Construction Contractor and Related Trucking Company Settle Class Action for Wage & Hour Violations – 2013

This was a class-action brought on behalf of 68 current and former truck drivers of Strength Transportation Management, Inc. and its corporate parent, R.J. Noble Company. The drivers sought reimbursement for violation of various wage and hour laws, including being underpaid because of an unlawful piece-rate plan, unpaid overtime, missed breaks and meal periods, and not being paid the appropriate prevailing wage rates. Quest Law Firm co-counseled with the law firm of Shanberg Stafford & Bartz to achieve a settlement of $1,900,000. On average, each class member received about $14,800 net of attorneys fees and costs.

Bank Held to Have Terminated Executive Without Cause – 2012

Many employees are required to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of their employment. In this case, an executive of a newly formed bank was among the senior managers who were provided with a written employment agreement. The agreement provided, as many executive agreements do, for the payment of severance pay and vesting of stock rights upon termination without good cause, but nothing if the company terminates the executive with good cause. Good cause should always be defined in these agreements, as it was here. But guess what – companies and the individual decision-makers find it awfully tempting to find some basis for a termination based on “good cause” to save the company money, to stroke their own ego, or to make themselves look good in the eyes of the company.

The agreement also required that any disputes be resolved by binding arbitration. Quest Law Firm pursued the matter through arbitration and obtained about $1.6 million in unpaid severance, interest, benefits, and the vesting of valuable stock grants.

Case Manager Nurses Obtain Class Action Settlements with Kaiser Permanente – 2010 & 2011

As a general rule, registered nurses are not considered exempt professional employees under California labor laws. (California Labor Code section 515(f).) However, Kaiser Permanente considered its many nurse case managers to be exempt under the administrative or executive exemption in section 515. It took two nurse case managers speaking up to investigate and press the issue to get it resolved through this class action lawsuit. They contacted Quest Law Firm which investigated and brought in The Law Office of Kevin Barnes, which specializes in class actions, to jointly pursue the claims.

When employees are mischaracterized as being exempt from overtime laws, there is inevitably are substantial hours of unpaid overtime, missed meal and rest breaks, and other labor law violations. Here, the employer is perhaps the largest private employer in the state of California, and the mischaracterization involved a class of about 1,750 nurse case managers. The case resulted in two favorable settlements for the same job descriptions over to periods of time amounting to a total settlement payment of $22.97 million, and Kaiser reclassified the case managers as nonexempt.

Where appropriate, class actions are and effective way for numerous employees with claims that individually would be difficult to pursue to join together and pursue them economically and orderly. And, as in this case, they can effect positive changes for employees going forward.

Court Finds for Employees Impacting Thousands in Pending Class Actions

The six plaintiffs in this case were staffing managers who opted out of a pending class action against their former employer, Robert Half International, Inc. At its core, the case claimed plaintiffs, like the thousands of other employees in similar positions at Robert Half, were mischaracterized as being exempt from overtime laws. Their claims included overtime wages owed, missed rest and meal breaks, false pay stub penalties, unpaid or underpaid bonus monies owed to three of the plaintiffs, and a related claim under Business and Professions Code section 17200 for restitution for unfair competition. Each of the plaintiffs signed an employment agreement requiring them to pursue claims against defendants within six months of their termination. The court declared these agreements to be void and unenforceable as a matter of public policy.

RESULT: $1,609,625 ($615,000 judgment entered on Feb. 8, 2008; $978,122 attorney fees awarded on June 10, 2008; $16,503 costs).

Plaintiff – Robert C. Robinson (Quest Law Firm, Tustin); Ross E. Shanberg, Shane C. Stafford (Shanberg Stafford, LLP, Irvine).

 (Reported in the Verdicts and Settlements section of The Los Angeles Daily Journal in August 2008.)

Corporation pays out $338,168 after arbitration to President fired in retaliation for opposing discrimination

The President of a manufacturing and distribution company was in his late 50’s working under a one-year contract that automatically renewed for successive one-year terms unless either party opted not to renew within a specified time frame.

He was doing very well as the new President during his first six months. At the sixth month point, he confronted the company’s CEO about a remark made at an international sales meeting by an employee of an affiliated company, which claimant believed to be discriminatory. Within the next two months, communications and support from the CEO dropped off and he was informed in a brief conversation by phone that an executive of an affiliated company would be his successor and that his contract would not be renewed . However, because of other circumstances, the President’s contract was renewed and he was kept on for another two years for a total of three years.

In the meantime, the company selected and groomed two individuals in their 40s to succeed him. He also applied for another position in the organization for which he claimed he was well qualified and was not hired. Ultimately, he was given his 60 days notice and terminated.

The terminated President initiated a binding arbitration proceeding pursuant to a provision in his contract, claiming lost income as a result of age discrimination and retaliation.

The arbitrator determined that there was not enough evidence of age discrimination, but there was in fact retaliation. The company was ordered to pay the terminated President $229,800 for lost pay and benefits and $108,368 in statutory attorney fees and costs for a total recovery of $338,168. The company learned an expensive lesson, and the former President’s commitment to doing the right thing was validated.

Trial Lawyer for the President: Robby Robinson of Quest Law Firm

(Reported in the Verdicts and Settlements section of The Los Angeles Daily Journal in July 2007.)

Physicians and other Professionals: Whether Employees, P.C.s, Partners, or Contractors, there are Financial Obligations to Business Relationships.

Lisa and Kathleen were M.D.s who joined Crest Medical Group, Inc., an established OB/GYN practice in Riverside, as employees. After several years of practicing as employees on a salary, the founder of the practice told them they would then be paid on a revenue less expenses formula. This evolved into being paid a percentage of the gross revenue attributable to each doctor, which was 48%.

Although the three doctors had many discussions and exchanged various drafts of written agreements, there was no final agreement that they all signed. Drs. Lisa and Kathleen had worked through their newly formed PCs for months without a written agreement. After working together for several years and being paid under the 48% formula, Drs. Lisa and Kathleen decided independently to move on. A dispute arose over the 48% of payments received after the end of the relationship – but for services rendered during the relationship.

Physician groups get paid by insurance companies and Medi-Cal or Medi-Care weeks or months, and sometimes many months, after the services are rendered. In this case, Crest Medical Group thought it could continue to collect 100% of the revenue generated by the services of Drs. Lisa and Kathleen as those monies trickled in over the next year. A Riverside County jury disagreed. Drs. Lisa and Kathleen proved Crest received $218,632 for services they rendered. They asked only to be paid their 48%, no more and no less, and the jury agreed with them to the penny.

Trial Lawyer for the two Physicians: Robby Robinson of Quest Law Firm

(Reported in the Verdicts and Settlements section of The Los Angeles Daily Journal in October 2006)

Jury awards $49,500 plus $147,610 in attorney fees and costs to underpaid innkeeper when she was terminated after complaining about her overtime wages.

How should an employer react to an employee asking for overtime pay due under the law? Employers have a responsibility under the law to pay the minimum wage and to pay for overtime. If they do not, and they terminate based upon the employee’s request, then the employee will have a remedy at law against the employer not only for the back pay, but for wrongful termination as well.

In this case, the employee worked as an innkeeper on Catalina Island. She worked many unpaid hours and complained about not getting time off or payment for those hours. The employer then terminated the innkeeper. The employer claimed that the innkeeper did not work any overtime hours and was terminated for legitimate reasons not related to her request for overtime.

After a fifteen day jury trial in Los Angeles Superior Court, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff and awarded the plaintiff $1,355 on her claim for minimum wages, $32,488 for overtime wages, $3,350 for waiting time penalties, $2,315 in economic damages, and punitive damages in the amount of $50,000 (reduced to $10,000 by the judge) and $147,610 in attorney’s fees and costs.

Trial Lawyer for the innkeeper: Robby Robinson of Quest Law Firm

(Reported in the Verdicts and Settlements section of The Los Angeles Daily Journal, September 8, 2003)

Sexually Harassed Hotel Cook Fired For Complaining: $730,947 Judgment After Jury Trial

Would you think that the kitchen of a restaurant would be a harassment free workplace? Do you think that the workers should be able to expect that they would be able to carry out their job without any kind of sexual harassment or comments? In this case, a woman who was a “prep cook” in the kitchen of a 220-room hotel and restaurant suffered from unwanted sexual comments and touching from a supervisor and five of her co-workers. Her early complaints were ignored and when she complained to the general manager the employer decided to turn the investigation on her. Within about a two-week period, she was written up twice and fired for several trumped up reasons. In trial, plaintiff sought damages for sexual harassment and discrimination. A jury found for our fired prep cook on her claims of sexual harassment and retaliation against the employer and all six individuals, and valued her injuries at $482,500. An additional $10,000 was added for punitive damages, $225,000 in attorneys’ fees and $13,447 in other costs. The case proceeded against the shareholders of the hotel before it was resolved.

Trial Lawyer for the Cook: Robby Robinson of Quest Law Firm

(Reported in the Verdicts and Settlements section of The Los Angeles Daily Journal, August 5, 2002.)

Terminated CFO Recovers $128,000 Severance and $138,200 for Stock Options

Even when a key executive has a written employment agreement, he or she may have to fight for bargained for benefits upon termination. Most key employees or executive employment agreements will provide that the employer can terminate the employee for “good cause” without much or any severance, but if the termination is not for good cause (even for an at will employee) there will be severance and other benefits paid. Of course, that leads some unscrupulous employers to trump up alleged “good cause” where there is none, and to argue all kinds of technical, nitpicky excuses why the payout provisions do not apply.

When the corporation in this case terminated its CFO, it refused to honor the CFO’s employment agreement that provided for a severance payment of $120,000 and a stock option agreement. The corporation raised several technical arguments to justify its refusal to honor the agreement. It soon agreed to settle the claim for the severance payment for $128,000 and it entered into binding arbitration on our client’s stock option claim. The arbitrator found that the terminated CFO was entitled to exercise his stock options and awarded him $138,000 in damages plus an additional $28,312.46 in attorneys’ fees for a total recovery of $294,512.46.

Trial Lawyer for CFO: Robby Robinson of Quest Law Firm

(Reported in the Verdicts and Settlements section of The Los Angeles Daily Journal, August 6, 1999.)