Los Angeles California Employment Law Blog

Former Amazon worker alleges pregnancy discrimination

To follow up on our previous recent post about the ongoing problem with pregnancy discrimination, a woman who worked for Amazon in one of its California fulfillment centers has sued the company. She alleges pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination.

According to reports, the woman informed her supervisor at Amazon about her pregnancy in the fall of 2018. She worked for the company in the fulfillment center's warehouse by gathering items that would eventually be delivered to customers.

Juries handing out hefty sexual harassment verdicts

For the second time over the past few months, a California jury has awarded a worker a multi-million verdict based on allegations of sexual harassment.

In the most recent case, a producer of holograms, who is a billionaire, was ordered to pay $11 million to his former employee. The employee said that the billionaire touched her in an inappropriate manner without her consent and also said that he ordered her to watch pornography with him. The woman also said that at one point, someone hired a male stripper to perform for the birthday party of another business executive at the company.

Pregnancy discrimination continues to be a problem

While pregnancy discrimination is related to gender discrimination, there are actually both federal laws and California laws that separately prohibit employers from singling out workers who choose to have a child.

The basic premise of these laws is that one should not have to choose between earning a livelihood and being a parent. In general, pregnant employees must have the same rights, and the same access to benefits, as do other workers. Otherwise, the employees may be able to pursue compensation and other relief via a pregnancy discrimination claim.

Employers struggling with marijuana policies

For years employers have exercised "zero tolerance" drug policies, meaning that they could legally choose not to hire, or to fire, an employee who tested positive for any drug, including marijuana. Now, their conundrum is how do you tell someone they cannot do something that is legal? The answer is simple. You can't. This is what has left some employers in what they can only describe as "a mess."

In a recent article, the owner of Rye Electric, an Orange County business, discussed these issues. He received applications from a lot of excellent candidates, but after California legalized marijuana, they could not pass a drug screen. This forced him to take a look at, and ultimately amend, his company drug policy. While he cannot legally fire an employee for testing positive for marijuana, he can require that it not be used on the job. Even still, proving that a person used 10 minutes ago versus yesterday is impossible by a simple drug screen. THC can show up in urine or hair samples for some time after a person has ingested it.

What is a SLAPP lawsuit?

As of January 2019, only 28 states had anti-SLAPP laws. The state of California maintains one of those statutes. SLAPP is an acronym that stands for "Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation." A SLAPP lawsuit is one in which the chief complaint involves the Defendant exercising his or her rights of free speech. California's anti-SLAPP statute allows a special motion to be filed by a Defendant asking that a Judge strike a complaint. It was first enacted in 1992.

There are numerous situations in which a SLAPP lawsuit may be filed. However, for the purposes of this blog, we are going to identify one in which wrongful termination was alleged, and a SLAPP was filed in in response. The case was based in L.A. Superior Court, and is currently in a California appeals court for review. The Plaintiff was the employee of a Los Angeles based news site. A major investor to the startup, who also happens to be a news talk show host, referred to himself with a derogatory remark used against people of African-American descent on one of his episodes. Subsequently, the employee of the news site arranged for she and her African-American co-workers to request a company meeting to discuss the racial slur. Following this request, she was subject to an onslaught of adverse reactions which ultimately ended in her termination. She in turn filed a lawsuit against the employer claimant discrimination and retaliation for her exercising free speech regarding the incident.

Bill introduced to allow natural black hairstyles in workplace

Whether we choose to admit it or not, black people, in particular, black women, are discriminated against in the workplace due to their natural hairstyles. Unfortunately, society has dictated unnatural styles to be "professional," whereas natural locks boasting tight curls, cornrows, braids, or locks are frowned upon.

To date, the only defined discriminatory act by an employer has been forbidding an Afro style altogether. Employers have been allowed to force black workers to conform to grooming standards, as long as they were race-neutral. This means that the same standards apply for both Caucasian and African Americans, regardless of the amount of money, time, or even the ability of the natural hair of a black person to conform. Black women may easily spend hundreds of dollars and many hours forcing their natural hair into straight styles acceptable as "professional" in their career fields.

DOL proposes salary increase for white collar overtime exemptions

Earlier this month the United States Department of Labor announced a proposed rule change regarding the minimum salary required to qualify as exempt from overtime pay under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act white collar exemptions. A white collar worker is one who is employed in an executive, administrative, or professional position.

The proposed change to the exemption rule would increase an exempt salary amount from $23,360 annually to $35,308. If broken down into weekly figures, this would equal a weekly increase from $455 to $679. In layman's terms, this means that an employee who makes more than $35,308 per year would be exempt from overtime pay. Therefore, the employer would not be required to provide additional income for work over the standard 40 hours per week, or 8 hours per day.

LGBT discrimination laws in the California workplace

Our state takes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) rights very seriously, including within the workplace. LGBT discrimination laws are in place which coincide with federal discrimination laws, and can be prosecuted as such. These are known as the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The act bars discrimination in multiple business arenas including advertising, compensation, hiring, firing, employee promotions, applications and interviews, work environments and conditions and participation in employee groups, organization or unions. Though it does not happen nearly as often as LGBT discrimination, it should be noted that these discriminations can, and have, also occurred with heterosexual employees. Regardless of sexual orientation, the consequences for these discriminatory actions are the same.

What evidence could point to wrongful termination?

A termination is usually a bad experience for the person being terminated, but not all terminations qualify as wrongful terminations under the law. This is because California follows the employment-at-will rule, a rule that allows employers to terminate employees for any reason not forbidden by law or an employment contract. For example, while employers have broad discretion to fire employees, they may not fire them for a reason prohibited by equal employment opportunity law. These laws prohibit terminating an employee on account of their race, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, pregnancy status or other disapproved reason.

What should an employee do if they suspect they were fired for one of these disapproved reasons? Employees can look to see if there is evidence that they were discharged for a prohibited reason. First, was there any direct evidence that the termination happened for a discriminatory reason? If so, this could be a strong case that a wrongful termination happened. Direct evidence could include a statement from an employer that the termination happened because of the prohibited reason.

What should I know about unpaid wages for overtime in California?

In California, many of workers are eligible to receive overtime if they go beyond their regular work hours. However, it is not uncommon for employers to fail to pay these workers and be guilty of committing a violation related to unpaid wages. Often, workers are not even aware that they were supposed to get overtime under the law. In other instances, they are concerned about their job status if they file a complaint over unpaid wages.

It is important for them to know that they have rights and are protected under the law. Understanding when they should get overtime is one of the most vital factors in taking the necessary steps to receive those wages. An employee who is 18 or older and is nonexempt or a minor employee who is 16 or 17 and is legally allowed to work and not attend school can work eight hours in a single workday and 40 hours in a workweek without getting overtime. If they work beyond those hours, they are entitled to overtime pay.


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