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We celebrate Veterans Day on November 11. Americans honor the brave men and women of the armed forces who risk their lives to protect our freedom. They include past and present members of the US Army, Navy, Marine Corps, National Guard, Air Force, and the Coast Guard.

A Veterans Day design of a heart and American Flag with a red, white and blue background

Originally called Armistice Day, major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect.

Here are a few quotes to mark this occasion:

“On this Veterans Day, let us remember the service of our veterans, and let us renew our national promise to fulfill our sacred obligations to our veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much so that we can live free.” 
Congressman Dan Lipinski

“This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.” Elmer Davis

“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”  Billy Graham

“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” Maya Angelou

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” Arthur Ashe

“Duty, Honor, Country. Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be.” Douglas MacArthur

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A settlement agreement between MGM Resorts International and the surviving victims or family members of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history will have the resort company paying out $800 million.

Compensation-134182432-001On October 1, 2017, shooter Stephen Paddock wounded 422 people and killed 58 others. All of the victims were attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival, which was held on the Las Vegas Strip. Paddock opened fire from a room of the MGM-owned Mandalay Bay Hotel.

In the shooting’s aftermath, lawsuits were filed in 10 or more states by survivors or family members. Each one sought compensation from MGM for the psychological and physical injuries they or their loved ones suffered as a result of Paddock’s actions.

MGM admits no guilt or liability in the settlement agreement. Now, the proceedings turn to determining how much compensation each claimant may receive.

Few hard-and-fast rules exist to govern how the $800 million will be distributed. Administrators will arrive at a value by calculating how much each life was worth or by weighing the extent of the injuries that were suffered. Factors that may be considered include the victims’ income level, emotional distress and their pain and suffering.

The lawsuits accused the resort casino of a failure to protect the more than 22,000 people that had gathered at the property’s concert venue. Plaintiffs are relieved that the early settlement will preclude the need for a drawn-out battle in the courts.

Payment administrators are expected to look at hospital records, ongoing medical bills and the prognosis for each claimant before determining how much each individual’s compensation will be.

Victims of the attack who may receive a portion of the settlement include those who were shot as well as others who were trampled in the race to get away from the assailant. Still others bear invisible emotional scars such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Attorneys involved in the case say that they expect the process of determining compensation and making payments to be concluded early in 2020.

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A female Google Cloud platform engineer is suing her employer based on sex discrimination. In the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that Google paid her less than male colleagues with fewer qualifications and that she was passed over for promotion.

Gender-Discrimination-105366239-001Ulku Rowe holds a BS in computer engineering and an MS in computer science. For 22 years, she was employed as an executive on Wall Street, providing her with experience in the financial field. In May 2017, Rowe took on a new job at a New York office of Google.

Google hired her at Level 8 compensation even though Rowe noted to HR personnel that someone with her education and experience typically would be brought on at Level 9. HR explained that technical director positions usually hired on at Level 8 and that with annual equity awards, Rowe would earn more than she had at JP Morgan.

After accepting the job, Rowe learned that male counterparts with similar backgrounds were hired as technical directors at Level 9. According to the lawsuit this compensation package pays hundreds of thousands of dollars more per year than Level 8. Rowe discovered that several of these men could not match her experience and did not have the academic background that was required for the position.

Rowe complained to HR. Google investigated her claims but said they were without merit. Then, Rowe was directed to report to a different boss, one who she says repeatedly refused to meet with her, kept her off of important email chains and did not include her in meetings and off-site trips.

Later, Google initiated a search for a candidate to fill a vice president position in its financial services unit. Rowe was in line for the promotion, but her complaint alleges that she was passed over in favor of a man with fewer qualifications. Rowe complained again, but Google found no wrongdoing. The computer engineer was then given the option of choosing among three new roles, all of which were effectively a demotion as alleged in the complaint.

Google is facing several similar lawsuits, a critical reminder for employers to review their compensation practices.

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When the Chicago Tribune commissioned tests on smartphones made by Apple and Samsung to determine whether or not the devices exceed radiation safety standards, they probably already had a good idea of the outcome. The tests showed an excess of radiation being emitted by many of these devices. Within one week, a class action lawsuit had already been filed.

cellphone-radiation-117524087-150x150The Tribune reported that the test results on the iPhone 7, which is one of the best selling cell phones of all time, showed that the device exposes people to radio-frequency radiation that “measured over the legal safety limit and more than double what Apple reported to federal regulators from its own testing.”

Three Samsung models that were tested by the newspaper returned results within legal safety limits unless they were used with two mm of the body. Then, the exposure well exceeded the accepted standard.

On August 23, a class action lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of California alleging that cell phone owners using their devices in a shirt or pants pocket may be exposed to radiation at a rate of as much as 500 percent of the legal safety limit.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs lay out the risks associated with prolonged exposure to radiation in excess of the limits set by the FCC. Such exposure may lead to increased stress on a cellular level, more cancer diagnoses, damage to genetic structures and harm to the reproductive systems. Additionally, exposure to radiation may lead to neurological disorders and learning and memory problems.

Plaintiffs allege that the manufacturers of these phones have deliberately misled consumers into believeing that there was no risk of excess radiation exposure through use of these devices.

Concurrently, the FCC is launching an investigation into cell phones to determine whether or not they do in fact emit radiation in excess of their standards.

Apple says that the testing carried out at the behest of the Tribune was not conducted at appropriate laboratory standards. Samsung issued a similar statement, claiming that all devices that they sell in the US comply with all applicable safety standards.

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Labor Day is upon us. Summer is unofficially over. Many kids have started school and the rest will start shortly.

About Labor Day

Happy%20Labor%20Day%20%2064937021-001.jpgLabor Day is always celebrated on the first Monday of September. Americans have been celebrating Labor Day since the 1880s, and today it is an official federal holiday.

It is the day Americans celebrate their achievements in work, which the US Department of Labor says has contributed to prosperity and well-being of America as a whole.

Some Interesting Labor Day Facts

  • This year, more than 38 million Americans will travel over Labor Day weekend.
  • It is estimated that over 340,000 of them will choose Las Vegas as a destination.
  • President Cleveland made Labor Day and official US holiday in 1894.
  • Labor Day gas prices continue to be low.
  • Labor Day marks the end of hot dog season (it starts on Memorial Day), when Americans consume seven billion hot dogs; 818 per second!

Take this weekend to celebrate the fruits of your labors… wear white, enjoy a bar-b-que, eat some hot dogs and whatever you do, stay safe and have fun.

We are glad to have you as part of the Sylvester, Oppenheim & Linde team!

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The Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, is designed to protect the interests of employees who are benefit plan participants. It does this by guarding retirement savings plans from mismanagement. ERISA also ensures that the individuals who are charged with overseeing the plan act in the best interests of the participants.

ERISA-206785026_XS-e1565728450304However, some of these plans are exempted from ERISA oversight. This includes so-called “church plans.” Under this exemption, employee benefit plans for church employees are not subject to ERISA’s minimum standards. However, it isn’t always entirely clear which plans are exempted and which are not. This is true of hospitals that are associated with a religion.

Dignity Health is a healthcare conglomerate that operates in numerous states. It administrates the Dignity Health Pension Plan for its 80,000 employees. Moreover, Dignity Health is associated with the Catholic Church.

Starla Rollins was employed by Dignity from 1986 to 2012, during which time she participated in the Dignity Plan. Rollins and other plan participants sued Dignity under ERISA because it was underfunded. When the complaint was filed, the plan had only enough assets to pay 75 percent of their obligations.

Dignity Health is arguing that their plan isn’t subject to ERISA oversight because it is a church plan. Over the last several years, the Catholic Church has taken over multiple hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Catholic hospitals earn billions of dollars in revenue each year and also receive billions in taxpayer dollars.

However, it is unclear whether or not employees of Dignity Health actually qualify as church employees. Instead, the plaintiffs are arguing that they are the secular employees of a secular health care organization that provides its services through the distant oversight of the Catholic Church.

Rollins’ lawsuit raises a Constitutional objection to the exemption for church plans. This is because Dignity Health has chosen to compete in an industry with other commercial businesses. Thanks to the exemption, Dignity does not have to meet certain costly legal requirements. The outcome of this case may change the way these exemptions are applied to other hospital organizations that are affiliated with religions.

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Women who participated in a massive, decade-long legal battle against the makers of mesh implants are now suing the attorneys who helped them to obtain settlements in those cases.

on-brass-scale-32746330-001The women accuse their former lawyers of unjustly enriching themselves by charging attorneys’ fees that amount to 44 percent of the settlements rather than the 33 percent limit that’s imposed by state law. In another case, women accuse their former attorneys of stretching themselves too thin to provide adequate representation. They claim that court filing deadlines were missed, making it necessary for them to settle with the makers of the pelvic mesh out of court. Those settlements were far less substantial than the ones obtained through litigation.

Each of these suits, which were filed in New Jersey and Texas, is being brought against personal injury firms. Among the claims are negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. This follows on the heels of one of the largest tort cases in American history.

The pelvic mesh lawsuits were brought against half-a-dozen medical manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific. In excess of 100,000 plaintiffs have participated in such lawsuits, stemming from the implantation of pelvic mesh, a treatment that is supposed to treat pelvic prolapse.

However, women who underwent the surgery suffered side effects like painful sex, bleeding and uncontrollable urination. The manufacturers agreed to pay billions of dollars in settlements and to stop making the pelvic mesh.

Despite being awarded decisions and settlements worth millions or billions of dollars, many of the plaintiffs in these cases were only promised about $60,000 before legal fees and costs, an amount that they say is not enough to cover their ongoing medical expenses.

While defendants in the new lawsuit have called it “pure nonsense,” attorneys for the plaintiffs say that meeting deadlines for court filings is a basic responsibility of every lawyer. Some legal experts note that the new litigation may even shine a helpful light on a process that gets little oversight from the courts: Administering settlements in mass tort cases to ensure that the process is conducted in accordance with the law.

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Fireworks%2039914849-001.jpgThe team at Sylvester, Oppenheim & Linde and the California Business Litigation blog  wish all of our clients, friends, business associates and blog readers a very safe and extremely fun 4th of July Holiday!

In observance of Independence Day our office will be closed  July 4th.

Enjoy your holiday, stay cool and keep your pets indoors!

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When a new mother returns to the workplace, certain sections of the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, continue to grant her special protections. Employers that fail to observe these protections may find themselves subject to a costly lawsuit.

Legal-Fees-PaidSuch is the case with the City of Tucson. A recent federal trial court jury’s decision found in favor of a plaintiff to the tune of $3.8 million. The plaintiff, Carrie Clark, was employed by the City of Tucson as a paramedic. Upon returning from maternity leave, Clark needed to be able to express breast milk throughout the day. However, the city assigned her to fire stations that lacked appropriate facilities for meeting this need.

Under Section 7(r) of the FLSA, employers are required to provide break time for nursing mothers to express breast milk. This accommodation must be made for up to a period of one year after the child’s birth. Moreover, employers are required to provide a private, hygienic place, which is not a bathroom, in which the mother can express breast milk away from curious eyes.

The law does not require that employers pay employees for this break time. However, if compensation is provided for such break periods, then it must be paid to the worker.

Section 7(r) is not the most well-known component of the FLSA. Nonetheless, the City of Tucson may now be wishing that they had been more aware of their responsibilities under the law. The jury found that the city appeared to exacerbate the situation by retaliating against Clark when she made repeated requests for adequate accommodations for expressing breast milk.

The April 2019 jury decision found in favor of the plaintiff on all counts. According to the decision, Clark was discriminated against for a pregnancy-related condition. Additionally, because her employer required her to take leave so that she could express breast milk in private and punished her for allegedly “not being in harmony with others,” Clark was awarded further damages.

This case is a stark reminder for employers everywhere to be aware of all facets of FLSA, discrimination and anti-retaliation laws.

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Pausing to remember and honor America’s fallen service members is a practice dating back more than 100 years. Since the days of the Civil War, humble Americans have gathered together on Memorial Day to remember and pay tribute to all who have fought and selflessly surrendered the precious gift of life, so that other could live free.

Memorial%20Day%20Arlington%2052881007-001.jpgAgain we gather this Memorial Day, as a nation solemnly united in remembrance of the fallen defenders of our great nation. Freedom is not free. It has come at great cost, paid for with the lives of our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, friends and comrades.

Every American owes a great debt to the courageous men and women who have selflessly given their all to defend and protect our way of life. And while giving back to the extent they deserve is impossible, celebrating their memory and honoring their most selfless deeds offers a start.

As barbecues, picnics and other activities take place this weekend, we must remain ever-cognizant of the expensive price tag that comes along with these daily freedoms we enjoy. Those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live free of tyranny and fear believed in something greater than themselves. They believed in the American way of life and were willing to die protecting it.

This Memorial Day, pause to reflect on the absolute selflessness of the 1.3 million members of our nation’s military who paid the price needed to ensure our way of life endures, And let us not forget the families whose pain will never go away, but may lessen with our thanks and prayers.

God Bless our fallen, their families, and the men and women in uniform all over the world.

Courtesy Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)