In a unanimous decision issued today in the closely-watched case of Lawson v. ZB, N.A., the California Supreme Court held that employees who file claims against their employers for penalties under the Private Attorneys General Act ("PAGA") to enforce the Labor Code may not seek to recover unpaid wages under Labor Code section 558 on behalf of employees. In the lower courts, the parties fought about whether a PAGA plaintiff subject to an arbitration agreement seeking both penalties and unpaid wages through Labor Code section 558 would be required to arbitrate the unpaid wages portion of their claim. The Cal Supremes cut off this argument at the knees, holding that a PAGA plaintiff may not even seek unpaid wages under Section 558 because the statute authorizes only the State, not a private plaintiff, to bring such a claim. Because the Court previously held that a PAGA plaintiff seeking penalties may not be compelled to arbitration, the Lawson plaintiff -- now stripped of her claim for unpaid wages -- could not be compelled to arbitration.
Sadly, this case is a big victory for employers. It limits the scope of the remedies a private plaintiff may seek under PAGA, the only remaining claim that can be brought in court (as opposed to arbitration) for Labor Code violations. The Supreme Court issued a bright-line ruling that private plaintiffs may seek only penalties (which have a one-year statute of limitations and which must be shared with the State) and can't seek unpaid wages (which arguably have a three-year statute of limitations and which go 100% to the employees). The case is a victory for employees only to the extent that the Court reaffirmed its previous ruling that PAGA claims for penalties may not be compelled to arbitration.
The practical effect of this ruling will be to send much more PAGA settlement money to the State. Previously, in a PAGA-only settlement, the plaintiff could designate a significant portion of the settlement money as unpaid wages and distribute that portion 100% to the employees. The plaintiff could designate the remaining portion as pure PAGA penalties, 75% of which must be shared with the State. Now, PAGA plaintiffs will no longer have the option to designate any portion of a PAGA-only settlement as unpaid wages, which means that 75% of the settlement must go to the State. This means less money in the hands of employees who actually suffered the violations. Hopefully, the State will use the money to hire more attorneys to enforce the Labor Code.
For you legal eagles out there, the critical passage of Lawson states: [T]he amount for unpaid wages referenced in section 558 is not part of that section’s civil penalty and is not recoverable through a PAGA action. Instead . . . this part of a section 558 citation represents compensatory damages. Section 558, in other words, authorizes only the Labor Commissioner to issue a citation that includes both a civil penalty and the same unpaid wages Lawson can alternatively recover under section 1194 through a civil action or an administrative hearing. But section 2699, subdivision (a) does not authorize employees to collect section 558’s unpaid wages through a PAGA action."
If you believe that you have not been paid all of the wages owed to you by your employer, contact us today for a free consultation.
Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted about Teukolsky Law client, Sandra Pezqueda, on July 25, 2019. Senator Warren said: "Sandra Pezqueda worked at @TerraneaResort in Southern California. After reporting sexual harassment, she was fired—but her courage launched a movement."
Teukolsky Law represented Ms. Pezqueda in her sexual harassment lawsuit against the Terranea Resort. While her lawsuit was pending, Ms. Pezqueda was named one of the The Silence Breakers, TIME Magazine's 2017 Person of the Year. As reported in TIME Magazine, her lawsuit settled in May 2018 for $250,000. Since settling her lawsuit, Ms. Pezqueda has been a vocal advocate for greater protections for hotel workers. Her courage is an inspiration to us all.
If you believe that you have been sexually harassed or retaliated against, contact us today for a free consultation.
Ella Hushagen has joined Teukolsky Law as an associate attorney. Ms. Hushagen is an experienced litigator, having previously worked as a Staff Attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services on major pieces of statewide impact litigation on behalf of low-income Medi-Cal beneficiaries. After graduating from UCLA School of Law in 2013 (with a joint Masters Degree in Public Health), she clerked for the Honorable Fernando M. Holguin, a federal judge in the Central District of California. Read more about Ms. Hushagen here.
Ms. Hushagen represents employees in a wide range of cases, from sexual harassment to discrimination to wage-and-hour violations. If you believe you have experienced unlawful conduct in the workplace, contact us today for a free consultation.
Law360 has written an in-depth article about the latest lawsuit filed by Teukolsky Law against the Freehand Hotel, located in downtown Los Angeles, on behalf of a hotel housekeeper alleging sexual harassment (subject to paywall). According to the article, "Edith Gutu says she has repeatedly asked managers at the trendy hotel to prevent men from entering the restrooms, located next to the rooftop bar and the lobby bar, when she is cleaning them. But she has not been given a sign she can place by the door, or a means of locking the restrooms from the inside, according to her complaint against the Freehand Hotel's owner, Sydell Hostel Manager LLC." The article quoted Ms. Gutu as saying: “I should not have to work in circumstances like this. . . . Today, I have decided to break my own silence. I am doing this not only for myself, but so that all women who work in our industry can work with the dignity and respect we deserve.”
Read the full article here.
Teukolsky Law filed a new lawsuit yesterday on on behalf of a female housekeeper at the boutique Freehand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles alleging that she experienced sexual harassment while she cleaned the men’s restrooms located next to the hotel bars. According to the complaint, the hotel's rooftop bar is a “destination for partygoers,” which features loud music and the smell of marijuana smoke. On Friday and Saturday nights, according to the complaint, the bar takes on a “raucous ‘party’ atmosphere” where guests are often visibly intoxicated and stumbling into the bathroom.
Plaintiff Edith Gutu is a 44-year old woman who has worked as a housekeeper at the Freehand since March 2018. She frequently cleans the men’s restrooms near the hotel bars on Friday and Saturday nights. She has repeatedly asked management to allow her to close the men’s restroom while she cleans, but they have refused. As a result, Ms. Gutu alleges that she has regularly been exposed to men’s genitals as they use the urinals while she cleans. She also alleges that she feels trapped inside the restroom stall when men enter and start urinating. Ms. Gutu alleges that she has been subject to unwelcome conduct from male guests, including being called a “fucking bitch, fucking Mexican,” or words to that effect, by a male guest she asked to wait outside the restroom until she was done cleaning.
Ms. Gutu alleges that she has repeatedly asked Freehand management to let her transfer to the day shift, but they have refused. Even though there are other male staff who could be assigned to clean the men’s restroom, the complaint alleges that Freehand management has not permitted Ms. Gutu to change shifts with them, nor allowed her to close the restroom while she cleans. Instead, after she complained about being exposed to inappropriate guest conduct, management allegedly told her it was “part of [her] job.”
Teukolsky Law also represents Leticia Vallejo, a Marriott housekeeper who similarly alleges that she experienced sexual harassment from male guests while she was required to clean the men’s restroom next to a hotel bar. Like the Freehand Hotel, the Marriott allegedly refused to allow Ms. Vallejo to close the men’s restroom while she cleaned. Ms. Vallejo’s lawsuit is pending in Superior Court in Orange County and is in the discovery phase.
Under California law, employers have an obligation to protect their employees from sexual harassment by third parties, including customers. If you believe that you have been sexually harassed, contact us today for a free consultation.
Earlier today, Teukolsky Law filed a new sexual harassment lawsuit on behalf of Joey Dalla Betta (pronouns: they/them) against Flaunt Magazine, its CEO Luis Barajas and Editor-in-Chief Matthew Bedard. Barajas founded Los Angeles-based Flaunt in 1998 after a 10-year stint running Detour, a well-known fashion and entertainment magazine. Flaunt covers have featured many high-profile actors and musicians such as Beyoncé, Brad Pitt and Kanye West. Barajas, who is in his mid-50s, hired Dalla Betta as his executive assistant in July 2018. Dalla Betta alleges that Barajas and Bedard ran the magazine based on a culture of fear and intimidation, where advancement was based on a willingness to submit to repeated sexual advances and endure a non-stop barrage of sexual banter. Young aspiring writers like Dalla Betta were scared to complain or quit because jobs in the magazine industry are so rare. (Joey Dalla Betta, pictured left. Photo credit: Lucy-Bleu Knight.)
VICE News ran a piece covering the filing of the lawsuit. As described in the piece, "At first, Dalla Betta thought that the expectations and behavior at Flaunt were normal in the journalism industry. They poured themselves into Flaunt, often working through weekends. At times, it felt like even the boundaries between Dalla Betta and the magazine itself had dissolved, because they felt the successes and failures of the magazine so intimately."
If you have experienced sexual harassment, contact Teukolsky Law today for a free consultation.
On March 15, 2019, Lauren Teukolsky spoke at a Bridgeport Continuing Education conference on the latest trends in litigation under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). Ms. Teukolsky was featured on a panel discussing settlement and arbitration issues. With the prevalence of arbitration agreements and class action waivers, PAGA has emerged as one of the only vehicles for employees to bring collective actions on behalf of a group of employees in court. Ms. Teukolsky discussed the future of PAGA, predicting that the United States Supreme Court will take up the issue of the arbitrability of PAGA in the next five years. She also discussed how courts are dealing with settlement of PAGA claims given the lack of guidance in the PAGA statute.
If you believe that your employer has not paid you all of the wages you are owed, contact Teukolsky Law today for a free consultation.
The Los Angeles Times has quoted Teukolsky Law founder and owner Lauren Teukolsky discussing the firm's latest sexual harassment lawsuit against Marriott Hotel. The case highlights an employer's duty to protect employees from customers who sexually harass them.
Teukolsky Law has filed a new lawsuit against the Marriott Hotel in Irvine, California on behalf of a hotel worker who was sexually harassed and assaulted by male customers in the bathroom she was required to clean as part of her job. On one occasion while she was cleaning the restroom, the complaint alleges, an intoxicated male guest pressed his genitals against her and offered her $50. When she complained to management, her supervisor joked that he should have offered her $100. Her complaint alleges that the hotel refused to provide her with a sign closing the restroom for cleaning, requiring her to clean the restroom while men urinated and exposed themselves in front of her. Her attorney, Lauren Teukolsky, was quoted in Bloomberg news, saying, “The hotel has placed her in this obviously dangerous and untenable situation. . . . She herself was powerless. She couldn’t decline to clean the restroom.”
California law imposes a duty on employers to protect their employees from sexual harassment not only by supervisors and co-workers, but also third parties like hotel customers. If you believe that you have been sexually harassed, contact Teukolsky Law today for a free consultation.
Teukolsky Law founder Lauren Teukolsky was quoted in a Courthouse News story on the Private Attorneys General Act ("PAGA"), a California law that allows private attorneys to stand in the shoes of the State to bring labor enforcement actions against employers who break the law. PAGA is under attack by a consortium of businesses that are suing to have PAGA declared unconstitutional. Teukolsky Law represents a group of 57 nurses who have sued a Tenet-owned hospital in Templeton, CA for labor violations, including failing to provide rest breaks because the hospital was understaffed and the nurses did not want to leave their patients unattended.
Nine of the nurses have brought a PAGA action in San Luis Obispo Superior Court to represent all nurses at the hospital because they all signed arbitration agreements requiring them to bring their claims in secret, private arbitration proceedings. Courts currently allow employees to bring PAGA claims in open court, even if they have signed arbitration agreements. The arbitration agreements the nurses signed contain class action waivers, which means that the nurses are not allowed to bring an action to represent all of the nurses with similar claims at the hospital -- except through PAGA.
If business groups are successful in having PAGA declared unconstitutional, this could greatly impair the ability of employees to vindicate their workplace rights. Teukolsky Law will continue to fight every day for the rights of employees against powerful business lobbies that seek to take away their rights. If you believe that your rights have been violated, contact us today for a free consultation.
Lauren Teukolsky is the founder and owner of Teukolsky Law, A Professional Corporation.