January 22, 2015

We are Always Looking for One or Two More Good Clients . . . Even When Business is Great

One of the questions I hear frequently is about whether we are accepting new clients.

While the short answer is “Yes”, here is some additional information which many people find interesting.

Great%20Fit%20Gears%2039896521-001.jpgOur law firm, Sylvester Oppenheim & Linde is committed to client service and quality legal representation for each and every client. That means that we only accept clients who we feel are a good match for our expertise, experience and areas of practice.

I learned a long time ago that we can’t be all things to all clients, but we can be all things to some clients: and those are the ones we accept and serve in an exemplary manner.

The purpose of this blog is to provide helpful information to anyone who reads it. On our website, you will find another example of our “Be of Service” attitude by reading our Home Page Article “Eleven Questions to ask BEFORE Hiring a Business Attorney”. You will also find a list of our practice areas on that page.

Our clients tell us that they appreciate our honesty, accessibility and guidance. And we appreciate our clients.

Back to the question. The answer is: “Yes, we are always looking for one or two new good clients.” If you have a legal issue, I invite you to call and let’s find out whether we are a great fit for each other. I can be reached at 818-461-8500 or via the Contact form on this page.

Richard Oppenheim

January 16, 2015

Plaintiffs Accept Settlement in Silicon Valley Antitrust Employment Lawsuit

Big technology firms like Google, Intel, Apple and Adobe are used to being in the spotlight. Whenever any of these companies launches a new project, it's all over the media. Moreover, these Silicon Valley giants get a lot of press about being benevolent employers that offer competitive salaries and a great benefits package.

Man%20in%20suit.%20High%20Tech%2071199911-001.jpgThis hasn't stopped a group of 64,000 software engineers from filing a lawsuit against their employers. In the complaint, they allege that the major tech companies entered into an illegal agreement in which they each promised not to poach employees from the others. Members of the class say that this stifled their ability to earn and the incentive to seek employment elsewhere. What's more, the complaint alleges that the companies profited from this agreement.

Several months ago, the plaintiffs and the defendants almost reached an agreement to settle for $324.5 million. Although lawyers for the class had approved of the offer, the judge assigned to the case, Lucy H. Koh, rejected it out of hand. She felt it wasn't a sufficient amount and indicated disapproval that the counsel for the plaintiffs would settle for such a meager amount.

Now the employers are offering $415 million, and the plaintiffs have again accepted. The matter must still go before Judge Koh before it can be considered settled. If the case goes to trial, as it is scheduled to do in the spring of 2015, it's possible that the damages awarded by a jury could reach to multiple billions.

It may be best for all involved to take the agreed upon settlement amount. Going to trial involves considerable risks for both sides, and is expensive regardless of which side ultimately prevails. Lawyers for the tech giants are wisely trying to avoid a trial that would expose their clients to negative publicity and may put them on the hook for a judgment that could reach up to several billion dollars.

Judge Koh will soon render a decision on the $415 million settlement. If she does not accept it, then the matter is likely to go to trial in a San Jose courtoom.

Continue reading "Plaintiffs Accept Settlement in Silicon Valley Antitrust Employment Lawsuit " »

January 9, 2015

Walgreens Lawsuit May Set Troubling Precedent for Employers

The Court of Appeals in Indiana has upheld a $1.4 million dollar verdict against the Walgreens Company. This decision sets a troubling precedent for employers who work in the health care industry, as it holds the company responsible for a HIPAA violation committed by an employee.

Prescription%2049644238-001.jpgThe trouble began when Walgreens pharmacist Audra Withers accessed the confidential prescription records of a client named Abigail Hinchy. Withers was not specifically authorized to access the personal records. Moreover, her subsequent sharing of that information with her husband constituted a clear violation of Hinchy's rights to privacy under HIPAA.

The story becomes even more tangled because at the time, Withers was married to Davion Peterson. Peterson happened to be the ex-boyfriend of Abigail Hinchy, and the two had a child together. Apparently, Withers accessed Hinchy's prescription records to prove that Hinchy had not filled her birth control prescription during the time when she became pregnant with Peterson's child.

Peterson and Hinchy had an argument during which he informed her that he had information that she had deliberately not filled her birth control prescription during the time in which she conceived their child. Upon investigation, Hinchy discovered that her pharmacist was married to her ex-boyfriend, and she accused Walgreens and Withers of violating her HIPAA rights.

Walgreens officials confronted Withers, who admitted she had wrongfully accessed and shared the records. She was disciplined and required to repeat HIPAA training while Hinchy sued Walgreens and the pharmacist.

The court found in Hinchy's favor, holding both the individual and the company at fault. Walgreens appealed, believing that they should not be held accountable for the actions of an employee who knowingly and willfully violated company policy. That appeal has now been lost, and Walgreens has placed a $1.4 million deposit into the court account. However, it seems certain that the company will file another appeal.

When it comes to an employee's violation of HIPAA regulations, it isn't always clear what sort of responsibility the employer bears. Whatever decision is ultimately reached in this case, it is likely to set a precedent for further HIPAA related lawsuits.

December 31, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

All of us at Sylvester, Oppenheim & Linde wish you . . .2015%20Happy%20New%20Year%2072445917-001.jpg

The Joy of Family

The Gift of Health

Great Friends and Business Associates

And

The Best of Everything in 2015 and Beyond

December 19, 2014

Happy Holidays

happy%20holidays.jpg


The Sylvester Oppenheim & Linde Team Wish You and Yours a Wonderful Holiday Season and a Happy, Healthy & Prosperous New Year

December 12, 2014

Zillow Sued Over Employment Practices

Online real estate company Zillow is the subject of several lawsuits that allege a hostile working environment. The latest was filed by former Zillow employee Jennifer Young, a 41 year-old single mother with two children. Young was employed at the Irvine, California office as a real estate agent. Recently, she retained the services of a law firm to sue her former employer because of a "pervasive culture of retaliation and harassment … that placed a premium on sales and a shortfall on human decency and basic employment rights."

Fired%2053061626-001.jpgEssentially, Young's claims are related to age discrimination. In her complaint, she alleges that a sales manager once asked her whether or not she was "too old to close." Young also asserts that she was admonished to "try and keep up with us."

Young alleges that her difficulties in the office were exacerbated after she was involved in a car accident that left her injured. Claims in her complaint say that she was forced to stand for several hours at a time and not permitted to sit. In October of 2014, Young's ongoing injuries caused her to seek hospitalization. She reached out to Zillow's human resources department, requesting accommodation for her injuries. However, Young claims that her sales book was assigned to another agent, one who was considerably younger. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Young was illegally fired for job abandonment when her doctors were not able to provide Zillow with a note explaining her absence when it was requested.

Zillow is the subject of three other lawsuits, each of them relating to the employment practices used at the Irvine location. Company management has already fired two individuals in relation to sexual harassment claims made in one of these suits.

Company representatives released a statement that says in part: "We take any allegation about our workplace very seriously and are investigating these claims." The statement goes on to say that, "Our people are our greatest asset."

Time will tell how Zillow ultimately handles this latest in a string of employment practice lawsuits.

November 25, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving from Sylvester Oppenheim & Linde

We at Sylvester Oppenheim & Linde would like to take a moment to wish our clients, family and friends (including our blog readers), a very joyous and happy Thanksgiving.

Whether you are celebrating with a small gathering, or preparing for what is shaping up to be dinner for a small country, we wish you and yours all the very best.

It also seems appropriate to quote John F. Kennedy.

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

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November 20, 2014

Who Is At Fault and Who Will be Liable in a Lyft Ride Sharing Crash?

Car crashes are common, especially in the automobile-dependent American culture. It's one of the reasons why drivers are required to hold a valid insurance policy. Typically, when a driver is at fault in an accident, their insurance policy covers damage to property and physical injuries that may have been suffered by the policy holder and any other involved drivers.

Insurance%20Sign%2061487280-001.jpgHowever, the rise of ride sharing companies is adding an interesting wrinkle to this model. One of these companies is Lyft, an app based service provider that's found in dozens of cities. It's like a friendlier alternative to taxi services with participating vehicles sporting a fuzzy, bright pink moustache in order to be identifiable. Users download the app, then request a pickup. A nearby driver is summoned, and arrives within minutes to take users to their destination. It sounds straightforward enough, but what happens when things go disastrously wrong?

On November 1, 2014, Lyft driver Shanti Adhikari was providing a ride for Sacramento resident Shane Holland and his boyfriend. It was about 1:25 in the morning. The rain was pouring down. It's easy to imagine that visibility was poor. Adhikari was driving his Toyota Camry at about 65 miles per hour when he spotted a stalled Kia in the middle of the freeway. He swerved to avoid it, colliding with a tree before spinning around and colliding with another tree. Passenger Shane Holland was killed in the crash.

Officials are still trying to figure out who is at fault in the incident. The Kia was first struck by a car that fled the scene. While Adhikari was able to swerve and miss the Kia, other vehicles hit it subsequently. Was Adhikari responsible for the crash that killed his passenger? If so, then Lyft's $1 million insurance policy should take responsibility for any damages. However, the highway patrol may find that the first vehicle that struck the Kia may bear ultimate responsibility. If that driver can be found, their insurance may be forced to pay. However, it is more likely that Lyft's uninsured/underinsured liability coverage will be called upon instead.

With usage of ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber increasing daily, the courts will be called upon to answer more precedent setting questions like the ones to be presented in this case.

November 6, 2014

Chipotle Employees Claim They are Underpaid: Class Action Lawsuits Filed

Restaurant employees are required to work long hours. Running a restaurant begins hours before and sometimes continues for hours after the actual operating hours. In addition, employees are required to attend staff meetings, training sessions and other events. The majority of restaurant employees are paid on an hourly basis. Accordingly, they expect to be paid for all of the time they are required to be at work.

Timeclock%2045269690-001.jpgNew class action lawsuits filed against Chipotle allege that the fast food restaurant skirted the law by not paying employees for all of the hours they were on the job. In the complaints, former and current employees accuse Chipotle of using a device that automatically clocked them out at 12:30 am, even if they were required to keep working past that hour. Moreover, employees allege that they were required to attend various work related functions, but were never permitted to clock in.

Some employees are claiming that they worked as many as 10 to 15 unpaid hours every week while employed by Chipotle. These lawsuits are the latest in a recent trend in which high profile fast food chains have been accused of wage theft. Protests and lawsuits have been lodged against McDonald's, Jimmy John's and Subway thus far. Plaintiffs in the Chipotle matters are asking for unpaid wages at both the regular rate and at overtime rate. They also seek attorneys' fees and interest in a settlement. Unspecified damages are also a component of the proposed settlement terms.

Chipotle has yet to file an answer. A legal representative working for Chipotle issued a statement saying that, "The filing of a lawsuit is nothing more than allegations and is proof of absolutely nothing on its own."

With fast food being a huge industry in the United States that employs thousands of people, it is possible for this case to set a precedent for similar litigation. Chipotle maintains that its policies are in line with state and federal laws that ensure fair treatment to workers. It seems likely that the fast food company will stand its ground and fight back against the claims.

October 31, 2014

Nevada Parents Sue School District Over Failure to Report Bullying

Nevada parents Jennifer and Jason Lamberth thought everything was going well with their 13 year-old daughter, Hailee. She was enrolled as a seventh grader at White Middle School in Henderson. The day that her life came to a tragic end, she had been named student of the month in her math class. She was so excited about the honor that she sent a text message to her parents just after it happened.

Bully%20Stop%20Violence%2053127538-001.jpgA few hours later, Hailee took her own life. Unbeknownst to her parents, Hailee had been suffering bullying for months. Two students, one male and one female, had routinely taunted her. They left notes in her locker and threatening voicemail messages on her phone. They caused her to cry on an almost daily basis. Other students knew that the bullying was taking place. At least one of the incidents had been reported to the Clark County School District's website.

The website contained a page where students and other concerned members of the public could anonymously report instances of bullying. According to law, district officials are required to investigate such reports within 10 days. Part of the investigation is informing the bullied student's parents about the incident.

However, Jennifer and Jason Lamberth say that no such investigation was ever conducted on Hailee's behalf. Because there was no investigation, they never knew that their daughter was suffering daily torment at the hands of fellow students. That's why they are now suing the school district. They believe that if the district had followed their own policies that Hailee might not have shot herself.

Although the Lamberths are asking for monetary damages, no amount is disclosed in court documents. The parents say they cannot put a price on the life of their daughter. Instead, the lawsuit is a means of ensuring that the school district comes up with adequate policies to deal with bullying and that those policies are strictly followed.

Continue reading "Nevada Parents Sue School District Over Failure to Report Bullying " »

October 24, 2014

Arizona Teacher Fired for Allegedly Defending Student Against Bullies

An elementary school teacher with 24 years of experience has been fired in Arizona. Pamela Aister, who was teaching fourth grade at Four Peaks Elementary School, was fired by officials from the Fountain Hills Unified School District after a bullying incident on the playground.

Fired%2053061626-001.jpgAister was supervising children on the playground when she noticed that a group of students had encircled a single African-American boy. The boy was Malachi Gillis, a 9 year-old who had recently transferred into Aister's class. Gillis had a difficult history at the school. He joined Aister's class after being repeatedly bullied by other students. Although Gillis had reported the bullying to his former teacher, playground aides and other adults, little had been done to rectify the situation.

Gillis alleges that the other students routinely used racial slurs and called him other names. When he could not get help from the grown-ups at his school, he became depressed. Eventually, he was moved to a different classroom, but the bullying didn't stop.

What changed was that Aister stood up for her student when she saw him being threatened on the playground. Aister claims that she merely compelled the children to leave Gillis alone, telling them that, "He's not alone anymore. If you're picking on him, you're picking on me." One of the students accused of bullying Gillis reported the confrontation to parents who made a complaint to the district. Aister was fired for allegedly having used threatening language to students.

Aister has hired an attorney to represent her in the matter, although no lawsuit has been filed yet. Meanwhile, they are gathering support for their cause of having Aister reinstated in the classroom by holding press conferences and getting the word out about the situation. Gillis' mother, Jennifer, notes that she may sue the district over the bullying and their refusal to do anything about it.

A Change.org petition has already gathered far more than 100,000 signatures aimed at getting Aister's job back. Nonetheless, the district maintains its position that the well-being of students must always be put first and that Aister violated that trust.

October 17, 2014

High School Principal Alleges Discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace is always a hot topic. Usually, allegations of discrimination are brought by members of a specifically protected group. That's not the case with a recent lawsuit filed in New Jersey.

School%20Bus%2043843684-001.jpgHigh school principal Mae Robinson, who is white, filed the lawsuit because she says she was pressured to nominate minority candidates to fill positions within the school district. Robinson refused to comply on numerous occasions, nominating the most qualified candidates who, as it happened, were not members of a minority group. After losing her post in the school district and being accused of disrupting the organization's affirmative action program, Robinson felt compelled to sue.

Back in 2010, Robinson was the principal at Timber Creek High School. The district was in need of a new vice principal as well as a guidance counselor. In her complaint, Robinson states that she and other district officials were under pressure from then Superintendent John Golden to hire minorities for these positions.

The complaint alleges that Golden asked Robinson and others to "do me a big favor" by hiring a minority candidate. However, Robinson had already made her nomination to the board. The candidate was not a minority, but had all of the qualifications for the role of vice principal. When the board rejected the initial candidate, Robinson nominated the next most qualified individual. However, that person also was not a minority.

The issue came up again when Robinson was called in for her regular performance evaluation in 2012. Golden again reiterated the need for selecting minority candidates. Robinson challenged the idea that any vacancies should be filled by candidates where race or gender was the primary consideration.

The matter has moved on to the courts now that Robinson has filed a lawsuit.

Continue reading "High School Principal Alleges Discrimination " »