Category: Workers’ Rights

McDonalds Turns Physical

We first blogged about McDonalds’ legal woes when the story broke back in March. You can read the background here. 

Now the civil lawsuit accusing wage theft went from a legal battle to a physical one. Hundreds of people crowded around McDonalds’ Chicago headquarters protesting wage theft, poverty wages, and high benefits to the CEO and other executives. The protest was led by the Reverend Dr. William Barber II, and the loudest demand was for a $15 minimum wage in fast food restaurants.

Coupled with McDonald’s bad press surrounding the wage theft cases filed across the country, protestors targeted the burger chain’s headquarters because it was the location for the company’s annual executive meeting, taking place in the morning of the protest.

The police intervened and arrested 138 protestors for trespassing. The group had gathered people from all walks of life. One prominent group represented were mothers who criticized McDonald’s disposal of Ronald McDonald and his replacement, real-life basketball star LeBron James.

Other protestors included former and current McDonalds employees, including Melinda Topel, a worker for McDonalds for 10 years. She was among those arrested during the protest where she was handcuffed with zip ties. “I would do it again,” Topel says.

Source: Chicago Tribune

Shopkeeper’s Defense Though Lawful, Violates Company Policy

It is a story heard more often than not. Last year, Shannon “Bear” Cochron was robbed at knifepoint while on duty at a New Hampshire gas station. Well, it’s more accurate to say that the robber was attempted to rob Cochron at knifepoint.

When the heavily masked would-be robber approached, Cochrane quickly produced his Ruger pistol and threatened the robber to leave. After slowly backing away from the store clerk, the robber fled the premise.

While the police in the small New Hampshire town commended Cochrane on knowing when it was appropriate to use the weapon, his employers terminated Cochrane for violating company policy. According to said policy, employees are prohibited from carry firearms to work.

Though the circumstances around his termination seem outrageous, the “at-will” presumption in much of the country allows for Cochron to be fired for any reason or no reason at all, as so long as it does not violate public policy (i.e. termination based on discrimination or whistleblowing). While it was within Cochron’s rights as a citizen to bear arms and defend himself, it was outside the gas station company’s policy for an employee.

Don’t be worried for Cochron though. When the incident first broke, Cochron commented, “I would rather find a new job than either be in hospital bed or in a coffin.” Well said Mr. Bear.

Source: Washington Times

Santa Ana City Councilman Charged with Sexual Assault

Criminal charges have been filed against former Santa Ana city councilman, Carlos Bustamante. The victim, who is only identified as “Jane Doe A,” alleged that Bustamante assaulted behind closed doors in the county office when she was his secretary. Bustamante was arrested and charged in July 2012.

Before and after the incident, Bustamante continuously harassed Jane Doe A. His actions included, but was not limited to, asking about her sex life with her partner, asking what bra size she wore, and describing inappropriate sexual dreams about her to her. The city councilman also asked Jane Doe A to have sex with him, but she refused. In reply he added, “we should have fun if we [will be] working together.”

The incident, itself, occurred in Bustamante’s office. He wrapped his arms around her and forcibly kissed her neck though she continually attempted to push him off and adamantly said no to his requests. Bustamante, allegedly, refused to let her go and continued to kiss her neck and tried to kiss her lips, but she moved her face from side to side to avoid contact. Eventually he let her go.

Jane Doe A claimed she was too scared to tell Human Resources as Bustamante was good friends with the county’s chief executive officer. Prosecutors believe that as many as seven female employees might also have been harassed and abused between 2003 and 2011.

Though this is a criminal matter, in any potential civil law suit against an employer for sexual harassment, there are two kinds of harassment that might occur. A hostile work environment is one kind, wherein if an employee refuses a supervisor’s advances, then the supervisor retaliates against the employee or grow vindictive. The other form, entitled quid pro quo, describes a situation wherein an employee feels his or her job or benefits/perks of the job are contingent on acquiescing to the supervisor’s advances. Both can be actionable in a civil lawsuit.

Source: LA Times

Beauty Doesn’t Come Cheap

In order to become a licensed cosmetologist, a student must undergo hours of training and pass a state certified board exam. At the Aveda Institute of Los Angeles, students allegedly were not compensated during their training hours, though the school functioned as a salon for certain hours during the week, and the students as stylists.

Aveda Corporation is owned by make-up, mega moguls Estee Lauder Inc. Plaintiff Jazlyn Jennings alleges that the company used the students at Aveda for free labor during the school’s salon hours. They provided haircuts, makeovers, manicures, and other salon services without compensation.

According to the suit, Aveda’s students operated under the direction that they were paying tuition for training hours that need not be compensated. Rather than being treated like apprentices, however, the students operated as full-fledged employees. They would provide full treatments instead of just assisting. Additionally, only four supervisor were on the floor at once which is a violation of California state regulations.

Jennings seeks to recover back wages for overtime pay, meal and rest break premiums, not providing accurate wage statements, and engaging in unfair business practices.

The lawsuit is filed as: Jazlyn Jennings v. Estee Lauder, et al., Case No. BC543276 in LA Superior Court, Central District.

Top 10 Legal Lessons from the Movies

10 Real Life Lessons on the Law as Taught by Movies

10) “Erin Brockovitch”: Released in 2000, Julia Roberts plays the titular role. Brokovitch serves as a law clerk to a personal injury attorney, who, after some initial investigation, spurs one of the largest class actions in history. The lessons we can learn from this movie? The definition of a class action law suit. In the film, the personal injury case has a total of 634 plaintiffs. A class action is simply defined as a group of plaintiffs who have common claims against a defendant. While not all class actions tend to reach into the numbers that the movie depicts, they are multi-plaintiff cases. And the price tag for Brokovitch wasn’t so bad either.

9) “The Firm”: Tom Cruise plays a Harvard Law grad, Mitch McDeere, in this 1993 film. He is offered the associate position of a lifetime at a shady not-so-ethical firm. When two associates of the firm are found murdered, McDeere is torn between helping the FBI solve the murder and preserving his law license—and possibly his life. McDeere is hesitant to violate the firm’s attorney-client privilege to aid the investigation. Attorney-client privilege protects communications between the two from being admissible as evidence. Therefore, a client can express all relevant information to counsel within a “zone of privacy.” Don’t you worry, Tom Cruise’s character is okay at the end of it all.

8) “Adam’s Rib”: Katharine Hepburn stars in “Adam’s Rib” (1949) as one half of a married attorney couple who find themselves on opposite sides of a case. While a battle of the sexes ensues, the real-life legal theory idea of spousal privilege is introduced. Much like attorney-client privilege, the information divulged between two married people during a case is considered confidential communication that is protected from testimonial disclosure. If only all cases were as fun as Katharine Hepburn and Spencer make it look in this quintessential romantic-comedy.

7) “North Country”: Josey Aimes, a down on her luck, abused woman, returns to her hometown in northern Minnesota. Portrayed by actress Charlize Theron, Josey ends up working in the town mine, where she is constantly sexually harassed and “slut-shamed” for having her son out of wedlock. Josey tries to report the harassment to the mine’s Board of Directors, but instead finds herself in the fight of her life. From this 2005 film, we learn that sexual harassment in the workplace is an actionable offense, and the employee has a right to pursue a suit against the employer for harassment, especially if management, in this case the mine’s Board of Directors, ignores it. With drama that justifies a “slow-clap” ending, North Country teaches us a little about labor law.

6) “Philadelphia”: In this revealing 1993 film about HIV/AIDS and homophobia, Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, an associate at a corporate law firm who is fired because he contracts the disease. In the trial that ensues, Beckett and his attorney, played by Denzel Washington, allege disability discrimination, and the jury eventually awards a favorable verdict. In the state of California, disability discrimination is prohibited by the Fair Employment and Housing Act under the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Employers must engage in an interactive process with the employee to accommodate a person’s disability in order to facilitate his or her continued success with the company, if possible. Hanks won the Oscar for his role as Beckett.

5) “Double Jeopardy”: In this 1999 Tommy Lee Jones film, Jones plays a parole offer named Travis Lehman who is charged with supervising an accused, yet innocent, murderess when she is released from jail on parole. The murderess, Libby Parsons (played by Ashely Judd) seeks to kill the victim (who wasn’t really dead) that she was framed for killing six years prior. She cannot be tried twice for the same crime under the Double Jeopardy Clause in the 5th Amendment. The clause, in all actuality, prevents a person from being tried twice for the same crime if that person was acquitted or convicted previously. For Judd’s character, it was a convenient loophole.

4) “Rain Maker”: We learn a cardinal rule of law in this 1997 movie starring Matt Damon. Never sue anyone who doesn’t have money or is about to file for bankruptcy. Damon’s character, Rudy Baylor manages to render a favorable verdict for his client in an insurance bad faith case that is worth millions. However, the company then files for bankruptcy which leaves Rudy with nothing to recover. So, lesson learned: do your homework before you sue.

3) “Runaway Jury”: While this 2003 flim has more to do with jury fixing than most anything else, it’s also a peak into civil action versus criminal action. In the movie, a widow of a work place shooting victim sues the employer for gross negligence in civil court. Civil lawsuits deal with disputes between individuals and entities that can be redressed by compensation. Criminal cases deal with the punishment of those who committed egregious acts like: murder, burglary, assault/battery, etc. Criminal charges are brought forth by the government. So, if the worker’s widow had filed a police report and the government had tried the shooter for murder, it would have been a criminal case. Since she filed a lawsuit seeking monetary damages and reconciliation, it is a civil action.

2)  “Laws of Attraction”: Two divorce attorneys representing two sides of a case, accidentally get married during an unexpected night on the town. Julianne Moore plays Audrey Woods and Pierce Brosnan plays Daniel Rafferty in the 2004 comedy. Soon after they get married, Daniel finds sensitive material about Audrey’s client and uses it in court the next morning. You would think this was a conflict of interest. You might be right. According to the ABA a conflict of interest exists if “the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client; or there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer.” So I would say marrying opposing counsel during an open case might constitute as a “risk…limited by a personal interest of the lawyer.” No judgment.

1) “Legally Blonde”: Who can forget the beloved and adorable Elle Woods as played by the equally charming Reese Witherspoon? The 2001 flick centers around Elle’s entrance into Harvard University Law School and her experiences as a law student. Though she initially attends to chase a man, she ends up being one of the most successful graduates from her class. During her first day at Harvard, one of Elle’s professors quotes Aristotle, whose famous line can now be recited by sorority girls everywhere. “The law is reason free from passion.” Fair point, Aristotle. Lawyers can only operate as so far as the law allows. But hey, the law is always changing, improving, and shaping the way things work.