Bloomberg's Labor and Employment blog quoted Lauren Teukolsky discussing non-disclosure agreements ("NDAs") in sexual harassment settlements. Employees often agree to keep quiet about the settlement terms in exchange for the settlement amount. Sometimes, the employee will even agree not to discuss the underlying facts of the sexual harassment. There is currently a bill pending in the California Legislature that would ban all NDAs in sexual harassment settlements, even if the employee is willing to accept an NDA in exchange for a higher settlement amount. Plaintiff-side employment lawyers are torn about whether a complete ban on NDAs is in their clients' interests. As Ms. Teukolsky stated in Bloomberg: “I think it’s important for my clients to be able to decide whether they’re willing to sign an NDA in exchange for more settlement money." Also - sexual harassment clients themselves sometimes do not want the facts underlying their claims to be publicly discussed, particularly when their cases are settled before a lawsuit has been filed. We will see whether the California Legislature ultimately bans NDAs or not. California law already prohibits NDAs in settlement agreements in civil cases where the underlying conduct could be charged as a felony sex offense.
Teukolsky Law client Sandra Pezqueda has settled a sexual harassment case against Terranea Resort and the staffing agency that placed her there for $250,000. The settlement has drawn national attention because TIME Magazine named Ms. Pezequeda a "Person of the Year" in 2017 as one of the Silence Breakers who spoke out against sexual harassment. TIME honored Ms. Pezqueda alongside celebrities like Ashley Judd and Taylor Swift. The settlement has received extensive coverage, including from The Washington Post, TIME Magazine, CBS and The Daily Mail. Interest in Ms. Pezqueda's settlement comes at a time when many states, including California, are considering legislation that would benefit victims of sexual harassment, such as prohibiting non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment settlements.
TIME Magazine has published an article reporting that Teukolsky Law client Sandra Pezqueda, named a TIME "Person of the Year" in 2017, settled her case against Terranea Resort and the staffing agency that placed her there for $250,000. Lauren Teukolsky is quoted extensively in the article. As reported in the article:
“I think one has to assume that the #MeToo movement has altered every employer’s calculations over whether to resolve a case or not,” Teukolsky told TIME. “I think that employers, generally speaking, are going to be much more cautious about going to trial now that women are being believed about their sexual harassment allegations, and every potential juror knows somebody who has had a #MeToo moment.”
Sandra Pezqueda, a Teukolsky Law client who was named one of The Silence Breakers, TIME Magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year, has settled her sexual harassment lawsuit against Terranea Resort and the staffing agency that placed her there for $250,000.
Ms. Pezqueda, a former dishwasher at Terranea, filed suit against the luxury resort alleging she was fired after complaining to management about a supervisor who was sexually harassing her. According to the lawsuit, she was pursued by a male supervisor for months who changed her schedule and cut her hours after she rebuffed his advances. After coming forward and reporting the issue, Ms. Pezqueda alleged that the company targeted her and ultimately fired her.
Earlier this week, the California Supreme Court issued a long-awaited decision in Dynamex Operations W., Inc. v. Superior Court. The plaintiffs were truck drivers who delivered goods for Dynamex. (The last time I ordered something from Ikea, Dynamex delivery drivers delivered it.) Dynamex classified the drivers as independent contractors, essentially claiming that the drivers ran their own delivery businesses. The drivers contended that they were actually employees. Why does this matter? Only employees get the benefit of labor laws, like minimum wage protections and entitlement to meal and rest breaks.
California courts have long disagreed over the proper test to apply to figure out whether someone is an employee or independent contractor. We now have a fairly bright-line test, called the "ABC Test." Under this test, a worker is only an independent contractor if the hiring entity proves ALL of the following: (A) the worker is free from the direction and control of the entity that hired him or her; (B) the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity's business; and (C) the worker has an "independently established" business and is performing work for the hiring entity out of that business. If the worker can show that any one of these factors is not met -- for example, the hiring entity is a delivery company and she is working as a delivery driver -- the test fails and the worker should be classified as an employee.
Which workers will NOT qualify as independent contractors under this test? Examples may include copywriters hired by a public relations firm to write press releases; IT workers who exclusively provide IT support to customers of a single tech firm; or a worker who performs maintenance for a maintenance company. For now, the ABC test applies only to cases involving California's wage orders (think reporting time pay). But, it's not hard to imagine that courts will extend the ABC test to other areas, like discrimination law or personal injury.
Every case is different. If you believe you have been misclassified as an independent contractor, you may want to consult with an attorney.
TEUKOLSKY LAW CLIENT NAMED TIME MAGAZINE "PERSON OF THE YEAR" FOR SPEAKING OUT AGAINST SEXUAL HARASSMENT
TIME Magazine has announced its 2017 "Person of the Year," and it's not Donald Trump. TIME has chosen a group of "Silence Breakers" -- women who have spoken out against sexual harassment and sexual assault, often at great personal and professional risk to themselves. Among the group chosen for this honor is Sandra Pezqueda. Ms. Pezqueda was fired from her job at the Terranea Resort, a ritzy Southern California hotel, after she complained that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor. Teukolsky Law is honored to represent Ms. Pezqueda in her wrongful termination lawsuit against the Terranea Resort. Trial is set for June 2018. If you have been the victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault and would like to consult with an attorney, you can contact Teukolsky Law by calling (626) 522-8982 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Los Angeles Times provided insightful coverage of a new wage-and-hour class action lawsuit filed on October 19, 2017 by Teukolsky Law, APC on behalf of hotel workers who work at the "ritzy" Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes. Here is an excerpt:
"The lawsuit delves into a question that has been argued as high as the U.S. Supreme Court: At what point should employees be considered on duty and therefore earning their hourly wages?
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that warehouse workers for online shopping giant Amazon were not obligated to be paid for the time they spent undergoing security screenings after each shift.
Teukolsky said the Amazon case focused on a federal law, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the court ruled that the security screenings fell into an exemption in the act.
In contrast, Teukolsky said, her lawsuit is supported by a 2000 ruling by the California Supreme Court that agriculture workers who spent time commuting on employer buses to the fields must be compensated for that time. Based on that case, she said, her clients should be compensated for time spent traveling on company shuttles to the resort.
'There are many examples where California law is more protective of workers than federal law,' she said."
Teukolsky Law, APC filed a class action lawsuit today against the luxury Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, alleging that the hotel has subjected its workers to numerous wage-and-hour violations, including failure to pay them for all hours worked, the denial of meal and rest breaks, and failure to reimburse them for work supplies. Surrounded by hotel workers, Lauren Teukolsky announced the lawsuit along with named plaintiff Galen Landsberg at a press conference outside the oceanfront resort this morning.
The lawsuit claims that the resort regularly prohibits workers from parking in its onsite lots to make room for guests and requires workers to instead take company shuttles from remote off-site parking lots, but does not pay them for the additional travel time. Due to the high cost of rent in Rancho Palos Verdes, most workers commute to the hotel from more affordable parts of the Southland. Workers say the Terranea’s required use of company shuttles can add an hour or more to their already grueling daily drives.
“Rancho Palos Verdes is not somewhere we workers can afford to live, so we drive long distances each day to get to work. I live in mid-City Los Angeles. It’s frustrating that, on top of the long commute, we have to come in early to take the company’s shuttles from the offsite lots and are not paid for this time,” said Galen Landsberg, a cook at the Terranea.
Freddy Lovato, another Terranea cook, said: “I know the law says that we are supposed to be able to take two ten-minute rest breaks when we work an eight-hour shift. But that is not the reality. The kitchen is incredibly busy and we are regularly not permitted to take breaks.”
The suit also alleges that the hotel fails to reimburse workers for such required tools as knives, sharpening stones, peelers, lemon juicers, kitchen scissors, spatulas, and graters at Terranea’s expensive restaurants. “Talk about nickel-and-diming,” said Ms. Teukolsky. “While guests pay upward of $30 or $40 for a single entrée, Terranea pockets the profits and requires their own employees to supply the tools that enable them to perform their jobs.”
The Terranea, a Lowe Enterprises property, has become iconic in the upper echelons of the Los Angeles hospitality industry. The expansive property is located up the Pacific Coast from the Trump National Golf Course. With its ocean-side views and A-list clientele, the 5-star resort projects an image of luxury and environmental stewardship.
The next U.S. Supreme Court term begins on Monday, October 2, 2017. According to the argument schedule, which was just released, three consolidated cases involving the validity of class actions waivers in employment arbitration agreements will be the first cases heard by the Court. The Court's anticipated decision in Lewis (7th Circuit), Morris (9th Circuit) and Murphy Oil (5th Circuit) will like be the most significant employment decision issued by the Supreme Court in the past decade. If the Court upholds the use of class action waivers, we will likely see the end of class action cases being brought by employees. Why? Employers will require employees to sign away their rights to sue in court as a condition of employment, which courts have repeatedly held is perfectly legal. Employers will instead require employees to bring their claims through the private arbitration system. And, employers will require that employees bring only individual claims against the employer, and not join with any of their co-workers.
When an employee comes into my office and says she has $5,000 in unpaid wages, it's just not economically feasible for me to take that case. I don't typically get paid by the hour - I only earn a percentage of what I recover for my clients. But, if an employee comes into my office and says she and 500 of her co-workers have $5,000 in unpaid wages, for a total of $2.5 million in unpaid wages, I could take on that case and still pay my rent. Long story short: if class actions go away, private employment lawyers like me will not be able to take on smaller individual wage claims, and the wage-and-hour laws for those workers will no longer be enforced.
The only ray of sunshine in California is that employees can still bring representative Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) claims in court, and cannot be required to bring them in arbitration. At least for now.
On July 13, 2017, the California Supreme Court issued a blockbuster decision in Williams v. Superior Court, holding that plaintiffs who bring representative wage-and-hour actions under California's Private Attorney General Act ("PAGA") have broad discovery rights and are entitled to obtain a the names and contact information of other "aggrieved employees" without making a heightened showing that the employer has violated the law. This is the most significant PAGA decision since the Supreme Court held in Iskanian v. CLS Transp. Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal. 4th 348 (2014), that an employee’s right to bring a representative PAGA action may not be waived through a forced arbitration agreement.
While employers will undoubtedly bemoan the Williams decision, let's just remember that we are on the precipice of a Supreme Court decision in the 2017-2018 term that will likely eviscerate wage-and-hour class actions on a nationwide basis. If the Supreme Court rules as I suspect they will, PAGA will be the only remaining vehicle for employees to bring representative wage-and-hour actions. This shifting class action landscape was undoubtedly on the minds of the Cal Supremes when they issued the pro-employee Williams decision yesterday.
Lauren Teukolsky is the founder and owner of Teukolsky Law, A Professional Corporation.