Uber’s Indebtedness for $650 million to the State of New Jersey

Uber Technologies Inc. is indebted to the State of New Jersey for approximately $650 million for disability and unemployment insurance taxes. The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Uber Misclassified EmployeesDevelopment said that the money owed is based on Uber’s misclassification of employees as independent contractors.

Uber, along with its subsidiary, Rasier LLC, was given a past-due tax assessment of $523 million, which covers taxes from 2015 to the present. According to additional documents, the rideshare companies may also be obligated to pay up to $119 million in penalties and interest on the four-year-long tax bill.

Uber Challenges State Labor Department

Uber spokesperson Alix Anfang told Bloomberg Law that this determination was incorrect and that the companies are planning to fight it because in New Jersey, and elsewhere, drivers are independent contractors.

At this point, New Jersey’s determination is limited to disability and unemployment insurance; however, it could also mean that eventually rideshare drivers would have to be paid at the state’s minimum wage rate and receive applicable overtime pay. According to Bloomberg Intelligence, if companies such as Lyft and Uber are forced to recategorize their drivers as employees, the cost of rides could increase by over 20 percent.

Lobbying in New York and California

These controversies mark the most recent attacks on the business model for rideshare companies, virtually all of which treat drivers as independent contractors, not employees. When working as self-employed contractors, individuals do not qualify for certain benefits, such as the aforementioned disability and unemployment insurance. Lyft and Uber have now pledged $30 million apiece to challenge new legislation in California that is expected to force such companies to recognize drivers as employees. Additionally, lawmakers in New York are preparing for a similar battle after the New Year.

California has effectively legislated to force Uber and Lyft to classify drivers as employees rather than independent contractors.  This will undoubtedly be a hotly contested issue in the California Court system until, more likely than not, the California Supreme Court has the final say.

Audit Launched Among Uber Drivers

The New Jersey Labor Department dispatched surveys to drivers working for Uber and Lyft over the past year, requesting information concerning their tax status and classification. Each year, the Labor Department audits approximately one percent of employers to screen for possible misclassification of workers.

As of Oct. 23, 2019, the State of New Jersey has discovered that 65 drivers who declared Lyft, Uber, or Rasier as their employer on claim forms are actually company employees, and therefore eligible to apply for various unemployment benefits.

No Action Planned at the Federal Level

The National Labor Relations Board and Federal Labor Department recently stated they are unlikely to pursue the rideshare companies for alleged misclassification. The decision was based on their opinion that contractors at an unnamed “virtual marketplace” are not employees because the business simply acts as a referral to link entrepreneurs with various opportunities. The Federal Labor Department said that this means Uber drivers are therefore independent contractors, thus excluding them from unemployment insurance, union benefits, and disability insurance.

However, the State of New Jersey requires a business to demonstrate that it does not control the work completed by the independent contractor and that the services provided are outside the scope of the company’s “usual course” of business. Otherwise, the drivers are considered employees by the state.

According to Bloomberg Law, certain New Jersey drivers said they prefer the flexibility of remaining independent contractors, as this means they can choose where and when to work. Worker advocates, on the other hand, are holding fast to their position that rideshare company owners are skirting their basic responsibilities by classifying such drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

Uber fell to $25.99 per share, a decline of 2.7 percent, once the news of the disputed tax bill became public. Lyft’s shares fell 3.2 percent around the same time. As of December 2019, it is unclear whether a hearing has been scheduled, and it is also not known if Uber has paid any part of the tax bill that the State of New Jersey is demanding.

If you think you are being misclassified as an employee or independent contractor, call one of our employment attorneys in Orange County at Ares Law Group. Our number is 949-629-2519 and we would be happy to give you a free consultation regarding your situation.

Uber and Lyft May Soon Feel impact of New Employment Laws

toy cars with uber logoThe State of California just enacted a bill confirming that most workers are employees rather than independent contractors and affirming the relevant legal analysis implemented by California Courts.  Although the law is applicable to all employers in the State of California, it has a particularly strong effect on  Lyft, Uber and numerous “gig” companies that will require them to acknowledge many of their workers as employees, rather than independent contractors. Our employment attorneys in Orange County believe similar laws may pass in other states as well, as California is often the leader with regard to employment regulation.

In California, the law confirms what California Courts have found that, in general, a person would only be considered an independent contractor if the tasks he or she performs fall outside the parameters of the company’s usual course of business. In addition, workers are not regarded as independent contractors if the business exerts meaningful control over how their job duties are performed or if the work they do is part of the company’s regular business.

Lorena Gonzalez, the Democrat Assemblywoman who authored the bill, stated that it was developed as a way to prohibit businesses from miscategorizing workers and ultimately gaming the system. Naturally, it would have been difficult to predict the ways in which the employment landscape would change when these companies were created, but the aim of California lawmakers is to prevent businesses from passing costs onto workers and taxpayers.

Uber Attorney Announces That Drivers are to Maintain Contractor Status

Uber’s top attorney announced on September 11, 2019, that in spite of the new regulations, the company has no plans to treat drivers as employees. Uber’s Chief Legal Officer, Tony West, promised that drivers will maintain independent contractor status.

West stated that Uber’s business does not merely provide rides, but serves as a technology platform for numerous kinds of digital marketplaces, and that they are somewhat used to legal battles.

As our Orange County employment attorneys know from handling these cases, as well as observing the local legal environment, litigation is almost certain to continue if companies continue to attempt to find justifications to classify regular works as independent contractors.

When the costs and complexities of having employees versus hiring independent contractors are considered, it is not difficult to see why some businesses do everything they can to maintain contractors.

One case in point is a long-running dispute that was settled for $228 million in 2015, between FedEx and their Ground California drivers. FedEx Ground robustly defended its purported independent contractor model, but the Ninth Circuit determined that over 2,250 drivers were actually covered by California’s employee protection statutes. Our employment attorneys in Orange County will continue to follow the story and watch for any new developments.

Former Tinder Executive Sues for Sexual Assault

Tinder Icon on PhoneOur employment law attorneys recently heard about the story of Ms. Rosette Pambakian, who filed a lawsuit against the parent companies behind Tinder and its former Chief Executive Officer, Gregory Blatt. Ms. Pambakian formerly served as the company’s VP of communications, and alleges in her lawsuit that she was fired in retaliation for bringing forth sexual assault allegations against Blatt.

The Blast obtained court documents that outlined Ms. Pambakian’s claims that she was harassed and assaulted in December, 2016 at the company’s holiday party. Ms. Pambakian alleges that Blatt approached her at the party and made a series of lewd remarks and inappropriate sexual advances.

Ms. Pambakian states that following Blatt’s advances, she left the party with friends, only to have Blatt show up to their hotel room at approximately 2 a.m., at which point Ms. Pambakian claims she was sexually assaulted.

Following the alleged assault, Ms. Pambakian said she told then-Chairman and former Tinder CEO, Sean Rad, about what happened. However, she states that the company ignored damning facts, never interviewed key witnesses, and failed to conduct a meaningful investigation because they were afraid to “risk their bottom line.”

Ms. Pambakian states she was put on administrative leave and in the course of time, was unjustifiably terminated. She is now suing for wrongful termination and retaliation, gender violence, sexual battery and negligence, for which she is seeking unspecified damages.

A representative for the Match Group, Tinder’s parent company, stated that they cannot comment on the lawsuit because they have not yet seen it. They did, however, forward a letter that was previously sent to Ms. Pambakian from their Chief Executive Officer, Mandy Ginsberg.

The letter, Ms. Ginsberg stated that Pambakian was not terminated due to reporting Blatt for sexual harassment, because no such report was ever made. Ms. Ginsburg further stated that although she was not the CEO at the time of the alleged incident, she had knowledge of Ms. Pambakian being interviewed on several occasions during which she made no accusations of sexual harassment. Tinder has declined to comment on the suit.

Marc Anthony Settles Unpaid Wage Lawsuit With Former Housekeeper

Marc Anthony SingingAccording to a lawsuit filed by Concetta Graziosi in Brooklyn Federal Court, Latin music superstar, Marc Anthony, failed to pay his long-term housekeeper approximately $500,000.00 in unpaid wages. The former housekeeper was responsible for various duties, including cleaning the 10,000 square foot Long Island mansion in which Mr. Anthony resided in with his then-wife, Jennifer Lopez, and their children.

Housekeeper Alleges Thousands in Unpaid Wages

Ms. Graziosi began working for the music star in 2005 and remained employed until 2017, when the Brookville home was sold. Ms. Graziosi alleged that Mr. Anthony forced her to work as many as 80 hours each week, but never paid her the required overtime wages. According to Court papers, Ms. Graziosi stated that at times she was not even paid minimum wage, but rather was given $2,000.00 every other week, regardless of the number of work hours she logged. The lawsuit also alleged that Ms. Graziosi sometimes had to work seven days a week and at times, was not paid at all. In addition, she stated that she never received paid vacation time.

Mr. Anthony also allegedly deducted a processing fee from Ms. Graziosi’s paychecks, which she received via direct deposit. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Ms. Graziosi sometimes bought groceries for the household on her way to work, but was not given compensation. Jonathan Bell, Ms. Graziosi’s employment law attorney, stated that she was terminated just prior to the Brookville home being sold in 2017 for $4.5 million, and that his client was clearly taken advantage of.

Lawsuit Settled for $500,000

After months of negotiations between the employment attorneys, a deal was finally reached. Mr. Anthony agreed to pay his ex-housekeeper approximately $500,000.00. The lawsuit was settled in private mediation, but the singer has not yet commented about the matter. Mr. Anthony and Ms. Lopez divorced in 2014, and Ms. Lopez was not named in the suit. Representatives for the singer did not immediately return requests for comment.

McDonald’s Faces 25 New Sexual Harassment Allegations

For the third consecutive year, McDonald’s Corporation must respond to allegations of widespread sexual harassment of female workers by male managers and coworkers. Protests concerning low wages began over seven years ago, but the workers have now added sexual harassment and discrimination to their list of workplace grievances. Last week, sexual harassment complaints were filed by 25 workers with assistance from the labor group Fight for $15, and the sexual harassment attorneys of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. The claims allege a broad range of incidents including groping, lewd comments, and retaliation by management.

More Than 50 Harassment Complaints Over Three Year Period

Over the past three years, McDonald’s has had more than 50 complaints about various types of harassment in the workplace. Sexual Harassment attorney, Eve Cervantes, who is representing one of the women, stated that some of the alleged victims were as young as sixteen. Three of the complaints were filed as civil rights lawsuits.

The complaints of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination specifically included requests for sex, indecent exposure, inappropriate touching, and retaliation for reporting such conduct. In one complaint, Jamelia Fairley, a Florida employee alleged that for several months she was sexually harassed at the McDonald’s where she was employed. Her allegations included hearing lewd comments made about her daughter, who was only a year old at the time. Fairley alleges that her hours were reduced after the harassment was reported.

Another worker, Kimberly Lawson, expressed a desire to see McDonald’s recognize a union, which would assist employees to address issues such as sexual harassment, workplace violence, and low pay. Lawson filed a complaint last year with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission–EEOC–alleging that she was groped by a coworker, but that her manager began to sexually harass her as well, after ignoring her complaint.

A McDonald’s spokeswoman declined to comment on Lawson’s filings with the EEOC; however, Steve Easterbrook, the company’s CEO, stated that McDonald’s is dedicated to ensuring that workers can enjoy a harassment-free and bias-free workplace.

High Profile Activists Join the Fight

Actress Padma Lakshmi and other high-profile activists joined an employee protest in Chicago. In addition, an open letter was sent to Easterbrook from Time’s Up concerning sexual misconduct and harassment in the McDonald’s workplace. The company will be faced with activist pressure from within and without at its upcoming shareholders meeting, and tensions are rising. Fight for $15, a higher wages advocacy group, is pinning its actions to the event, although the group cannot be present during the meeting, which is an investors-only gathering. In some cities where rallies were held about the company’s handling of harassment complaints, protesters were joined by Democratic presidential hopefuls.

The incidents are alleged to have taken place at franchise and corporate stores in 20 cities, with some workers contacting sexual harassment attorneys to handle their suits. The company promised more action in the future to ensure a safe, harassment-free workplace in all its locations.

Trucking Company Settles Huge Wage Lawsuit

big rigs on the roadAn Oregon-based trucking company has agreed to settle with a group of California truck drivers for over $1.5 million as a result of a class-action wage lawsuit. Our employment attorneys in Orange County have learned that the lawsuit against Reddaway Trucking was filed by more than 1,000 commercial drivers and the company–owned by YRC Worldwide–agreed to the settlement on April 12, 2019.

If the courts approve, an average payout of $726.40–with a maximum of $1,742.40–will be awarded to each driver. An incentive award of $20,000 may also be given to each named plaintiff, and attorneys may collect up to 33 percent of the settlement, which is roughly $500,000.

Saul Montes and Mario Barrios filed the lawsuit in November, 2017, on behalf of themselves and 1,170 other individuals who drove for Reddaway. The suit was filed in the Central District of California. The lawsuit alleged that California’s state wage and hour laws were violated when drivers were not paid in a timely manner and expenses were not reimbursed. It also claimed that drivers were forced to skip meal breaks and that their itemized wage statements were not provided by the company.

If an employee works more than five hours, he or she must be given the opportunity to take a 30 minute, uninterrupted meal break according to California Labor Code Section 512, and those who work longer than ten hours must be given the option of a second meal break.

In some cases, an “on duty” meal break is permitted if the employee’s work duties are such that prevent him or her from being entirely relieved of job related tasks for that period of time. However, written consent must be obtained from the employee, and drivers involved in the lawsuit claimed that they never gave Reddaway such consent. The law allows the drivers to recover one hour of pay for all days during which a meal break was denied. Similar California laws and compensation guidelines also apply to rest breaks.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Reddaway did not reimburse employees for the company-mandated, work related use of their personal cell phones. Drivers also claim that the company did not keep appropriate, itemized time records showing when they started and ended each shift, including split shift intervals, meal periods, and total daily hours worked. Reddaway is also accused of reporting total hours inaccurately and failing to show all reimbursements and deductions. California law states that each driver may be awarded up to $4,000 for the violations involving record-keeping.

Finally, some drivers who quit or had their employment terminated by the company claim they either received due wages late or not at all. According to state law, any compensation due must be paid immediately to employees who are terminated. Those who voluntarily sever their employment must receive due wages within 72 hours of their last day worked. If a 72 hour or greater advance notice is given to the company that the employee is leaving, the company must pay all wages due on that person’s last day of work.

If you believe that your employer has forced you to skip meal and rest breaks, or has failed to pay you due wages, we urge you to contact our employment law attorneys in Orange County.  We often hear from employees who weren’t aware that their rights were being violated for several months – or even years. Our employment attorneys specialize in helping people recover the wages they earned, but never received. Call us today to discuss your case. (949) 629-2519

Disney Sued for Gender Pay Gap

Mickey and Minnie Mouse in a castleTwo female employees recently filed a class action against the Walt Disney Company (“Disney”) in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging Disney pays its female employees less than their male counterparts for the same or comparable work under the California Equal Pay Act.

The Plaintiffs, LaRonda Rasmussen, who worked as a manager in Disney’s product development department, and Karen Moore, who works as a senior copyright administrator, both allege they were paid significantly less than their male colleagues who performed substantially similar work.

For example, In Rasmussen’s case, she claims Disney paid her male colleagues between $16,000.00 and $40,000.00 more than her per year at various points throughout her career. Both Plaintiffs claim Disney discriminates against its female employees, paying women tens of thousands of dollars less than males who perform the same or substantially similar work.

Rasmussen and Moore claim this pattern of pay inequity is a result of Disney’s policies, practices and procedures. In addition to monetary damages, the suit seeks an injunction prohibiting Disney from engaging in such practices and an order requiring Disney to initiate and implement a program that will address these practices and eliminate them going forward.

Rasmussen and Moore are pursuing their claims as a class action on behalf of “all women employed in California by The Walt Disney Company in the Walt Disney Studios business segments” beginning in April 2015 until the disposition of the case. Disney is not alone in facing allegations of unequal pay. Several other organizations have been accused of similar pay disparity practices including Oracle and Nike.
It is no surprise Rasmussen and Moore are pursuing their claims under California’s Equal Pay Act, as it is one of the most expansive laws prohibiting discrimination in gender pay. While the federal Equal Pay Act of 1964 prohibits unequal pay based on sex, it looks at employees who perform essentially the same job and who work under similar working conditions.

In contrast, California’s Equal Pay Act focuses on whether the employees in question perform “substantially similar work”—not the same work—and does not require employees work at the “same establishment.” Additionally, California’s Equal Pay Act prohibits pay disparity based on race and ethnicity in addition to sex.

If you believe you are being paid less than your colleagues who perform substantially similar work based on your gender, race or ethnicity, you should speak with an Employment Attorney experienced in Equal Pay matters.
Our employment attorneys in Orange County have extensive experience in handling Equal Pay and discrimination claims on behalf of employees. Ares Law Group, P.C. attorneys also offer a unique perspective with their collective of 30 years experiencing in employment law.

Wage Theft Settlement Reached for San Jose Burrito Chain

According to an announcement made by California’s State Department of Industrial Relations, Ares Law Group’s employment law attorneys have learned that Burrito Factory has agreed with state regulators to pay a one million dollar settlement after two hundred thirty-nine workers filed wage theft complaints.

In 2017, the Labor Commissioner’s Office in California, launched a formal investigation and ultimately found that restaurant workers allegedly received less than the mandatory California minimum wage due to the restaurant’s failure to adequately pay them for split shifts and overtime.

Additionally, according to the Labor Commissioner’s Office, the restaurant allegedly paid workers in cash, failed to offer legally-mandated breaks for meals, and were negligent with regard to maintaining accurate payroll records.

Julie Su, California’s Labor Secretary, stated during a news conference that a clear message is being sent that it is not merely optional for businesses to comply with California’s labor standards and the State will always be on the side of workers who come forward to demand pay to which they are entitled.

Negotiations for a settlement started in February following the restaurant’s claim that it was willing to comply with the labor laws of the State Which occurred after the establishment received citations.

The announcement was made several weeks after officials in the Santa Clara County orchestrated a crackdown on workplace mistreatments, such as the aforementioned wage theft. Additional funding was given to the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement in Santa Clara County. San Jose officials also recently spoke of expanding their policies on wage theft to encompass the construction field.

In July, 2019, employees will begin receiving compensation, and an additional $100,000.00 in civil penalties will be paid by the restaurant. The settlement agreement followed a series of investigations initiated by Julie Su’s office, a campaign entitled “Wage Theft is a Crime.”

If you believe you have been the victim of wage theft, we urge you to contact Ares Law Group’s employment attorneys in Orange County to assist you. With over 30 years of experience our employment lawyers have handled a variety of wage claim cases for overtime, meal and rest breaks, expense reimbursement and travel time.

Mariah Carey Sued for Sexual Harassment and Wrongful Termination

Our employment attorneys in Orange County recently learned about a lawsuit that was filed against pop-icon Mariah Carey, by her former executive assistant, Lianna Shakhnazaryan.  In the suit, Ms. Shakhnazaryan claimed that Ms. Carey—along with her one time manager, Stella Bulochnikov—sexually harassed her and wrongfully terminated her employment. The allegations made in the lengthy lawsuit against Ms. Carey included wrongful termination, sexual harassment, and failure to prevent harassment or discrimination in the workplace.  Ms. Shakhnazaryan also claimed that she was owed wages upon her termination, including overtime pay she never received.

According to Ms. Shakhnazaryan, in September 2015 she began working as Ms. Carey’s assistant and claimed she had a verbal agreement that included an annual salary of $328,500.00, although no formal paperwork was drawn up through an employment attorney or other third-party.  The former employee also alleges that she was forced to meet continuous demands of considerable magnitude and frequently faced short deadlines for which proper compensation was not offered.

Ms. Shakhnazaryan also claims that she was subjected to sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct as well, and that Ms. Bulochnikov repeatedly made offensive sexual comments to her, including remarks about Ms. Shakhnazaryan’s physical appearance.  The former assistant alleges that Ms. Carey was fully aware of the inappropriate conduct of her then manager, and that on more than one occasion Ms. Carey witnessed Ms. Bulochnikov’s emotional abuse and sexual harassment of Ms. Shakhnazaryan and did nothing to stop to the behavior. Ms. Shakhnazaryan went as far as to claim that Ms. Carey gave permission to Ms. Bulochnikov to act in this inappropriate and troubling manner toward Ms. Shakhnazaryan. In addition, she has stated that other individuals employed by Ms. Carey also witnessed the alleged sexual harassment and battery, but did nothing to prevent or stop future episodes.  Among the laundry list of complaints in Ms. Shakhnazaryan’s lawsuit is a claim that she was terminated as retaliation for her allegations against Ms. Bulochnikov.

With respect to unpaid compensation, Ms. Shakhnazaryan’s claims include, but are not limited to compensatory damages, such as unpaid overtime, lost wages on future and past earnings, and money for mental pain and anguish. General damages were added to the suit as well, including punitive damages and attorney’s fees. She is also demanding a jury trial as opposed to an out-of-court settlement.

The inflammatory allegations made in her lawsuit came quickly on the heels of Ms. Carey’s own suit, in which Ms. Shakhnazaryan was accused of being “an extortionist, a grifter, and a Peeping Tom.”  Mark Quigley, Ms. Shakhnazaryan’s lawyer, released a statement to Entertainment Tonight firmly denying the claims made in Carey’s lawsuit.

Carey settled a high-profile lawsuit with Ms. Bulochnikov earlier this month. Ms. Bulochnikov filed legal documents last April against Ms. Carey, after being terminated near the end of 2018. She accused the singer of breach of contract and sexual harassment, although those claims were strongly denied by Ms. Carey.  According to court documents acquired by Entertainment Tonight, Ms. Carey and Ms. Bulochnikov settled the matter before the trial date was set.

Our Orange County employment attorneys specialize in cases regarding inappropriate sexual conduct in the workplace, unpaid wages and wrongful termination. If you have experienced any of these offenses, we urge you to contact our employment law attorneys today for a free consultation.

Should You Be Compensated for Being On-Call?

woman in front of time clockMany employers utilize the practice of having employees “on-call” in order to flex their workforce. This practice, however, often comes at a cost to the affected employees, be it by way of inconvenience, sacrificed opportunities or time spent waiting around to determine if he or she will be required to report into work. On February 4, 2019, in Ward v. Tilly’s, Inc., the California Court of Appeals addressed this common wage an hour practice used by California employers and held that Tilly’s employees who were subjected to on-call scheduling were entitled to compensation under California’s reporting time pay requirements.

Under Tilly’s policy, employees were scheduled for both regular and on-call shifts. Tilly’s then required its employees to call in two (2) hours before the start of their on-call shift to determine if they needed to report to work for their shift. Worse, Tilly’s disciplined employees who failed to call in before their on-call shifts, if they called in late or if they refused to work an on-call shift.

For their part, Tilly’s made various arguments in opposition to the claims, including pointing out that employees were not required to physically report to the workplace for an on-call shift. The Court rejected this argument, ultimately holding Tilly’s telephonic call-in requirements trigger reporting time pay. Notably, the Court pointed out how Tilly’s practice benefits employers by allowing them to keep their labor costs low when business is slow at the expense of their employees “while having workers at the ready when business picks up.” The Court recognized how this practice creates “no incentive for employers to competently anticipate their labor needs and to schedule accordingly.”

The Court also recognized how these types of policies “impose tremendous costs on employees” such as precluding other job opportunities, requiring employees to make contingent child or elder care arrangements, preventing employees from taking classes and stopping employees from making social plans. In short, the Court found such policies “significantly limit employees’ ability to earn income, pursue an education, care for dependent family members, and enjoy recreation time.” The Court also noted that reporting time pay may also be required if an employee is required to remotely log into a computer system.

This ruling in this case may have a significant impact on employer on-call policies in favor of California employees. If you believe your employer’s on-call policy is similar to Tilly’s and may require that you received reporting time pay, you should speak with a California Employment Attorney who is experienced in wage and hour matters.

Our employment attorneys in Orange County have extensive experience in handling wage and hour cases exclusively on behalf of employees. Ares Law Group, P.C. attorneys also offer a unique perspective with their collective of 30 years experiencing in employment law.

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