Articles Tagged with California Business Litigation

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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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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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Sports drink brand Gatorade recently settled a lawsuit that was brought against the company by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. At the heart of the matter was a free, downloadable game that Becerra argued disparaged water and healthy nutritional choices.

Legal-Fees-PaidGatorade made a game called Bolt! that was available to the public for free download in 2012, 2013, and then for a short time in 2017 as well. Players used a likeness of Olympic track athlete Usain Bolt to race across cell phone and tablet screens. When Bolt encountered Gatorade on the track, his speed increased, but when he encountered water, his performance deteriorated. Allegedly, the game inspired players to maintain their “performance level high and avoid water.”

Becerra argued in his complaint that the game made it appear as if water was an unhealthy choice that most athletes avoid. Accordingly, playing the game would encourage people, particularly children, to choose sports drinks instead of water.

In a statement, Becerra said: “Making misleading statements is a violation of California law. But making misleading statements aimed at our children is beyond unlawful, it’s morally wrong and a betrayal of trust.”

The day after the complaint was filed, Gatorade reached a settlement deal with the state. They agreed to a settlement of $300,000, $120,000 of which is earmarked for the promotion of better nutrition and hydration choices for young people.

Still, Gatorade does not admit to any wrongdoing in connection with the settlement. Katie Vidaillet, spokeswoman for Gatorade, notes: “The mobile game, Bolt!, was designed to highlight the unique role and benefits of sports drinks in supporting athletic performance. We recognize the role water plays in overall health and wellness … .” Moreover, the company has agreed to work harder at meeting the responsible advertising standards set by parent company PepsiCo.

Becerra hopes that the lawsuit and settlement will put other companies on notice about false advertising. While creativity is wonderful for capturing the attention of consumers, it is best to guard against making false claims. Work with a California business attorney to ensure that you company doesn’t run afoul of the law.

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When an individual or a company obtains a trademark registration in the U.S., they are granted certain rights and protections. If they discover that another party is using a mark that is the same as or confusingly similar to their registered trademark, then they have a right to bring legal action against the alleged infringer. This concept is at the heart of a lawsuit against well-known outdoor outfitter company L.L. Bean.

Trademarks-47837347-001A good trademark acts as a source indicator for the products it covers. However, what happens when two companies in the same industry decide to adopt similar marks? Consumers may have difficulty differentiating the offerings of one company from those of its competitor. The result can mean lost sales and a tarnished reputation if the products are not as good as those of the competition.

Utah-based outdoor and mountaineering gear manufacturer Alfwear, which uses the KÜHL trademark as their brand name for outdoor clothing, brought the lawsuit against L.L. Bean based on their registration of “The Outsider” mark. The mark is registered for “rugged outdoor clothing, namely, belts, bottoms, hats, jackets, pants, shirts, shorts, T-shirts, tops,” and has been in use since June 2015.

Recently, L.L. Bean launched a marketing campaign with the tagline “Be an Outsider.” The company even filed a trademark application to register the mark “Be an Outsider” in June 2017. The phrase is being used in various advertisements across the country.

The lawsuit from Alfwear argues that these marks are too confusingly similar. Moreover, Alfwear believes that L.L. Bean deliberately choose their “Be an Outsider” phrase in an attempt to mislead, confuse or deceive consumers.

Among other relief, Alfwear is asking that L.L. Bean be ordered to stop using the phrase “Be an Outsider” altogether. The company is seeking damages for lost profits as a result of consumer confusion.

L.L. Bean has not publicly commented on the lawsuit, but it is natural to assume that they will be fighting against Alfwear’s claims. Intellectual property is one of a company’s most valuable assets, and protecting it with the help of a California business attorney is imperative.

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Most companies have websites today. In fact, there are few business owners who would consider operating without one. That is because consumers are placing increasing reliance as websites to serve as proxies for brick-and-mortar locations. They may expect to shop, procure coupons, order photographic prints or even refill prescriptions from a website that is connected to a retail location.

ADA-138029727-001Everyone appreciates the convenience of being able to take care of a few errands online. However, not every company has fully considered whether or not their website is equally accessible to all users. That problem is at the heart of a recent lawsuit in Florida in which a legally blind man prevailed over well-known grocery chain Winn-Dixie.

Juan Carlos Gill liked shopping at Winn-Dixie because of its affordable pricing and convenient locations. An ad on television alerted him to the fact that Winn-Dixie’s website provided the ability to get digital coupons and refill prescriptions. When he tried to take advantage of these conveniences using the enhanced online software that allows a sight-challenged person to use the Internet with ease, Gil discovered that the Winn-Dixie website was incompatible. Try as he might, he could not avail himself of the useful services on the website that were readily available to consumers who were not sight impaired.

Gil sued Winn-Dixie for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. Eventually, a two-day bench trial was held with Judge Robert N. Scola, Jr. presiding. Judge Scola ultimately sided with the plaintiff based on what he says is the company’s violation of Title III of the ADA. A witness for Winn-Dixie had testified that the company was in the midst of establishing its website’s ADA policy, and that they had set aside $250,000 for the task. An expert witness for Gil argued that his firm could have made the conversions for as little as $37,000. What’s more, relatively little time would be necessary to make the website accessible to the vision impaired.

Winn-Dixie might appeal this decision, but it is a timely reminder that all company websites should be reviewed for ADA compliance.

One more note of interest: Late last month Gil filed another similar lawsuit. In his lawsuit Gil is asking a federal court to force the owners of Germain Arena in Florida, Gale Force Sports and Entertainment, to make its website accessible to blind internet users.

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Most company executives are aware of the FMLA benefits due to expectant mothers who work at their firm. Perhaps they even provide those mothers with extra benefits, like a few weeks of paid leave just before or after the birth. While mothers certainly appreciate these benefits, it pays to be aware that new fathers may want and even be entitled to similar benefits. Failing to provide gender-neutral parental leave benefits may provide employees with the basis for a lawsuit.

EEOC_cooltext396845518This is the situation in which cosmetics company Estée Lauder finds itself. The EEOC recently filed a lawsuit against the company because it does not offer equal parental care leave to male and female employees. A pregnant female worker is eligible for as many as six weeks of paid leave and a flexible back-to-work benefit that may include shortened hours and the ability to work from home. Male employees receive just two weeks of paid leave and have no option to take advantage of the flexible back-to-work benefit.

The EEOC’s complaint says that the policy violates the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Under these laws and others, the federal government requires that companies provide equal benefits and pay for the same work. This additionally means that these federal laws are gender neutral. In other words, both men and women are entitled to equal protection.

This is the second such lawsuit to be filed in recent memory. A J.P. Morgan Chase fraud investigator sued his employer because he was not offered the same parental-leave benefits as a female employee would receive. This earlier suit is still pending.

Employers are not legally required to provide paid parental leave for female or male workers. However, they are required to abide by federal laws like the FMLA that protect workers who want to take time to bond with their newborn child. Offering additional, paid-leave benefits for new parents can be a valuable perk that will attract outstanding talent to your firm. Nonetheless, it is critical to ensure that these benefits are offered on a gender-neutral basis to avoid lawsuits.

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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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A robust network can help to open the door to new professional opportunities. Increasingly, professional networks are being created and maintained in a virtual environment. While it is becoming more common for colleagues and former co-workers to connect to each other via social media, it is vital for employers and employees to understand how various employment agreements that they are a party to may affect their interactions.

Scales-of-Justice-Digital-94824052-001This concept is at the heart of a recent case in Illinois. A branch manager for Bankers Life & Casualty Co. named Gelineau left his employment to accept a position with a competitor called American Senior Benefits, LLC. After Gelineau began working with his new employer, he sent LinkedIn invitations to three of his former co-workers at the Warwick, Rhode Island office of Bankers Life. The trouble is that Gelineau had signed a non-solicitation agreement with his former employer. As is common with these agreements, Gelineau had promised not to solicit other Bankers Life employees to seek employment with other companies.

Bankers Life sued American Senior because they believed that Gelineau had violated his non-solicitation agreement. However, the court did not agree. The judge ruled that the LinkedIn emails were “generic” and “did not contain any discussion of Bankers Life.” Moreover, the email did not contain a “solicitation to leave their place of employment.” Instead, the email was merely intended to provide an opportunity for the former co-workers to keep their professional network as robust as possible.

According to the court, if Gelineau had included some kind of hint or suggestion that the Bankers Life employees should leave their current place of employment in favor of American Senior, then the outcome may have been different. Bankers Life was concerned that a listing of open positions at American Senior was included in Gelineau’s LinkedIn home page. Nonetheless, the court did not feel that Gelineau could be held responsible for what visitors to his LinkedIn page did once they were there.

Non-solicitation agreements are standard in many industries. With the changing communication landscape, it’s important to recognize what these agreements do and do not cover.

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has announced a lawsuit against Big 5, which is one of the largest sports retailers in the U.S. A black employee named Robert Sanders is suing his employer over ongoing racial harassment. Sanders charges that upper management in the company failed to act even after he repeatedly reported the abuse. This story is a reminder to all employers about the necessity of investigating every harassment complaint with the utmost speed.

Retaliation-32004699-001Robert Sanders was the only black employee at Big 5’s store on Whidbey Island, Washington. As a part of the management training program, he expected to have an opportunity to learn new skills that would help him to embark on a new career. What he claims to have found instead was a racially charged atmosphere that had his coworkers referring to him with slurs like “King Kong,” “boy” and “spook.” Another trainee allegedly said that Sanders had the “face of a janitor.”

Sanders took his story to Big 5’s upper management, but he says that they did nothing to investigate his claims. Tensions reportedly grew worse in the manager training program. Sanders took multiple leaves as he tried to cope with the stress. An assistant manager allegedly told him, “We will hang you, we will seriously lynch you if you call in again this week.”

Sanders says that the behavior didn’t stop, nor did upper management offer to help in any way even after repeated reports. Eventually, Sanders took his complaint to the EEOC, which offered to act on his behalf. The EEOC pointed out to Big 5 that the behavior Sanders had been subjected to was illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Furthermore, Sanders says that his employer retaliated against him, denying him breaks, unreasonably increasing his workload and disciplining him for things he did not do.

Big 5 and the EEOC failed to come to an agreement at the negotiation stage, which led to the filing of the lawsuit. This example demonstrates once again why employers must take swift and immediate action to investigate all harassment claims.

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Luxury retailer Burberry has agreed to a $2.54 million settlement with employees. The workers include retail store and warehouse employees in New York. Their class action lawsuit claimed that they were forced to put in extra hours without pay. This expensive lesson serves as a reminder to all employers that they need to be aware of wage and hour laws and related practices.

Timeclock-45269690-001Burberry employees filed the lawsuit in December 2015 after they say that they were routinely forced to work off the clock. Sometimes, the duties were performed before or after shifts, with employees filling out necessary paperwork or cleaning the store. On other occasions, employees were told that they would need to work through their lunch hour. Holiday seasons were particularly bad. Sales associates involved in the lawsuit claim that they frequently worked three to six extra hours a day without being paid for their time.

Like many similar cases, legal experts familiar with this lawsuit note that they do not believe that executive management at Burberry was directing lower level management to violate wage and hour laws. Instead, they believe that the lower level managers were simply trying to cover the needs of the organization without fully understanding the consequences of their actions or that they were violating the law.

Burberry has now agreed to a settlement that should put approximately $2,500 into the pockets of the 643 workers who were involved in the lawsuit. The $2,500 per worker is after attorneys’ fees and costs. For a big-name, luxury brand like Burberry, $2.54 million isn’t necessarily a devastating amount of money to have to redirect for a lawsuit settlement. Lawyers for the company likely made a wise decision when they agreed to a settlement that kept them outside of the courtroom where the outcome may have been a great deal more expensive, especially with court costs and attorney fees. Still, it would have been better if the situation had not occurred in the first place.

It is vital for companies to work closely with employment law attorneys who are looking out for their best interests. This is the most reliable method for avoiding wage and hour lawsuits.