For several months, the Ellen DeGeneres Show–named after its host–has been steeped in controversy. Our employment attorneys in Orange County can confirm that troubling reports have emerged concerning sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as claims of racial insensitivity and intimidation involving some of the show’s staffers. DeGeneres, who is 62, apologized twice to employees for the toxic work environment and said that some employees had been let go. However, an investigation is ongoing, as she was accused of fostering that very environment. Seeking the advice of an employment attorney is typically recommended if one plans to bring such allegations. With regard to the Ellen DeGeneres Show, however, three senior staffers are no longer with the show. Recently, in front of a virtual audience, the talk show host addressed the situation.
DeGeneres Expresses Regret and Speaks of Necessary Changes
In a candid monologue, DeGeneres acknowledged that things took place that never should have occurred, and she expressed her remorse to those who were affected. She made reference to her position of power and privilege, stating that such a position also comes with responsibility, which she indicated she was willing to bear. DeGeneres went on to say that numerous conversations took place in the recent past between herself and staff members, and that necessary changes were made.
The talk show host spoke of emerging as the “Be Kind Lady,” calling it a “tricky position to be in.” She received this nickname following the suicide of Tyler Clementi, who took his life in 2010 after being bullied in college for being gay. DeGeneres responded to the suicide with a strong message about the need to stop bullying of all kinds. The talk show host confirmed that although she is the kind person seen on television by her fans, she is also like everyone else in the sense that she gets impatient, anxious, frustrated, angry or sad from time to time. She referred to herself as “a work in progress,” during the virtual speech.
An Opportunity to Learn
DeGeneres spoke about how she initially got into show business to make people feel good and laugh. She said she wants her 270 employees to be proud and happy to work with her for this reason. DeGeneres also indicated that she was very sorry if she ever hurt someone’s feelings, and that if she did, she let herself down as well as that person. Later, she referred to such incidents as opportunities to learn.
DeGeneres said that despite the Black Lives Matter protests and the coronavirus pandemic, she still wants her show to be a daily hour of joy and was committed to making it the best season yet, despite the new controversy surrounding it. People Magazine reported that Portia de Rossi, DeGeneres’s wife, was backstage to show her support during the premiere and that DeGeneres received applause from her crew as she walked off the set following the taping of the announcement.
It is unclear whether or not those who are no longer with the show are pursuing legal actions. They may choose to seek legal advice from an employment attorney if this is the case.
Lawsuit Filed Against Ed Henry Alleges Sexual Assault and Harassment
According to employment attorneys in Orange County, a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed in federal court on Monday against former Fox News anchor, Ed Henry. The suit was filed by a woman previously employed by Fox News, along with a frequent guest of the network. The cable news outlet fired Henry earlier this month after receiving the complaint about his alleged willful sexual misconduct.
Multiple Defendants Named in Suit
Jennifer Eckhart, a plaintiff in the case, accused Henry of sexual assault, alleging that she was forced to have sex with him against her will in a hotel room. Cathy Areu, the other plaintiff, stated in the filing that sexually graphic messages and photos were sent to her by Henry. The case was filed in Federal Court in the Southern District of New York.
The sexual harassment lawsuit also names some of the most famous anchors of the cable news outlet as defendants, including Howard Kurtz, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and a Fox News contributor, Gianno Caldwell. Fox News hired an outside law firm that reportedly interviewed multiple eyewitnesses, managers, and the aforementioned hosts. The firm stated that Areu’s claims were utterly devoid of merit.
Attorney for Henry Alleges that Relationship was Consensual
Sexual harassment attorneys for Henry claim the relationship between Henry and Eckhart was consensual. Catherine Foti, an attorney for Henry, said that the defendant looks forward to offering evidence and facts to contradict the plaintiff’s allegations. Foti claims part of the evidence that will be presented includes aggressively suggestive communications and graphic photos sent from Eckhart to Henry, rather than the other way around.
Fox News executives have stated that a thorough investigation was conducted after an initial complaint was made on June 25th by a former employee about Henry’s behavior in the past. Fox News President, Jay Wallace, and Fox News Media CEO, Suzanne Scott, said that Henry was suspended the day the complaint was filed, and then ultimately terminated on July 1st, based on the findings of the investigation. Both executives said that complaints of sexual misconduct or harassment are regarded very seriously by the news outlet, and swift action was taken as soon as the problem was brought to their attention.
Fox News no Stranger to Accusations of Harassment in the Workplace
In 2016, the cable news station had to confront a series of embarrassing and frequently sordid lawsuits after firing Roger Ailes, its former CEO who allegedly harassed numerous female staff members and other individuals throughout his television career. Ailes denied every charge made against him, including the high-profile case brought by Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson. This lawsuit ignited extensive conflict between Fox News and its parent company. Roger Ailes died in 2017.
Plaintiffs Eckhart and Areu are seeking damages in a jury trial, but the trial date has not yet been scheduled. Anyone being victimized by sexual harassment or being unjustly accused of such behavior should seek the advice of an employment attorney in Orange County without delay.
May families are struggling financially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. With California’s jobless claims reaching historic levels and many employees finding it difficult to submit unemployment claims with the state’s Employment Development Department, many are California’s are wondering how to pay their bills or buy groceries. Employees who have been furloughed or laid off with no definitive date of return in the foreseeable future should be aware of their rights with respect to their accrued and unused vacation or Paid Time Off (PTO) time.
Under California law, accrued vacation and PTO, is considered a vested wage that belongs to the employee and should be paid out at the time of termination, be it voluntary or involuntary, such as in connection with a furlough or layoff. An employee’s right to vacation and PTO is a long established California principle under Suastez v. Plastic Dress Up, where the California Supreme Court held vacation (PTO) accrues as it is earned and cannot be forfeited upon termination, regardless if the termination is voluntary or involuntary. Suastez v. Plastic Dress Up (1982) 31 Cal. 3d 774.
Similarly, California Labor Code Section 227.3 states that, unless otherwise provided for by a collective bargaining agreement, if an employer has a vacation or PTO policy that provides for paid vacation, all earned and unused vacation/PTO must be paid to the employee upon termination at his or her final rate of pay.
Many employees then ask themselves, is my furlough or layoff a termination? Many may view their employment as continuing and they hope their employer will recall them, but they have been given no definitive date of return. California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, commonly referred to as the Labor Commissioner’s Office, has long taken the position that “if an employee is laid off without a specific return date within the normal pay period, the wages earned to and including the lay off date are due and payable in accordance with Section 201.” DLSE Opinion Letter, May 30, 1996.
Accordingly, employees who have been furloughed or laid off and do not have a definitive date of return within the normal pay period should be paid their accrued and unused vacation or PTO at the time of furlough or layoff. Employees who have not received their unused vacation or PTO in these instances should consider consulting with an employment attorney about their rights. In addition to payment of their vacation and PTO, employees may also be entitled to certain penalties for the delay in receiving their final wages.
The attorneys at Ares Law Group, P.C. have extensive experiencing representing employees with wage and hour claims. What sets Ares Law Group, P.C. apart from other firms is its experience. The partners at Ares Law Group, P.C. Matt D’Abusco and Cynthia Sandoval, have been practicing employment law and litigation a collective 30 years. Prior to founding Ares Law Group, Mr. D’Abusco and Ms. Sandoval worked at a renowned and prestigious nationwide labor and employment firms representing a variety of employers, from small family owned businesses to Fortune 100 companies. As a result of this experience, Ares Law Group attorneys bring a unique perspective to each case as they understand opposing counsels’ perspective and approach defending cases, which is invaluable to Ares Law Group’s clients.
On May 1st, 2020, Judge R. Gary Klausner of the Federal District Court in Los Angeles, granted summary judgment to U.S. Soccer, essentially dismissing several of the highly publicized claims central to the lawsuit in which the United States Women’s National Soccer Team alleged they were not compensated fairly in comparison to the Men’s National Soccer Team. All that remains now are the Women’s National Soccer Teams’ claims for discriminatory working conditions in terms of travel conditions and personnel and support services, such as medical and training support.
Despite this ruling, players Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan have stated in no uncertain terms that they are not giving up and they are not going away. Rapinoe and Morgan, who appeared on ABC from separate locations on the Good Morning America show yesterday, expressed disappointment and surprise concerning the equal pay ruling. Morgan referred to the decision as “out of left field,” and stated that they have moved forward with an appeal.
Judge Klausner’s Ruling
Employment attorneys in Orange County who have been following the case noted Judge Klausner found the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team failed to prove their case of wage discrimination under the Equal Pay Act. Judge Klausner went on to say that simply comparing what the teams would have made under each other’s collective bargaining uch
Klausner stated the women were essentially asking the Courts to conclude that they were paid less than the men because if the women had been paid according to the men’s CBA, their earnings would have been much higher.
Rapinoe and Morgan Fire Back at Klausner’s Decision
Rapinoe stated that she believed Judge Klausner was inferring that the female players simply wanted to switch to the men’s CBA after the fact because, the women would have earned more under the men’s CBA. Rapinoe, however, pointed out that the women were not offered the men’s CBA and the CBA they negotiated for and agreed to was the most that they would have been given. She also said she believes many female athletes feel this frustration when they go into a negotiation; realizing that equal pay or anything close to what their male counterparts receive is not on the table and that this is what should be changed. The Women’s team further argued that it was not the contract, but rather the amount of pay, that was at the heart of their claims.
US Men’s National Team Players Association Supports Lawsuit by Women’s Team.
Yesterday, a statement appeared on the US Men’s National Team Players Association’s website supporting the actions of their female counterparts. One section of the statement said they received the news that the female players were planning an appeal on Klausner’s decision and that they had their full support in doing so.
According to our employment attorneys, a trial date for the remaining claims of discriminatory working conditions is scheduled for June 16, 2020. The Women’s National Soccer Team may appeal the ruling once there is a final judgment.
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 Development 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.
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.