On October 8, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 331 into law. The bill, sponsored by State Senator Connie Leyva, makes it illegal for companies to prohibit employees from speaking about discrimination and harassment.
Previously, laws such as the Stand Together Against Non-Disclosures Act banned non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in sexual harassment, but did not prohibit NDAs for other types of discrimination, such as race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Now, California workers will have legal protections for speaking out about all manner of unlawful conduct in the workplace.
This legislation has been strongly supported by Ifeoma Ozoma, a Pinterest whistleblower who spoke out about racial discrimination at the company. NDAs are commonly used, particularly in the tech industry, to keep employees quiet about workplace harassment and discrimination for fear of facing legal action and fines. People began discussing them more frequently after it was reported during the #MeToo movement that Harvey Weinstein and other abusers used NDAs to silence their victims.
SB 331 was sponsored by the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA), the organization Earthseed, and Equal Rights Advocates. It will take effect on January 1, 2022.
If you believe you have been a victim of discrimination or harassment in the workplace, contact Teukolsky Law today for a free consultation.
Teukolsky Law Asks Chateau Marmont To Reconsider Request To Move Lawsuit from Open Court To Secret Arbitration Proceedings
Last week, Teukolsky Law asked Chateau Marmont's attorney to reconsider the Chateau's request that TL client, Thomasina Gross, dismiss her race discrimination and sex harassment lawsuit against the famed Hollywood institution and refile her claims in private arbitration proceedings. Here is the letter:
Dear Mr. Stone:
We are in receipt of your March 10 letter in which you ask our client, Thomasina Gross, to dismiss the lawsuit she filed in Los Angeles Superior Court against your client, the Chateau Marmont, and instead file her race discrimination and sexual harassment claims with JAMS, a private arbitration company whose proceedings are not open to the public. We recognize that the arbitration agreement Ms. Gross signed when she started working for the Chateau appears to be enforceable. However, we would ask that you reconsider your request for the following reasons.
First, the Chateau’s treatment of its employees is a matter of substantial interest to the public and should accordingly be evaluated in a public forum, so that the public can make informed decisions about whether or not to give their business to the Chateau. Whereas arbitrations are essentially a “secret system controlled by the wrongdoers,” court cases ensure that the public has access to information that affects them. If Ms. Gross’s claims proceed in arbitration, none of the documents filed in the case will be a public record, and the testimony provided by witnesses will not be accessible to the public.
Second, a plaintiff’s ability to conduct discovery to learn information about the defendant’s case is far more constrained in arbitration than in court. For example, the JAMS Employment Arbitration Minimum Standards provide for only one deposition per party, while California state courts allow for the parties to take the depositions of all witnesses with relevant information. Given the nuances involved in evaluating a race discrimination and sexual harassment claim, we believe broader discovery is necessary.
Third, while forced arbitration is unfair to all workers (Americans are more likely to be struck by lightning than to win their cases in arbitration), it disproportionately affects female workers and Black workers, who are the most likely groups to be bound by forced arbitration. Meanwhile, only 28.84% of JAMS arbitrators are women, and only around 4% are African-American. We believe that our client, an African-American woman alleging race discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, deserves to have her case heard by a jury of her peers that is reflective of the community of Los Angeles.
For these reasons, we would respectfully request that you permit Ms. Gross to proceed with her claims in court, and not require her to proceed in arbitration. We appreciate your consideration of our request.
At a press conference on January 28, 2021, Lauren Teukolsky announced the filing of a new lawsuit against Chateau Marmont on behalf of former employee Thomasina "Thommi" Gross. Chateau Marmont is a legendary Hollywood hotel known as a playground for its wealthy clientele. Ms. Gross, who is African-American, worked as an events server there from 2017 to 2020, until she was laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The complaint, which was filed on January 27 in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that Ms. Gross was repeatedly passed over for promotions in favor of white employees. Ms. Gross, who had over a decade of experience in high-end hotel hospitality, received far less compensation and fewer hours than her white counterparts. This was consistent, says the complaint, with the Chateau’s discriminatory preference for placing white or light-skinned people of color in guest-facing roles.
The suit also alleges that due to the Chateau’s “anything goes” party environment, guests felt free to touch and grope Ms. Gross as she served food during events. When Ms. Gross reported guest misconduct to management, the complaint alleges, they took no steps to protect her, and even retaliated by not giving her any more restaurant shifts.
Ms. Teukolsky said: “Ms. Gross has demonstrated tremendous courage by stepping forward to challenge the discriminatory practices of one of the most iconic Hollywood institutions. We hope that her bravery will lead the Chateau to take steps to protect its employees from guest harassment and to ensure that its hiring practices going forward comply with California’s powerful anti-discrimination laws.”
In an article published on January 28 in the Hollywood Reporter, Ms. Gross commented: “I don’t like having to leave my dignity at the door. It’s exhausting. We’re forced into a fight-or-flight mode. We’re conditioned to believe we have to expect this. I’m speaking out on behalf of myself and others who believe they’ll face retaliation. Changing the culture is my focus. No one should have to deal with this on a day-to-day basis.”
If you believe you have experienced racial discrimination or sexual harassment at work, contact Teukolsky Law today for a free consultation.
Lauren Teukolsky is the founder and owner of Teukolsky Law, A Professional Corporation.