San Fernando Valley Los Angeles Attorneys
Navigation Two
Phone Number
Tuesday
Jul212015

Wacky Employee Claims: What Employers Can Learn From Outlandish Situations

Lawyer for EmployerWage and Hour Defense

 

 

by Nicole Kamm
818.907.3235

 

Think you've heard every cautionary workplace tale? Believe it or not, you probably haven't – the real question is, how prepared are you to handle wildly unusual complaints, extreme accommodation requests, and highly awkward situations?

We compiled some of the most interesting recent, real-life scenarios below. Sometimes, the employer acted reasonably, and in other situations, failed miserably. But each case serves as a reminder to employers: When making employment decisions, proceed with caution and advice from counsel. 

 

#4. Religious Discrimination Reeks

Religious discriminationThe Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against a New York company that forced employees to participate in a religion called "Onionhead." Employees were made to wear Onionhead buttons, dim the lights, join prayer groups and participate in other Onionhead-related activities. Employee resistance was futile, and in three cases led to humiliating treatment and eventual termination.

Employers: Avoid imposing your religious (or non-religious) beliefs on your employees. 

 

#3. Displeasing Prosthetics

An employee who worked for a snack food maker in Pennsylvania was considering gender reassignment surgery. She told a few coworkers about her potential surgery, and also confided that she was wearing a prosthetic penis at work to help her make a decision. The prosthetic was not visible, but one of her coworkers informed management, and the employee was soon fired.

The employee filed a federal civil rights complaint seeking back pay, compensation for suffering and humiliation, and punitive damages.  She claimed a male coworker who underwent hormone treatments and cross-dressed was treated more fairly, and her complaint alleged disparate and discriminatory treatment for being a female, and for being a female who identified as male.

Employers: The EEOC has determined that discrimination based on gender identity is sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. California also makes it unlawful to discriminate based on gender identity or expression, under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. 

 

#2. Quid Pro Quo Grooming

An employee claimed that her supervisor made several sexual advances to her, and became "biased and angry" when the employee rebuffed those advances. She complained to her supervisor’s supervisor– but during this period the employee herself was written up several times for tardiness and inappropriate dress. Management decided to implement a work performance improvement plan for the employee, and the employee claimed no further discussions regarding her supervisor’s inappropriate behavior took place with upper management.

Then this happened: The supervisor called the employee to his office – the employee assumed it was to have a performance evaluation discussion. However, the supervisor asked the employee to extract an ingrown hair from his chin.  The employee refused. The supervisor then informed the employee that he could have her fired.

Shortly after this incident, the supervisor was instructed to terminate the employee, citing work performance issues observed by members of management.

The employee alleged age discrimination and sexual harassment in her claim brought to a federal court. The district court found that the ingrown hair request was not severe enough to be considered sexual harassment, though an Appellate court disagreed. The case was remanded back to district court.

Employers: Asking employees to perform personal grooming tasks is not appropriate; termination decisions should be based on legitimate business reasons and thoroughly documented. 

 

#1. Popping Positive for GINA Violations

This employer may have flushed over $2M down the sewer.

When management at a grocer's warehouse discovered that someone was defecating in the aisles and on top of canned goods, they immediately became concerned of potential health risks and took drastic action. The company ordered certain employees to submit to cheek swabs so they could identify the DNA of what a district court in Georgia called "The Devious Defecator."

Two employees submitted to the DNA test and were found to not have matching DNA of the defecator.

The employees later filed suit for violations of GINA, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. The employer contended the cheek swab testing did not provide medical information about the employees, and filed a motion for summary judgment. After losing on summary judgment, a jury awarded the plaintiffs $2.25M ($1.75M in punitive damages).

Employers: GINA clearly states it is "illegal for an employer to request, require, or purchase genetic information" of an employee, even if obtained for arguably reasonable business reasons.

 

What are the lessons learned from the bizarre claims made above? First, employers must be aware of the myriad laws governing the workplace. But more importantly, when these odd situations do come up, know to spot the issue, take proper action, and consult counsel with any questions. You can read more strange employee situations in a previous blog: Wacky Employee Claims.

 

Nicole Kamm is an Employment Defense Attorney. Contact her via email: nkamm@lewitthackman.com or directly by phone: 818-907-3235.

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Wednesday
Jul152015

Swim Safety Tips: Pool Accident Prevention & Liability

Personal InjuryAccident & Injury Lawyer

 

by Andrew L. Shapiro

(818) 907-3230

 

School's out, temperatures are more or less climbing, and many are headed to the pool for some summer fun or just to seek relief from the heat.

But did you know that the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) reports about 300 drowning deaths for children under five years old, annually? In addition, approximately 2,000 other small children need treatment in hospital emergency rooms because of near-drownings.


Swimming Pool Injury Lawyer

That doesn't mean older children and adults are accident proof at the pool. And it doesn't mean pool-goers are only susceptible to drowning dangers.

Accidents at pools can occur because of electrical shocks from pool equipment, underwater lights, nearby audio or television equipment, and extension cords. Speaking of extension cords, watch out for tripping hazards. Additional slip-and-fall injuries may be caused by wet decks and tiles – more serious falls can result in concussions and potential drowning.

Pool chemicals can cause problems too – 25 children were injured recently, because a water park employee shut down a pump but did not turn off the chlorine system, causing a massive dump of chemicals into a wave pool.

Pool Accident Liability

When someone is hurt at a pool, whether public or private, the pool owner may be held liable because of premises liability, negligence, or products liability. The owner or operator must take reasonable precautions to prevent drownings and other injuries.

These precautions include installing complete fencing, posting warning signs, providing proper supervision and the proper maintenance of the pool, equipment and surrounding areas to keep visitors safe.

Many California cities have special ordinances requiring specific standards be met by pool owners. In Los Angeles, for example, there are city requirements to be met for zoning, building and glazing pools. Fencing must resist certain wind and seismic loads; drains more than 12 inches wide must be covered by approved anti-entrapment grates.

If the above requirements are not met by a pool owner and a drowning or other accident occurs, the owner may be liable for negligence per se, or negligence involving a violation of specific laws.

Pool Safety Tips

There are a number of steps both pool owners and pool users can take to avoid accidents and injuries. The basic ones include alert supervision, minimizing alcohol use, and learning CPR. But here are some more specific ones:

1. Watch, WATCH, WATCH! Children can go underwater very quickly, and can drown in less time than it takes to answer a phone call. Seventy-seven percent of drowned children were reported out of sight for less than five minutes, according to the CPSC.

Additionally, children should be supervised by swimmers. A mother in Texas recently lost three children because she couldn't save them from drowning at an apartment complex pool.

Pool Safety2. Ensure the number of people supervising is proportionate to the number of people swimming. A four year old in San Diego died after a pool party at a yacht club, where only one life guard was on duty for a kindergarten class.

3. Watch for Dry Drowning symptoms: Hours after a near-drowning incident, the victim may later succumb to "dry drowning" or "secondary drowning".  What's happening in these situations isn't an actual drowning, but a form of pneumonia – the inhaled pool water irritates the lungs, which then produce fluid.

Nearly drowned victims, or parents of these victims should pay close attention to someone having difficulty breathing, coughing or vomiting. The symptoms may appear shortly after the near-drowning incident, as in the case of a 10 year old boy who died of dry drowning recently; or up to 48 hours afterwards, according to some medical experts.

4. Keep children away from pool drains, which can create strong suction forces.

5. Ensure all pool equipment is properly maintained, and that all surrounding areas are free of obstacles that may cause pool users to slip, causing injuries to the back or limbs, head concussions and subsequent drownings.

Andrew L. Shapiro is the Chair of our Personal Injury Practice Group. Contact him by phone: (818) 907-3230, or by email: ashapiro@lewitthackman.com.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Monday
Jun292015

New Bill May Put Motorcyclists' Lane-Splitting in Focus

Motorcycle Accident AttorneyMotorcycle Accident Lawyer

 

by Andrew L. Shapiro

(818) 907-3230

 

 

As a motorcyclist for 30 years, I must admit I did my fair share of lane splitting: Bypassing most of the stalled traffic on the 101 by traversing the white, dashed lines – waving a thank you to the handful of four-wheeled drivers who scooted over a bit to give me just a little more room as I did so.

Motorcycle AttorneyLane-splitting is considered dangerous, but in California it's not illegal. This is the only state where this is not illegal – which isn't to say that lane-splitting is legal, exactly.  

But motorcycle safety theories could be changing now. Motorcyclists who lane-split (at reasonable speeds) may be safer than those who do not, according to researchers at UC Berkeley's Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC). According to the study, excessive speed by motorcyclists caused more injuries for lane-splitters than other factors.

Thomas Rice, PhD, as principal investigator for the study, explains:

Surprisingly, we found that the difference in speed between the motorcycle and the surrounding traffic was a bigger predictor of injury than speed alone…Above a 15 mile-per-hour speed differential, the risk of injury rose significantly.

Of the nearly 6,000 California motorcycle accidents researched by SafeTREC, nearly 1,000 riders were lane-splitting at the time of the accident. The primary risk occurs when other drivers change lanes without checking for motorcyclists. Because lane-splitters are closer in proximity to the vehicles, both automobile drivers and cyclists have less time to perceive other's actions and make adjustments.

This would support Dr. Rice's comment regarding speed differentials between the riders and the drivers.

New Bill: No Wheelies Allowed

Bike Accident Lawyer

California Assembly Bill 51 regarding lane-splitting was introduced to the legislature last December by Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), Kansen Chud (D-San Jose) and Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale). It was passed by the Assembly in late May by a 53-11 vote.

Continued success of AB 51 as currently written could make it legal (as opposed to quasi-legal) for motorcyclists to lane-split under these conditions:

1. The motorcyclist must have both wheels on the ground.

2. The bike is not traveling faster than 50 mph.

3. The motorcyclist is not riding more than 15 mph faster than other traffic.

One problem with the bill as it is presently worded is the 15 mph differential. As we know in California, one lane of traffic could be moving much faster than the traffic in an adjacent lane.

On the other hand, the bill's writers say allowing motorcyclists to lane-split makes the riders less likely to be hit in a rear-end collision. Either way, motorcyclists whether lane-splitting or not, should always drive defensively and with the best possible protective gear.

 

Andrew L. Shapiro is the Chair of our Personal Injury Practice Group. Contact him by phone: (818) 907-3230, or by email: ashapiro@lewitthackman.com.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Friday
Jun262015

Supreme Court: 14th Amendment Requires Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage

Gay Marriage LawCalifornia Bar Certified Specialist, Family Law

 

 

by Vanessa Soto Nellis
818.907.3274

 

 

 

 

In 1883 the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that couples engaging in interracial sex (Pace v. Alabama) are not in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was ratified just 15 years previously. Amendment XIV addressed citizenship rights and equal protections in a post-Civil War era when former slaves struggled for recognition.

In 1967 SCOTUS went a step further in Loving v. Virginia, invalidating state laws prohibiting marriages between interracial couples.

Nearly 50 years later, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision re Obergefell v. Hodges, invalidated 13 state's laws prohibiting same-sex marriages. SCOTUS cited Confucius: "marriage lies at the foundation of government" and Cicero, "The first bond of society is marriage; next, children; and then the family."

…history is the beginning of these cases. The re­spondents say it should be the end as well. To them, it would demean a timeless institution if the concept and lawful status of marriage were extended to two persons of the same sex. . . The petitioners acknowledge this history but contend that these cases cannot end there. Were their intent to demean the revered idea and reality of marriage, the petitioners’ claims would be of a different order. But that is neither their purpose nor their submission. . .it is the enduring importance of marriage that underlies the petitioners’ contentions.

History circles back. SCOTUS rulings for Pace, Loving and Obergefell relied heavily on the 14th Amendment which attaches a Due Process Clause, upholding the Bill of Rights, or first 10 amendments to the Constitution. In Obergefell, Justice Anthony Kennedy states that the Bill of Rights gives protections for "personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices defining personal identity and beliefs."

Further, a judicial responsibility exists, which may sometimes be guided by traditional views:

That method respects our history and learns from it without allowing the past alone to rule the present. . .The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.

The SCOTUS opinion for Obergefell is a landmark ruling. The respondents claimed there hasn't been enough rhetoric for the courts to make such an important decision. But the opinion announced today disagreed, listing countless referenda, debates, studies and an untold number of court cases. There have been more than 100 amici briefs ('friend of the court' filings) from businesses, labor unions, religious organizations, etc., all stating their opinions or agendas regarding same-sex marriage. There has been the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and then the repeal of DOMA.

Despite the respondent's appeal to wait, the Obergefell opinion contends that the Constitution allows for asserting a fundamental right without waiting for legislative action. Therefore, the SCOTUS opinion concludes:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family…Their (plaintiffs') hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions…The Constitution grants them that right.

 

Vanessa Soto Nellis a California State Bar Certified Specialist in Family Law. Contact her via email: vnellis@lewitthackman.com; or by phone: 818.907.3274.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Monday
Jun222015

When Bad Things Happen to Good People...On the Internet

Business Litigation Attorney EncinoLitigation Attorney

 

by David Gurnick

818.907.3285

 

The internet has generated countless new ways to communicate and share thinking. Some posted information is negative, which can still be useful when messages are truthful, in good taste, and constructive. But some negative posts are false and abusive.

Some ways and places that negative comments get posted are: 

  • Legal Solutions Revenge ReviewsComments on social media like Facebook or Twitter.

  • Negative comments on review sites, like Yelp, ConsumerAffairs.com, TripAdvisor.com or RipoffReport.com.

  • Negative websites, like disney-sucks.com, paypalsucks.com, allstateinsurancesucks.com, verizonpathetic.com, or untied.com.

  • Negative posts will appear soon on new .sucks domains, which recently became available.

  • Revenge posts arising from personal and business relationships.

Avoid Knee-Jerk Reactions

There are numerous ways to react to negative comments on the internet. Sometimes it is better to ignore the comment. A tweet or Facebook post, for example, may come and go quickly, replaced by other comments and updates. In contrast, a response may generate more negative comments.

After Toys R Us sent a cease and desist letter to an individual who used Roadkills-R-Us on the internet, the recipient posted the chain of correspondence, and created a satirical website. These have stayed online for years. It might have been better for the company to not respond.

Another possible reaction is to encourage others who are satisfied or have good things to say, to leave positive feedback online. Those comments help move negative messages down in prominence.

When a post is too negative or problematic to ignore, some legal steps can be considered.

Anonymous comments on public forums or message boards present a particular challenge. This is because federal law protects their hosts. The Communications Decency Act ("CDA") makes a forum or message board operator immune from liability for content created by third parties.

Congress passed the CDA to promote unfettered, unregulated free speech on the Internet.  There is no need to protect speech everyone likes. CDA protection is for negative, hostile speech.

But CDA immunity does not prevent all relief for someone who is victimized by falsehoods, libel, slander, defamation or other Internet abuse. Some courses of action are available for victims.

When a false or harassing post appears, a wise step is to print it or make a screen shot, as a record of the content. This is important because the comments may be changed or deleted before relief can be obtained.

Consider the nature of the site where the improper statement appears, and whether the message may be supplanted or lowered in prominence by later posts, making it unnecessary to take action.

If necessary to respond, consider whether to do so publicly or privately or both. Sometimes a useful combination is a brief public reply, calmly refuting the false statement, and a thoughtful private response. Sometimes a grievance can be resolved by private communication. An unhappy customer may be willing to remove the prior comment, or post a further comment that the matter was resolved.

A cease and desist letter may be appropriate. Such letters may need to be stern and firm. But sometimes a lighter tone is useful. Jack Daniels, the famous whiskey distiller, sent one of the nicer cease and desist letters, an example worth following in some circumstances.

For remarks that exceed the bounds of propriety, it is sometimes possible to contact the website operator and ask that the comment be removed.

Some hosts will cooperate, whether as a matter of policy, or courtesy or goodwill. But many sites that host forums will not cooperate in removing content. For example, ripoffreport.com and consumeraffairs.com claim they will not remove any post whatsoever.

Internet Defamation & Libel

A web host’s immunity from liability does not protect people who post false and defamatory messages. They may be sued for defamation.

Charles Schwab, the well-known founder of Charles Schwab Corporation, brought a libel suit over statements in the website www.chuck-you.com. Currently (June 2015), the case is pending in a California Superior Court. In 2011 a medical school in Antigua, obtained an injunction in  a U.S. court against a former student who was defaming the school on the internet.

Bringing a claim is more challenging when speakers post anonymously. Courts have upheld a First Amendment right to speak anonymously. But the First Amendment does not protect defamatory speech. So trying to stay anonymous does not always work.

Internet connections are assigned a numeric Internet Protocol address. When posting online, the host server logs the originator's IP address. Sometimes, the numeric address can be obtained by subpoena to the host website and internet service provider. This process may expose the identity of whoever made an offending comment.

In one case a town official sought a subpoena to identify the anonymous poster of defamatory statements on a website. The Delaware Supreme Court ruled the plaintiff must try to notify and give the anonymous speaker a chance to oppose the subpoena request. The plaintiff was required to also show the court he could prove defamation. These are not easy procedures, but they provide a course of action that may expose anonymous speakers so they can be sued.

More recently, a New Jersey court agreed to issue subpoenas so a hospital could identify perpetrator(s) who hacked into its intranet and sent defamatory emails to employees. In 2012 a couple in Texas won a judgment of more than $13 million against (originally) anonymous posters who defamed them on an internet forum.

Other Remedies for Haters & Trolls

Some other courses of action include posting other content on the internet, using some of the same key words that are in the offending comment, so that search engine results will generate the later posted content; and asking Google to remove content pursuant to Google's removal policies

Similarly, some sites that post comments have policies or procedures addressing removal of inappropriate content. Ripoffreport.com, as an example, has an arbitration procedure. For a substantial fee, which obviously generates revenue, they will conduct an arbitration to determine if content should be removed. The ethics of this policy are questionable, but the cost is less than full blown litigation. A number of third party companies offer to assist in removing offending content, though at this time the effectiveness of these services is unclear.

For content that contains any threatening message, it may be appropriate to notify police authorities.

David Gurnick is a Litigation Attorney at our firm.  

Disclaimer:
This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

LEWITT HACKMAN | 16633 Ventura Boulevard, Eleventh Floor, Encino, California 91436-1865 | 818.990.2120