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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)

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Agrochemical giant Monsanto, which is now owned by Bayer, is facing a slew of lawsuits based on its popular Roundup weed killer. Roundup contains an herbicide called glyphosate. Critics argue that this herbicide is carcinogenic and responsible for causing numerous cases of cancer.

949759_dollar_signCalifornia plaintiff Edward Hardeman sued Bayer-Monsanto on the grounds that use of Roundup contributed to his diagnosis with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hardeman owns property consisting of more than 50 acres. For 25 years, he sprayed the property with Roundup to control poison ivy and other invasive plants. Attorneys estimate that he used 6,000 gallons of the product throughout those years.

When Hardeman was diagnosed with cancer, it didn’t take long for him and his doctors to start taking a closer look at his habitual use of Roundup. Bayer-Monsanto currently is dealing with in excess of 11,000 lawsuits in the U.S., all of which argue that the glyphosate used in the product causes cancer in people.

Recently, a jury agreed with Hardeman’s conclusion that Roundup caused his illness. Their decision is said to be based on scientific evidence, which is in line with another jury decision from last year. In that case, the plaintiff was a landscaping employee with a public school district. The jury concluded that Roundup was responsible for the plaintiff’s terminal illness, awarding him almost $290 million. Eventually, the verdict was reduced to $78.5 million, a decision that is currently on appeal.

In the second phase of the current trial, plaintiffs will have to demonstrate that Monsanto had knowledge of the possibility that glyphosate could cause cancer and they did not provide adequate warnings. Presiding judge Vincent Chhabria unsealed documents that allegedly demonstrate that Monsanto worked to discredit independent scientific research that showed their product was unsafe. Moreover, the documents may indicate that Monsanto executives persuaded officials at the EPA to approve glyphosate contrary to the scientific evidence.

The outcome of this case remains in the balance, as does the outcome of the thousands of similar lawsuits. It seems Monsanto did a poor job of protecting their customers and in doing so failed to protect themselves.

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Multi-level marketing company LuLaRoe is going through rocky times. Not only is the company’s number of consultants down to fewer than 35,000 after reaching a high of 77,000 in February 2017, but also the organization is facing a massive lawsuit from its chief supplier, Providence Industries.

1504001-Gavel-Money-2The lawsuit was filed in November 2017, with the plaintiff stating that LuLaRoe had failed to pay its bills since May. Initially, plaintiffs sought damages of $49 million based on $34 million in products that Providence sent to LuLaRoe for which they were never paid. The rest of the amount was for storage of other products at LuLaRoe’s request.

Now, Providence has increased their demand to $63 million as the lawsuit drags on. In new filings, they allege that LuLaRoe is quietly liquidating goods. Providence is asking for a writ of attachment to prevent this. Their initial request for such a writ was denied months ago, but this one is supported by the testimony of nine former LuLaRoe consultants, each of whom alleges that they’ve been waiting for months to receive refunds on returned products after giving up their positions as consultants.

To further support their argument, Providence says that the defendant has a history of not paying their bills and that the organization is likely insolvent. LuLaRoe has not commented on these allegations, but Providence asserts that the company’s founders are hiding financial assets in a series of shell companies. Based on comments made by the founders, Providence believes that they may try to leave the country with the funds.

While LuLaRoe makes no comment on the pending litigation, they do appear to acknowledge that things haven’t gone well in the past. Recent social media videos posted by the founders show them talking about a history of flawed products and how they are entering an era of “LuLaRoe 2.0.” They insist that if consultants stay with them, they will see tremendous financial gains.

A business attorney may be able to provide the needed guidance for most new companies. Many potential business problems can be avoided by using an experienced business attorney during early planning and strategizing.

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Self-driving cars have been the dream of many a science fiction writer over the decades, and modern technology is drawing ever closer to making that dream a reality. The companies that have been selling cars with autonomous features have run into difficulties, which sometimes include lawsuits.

scales-and-gavel-90061933-001One such car maker is Tesla. Heather Lommatzsch has filed a lawsuit in Utah with the main complaint being that Tesla spokespeople weren’t honest when describing how to use her Model S’s Autopilot feature. Lommatzsch claims that she didn’t understand how to use the feature, which resulted in a serious crash. Her Model S collided with the back of a stopped firetruck, and Lommatzsch says that she was left with life-altering injuries.

Tesla issued a statement saying that they always recommend that drivers do not remove their hands from the steering wheel while using Autopilot. Moreover, the company emphasizes that this feature does not make vehicles impervious to crashes.

Lommatzsch charges that when she bought the car in 2016, the salespeople told her that she only had to touch the wheel intermittently. Additionally, she claims that when she realized that the car was not slowing down to avoid a collision with the firetruck, she attempted to manually use the brakes, but they failed.

Lommatzsch broke bones in her foot in the crash, and police charged her with a misdemeanor for not keeping a proper lookout. Dave Arnold, a spokesman for Tesla, notes that Lommatzsch told authorities that she was using the GPS feature on her cell phone before the crash. Data from the car suggests that her hands were not on the wheel for almost a minute and a half before the collision. Additionally, the car actually picked up speed for about three and a half seconds before the crash, and the brakes were manually engaged just a fraction of a second before the impact occurred.

It’s not clear which party will prevail in this lawsuit. However, this situation is a reminder for companies to ensure that their marketing campaigns and sales staff provide accurate portrayals of the features and benefits of any product.

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Three women who used to work at Google have filed suit against their former employer. Their complaint states that the company systematically discriminates against female employees by failing to pay them the same rate that is given to men doing the same jobs.

Gender-Discrimination-105366239-001The plaintiffs include Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease and Kelli Wisuri, and they make the argument that their lawsuit should become a class action on behalf of other female current and former employees. Ellis says that despite having four years of professional experience as a software engineer, Google hired her as a Level 3 employee in 2010. That level was considered entry level, and was designed for recent college graduates. A few weeks later, a male engineer with similar experience was hired at Level 4. This garnered him a larger salary and put him in line for extra bonuses and raises. Ellis further claims that other male employees were brought in at Level 4 even though they had less or comparable experience when compared with hers.

Ellis goes on to claim that Google hired her as a front-end engineer even though her experience was as a back-end engineer. In Google’s hierarchy, it is the back-end engineers who are the most esteemed and higher paid. Ellis says that she and other female engineers were prevented from entering similar positions. The two other plaintiffs share similar accusations.

A spokesperson for Google says that the company disputes “the central allegations” of the case, pointing out that a worker’s level and their promotion track follow a rigorous process that is meant to preclude the danger of gender bias.

However, a study by the Labor Department which recently concluded an audit of the company’s pay practices disputes this. The audit points to “systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire work force.” Google has not been charged with wrongdoing relating to these allegations.

This latest case is yet another reminder of how critical it is for companies to review their hiring, promotion and wage practices with a business attorney. Running afoul of employment laws is always bad for the bottom line.

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Recently, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, or DFEH, issued a revised “Workplace Harassment Guide for California Employers.” This essential publication should form the basis of every organization’s anti-harassment and retaliation policies. With the guidance of a qualified California employment attorney, most companies will be able to protect themselves from violating the guidelines described in the publication.

https://www.californiabusinesslitigation.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/283/2016/05/boy.girl_.-equality.jpgThe Guide is particularly useful to employers because it clearly describes the necessary elements of any anti-harassment program in California. Employers are recommended to develop a written policy that is given to all employees and is discussed at least once a year if not more often at company meetings. The Guide also offers counsel on how crucial it is for members of management to model appropriate behavior and responses to harassment complaints. Training for managers and supervisors similarly is recommended, as well as education for personnel who will be charged with handling complaints.

One of the most important tenets espoused by the publication is the need for a proper reporting system, and a means of ensuring that every report is treated as a high-priority item. This makes it possible for the employer to determine whether or not a full, formal investigation is required. One of the new Guide’s more useful sections educates managers and supervisors about how to investigate a claim. A prompt, thorough and impartial investigation is frequently able to head off more serious problems like harassment and retaliation lawsuits.

DFEH’s revised Guide is essential reading for every employer in California. Its plain language and good coverage of relevant points make it the perfect resource for an anti-harassment and retaliation policy. A skilled California employment lawyer can help any company owner or executive put the finishing polish on the organization’s program. Too many companies make the mistake of not creating a written policy until it is too late.

Executives who want to improve the chances that their company will not become embroiled in costly, time-consuming litigation will want to discuss the Guide and how it can be used to craft an anti-harassment program specifically for their company with a qualified attorney.

The guide is only 9 pages long. If after reading it you have any employment law questions, feel free to contact me, Richard Oppenheim. I may be reached at 818-461-8500 or by using the “Contact Us” box in the right column.

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The EEOC has announced that a federal district court has denied a request by AutoZone to limit the scope of a nationwide disability discrimination case. The case was originated by the EEOC.

Discrimination%2040134433-001.jpgAutoZone argued that the EEOC did not conduct an adequate, “nationwide” investigation prior to filing suit and asked the court to limit the suit to only three stores.

“[T]he Court may not inquire into the sufficiency of the EEOC’s pre-suit investigation in order to ‘limit’ the scope of the litigation,” the court stated in its order, which was written by U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.

The order also cited the recent decision in Mach Mining, LLC v. EEOC, in which the Supreme Court stated that courts should not impose additional procedural requirements on such litigation beyond those established by Congress.

EEOC filed suit on May 9, 2014, alleging that from 2009 until at least 2011, the company assessed employees attendance “points” for absences, without permitting any general exception for disability-related absences. The complaint alleges, qualified employees with disabilities with even modest numbers of disability-related absences were fired, in violation of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits disability discrimination in employment, which includes failure to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities.

John Hendrickson, regional attorney for EEOC’s Chicago District. Stated “This case alleges a serious violation of the law and should be decided on the merits. The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Mach Mining should put to rest efforts to deny employees their day in court based on unfounded arguments about administrative procedure.”
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The Best of Everything in 2015 and Beyond

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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.

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A grant of $40 million seems like it would be sufficient incentive for a public school district and a teachers’ union to get along, but a situation in Pennsylvania is proving otherwise.

Funding%2061101867-001.jpgFour years ago, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $40 million to Pittsburgh Public Schools. The foundation hoped that the money would be used to turn the school district into a model of what can be achieved when quality teachers are found in every classroom.

Pittsburgh Public Schools was given the grant after its political and educational leaders committed themselves to working together. The union and the school district were significant parts of that commitment. Unfortunately, those two parties remain unable to reach an agreement on how teachers will be evaluated under the guidelines of the grant.

The grant’s main purpose was to “reward exceptional teachers and retrain those who don’t make the grade.” Accordingly, teacher evaluations would be based half on in-class observation while the other half would be made up by other criteria like student performance on standardized tests and student surveys.

It is a complex evaluation structure, and teachers do not seem to feel that it is one that promises equity. In fact, a union official notes that the standard for teachers in Pittsburgh is tougher than that in other districts in Pennsylvania and across the country. A teacher who does not receive a satisfactory evaluation two years in a row may be subject to firing. Moreover, while the district wants to rely less on seniority when it comes to layoffs, the union argues in favor of the state law that makes seniority a prime concern when layoffs are being considered.

For now, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is not withdrawing grant funds. However, it has been said that they continue to monitor the situation and have expressed frustration with the impasse between the district and the union. It seems clear that unless district and union officials can reach some sort of agreement on teacher evaluations, the grant funds may be put in jeopardy, and the overall losers in the situation will be Pittsburgh Public School students.