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In The News!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell About To Be Repealed By President Obama

President Obama is set to repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy put into place by President Clinton.  Angela Alioto, who has been a long time advocate for equality, sees this as another important step in the fight for gay rights.  In Angela’s words, “”Equality of all of the men and women who serve our country and risks
their lives on a daily basis for us to have our freedom not only deserve
complete and absolute equality but our total and absolute appreciation
for their huge sacrifice”.

    Monday, May 31, 2010

    Former Google Exec Testifies in Discrimination Case

    Known for being young, hip and cutting-edge, search engine giant Google is a dream company to join if you’re looking for a career in new media. The No. 1 website in the world, careers at Google are highly sought after by fresh-faced college grads and seasoned pros alike. Sixty-year-old Brian Reid, however, claims that Google may be a little too youth-obsessed.

    Last Wednesday, Reid testified in a California Supreme Court in San Francisco that he was fired from the company at the age of 54 after he was told that he wasn’t a cultural fit for Google’s youthful image. Reid’s lawsuit claims that the man was the victim of illegal age discrimination. A former assistant professor at Stanford University, Reid was hired at the then start-up company as the director of engineering and operations. He was 52 when he took the job, but later was transferred to what his lawyers describe as a dead end job. Stripped of his title, Reid then was put in charge of a fledgling program for grad students working at Google. Soon after his transfer to the program, Reid was fired and told his position had been eliminated.

    Last week’s proceeding in front of judges was to determine if the case will in fact go to trial, not whether Reid was the victim of illegal age discrimination. The court is mulling over discriminatory remarks made by Reid’s co-workers, who called him “over the hill” and an “old fuddy-duddy.” Lawyers for the company argued that the remarks hold no water since they weren’t made by superiors. Google is appealing a decision by an appeals court that ruled Reid was entitled to a Santa Clara County Superior Court trial. Furthermore, Google has been vocal to point out the company’s spotless history for hiring people of all ages, races and disabilities.

      Sunday, May 23, 2010

      Million Dollar Settlements in a Pair of Sexual Harassment Cases

      2010 has seen some big-time settlements and judgements in cases involving sexual harassment, gender bias and discrimination. In cases across the United States, judges and juries are sending a clear message that these kinds of behaviors in the workplace will not be tolerated. So it’s no wonder many companies and organizations are choosing to pay out large settlements before things get ugly and reputations get destroyed. These settlements not only prevent the victims of sexual harassment from reliving the often traumatic experiences in a courtroom but they can help the accused businesses avoid a public relations nightmare. Two recent cases show that settling out of court in sexual harassment cases can be beneficial for all parties involved.

      Earlier this month, an employee at Washington’s Western State Hospital, who said she was sexually harassed while on the job, received a nearly $1 million settlement. The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and the Washington Federation of State Employees agreed to settle before the case went to trial. The DSHS said that the state will pay $795,000 while the union will pay $200,000. Neither establishment has admitted guilt or wrongdoing in the case, but has agreed upon the total settlement instead of going to trial.

      In April, another big settlement in a sexual harassment case was awarded to two female sheriffs in New Jersey. Litigation in the case dragged on for nearly seven years after the two women filed a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2006; the lengthy paper trail led investigators back to March 2002, when the initial complaints were filed in Middlesex County. One day before the case was scheduled to go to trial, the lawyers for the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department decided to settle, paying out $1.59 million to the former sheriffs. Both women complained of a sexually charged and hostile work environment. They claim to have endured years of lewd comments, indecent propositions and lewd behavior from fellow officers and supervisors. Like the previous case, Middlesex has admitted to no wrongdoing despite agreeing to pay the $1.59 million settlement.

        Thursday, May 20, 2010

        Novartis Ordered to Pay $250M to Female Employees

        Pharmaceutical giant Novartis has been ordered by a New York federal court to pay $250 million in punitive damages to a group of 5,000 former and current women employees of the drug company. The award comes after Novartis lost a gender bias lawsuit, producing the second-largest verdict of 2010.

        On Wednesday, a federal jury in Manhattan found Novartis liable for discrimination and ordered it to pay $3.3 million in damages to the 12 women plaintiffs. These women are part of the Novartis’ 14,000 U.S. workers. Based in Basel, Switzerland, the company once was heralded as one of the top work environments for women by Working Woman Magazine.

        One by one, women who worked at Novartis testified in court during the five week trial and told a very different story. One woman testified that her male manager suggested she have an abortion when she was pregnant. Other employees testified that they were scrutinized by the company managers while male employees were not. Another woman said she was not included in the “boy’s club” type camaraderie that took place at Novartis where executives partied with doctors at strip clubs. Still another woman testified that she was denied access to the flexible hours of the job share program after she requested to work part-time to care for her newly-adopted daughter. Jurors listened to women like Holly Walters, who described in detail being passed over for promotions because they were women. Walters told jurors that she was fired by Novartis even though she had not received any formal complaints about her performance. She says she was let go by the company when she was seven months pregnant after taking a few weeks off of work upon a doctor’s recommendation who was concerned about her health. After days in court, the jury was convinced: Novartis was guilty of discrimination.

        Judge Colleen McMahon is expected to make a ruling next week on whether or not Novartis paid women employees less than men. If she decides that it has, the drug giant will be ordered to shell out even more money in compensatory damages. The company, which produces top-selling drugs like Lamisil, Theraflu and Ritalin, was ordered to pay $3.3 million to the twelve plaintiffs earlier this week. The $250 million will go to current and former employees of the company. Novartis also has been ordered by Judge McMahon to undergo thorough and on-going investigations to see if the company has changed its standards and practices in regard to women employees.

          Tuesday, May 18, 2010

          Construction Foreman Files Wrongful Termination Suit

          The backbreaking work of the construction world isn’t for everybody. The hours are long and unpredictable, the clients can be demanding and the physical nature of the job is often dangerous and taxing. Underneath the piles of plywood and stacks of drywall, the construction industry hides a history of employee discrimination, wrongful termination and wage and hour disputes. With tougher nationwide labor laws being currently enforced, however, many construction businesses are under fire. Individual lawsuits have targeted the industry, blowing the whistle on unfair labor practices.

          Micheal Robertson of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., worked as a construction foreman for Miron Construction for two years. Making $33 dollars an hour from 2007-2009, it was a pretty good gig. Miron is a reputable company in Wisconsin that worked on Wisconsin Public Service’s power plant in the small town of Weston. But things went sour for Robertson, he claims, when his supervisors asked him to falsify his time sheets. After he denied the request, Robertson says he was fired. He filed a wrongful termination suit earlier this month in Wisconsin Federal Court.

          Robertson was called on to perform maintenance on one of the plant’s cooling towers that was in dire need of a de-icing after one of the region’s typically-brutal winters. Initially, he called in 20 workers for the project, but after more closely inspecting the state of the tower, he determined that fewer men were actually needed to get the job done. In his complaint, Robertson says that his supervisor, Steven Miller, said to go ahead and bill Wisconsin Public Service for labor previously predicted. When Robertson flatly refused, Miller threatened him and told him he could lose his job for not falsifying the time sheets. Miller went ahead and filed the false time sheets himself and Robertson was fired for taking company property home. When Robertson contested this charge, stating his job required him to take some equipment home, Miller told him he was actually being fired for not getting along with co-workers. Robertson struck back and filed a complaint with his labor union.

          Robertson’s lawsuit against Miron Construction is seeking unspecified punitive damages for wrongful termination.

            Sunday, May 16, 2010

            Nursing Moms Protected Under New Healthcare Plan

            The hot-button issue of breast feeding breaks at work recently has been pushed into the national spotlight with new legislation and a high-profile lawsuit.

            An obscure provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act championed by President Obama requires employers to provide reasonable unpaid breaks for nursing mothers to express milk for their newborns.  No time limit is set on the number of breaks; in companies with 50 or more employees, employers must provide a private space that locks that is not a restroom and not visible to the public. The breaks aren’t required to be paid unless required by state law or perhaps by an employee’s exempt status. The United States Department of Labor is expected to issue additional regulations to implement this new rule.  Nearly half the states already have in place rules requiring the accommodation of nursing mothers.

            Although from an unlikely source, the protection for breast feeding mothers is long overdue.  A New York woman recently filed a lawsuit alleging that she was fired from her job for breast feeding.  Yardiris Rivera says after giving birth to her daughter Erin, she intended to breast feed as long as she could.  According to Rivera, her employers had other plans.  Rivera alleges her breast feeding created tension at her work place, Medical Imaging of Manhattan. When she returned from maternity leave, her bosses told Rivera to stop breast feeding at work. After she refused to stop, her bosses made it increasingly more difficult for her to pump breast milk while she was at work. Rivera says that she was made to pump milk in a dirty restroom stall that was tiny and unsanitary. As a final blow, Rivera was laid off in February. She contacted an attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union who filed a state and federal complaint against Medical Imaging of Manhattan. The company claims Rivera was part of a layoff that had nothing to do with her breast feeding.

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              Thursday, May 13, 2010

              Unpaid Overtime Costs Gas Company $4M

              Here’s a story that proves it’s easier and cheaper to pay employees for overtime while it happens vs. paying for it in court.

              Raceway, a petroleum company based in Piscataway, N.J., promises its customers low prices at the gas pumps at their locations throughout the state. Its website claims the company is famous for its “fast, friendly service,” but employees in a class action lawsuit claim that Raceway didn’t pay their employees for working overtime.

              In April, the U.S. Department of Labor settled a case against Raceway to the tune of $3.9 million in unpaid overtime for six years and more than 700 former and current employees. Raceway, who continues to deny the charges, nonetheless has agreed to pay damages and $100,000 in civil penalties as well as hiring an independent monitor to survey the company’s time clocks. $1.95 million will go to overtime compensation and another $1.95 million will go toward damages.

              The lawsuit, which lasted for three weeks and involved more than 25 witnesses, claimed that many Raceway employees, most of them gas station attendants, worked as many as 100 hours a week and were docked two hours for breaks even though the breaks were less than 90 minutes long.  Many employees testified that Raceway gave them less than 30 minutes for breaks on long shifts.
              The settlement resolves a 2006 lawsuit filed by the Department of Labor.  An investigation by the Wage and Hour dispute division discovered that Raceway violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) starting in June 2002.  The company, according to the investigation, failed to pay employees time-and-a-half their regular hourly rates when they worked more than 40 hours in one workweek. The Wage and Hour Division also found that Raceway didn’t keep accurate time and payroll records. It was later revealed that Raceway failed to comply with the Wage and Hour division’s recommendations through December 2009.

              The FLSA requires that employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour as well as overtime pay of one-and-one-half times their regular rates.

                Tuesday, May 11, 2010

                Sexual Harassment Case may Jeopardize a Superintendent’s Future

                In the southern Los Angeles community of Lynwood, school board officials are still trying to decide if they should hire Edward Velasquez, the current superintendent in the nearby Montebello Unified School District. Board members recognize Velasquez’s experience but many are feeling apprehensive. Even normally complacent high school students have shown up at school board meetings to voice their concerns. Why? Edward Velasquez is currently the target of an explicit lawsuit filed against the Montebello Unified School District in March by former employee Irving Bartikofsky. The suit claims that Bartikofsky was the victim of employment discrimination, sexual battery, retaliation, wrongful termination and hostile work environment. Many folks in Lynwood are unsure if they want to be associated with Velasquez and a lawsuit that has the potential to get really ugly.

                According to the lawsuit, working at the Montebello Unified School District as a former administrator in the district’s special education department was a nightmare for Irving Bartikofsky. Bartikofsky claims that Velasquez stuck a wet finger in his ear and grabbed his genitals. Reportedly, Velasquez made numerous sexual remarks to Bartikofsky and told him he wanted to kiss him. Bartikofsky formally filed a complaint with the school board who dismissed his allegations and denied him a claim for damages in 2009. To make things worse, the lawsuit alleges that Irving Bartikofsky’s job was eliminated after he filed the complaint and was replaced by Velasquez’s friend and divorce attorney. Shortly after being fired, Bartikofsky was sent back to working in the classroom. Finally, Bartikofsky’s complaint was approved by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing in a letter from June 2009 which stated he had the right to sue the school district. Filed in Los Angeles Superior Court last month, the lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

                Meanwhile, the members of the Lynwood school board are expected to make a decision on whether or not they will hire Edward Velasquez as Superintendent in the next few days.

                  Sunday, May 09, 2010

                  Fired For Having the Cancer Gene?

                  No employer would possibly let go an employee with a stellar record simply because of genetic test results. Or would they?

                  Pamela Fink of Hartford, Conn., says that’s exactly what happened to her. Fink, 39, claims that her supervisors at MXenergy practiced disability discrimination when they first demoted her and eventually dismissed her after she underwent a voluntary double mastectomy. Fink went through the grueling operation at the suggestion of physicians who found that she possesed a gene implicated in breast cancer. Pamela Fink and her two sisters each were tested in 2004 and all three tested positive for the breast cancer gene, BARC2. Fink’s sisters were both diagnosed with cancer and both survived after receiving treatment.

                  MXenergy, a natural gas and electricity supplier, previously had promoted Pamela Fink, who had received glowing reviews during her time at the company. Fink claims that MXenergy’s attitude changed, however, once she informed her bosses of her test results. According to her complaints filed with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights, she was relieved of her duties as public relations director at MXenergy in March about a year after her double mastectomy. Fink was shocked that the consultant MXenergy had hired while she was in recovery was now her boss when she returned back to work. Her title, most of her responsibilities and her office all had been taken from her after the first surgery. Six weeks after her second mastectomy, Fink was fired and escorted out of the MXenergy office building.

                  Both commissions are interested in Fink’s case because it is the first known case in the country to be filed based on the Federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which went into effect last November. The law strictly prohibits health care providers as well as employers from practicing discrimination based on a person’s genetic information. Fink’s lawyer claims that under the new laws, MXenergy’s treatment of her was absolutely unlawful. MXenergy denies the allegations and has yet to release a formal statement related to Fink’s charges.

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