No. 3:18-cv-07000).

If you believe you have been subjected to employment discrimination, unfair pay or unsafe working conditions, please contact Bryan Schwartz Law today. 

Ignorance of the Law is no Excuse

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” particularly when it comes to an employer’s responsibility to pay its workers according to current wage laws. That’s the upshot from the California Court of Appeal’s opinion in Diaz v. Grill Concepts Services, Inc., 23 Cal. App. 5th 859 (2018).

In Diaz, the employer claimed its failure to pay timely its workers was not “willful” – an element of proof for a waiting time penalty claim under Labor Code § 203 – because the employer was purportedly unable “to locate” an amendment to a local Los Angeles ordinance. This amendment to the local wage law required employers to pay certain hotel workers a specific living wage which exceeded the state minimum wage law. The court was unpersuaded.

The court explained several circumstances under which an employer’s failure to pay all wages due upon termination or resignation are not “willful,” including: (1) uncertainty in the law, (2) representations from a taxing authority that no further payment is warranted, and (3) “the employer’s ‘good faith mistaken belief that wages are not owed’ grounded in a ‘good faith dispute,’ which exists when the ‘employer presents a defense, based in law or fact which, if successful, would preclude any recovery on the part of the employee.” Id. at 868. None applied in this case.

To the contrary, the “undisputed facts show that Grill Concepts suspected it was underpaying its employees and went so far as to confirm that the living wage law was in the midst of being amended, but then did nothing else.” Id. at 869. The employer just kept running the same web search which failed to produce information about the amended statute. Id. Because the employer ignored multiple, obvious ways to inform itself of a change in the living wage law, the court affirmed that the employer’s “inability to locate the amended ordinance does not preclude the finding that its failure to pay was willful” for purposes of establishing Labor Code § 203 waiting time penalty liability. Id. [1]

While it should not have taken a court of appeal to state the obvious, nevertheless, workers and workers’ advocates should find comfort in knowing that California courts will not allow an employer to bury its head in the sand to avoid properly paying its workers.

If your employer refuses to pay you earned wages because it claims not to know the law, please contact Bryan Schwartz Law for a free case evaluation to determine if we can assist you.

[1] The court also rejected the employer’s argument that the amended statute was unconstitutionally vague, in part because of “the absence of any evidence that any other hotelier or restauranteur had any problem reading the ordinance to pay its employees the proper living wage.” Id. at 873. In addition, the court rejected the employer’s misreading of Labor Code § 203 as purportedly allowing a trial court to waive waiting time penalties “for equitable reasons” when the relevant statutory language lacks any such discretionary authority and instead includes language mandating the imposition of such penalties upon a finding of willful violation, as was the case here. Id. at 874-75.