Tuesday, February 25, 2014

DOL Investigating Oakland Raiders Labor Lawsuit

Professional sports leagues in the United States have faced a rash of lawsuits in the past year, many of which involve allegations of labor law violations. Both the San Francisco Giants and the Miami Marlins faced lawsuits from former unpaid interns who claimed they should have received a minimum wage as employees. The Giants further agreed last year to pay a group of security employees over $500,000 for various labor law violations. The most recent professional sports team to garner national attention for possible labor law violations is the Oakland Raiders.

The lawsuit was filed by Lacy T., who is part of the cheerleading squad for the team, known as the Raiderettes (for safety purposes, cheerleaders only reveal their first names). Both current and former cheerleaders have joined in the class-action suit, which alleges several wage and hour violations against the football organization.
The plaintiffs claim the Raiders violated state labor laws in the following ways:
  • The cheerleaders were expected to work more than eight-hour shifts without necessary breaks or overtime compensation, violating state requirement for meal and rest breaks, as well as overtime laws.
  • The Raiders withheld pay until the end of the season, violating California laws regarding paydays and pay periods.
  • That paycheck at the end of the season paid $125 per game for 10 games, which adds up to only $1,250 for 9 months of work, including 3 rehearsals per week, workouts, fittings, event appearances, photo shoots, and other mandatory meetings. Overall, the pay comes out to approximately less than $5.00 per hour for a season’s work, which violates California’s minimum wage laws.
  •  The Raiders require the cheerleaders to pay for their own expenses related to required hair styling, makeup, and travel.
  • The Raiders further unlawfully deduct from a cheerleader’s paycheck for minor infringements, such as chewing gum, bringing the wrong set of pom-poms to practice, or wearing the wrong type of outfit to rehearsal.

After all of these alleged violations, many Raiderettes do not even break even for the season.

The federal Department of Labor (DOL) has recently involved itself in the lawsuit by launching an investigation into violations of federal labor laws. The DOL is apparently looking into how several other teams treat their cheerleaders, as well. If the DOL finds that the Raiders violated federal employment laws, they have the power to order the organization to reimburse the cheerleaders for twice the amount of compensation they were originally denied. For this reason, the Raiders may end up paying significantly more than if they had simply followed labor laws to begin.

Some employers, such as professional sports organizations, believe they are above labor laws and do not have to follow them. However, cases like this demonstrate that employment laws apply to professional sports teams like any other employer, and the Raiders may face the consequences like any other company.

If you believe your employer has violated any wage, hour, or other labor laws, contact the Pershing Square Law Firm for assistance today.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Highest State Minimum Wage Proposed in California

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama urged legislators to take charge in pushing minimum wage increases through Congress. California State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) took the request to heart, as he introduced a state bill on February 3, 2014 that would make California’s minimum wage the highest of any state if passed.

Currently, a law is in place that will raise the state minimum wage from $8.00 per hour to $9.00 per hour in July 2014, then again to $10 per hour in 2016. There is no provision in the current law for further annual increases based on inflation after 2016. Sen. Leno’s proposed bill would step up the wage increase as follows:

  • $11.00 per hour in 2015;
  • $12.00 per hour in 2016;
  • $13.00 per hour in 2017;
  • Annual adjustments tied to inflation starting in 2018.

While the bill is expected to garner some opposition, Leno defends the aggressive increases by citing the high cost of living in California. He stated that the federal minimum wage is simply a starting point, and state legislators should identify the needs of residents of their state and adjust the state minimum wage accordingly.

Current California Minimum Wage

Residents working 40-hour weeks at the existing state minimum wage of $8.00 per hour take home $16,640 annually, before taxes. The poverty line in California for a four-person family with one wage earner is $23,850. According to the United States census, this wage discrepancy puts approximately 24 percent of California residents under the poverty level despite working full-time jobs.

State Senator Leno owns his own company and pays his workers a minimum of $16 per hour. Leno states that paying higher wages reduces turnaround and increases employee productivity. He stated there is no excuse for companies making high corporate profits while some of their full-time employees need food stamps and other government assistance to survive.

Earlier this year, 600 prominent economists from the Economic Policy Institute signed a letter to federal lawmakers urging them to pass a federal minimum wage of $10.10 per hour. These economists assert that raising the minimum wage will bring many families out of poverty, thereby reducing the need for government public assistance and increasing spending by consumers. Recently, some conservative politicians and entrepreneurs in California have jumped on board, demonstrating support for a minimum wage increase and reduction in poverty.

Though the $13 per hour proposal would be the highest state minimum wage in the United States, it will still not be the highest local minimum wage. Last year, the city of SeaTac, Washington raised its minimum wage to $15.00 per hour. Furthermore, Los Angeles legislators have a bill on the table to raise wages for hotel workers to $15.37 per hour, which would be the highest in the country. San Francisco has the highest minimum wage in California, currently at $10.55 per hour.

Everyone deserves to be adequately paid for their work. If you believe your employer is violating wage and hour laws, call the Pershing Square Law Firm today for help.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Federal Contractors to See Potential Wage Increase

Minimum wage has been a hot topic over the last year, and continues to be so into 2014. The Fair Minimum Wage Act now sits in front of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Act aims to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour in three stages over the next several years. The Act would further raise the minimum wage for tipped employees and ensure that, in future years, the minimum wage would adjust annually for inflation, as it does in many states.

While the majority of American minimum wage employees will have to wait for the bill to pass, another group of employees in the United States may see pay increases sooner. In his State of the Union address, President Obama announced his plan to sign an executive order, which will raise the minimum wage for federal contract employees to $10.10 per hour. Because federal contracts can be so complex, the new wage requirement will not affect anyone who is currently under contract, but will affect all of those who sign new future contracts or renewed contracts.

The President stated the order could be expected in a few weeks, and the White House claimed it believes that “[b]oosting wages will lower turnover and increase morale, and will lead to higher productivity overall.” Many lower wage-earning federal contract employees work on military bases as dishwashers, janitors, food servers, and launderers. Obama specifically voiced his belief that the people who help take care of United States troops should not have to live below the poverty level.

Opposition for the Wage Hike

Of course, people quickly spoke up against the President’s plan, citing concerns or simply downplaying the bill. First, some industry groups took the order as a slight against federal contractors, stating the President singled out contractors for the increase, which may insinuate that contractors do not already pay a fair wage.

Industry groups cited the Service Contract Act, which already requires employees under certain types of contracts to be paid much higher than $10.10 per hour.
Other politicians pointed out that the scope of the executive order would be much smaller than it sounds, stating that only approximately 10 percent of the 2.2 million federal contract employees currently make less than $10.10 per hour. Those are the only employees who would be covered under the order.

However, the Obama administration pointed out that the increase will still apply to 200,000 to 300,000 Americans, and will increase their standard of living. That is better than nothing, some politicians maintain. Others see this order as a push to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act through Congress. Obama also commented, in his State of the Union address, that he would continue to encourage that bill, and for Congress to stand up for all workers in the United States by increasing the federal minimum wage.

Though the federal minimum wage is currently still $7.25 per hour, the minimum wage in California is $8.00 per hour for 2013. If you have any questions regarding minimum wage or other wage and hour issues, call the Pershing Square Law Firm today for help.

Milestone GINA Case Warns Employers about Application Questions

Congress enacted the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) in 2008. Title II of GINA specifically prohibits employers from discriminating against or harassing job applicants or current employees based on their genetic information. To prevent employers from unlawfully using genetic information in employment decisions, companies may not request or require applicants or employees to provide such information.

Under the law, genetic information includes the following:

  • Information regarding a person’s genetic tests;
  • Genetic information showing an increased risk for a disorder, disease, or other medical condition;
  • Information showing an individual requested or received any type of genetic services;
  • Genetic information of a pregnant woman or fetus;
  • Genetic tests of family members or family medical history.

GINA prevents employers from requesting family medical history and tests because such information may show that the individual may have a predisposition for certain diseases or disorders.

Landmark Case for EEOC

Issues under GINA have been litigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) three times, with only one case alleging an employer engaged in systemic discrimination. The former case, EEOC v. Founders Pavilion Inc., recently settled, and the EEOC calls the settlement a major milestone in employment law.

As part of its hiring process, Founders Pavilion Inc. conducted pre-employment medical exams, during which it unlawfully requested family medical history in violation of GINA. The EEOC case further alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII, claiming that based on the medical exams, the company refused to hire two women for perceived disabilities, refused to hire three women because of pregnancy, and fired a current employee after refusing to accommodate her disability.

Ten months after the complaint, the EEOC and Founders Pavilion came to a settlement agreement totaling $370,000. The five employees who suffered unlawful discrimination under the ADA and Title VII will split $259,600, while 138 individuals who were unlawfully asked to provide family medical history or other genetic information will share $110,400. The company will furthermore have to post notices of the lawsuit in the workplace, adjust its anti-discrimination policy and notify and train employees on the changes, and periodically report to the EEOC for five years.

Reminder for All Employers

Though GINA claims have been few and far between, the Founders Pavilion case reminds employers that the EEOC will take allegations of GINA violations very seriously. Furthermore, the case is another example of how GINA violations often go hand-in-hand with violations of the ADA, Title VII, or other employment laws. The consequences of such violations may be serious for employers.

Asking questions regarding family medical history on job applications or during job-related medical exams is against the law. There are only six narrow exceptions to this rule, which may be found here. Otherwise, companies should make sure their application and medical exam policies are in compliance with the law.

If you believe that you have suffered unlawful discrimination based on your genetic information or any other protected reason, you should contact the Pershing Square Law Firm as soon as possible to discuss a possible case.