Torrance Catholic School Wrongful Termination Following Theft Scandal

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St. James Catholic School in Torrance was already facing a nun theft scandal. Now that the appeals court has overturned the lower court’s decision ruling that Biel, a former teacher at the California Catholic school, is a “minister” and barred from suing the church-operated school, they may be facing wrongful termination and discrimination claims as well.

History of Employment for Biel at St. James Catholic School in Torrance:

March 2013 – hired as a long-term substitute teacher

May 2013 – hired as the school’s full-time fifth-grade teacher

April 2014 – Biel was diagnosed with breast cancer

April 2014 – Biel advised Kreuper she would start treatments in May. Just a few weeks later, Kreuper advised Biel her contract would not be renewed. The reason stated was that it would not be fair to ask students to accommodate her needed leave by having two teachers in one year. Kreuper also stated that Biel did not run a strict classroom.

2015 – Biel filed a federal suit alleging discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

January 2017 – Biel was barred from suing the school under the ADA when a lower court’s ruling decided she was legally a “minister” and thus fell under the “ministerial exemption” that bars a minster from filing civil rights claims against their religious organization. This decision was based on the fact that Biel’s teaching duties included sharing Catholic doctrine, including a 30-minute religion class four days a week.

Dec. 17, 2018 – the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, saying Biel could not be a minister as she had no Catholic pedagogy training upon her hire and the school did not have any religious requirements for her job. Additionally, they noted that her title was teacher, not minister. The archdiocese intends to contest the ruling.

It’s important to note when considering Biel’s history of employment at St. James Catholic School in Torrance that there is only one formal evaluation on record for Biel and it was positive. The evaluation was completed by Kreuper, the principal, in which she praised Biel’s “very good” work and noted that she promoted a safe and caring learning environment. Areas for improvement that were listed in the formal evaluation were: two students were coloring in their books, and some students had cluttered desks.  

Biel claims she was terminated because of her cancer diagnosis and necessary treatment; because the school didn’t want to accommodate her finite leave of absence.  

The fact that the principal, Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper, was the one making employment decisions on behalf of the school and is currently implicated in the theft scandal rocking the school for activities that occurred during the same time period may throw additional doubt on her testimony regarding the case.

If you have been wrongfully terminated from a job or if you are being discriminated against due to a disability, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP today.

California Catholic School May Face Lawsuit After Firing Teacher

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Kristen Biel, a former teacher at St. James Catholic School in Torrance, needed time off from her job after recently being diagnosed with breast cancer in Spring 2014. She was in need of a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Biel requested a leave of absence during the upcoming fall semester from Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper, the school’s principal. Just weeks later, Biel was fired.

Last month, Biel was granted the right to sue the school in federal court for discrimination when an appeals court overturned the lower court decision that she was a “minister” in the eyes of the court and barred from suing a church-operated school. This isn’t the first time St. James School and Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper have faced legal allegations. Kreuper, along with another nun, was accused of stealing from student tuition checks, fees and fundraisers for the school for over a decade. The issue was recently announced by school officials.

Kreuper, 77 years old, and her vice principal, Sister Lana Chang, 67 years old, essentially rerouted hundreds of thousands of dollars into a church bank account that was overlooked by many for years. They then used this overlooked account to pay for personal expenses. Parents were advised of the situation at a meeting in Redondo Beach recently. Parents asked about the situation said that the nuns were open in talking about gambling trips to Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe vacations, but that they claimed Chang had wealthy relatives that paid their expenses.

Auditors working alongside the Archdiocese in Los Angeles have accounted for $500,000 of stolen funds, but the number will most likely continue to grow as the investigation continues. Initially, the archdiocese intended to handle the investigation internally and not press charges, but later they changed course stating that they would be cooperating with police and that they plan to be a complaining party in the criminal case. Criminal complaints have not yet been filed. The police investigation is ongoing. Police are requesting copies of old tuition checks from parents and details regarding any cash donations.

Biel, 53 years old, started working at St. James in March 2013. She was hired as a long-term substitute teacher. By the end of the year, she was hired as the school’s full-time fifth-grade teacher. She received a formal, positive evaluation from Kreuper that praised her “good work” in promoting a safe and caring learning environment. Areas of improvement included in the one official review noted two students were coloring in their books and some of the students had cluttered desks.

When Biel was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2014, she advised Kreuper she would start treatments within the month. A few weeks later, Kreuper advised Biel she wouldn’t be renewing her contract and claimed it was because it would be unfair for student to accommodate her leave by having two teachers in one year. She also accused Biel of not running a strict classroom even though that complaint was not included in Biel’s one official evaluation.

Biel filed a federal lawsuit against St. James in 2015. She included allegations of discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If you need help because you have been wrongfully terminated from your job or if you are being discriminated against in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP today.

North Beach Strip Clubs Facing Unexpected Consequences from New Rules

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Dancers employed at Penthouse Club received their first employee paychecks in November 2018. When they were handed their checks, many of the 30 dancers at the popular North Beach strip club felt a surge of panic and shock. Some decided immediately that they were finished with their job.

Dancers in establishments like the Penthouse Club in North Beach were traditionally engaged as independent contractors. They were accustomed to leaving the club each night with cash (often hundreds of dollars) after they completed a shift. When clubs started enforcing the California Supreme Court ruling from April 2018 that set new standards for employee classification, everything changed. The gig economy was shaken to its core, but the new standards also affected some unexpected areas where workers were traditionally not classified as employees: hair salons, adult entertainment industry businesses, etc.

When the changes swept through local clubs in San Francisco, it resulted in a mass exodus of employees who were not happy with the effects of their new employee status. One single mother who has worked as a dancer at the Penthouse Club described her problem with the change by citing that the entire point of that type of work was being able to go in for a shift, earn quick cash without documentation and keeping all of it. She was one of the dancers who cut ties with the club after they adopted the new standards.

Club owners respond to employee complaints by stating that the new changes are actually costing them as well. As a result of lawsuits and ongoing demands by dancers who sued for employment violations, clubs have been compelled by Court order to eliminate the independent contractor option – dancers will be required to be club employees paid hourly wages and commissions on dance sales. It’s estimated that 200 dancers quit in response to the change. Club management indicated that it dramatically affected overall business and business profitability costing the clubs several million annually with matching payroll taxes, unemployment compensation, workman’s compensation, Health San Francisco costs, Affordable Care Insurance costs, sick leave pay, etc.

The changes were brought about after a California Supreme Court decision on a case brought by two Dynamex drivers. The ruling on the case stated that workers may now be considered employees if they complete job duties during the usual course of the company’s business. This would apply to dancers working at a strip club so club owners who want to play it safe should be paying minimum wage and comply with wage and hour law.

The changes left many dancers scrambling to make ends meet and seeking other employment as the new pay structure offered minimum wage plus commission on dance sales, but the commission pay structure was also altered leaving many of them with significantly less take home pay.

If you need to find out how to seek justice for wage and hour violations or if you are misclassified in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Amazon’s Push for Delivery Guys Leaves Them Facing Employment Law Claims

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This past summer, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced a need for aspiring entrepreneurs and offered them a chance to make $300,000 per year by starting their own Amazing delivery business with as little as $10,000 required to get started. Amazon is highly dependent on the creation of a network of independent drivers around the country as they struggle to keep up with demand. To entice entrepreneurs, Amazon uses their buying buyer to get their partners good deals on necessary items, like: vans, insurance, etc. Then they provide them with a steady stream of items to be delivered.  

The entrepreneurs tackling Amazon’s delivery needs are actually facing the bigger challenge as they attempt to recruit and hire drivers who can meet the high standards of Amazon at a low pay rate.

The structure leaves Amazon in a bit of a gray area legally. They have to be careful how much control they are exerting over the people employed by their delivery companies. Amazon already faces a number of lawsuits from delivery drivers that claim they were not paid wages as required by federal law while employed by Amazon partners and they’re including Amazon in the list of responsible parties since their job duties were on behalf of the giant online retailer. If Amazon finds a legal way to add drivers and vans without spending their own company funds, the risk could be worth it for them in the long run.  

Amazon has already gathered tens of thousands of entrepreneurs excited for this type of ground floor opportunity. The aspiring entrepreneurs go through phone interviews and several days of training. Within a few months, hundreds of new businesses have popped up all over America and they’re employing thousands of delivery drivers. More hopefuls fill a waiting list for further expansion in the coming year.

The business model appears profitable for Amazon as they avoid both the costs of training and maintaining drivers throughout the nation. The business model also appears profitable for entrepreneurs looking for a chance to run their own business with the power of Amazon supporting their efforts – many entrepreneurs are already enjoying the fruits of their efforts as Amazon partners. Yet Amazon’s new delivery model is drawing lawsuits that allege Amazon partners are violating overtime pay requirements by paying their drivers daily rates instead of hourly wages. A case in Illinois referred to the Amazon Partner Delivery Model as an “unlawful scheme” trying to avoid responsibility for providing legal wages to delivery drivers. FedEx paid out a $13 million lawsuit settlement to resolve claims of “misclassification” of workers leading to lost wages. They altered their business model in response, now requiring service providers to keep drivers on payroll. Amazon ended up settling in a similar lawsuit filed in California alleging that contract delivery drivers (listed as independent contractors) were underpaid.

Finding people willing to do quality work at low wages is a significant challenge. Most drivers are paid around $15/hour. This particular challenge has been passed from Amazon to the Amazon partners responsible for managing routes and drivers. Many expect this to be a slight redirection of the problem rather than a solution.

If you are dealing with misclassification in the workplace or you need to find out how to obtain overtime pay you are owed, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Former Bodyguards Receive Settlement After Suing Depp for Employment Violations

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Two former bodyguards for Johnny Depp, Eugene Arreola and Miguel Sanchez, filed a California lawsuit in May 2018 alleging claiming Depp was in violation of employment law. Sanchez and Arreola claimed they were overworked and not paid overtime. The bodyguards also claimed they were subjected to unsafe working conditions. The lawsuit has now been settled.

Depp came to an agreement with the two former bodyguards who filed suit in 2018 and the case has been closed with all future hearings cancelled. Court documents indicate that the bodyguards reached a conditional settlement the resolves the matter. Settlement details were not released.

Arreola and Sanchez claimed in their lawsuit that Johnny Depp overworked and underpaid them during their time with him as bodyguards. They specifically cited a two-year period during which they described their time on the job as intolerable. They claimed they were expected to act as Depp’s babysitter. The duo claimed that between April 2016 and January 2018, they did not receive any overtime pay and they were deprived of food and rest breaks due to their work looking after the Depp family.

The original lawsuit was riddled with intense allegations. One claim described a situation in which the bodyguards were required to wipe drugs from Depp’s face at a nightclub in order to prevent others around the celebrity from seeing him using. The bodyguards describe their time with Depp during this time period as watching him spiral into a financial hurricane and act as babysitters for his children. One of the bodyguards claimed that one of his major job duties was to ensure that one of Depp’s children was looked after appropriately because they were living in an outhouse on Depp’s compound in Los Angeles.

Arreola and Sanchez asked for unspecified damages and compensation to make up for money they were owed due to overtime violations, etc. The two bodyguards described their job as requiring them to protect Depp from himself and his vices while he was in public – effectively making them caretakers.

Sanchez and Arreola (a 38-year-old LAPD veteran) worked happily for Depp for years while they were employed by a security company the celebrity hired, but then the problems started. Early in 2016, the bodyguards noticed Depp’s’ behavior start to change as well as the atmosphere in his Hollywood Hills compound. He started to make sudden and drastic changes to his staff and management team. The moves resulted in a substantial financial crunch for everyone except Depp.

In April of 2016, in the midst of his rocky marriage with Amber Heard, Depp fired the security company that employed both Sanchez and Arreola, Premier Group International. The bodyguards claim that Depp and his entourage made the change to “cut out the middle man” and hire the bodyguards directly so they could avoid the agency fee.

Once the guards were employed by Depp directly, their pay checks and hours were not properly tracked. They were expected to work 12-hour days and back to back shifts. And their job duties expanded to include safeguarding Depp and others who were around him as they engaged in “illegal activity.” They were often in situations that required more of them that what a bodyguard would reasonably be held responsible for. They were frequently being asked to perform the tasks of drivers for Depp and his family. They were repeatedly asked to drive vehicles that contained illegal substances as well as open containers and minors. They were asked to monitor unstable people in Depp’s life. Sanchez was specifically tasked with looking after one of Depp’s children (either 19-year old Lily rose or 16-year old John Depp III, the lawsuit did not specify which child). In fact, more often than not, Sanchez who was hired to protect Depp’s children, was more often than not the primary caregiver for Depp’s minor child who loved on the Depp compound, but in a separate home. Sanchez was advised to give in to every whim of Depp’s children. He worried that if he didn’t, he would be terminated from his position.

If you are being forced to work in a toxic or dangerous work environment or if you are not being paid overtime as required by federal law, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Is Kellogg the First of Many to Exploit Supreme Court Arbitration Victory?

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A group of former Kellogg employees are suing the cereal giant claiming that the company shouldn’t have sued them earlier in 2018. Kellogg sued the employees for suing the company. It’s a bit confusing.

Kellogg targeted the group of former employees for defying their arbitration agreements and in doing so, they announced a clear warning to all their employees: not to sue the company. The complicated case has hearings scheduled for February and will be watched by many as one of the first instances when U.S. employees with grievances seek justice after the recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent that is making waves.

Last year a Kellogg employee out of Nevada filed suit against the company in federal court. The suit was filed on behalf of co-workers who were not provided with federally mandated overtime pay. Kellogg denied the accusations and they were able to successfully petition the judge to move the case to arbitration by bringing up the arbitration agreement signed by the employee that required disputes to be handled in arbitration rather than court.

This type of arbitration agreement usually ends up limiting the rights of employees in comparison to the legal rights they would have in the court system. Arbitration also promotes quick and efficient dispute resolution and discourages litigious lawyers’ fighting for plaintiffs. Others claim that the arbitration process limits transparency and removes the right to sue as a class and takes leverage away from employees seeking resolution.

What arbitration means for employees and employees depends on who you ask, but no one can argue that arbitration agreements have become more and more common at U.S. companies in recent years. Thanks to a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that quashed attempts to curb them, companies are embracing them more and more actively.

This past May, in a 5-4 ruling, the high court’s Republican-appointed majority held that arbitration agreements that require workers to sign away rights to file a lawsuit as part of a class can be enforced for workplace disputes. Proponents of arbitration insist that this is extremely detrimental to the enforcement of both federal minimum wage and overtime laws. Months later, Kellogg began filing breach of contract claims against former employees that signed onto the overtime lawsuit alleging violations of continued employment agreements that included an agreement that delayed the firing of workers during corporate restructuring in exchange for arbitration of claims.

Kellogg filed suit alleging that the original plaintiff was in breach of contract because he filed an employment claim in court against the company. Kellogg seeks punitive damages and legal costs. Former employees were shocked by Kellogg’s response and their attorneys have sued the company in return alleging that Kellogg’s claims against their former workers are actually illegal because they constitute retaliation as described in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

If you are a victim of retaliation in the workplace or if you need help obtaining overtime pay from your employer, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

New Laws In the Workplace Effective January 1, 2019

Employers and employees alike should be aware that a number of new California laws went into effect on January 1, 2019. If you aren’t sure what they are, read on for a short summary of each new law for California workplaces.

1.     Criminal History and Applications for Employment: Senate Bill 1412

Senate Bill 1412 allows California employers to ask an applicant, or a separate source, about specific convictions if: a) the employer is required to obtain information on a specific conviction regardless of whether or not the conviction was expunged, sealed, eradicated, or dismissed, b) the applicant’s employment would require the use of a firearm on the job, c) applicants with particular convictions are prohibited from holding the job being filled regardless of whether or not the applicant’s conviction has been expunged, sealed, eradicated, or dismissed, d) employers are prohibited by law from hiring job applicants who have particular convictions regardless of whether or not they have been expunged, sealed, eradicated, or dismissed.

2.     Board of Directors Equality: Senate Bill 826

By December 31, 2019, publicly held corporations with executive offices in California must have a minimum of one female director on the board of directors.

3.     Overtime for Agricultural Workers: Assembly Bill 1066

Agricultural Workers must receive overtime pay in addition to their salaries. This law is intended to result in a slow increase of the wages for extra hours put in by agricultural employees over the course of the next four years. Changes effective Jan. 1, 2019 apply to employers who hire more than 25 employees.

4.     Street Vendors: Senate Bill 946

The activity of street vendors in California is protected; they are allowed to sell on the streets. This measure also provides local authorities the power to establish applicable regulations based on health, safety and public welfare.

5.     Breastfeeding in the Workplace: Assembly Bill 1976

Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations in order to provide breastfeeding employees with a location that is not a bathroom.

6.     Waiver of Legal Claims: Senate Bill 1300

Employers in California are prohibited after Jan. 1, 2019 from forcing employees to sign nondisparagement agreements that release the employer of claims, including sexual harassment, as a condition for obtaining a raise, bonus, or employment. There are exceptions allowing employees or job applicants to voluntarily sign a waiver of legal claims. This bill also strengthens requirements for sexual harassment training by including bystander intervention training.

7.     Protection Against Lawsuits/Harassment Complaints: Assembly Bill 2770

Designed as a protection from the threat of a defamation lawsuit, this bill protects those seeking to make a sexual harassment allegation based on credible evidence and without malice. This law was passed after California defamation laws were identified as a potential obstruction that sometimes deters victims and witnesses from making complaints or reporting information about harassment. It also protects companies who warn other potential employers of harassing activity from a defamation lawsuit.

8.     Confidentiality Agreements: Senate Bill 820

This bill, applicable to private and public employers in the state of California, prohibits secret settlements or nondisclosure agreements pertaining to facts in sexual assault, harassment or discrimination cases. It also offers sexual abuse or sex discrimination cases the option to keep names private.

If you have experienced violations of California employment law in the workplace and need help determining your best course of action, seek the counsel of an experienced California employment law attorney at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.