Articles Posted in California Business Lawsuit

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In general, most employers are happy to grant reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This does not mean that there aren’t limits to which an employer is willing to go. What’s more, employers are by no means obligated to grant every request for ADA accommodation that they receive.

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As an example, consider the case of a librarian employed at Florida Atlantic University. The librarian had suffered from epileptic seizures since childhood, and she had long known that stress aggravated her condition. In an EEOC claim and a lawsuit that she eventually filed against her employer, she asserted that the university had failed to acquiesce in her requests for reasonable workplace accommodations. It seemed that the librarian thoroughly disliked her supervisor’s management style, and that the stress she suffered on the job caused her to have more frequent seizures.

Although her employer accommodated some of her requests, such as ensuring that there were no sharp corners in her cubicle, they declined to grant other requests. They denied requests related to the “rough or harsh” treatment that she alleged came from her supervisor. She demanded that he be ordered to cease the “series of hostile confrontations,” which she said that he repeatedly used with her and that the university find a way to “sensitize” him to the needs of women with epilepsy.

The university did not feel compelled to grant the requests that they believed were vague and difficult to define, and the courts agreed with them. In testimony, the plaintiff could not cite specific instances of confrontational behavior. Moreover, the court argued that it was not the responsibility of the employer to provide a work environment that was free of stress, and that it was not possible for the plaintiff to “immunize herself from stress and criticism.”

This outcome demonstrates that employers are well within their rights to refuse requests for accommodations under ADA when they are not specific and reasonable. Nonetheless, it is crucial that all such requests be thoroughly investigated, preferably under the guidance of legal counsel, to ensure that a legitimate request is not ignored.

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Getting a high-profile celebrity to endorse a product or service can be a major coup. After all, in a society that emulates famous personalities, what could be more desirable than an A-list star saying that they use a company’s wares?

Reputation-Management-105888720-001While celebrities are public personalities, this does not necessarily mean that their images can be used for a marketing campaign without their permission. Traditionally, lawsuits have sprung up around campaigns that utilized the voice or image of a famous person without their consent. These campaigns were problematic because they caused the public to believe that the celebrity was endorsing the product.

While those kinds of lawsuits still occur, a recent lawsuit that Sofia Vergara settled against Venus Concept highlights a new wrinkle in this area of law. The trouble began in 2014 when Vergara posted a photo to her WhoSay account. Vergara was undergoing a massage using a Venus machine. Venus Concept learned of the image and subsequently used it on their social media accounts, claiming that Vergara “loved” the treatments.

Unfortunately, Vergara contends that she found the treatments a waste of time and money, and that she had no intention of starring in a campaign for the company. Arguing that she had been paid $15 million for other endorsements, Vergara sued Venus Concept for that amount, which would approximate the money she would have received if she had agreed to endorse the product.

The early settlement of the suit suggests that Venus Concept backed off fairly quickly. However, their legal troubles were probably completely unexpected. It’s easy to imagine that executives at the company were eager to promote their brand and an apparent association with an A-list television star. They made the mistake of not even asking for permission to re-use Vergara’s image, let alone negotiating a deal that might have been mutually beneficial.

While it is exceptionally easy to re-post the social media commentary of others, it is not always a good idea to do so without seeking their permission. This is particularly true with high-profile personalities. When in doubt, it is always best to seek legal counsel.

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Does a company have the right to use someone’s image without their permission? That question is central to a new lawsuit. While the lawsuit’s merit remains undetermined, it is stirring up negative publicity for the company. Entrepreneurs who are starting an ad campaign may want to consult with an experienced business attorney to avoid finding themselves in a similar situation.

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Plaintiff Leah Caldwell filed her lawsuit against Chipotle Mexican Grill. The complaint names Steve Ells, the company’s founder and CEO, as a defendant as well as a photographer named Steve Adams.

Caldwell alleges in her complaint that her photograph was taken without her knowledge while she ate in a Chipotle restaurant in Denver during the summer of 2006. She recalls that the restaurant was virtually empty, and she also states that she did not see any cameras or notices of a photo shoot being underway. Nevertheless, as she left the restaurant, she alleges that Adams approached her and asked if she would sign a release for the use of her image. Caldwell refused.

Caldwell was in Orlando in December 2014 when she visited another Chipotle location, only to see her image displayed. In her complaint, she says that the image was digitally altered, most notably by including bottles of alcohol in her vicinity. A few months later, she visited two other Chipotle locations in California, only to see her picture yet again.

She responded by filing the lawsuit, claiming that Chipotle did not have the right to use her image in their marketing campaign. Caldwell is representing herself in the case, and she has asked for a settlement of more than two billion dollars, the amount which she says the restaurant chain earned as a result of the use of her unauthorized photo.

Chipotle has not commented publicly on the suit, and much investigation will be required to determine whether or not Caldwell’s rights were violated and if so, how much money she may be entitled to. Speaking with a qualified business attorney is the best way to avoid legal pitfalls when it comes to using or designing marketing materials.

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A screenwriter/producer is suing The Walt Disney Company over its award-winning animated film “Zootopia.” The writer claims that the entertainment giant stole his idea after he pitched it to studio executives in 2000 and 2009.

Copyright-Law-135827413-001Gary Goldman, whose many credits include writing the script for “Total Recall” and acting as an executive producer for “Minority Report,” filed the lawsuit in March 2017. Goldman asserts that he produced a treatment in 2000 that dealt with “an animated cartoon world that metaphorically explores life in America through … anthropomorphic animals.” His treatment included a human cartoonist who creates the world of the anthropomorphic animals, which would be called Zootopia. The title of the project was “Looney.”

Goldman says he pitched his idea to a Disney executive in 2000, but that the studio passed on the project. The subject came up again in 2009, this time with Goldman providing executives with a more developed treatment that included illustrations and descriptions of characters. Disney said the project would be considered, but Goldman alleges that they never contacted him. Shortly afterward, Disney appeared to be developing a Zootopia project of their own.

The plaintiff in this case appears to have done almost everything right. He registered the original treatment with the Writer’s Guild to protect ownership of the source material. However, current media reports do not disclose whether or not he took further steps to protect his rights, like asking Disney executives to sign a legally-binding agreement before showing them any intellectual property.

The question of whether Disney “stole” or was at least “inspired by” Goldman’s ideas remains unanswered at this time. Comparing the character illustrations commissioned by Goldman with the final look of the characters in the completed film does show some similarities. However, this is not necessarily enough to convince a judge that Disney borrowed someone else’s ideas. After all, anthropomorphic animals confronting human issues in a cartoon world is hardly a concept that hasn’t been explored in detail before Zootopia.

Companies and individuals that want to protect valuable intellectual property are encouraged to consult with legal counsel before sharing their ideas.

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A Workers’ Compensation claim made by a woman who lost part of her leg at work has been upheld by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. The decision comes after her employer, Starr Aviation, disagreed with the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, which ruled that the worker was entitled to compensation.

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Modesty Colquitt was driving a luggage transporter at the Pittsburgh Airport in September 2014 when the accident occurred. The transporter overturned, pinning Colquitt’s left leg beneath it. She was taken to the hospital, where her left leg was amputated below the knee.

The case seems cut-and-dried. However, there are additional facts that are worthy of consideration. Starr Aviation argued that Colquitt was not performing her job duties when the she was driving the transport. Colquitt had forgotten her wallet and feminine hygiene products on that day. Knowing that she would need lunch and the feminine hygiene products during her shift, she called her mother to bring them to her. Colquitt obtained permission from her supervisor to take the transport to meet her mother, which is when the accident occurred.

Both the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board and the court relied on the “personal comfort doctrine,” a rule of law which stipulates that a worker is still “on-the-job” if they temporarily leave to take medication, use the restroom or complete other small tasks that make it possible for them to perform their job. In essence, the judges felt that Colquitt would have been adversely affected by not having her wallet and the required feminine hygiene products. She simply would not have been able to perform as effectively if she did not have lunch or access to appropriate feminine hygiene products.

This decision comes despite the testimony of co-workers who offered her crackers and pointed out that feminine products were available in the restroom. However, the judge found that this testimony related to “collateral issues” rather than whether or not compensation could be claimed.

Work Injury claims are almost always complicated. This is why it is imperative for California employers to work with experienced attorneys who can offer valuable guidance and advice.  If you have any questions about business litigation or work injuries feel free to contact me, Rich Oppenheim at 818-461-8500 or use the “Contact” option in the right column.

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In general, American consumers are willing to pay extra for a premium product that has to be imported. That’s because they realize that getting that product to the shelf costs more than an item that is produced in the contiguous U.S. However, what happens when a product merely gives the impression of being imported? Are those consumers then entitled to a cash settlement to compensate them for being misled?

https://www.californiabusinesslitigation.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/283/2017/03/Happy-St.-Patricks-Day-135056274-001.jpgThat question is at the heart of a California lawsuit that was recently filed against Craft Brew Alliance Inc. Craft Brew produces Kona Brewing Co. beers, which feature labels crammed with images that look like they are straight out of Hawaii. The problem, as consumers Sara Cilloni and Simone Zimmer point out in their complaint, is that Kona Brewing Co. beers aren’t brewed anywhere near the islands. Instead, they are created in facilities in Washington, Oregon, Tennessee and New Hampshire. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status on behalf of consumers.

Plaintiffs allege that people “are willing to pay more for items, because they are from Hawaii,” when in reality, they are produced in the contiguous 48 states. Portland, Oregon-based Craft Brew has yet to comment on the pending litigation. The company does have a brewing facility and brew pub in Hawaii, but it only produces a scant 12,000 barrels a year, none of which make it to the mainland.

This type of litigation is nothing new in the beverage industry. Anheuser-Busch InBev has been the target of more than one similar lawsuit. As the largest brewer in the world, it stands to reason that Anheuser-Busch would attract some litigation. In fact, a judge ordered them to pay a $20 million settlement in 2015 for purportedly allowing consumers to believe that its Beck’s label beer was made in Germany. Beck’s was initially a German product, but Anheuser-Busch has been producing it in St. Louis since 2012.

The current lawsuit is only in its earliest stages. Nonetheless, it is a helpful reminder to all companies to review their labeling and marketing practices to ensure that they are not vulnerable to similar litigation.

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Charges filed by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer have put an abrupt end to operations for numerous acting workshops. Feuer leveled accusations against five workshop companies, claiming that they operated in violation of a 2009 law known as the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act.

Stage-Door-123374603-001At any given time, Hollywood is home to thousands of aspiring actors who are desperate to break into show business. It’s hard for these young artists to gain the attention of casting directors who offer parts in movies and television shows, especially when the actors don’t have a top agent working for them. Workshops run by defendants like the Actor’s Key, the Actor’s Link and Studio Productions purport to offer educational classes that allow actors to essentially audition for casting directors. The trouble, as Feuer sees it, is that the workshops charge the actors for their participation. Under the definitions of the Krekorian law, this essentially is a pay-to-play scam in which the actors must submit a fee in order to audition.

Feuer filed charges against a total of five workshop companies, including nearly two dozen individuals, on February 9. Just five days later, one of the most popular and prolific of these workshops, the Actor’s Key, ceased operations and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Owners Kristen Caldwell and Katherine Shaw, along with workshop manager Jessica Gardner, are all named in Feuer’s charges. In a statement given to the Hollywood Reporter, the principals of the Acting Key said, “… we have found that there is no realistic alternative to closing the business, and commencing bankruptcy proceedings … .” Additionally, they claim that they have been listing upcoming workshops as “full” for the last several weeks in anticipation of the closure and the charges filed by the city.

Caldwell, Shaw, Gardner and the other defendants are scheduled for arraignment on numerous charges in March. Penalties may include one year in jail and fines of $10,000. Given the high stakes involved, it is clear that understanding all relevant facets of the law is crucial for business owners. Working with a reputable business attorney is the best way to ensure compliance.

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U.S. District Judge Susan Illston has ruled that Walmart truck drivers are not entitled to an additional $80 million in a class action lawsuit settlement. The complaint was filed in 2008 with hundreds of California truck drivers claiming that they did not receive at least minimum wage for performing certain tasks. Although the judge denied the plaintiffs’ claim to the $80 million, Walmart will still have to abide by the initial $54 million settlement that was awarded in an earlier jury decision.

walmart-truckclose-up-side-view_129821854433586541-001Walmart asserts that its truck drivers are among the best paid in the industry, with many of them earning between $80,000 and $100,000 per year. Moreover, their attrition rate is low, and the judge commended them for taking rapid action to comply with evolving compensation laws. The drivers argued in their lawsuit that their employer compensated them only based upon miles driven and specific activities rather than hours worked, which constituted a violation of state law. Accordingly, the drivers claimed that they did not receive adequate compensation for tasks like washing and inspecting trucks. They further argued that they were not appropriately paid for mandatory 10-minute breaks and 10-hour layovers.

In November 2016, a jury of seven agreed with the drivers, awarding them approximately $54 million in back pay. This latest decision came in response to the plaintiffs’ request for an additional $5.8 million for restitution, $54.6 million in liquidated damages and $25.6 million in penalties. The judge went along with the request for $5.8 million in restitution, but denied the other claims, saying that there is not sufficient evidence that Walmart acted in bad faith or with “dishonest and wrongful motive.”

It’s possible that Walmart may still appeal the decisions by the judge and the jury. However, they scrapped their former driver-compensation package in 2015 in favor of a new one that is in compliance with California law. Because compensation laws change periodically, it is only sensible for all business owners to have their compensation practices reviewed by an employment attorney on a regular basis. This may prevent a company from finding itself involved in a similar class action lawsuit.

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Ownership of some of the most well-known Beatles songs has been on a tortuous path for decades. Sir Paul McCartney, a former Beatle and writer or co-writer of many of the group’s biggest hits, is taking legal action to reclaim the rights to his creations. It’s an ongoing odyssey with no end in sight.

Beatles-Imagine-2902823-001McCartney is the author of many famous Beatles songs. Sometimes collaborating with John Lennon, he wrote tunes like “Love Me Do” and “Yesterday.” However, the rights to those songs were often immediately signed away. Most of the rights were lost between 1962 and 1971. Various publishers snapped up the rights, but by the 1980s, publisher ATV owned most of them. When an Australian businessman who owned a controlling share in the songs put them up for sale in 1984, Michael Jackson notoriously outbid Paul McCartney to become the owner of the Beatles’ catalog.

In fact, Jackson and Sony formed Sony/ATV, with the Beatles’ works being among the company’s major assets. The Jackson family sold their share of the company to Sony after Michael Jackson’s 2009 death. Now that Sony/ATV can claim sole ownership, McCartney is suing them to regain ownership of his work.

The lawsuit, which was filed in New York, is based on a facet of the 1976 Copyright Act, which stipulates that any creative works made prior to 1978 be returned after 56 years to their originators. McCartney’s filing is timely considering that he and Lennon first began writing together in 1962, precisely 56 years before 2018. Accordingly, a court could decide that McCartney may reclaim the lucrative rights to his songs as early as next year.

McCartney has been trying to reclaim those rights for many years. Thus far, Sony/ATV is unwilling to accommodate his request. They cite a long-term relationship with McCartney, and express disappointment that the musician filed the lawsuit, which they call unnecessary and premature.

The battle over the rights to the Beatles’ catalog is likely to continue for many years, which only highlights the need for individuals and companies to protect their intellectual property rights.

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A heated lawsuit between 21st Century Fox and Netflix reveals a great deal about the inner workings of Hollywood while also providing useful insights for employers in California and across the country. This high-profile case is a helpful reminder about the necessity of consulting with employment attorneys to cement formal contractual agreements with workers.

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The lawsuit was filed by Fox in September 2016. In their complaint, they cite a “brazen campaign” by Netflix “to unlawfully target, recruit, and poach valuable Fox executives.” Mainly at issue are two former Fox employees who now work for Netflix. One of these employees is Marcos Waltenberg, a 10-year veteran at Fox who was a vice president of promotions. The other was Tara Flynn, a vice president of creative affairs who was hired by Fox in 2012.

Waltenberg is a legal alien who needed employer sponsorship to maintain his green card status. In 2012, he asked his supervisor at Fox for a raise. The human resources department responded by saying that they were not required to sponsor Waltenberg’s green card renewal. When Waltenberg dropped his request for a raise, Fox helped him get his green card.

Flynn says she was pressured to take a three-year contract at $75,000 per year even though the compensation was well below the $250,000 annual salary that was typical for her position. She knew that her salary was well below that of two male executives who formerly held the job. When Netflix approached her with a better offer, she let her supervisors know that she was leaving, and that’s when things got ugly.

Waltenberg and Flynn were under contract with Fox when they gave notice. In a response to the complaint, defendants argue that the contracts that are forced on rank-and-file employees at Fox are too reminiscent of the studio era when the lives of actors were micromanaged by executives. The response further contends that these contracts unlawfully constrain employee mobility.

This lawsuit serves as a reminder to all California employers. Companies and HR departments need to regularly review their employment contract practices to ensure that they are keeping up with changing laws.