Man Awarded $450K After Workplace Birthday Party Panic Attack Leads to Termination

Disability Discrimination News

Kevin Berling was awarded $300,000 for emotional distress and $150,000 in lost wages for a disability discrimination case in late March after a two day trial in Kenton County, Kentucky.

Berling sued his employer, Gravity Diagnostics after the company threw him a birthday party against his request that the company not celebrate his birthday because it would cause him immense stress.

Berling suffers from anxiety disorders and panic attacks. He worked at Gravity Diagnostics for approximately 10 months, when he requested that the company not celebrate his birthday as it normally does for its employees. Berling told his supervisor that a birthday celebration would be a stressful trigger of bad childhood memories surrounding his parents’ divorce. The lawsuit outlines that the office manager ends up forgetting his request and the party is still held for Berling. As a result, Berling suffers a panic attack and leaves.

The next day, Berling is called into a meeting with his bosses where he suffers another panic attack when his supervisor chastised him for “stealing his co-workers” joy and for “being a little girl.” The company then fires Berling saying that they were worried about him being angry and violent. 

As part of the lawsuit, Berling claimed the company discriminated against him based on his disability, and retaliated against him for requesting a reasonable accommodation for his disability. The jury returned the verdict after two days in trial and awarded Berling a $450,000 win. 

The company continues to deny liability and is pursuing port-trial options. The company’s founder and COO, Julie Brazil, stated that the verdict sets a dangerous precedent in which workplace violence will be tolerated unless physical violence occurs, and stated that her employees were the victims, not Berling. The jury didn’t seem to agree with Brazil once they got to meet Berling at trial and saw that the company’s claim that he posed a threat was more of an exaggeration.

Employers must accommodate their employee’s disabilities and cannot terminate someone based on a protected category such as a disability or medical condition.  Further, the law prohibits harassment of an employee based on medical condition or disability. 

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, retaliated or discriminated against based on a protected category such as a physical or mental disability, or medical condition, give us a call at 310-400-5891 for your free intake.

Learn more about Disability Harassment / Disability Discrimination Law

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Garth Brooks Sued for Unpaid Wages

Garth Brooks’ former business partner is suing him for unpaid wages and bonuses.  Lisa Sanderson is seeking $425,000 from the famed country music artist whom she worked with for almost 20 years.  Sanderson is a television and movie producer who claims she was hired by Brooks to start his acting career. Sanderson claims she is owed wages for getting Brooks movie roles which he declined.  Brooks allegedly declined roles in Saving Private Ryan and Twister because he “wanted to be the star” and was not willing to take a backseat to Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, or a tornado.

Sanderson also alleges Brooks turned down other deals she arranged for him including Fox and Disney.  Sanderson’s suit states that she never got the 50 percent of producers fees she was promised.

What do you think of a business partner–as opposed to an employee–suing for unpaid “wages”?

Please post your comments at:  www.ShiraziLawFirm.com/blog

For a little more juicy unpaid wages/salary misclassified case see my article re Lady Gaga being sued here.

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Lady Gaga Sued By Personal Assistant for Unpaid Overtime

In yet another celebrity lawsuit, Lady Gaga’s former personal assistant has sued the pop star for $380,000 of alleged unpaid overtime.  Gaga’s former personal assistant, Jennifer O’Neill, says she was on-call almost every hour of every day she worked for Gaga.  This included being Gaga’s “personal alarm clock”, fetching tampons, changing DVD’s, and doing whatever the eccentric pop star asked for.  Gaga’s main legal defense is that Ms. O’Neill never worked over 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week if you just add up her tasks individually.

Ms. O’Neill though, claims she was always required to be available and never paid for working over 8 hours in a day.  Ms. O’Neill only received her $75,000 a year salary.

During Gaga’s deposition she made the following interesting statements:

“Jennifer is a fucking hood rat who is suing me for money that she didn’t earn. She thinks she’s just like the queen of the universe. And, you know what, she didn’t want to be a slave to one, because in my work and what I do, I’m the queen of the universe every day.”

She knew there was no overtime, and I never paid her overtime the first time I hired her, so why would she be paid overtime the second time? This whole case is bullsh*t and you know it.

I’m quite wonderful to everybody that works for me, and I am completely aghast to what a disgusting human being that you have become to sue me like this. Because she slept in Egyptian cotton sheets every night, in five-star hotels, on private planes, eating caviar, partying with [photographer] Terry Richardson all night, wearing my clothes, asking [Yves Saint Laurent] to send her free shoes without my permission, using my YSL discount without my permission.

Unfortunately for Lady Gaga, bad performance or misconduct by an employee is not a defense to non-payment of overtime.  Neither is treating your employee to the benefits of a lavish lifestyle.  Overtime must be paid to all non-exempt employees who work over 8 hours in a day and/or 40 hours in a week (depending on your state).  An agreement to be a salaried employee does not override this rule.

What do you think of Gaga’s assistant’s lawsuit?  Should employees have to be paid for every hour they are available to their employer, even if they only work a small portion of that time?

Comment at:   http://www.shirazilawfirm.com/lady-gaga-sued-by-personal-assistant-for-unpaid-overtime/

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Oprah Winfrey’s TV Network Sued for Employment Discrimination & Wrongful Termination in Los Angeles

Oprah Winfrey’s TV network OWN is one of the latest celebrity owned companies sued for wrongful termination and discrimination.  Former employee and Senior Director Carolyn Hommel filed suit against OWN in Los Angeles Superior Court.  Hommel alleges she was replaced by a temporary employee after going on pregnancy leave.

A month after giving birth, Hommel alleges that OWN “laid her off” after she had already been demoted and given an undeserved bad review.

Under California law, most employers are not allowed to discriminate or retaliate against an employee for taking pregnancy or disability leave.  The question is did OWN fire Hommel for other reasons.

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Price is Right Model Gets $8.5 Million Award for Pregnancy Discrimination

“The Price is Right” has been hit with an $8.5 million jury verdict for pregnancy discrimination against former “Barker Beauty” model Brandi Cochran.  The 41 year old former Price is Right model says that she was not allowed to return to work after her maternity leave in violation of California law.

The Los Angeles jury determined the former model’s pregnancy was the reason she wasn’t rehired and awarded Cochran $776,944 in regular damages and $7.7 million in punitive damages.  In their defense, producers FremantleMedia North America and The Price is Right Productions said they were satisfied with the five models working on the show at the time Cochran sought to return.

“I’m humbled. I’m shocked,” Cochran said after the jury announced its verdict. “I’m happy that justice was served today not only for women in the entertainment industry, but women in the workplace.”

The producers will appeal the verdict stating: “We believe the verdict in this case was the result of a flawed process in which the court, among other things, refused to allow the jury to hear and consider that 40 percent of our models have been pregnant,” and further “important” evidence.

This was not the first employment lawsuit by a “Barker Beauty” against the show’s producers.

What do you think of this huge verdict for failing to bring back an employee who went on pregnancy leave?

Please post your thoughts on ShiraziLawFirm.com/blog

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Magic Johnson Sued for Wrongful Termination and Age Discrimination in Los Angeles

Magic Johnson’s former flight attendant has sued his company for wrongful termination in Los Angeles Superior Court.  The former employee on Magic Johnson’s private plane, Lanita Thomas, is suing for age discrimination and various California Labor Code violations.  Ms. Thomas, 45, alleges that Magic replaced her with a much younger flight attendant because he prefers younger women in violation of the law. Ms. Thomas claims that the “pretext” for her termination by Magic was that she was seven minutes late while trying to get Magic the very specific kind of turkey he likes in his sandwiches.  Ms. Thomas-who worked for Magic since 2004-alleges that Magic hired the much younger flight attendant that temporarily substituted in for her during her prior medical leave of absence.

In addition to the age discrimination claim, Ms. Thomas is suing for California Labor Code violations, including non-payment of overtime and missed meal and rest periods.  Ms. Thomas alleges that she spent about a third of her time stocking Magic’s private plane with “highly specific in-flight food and beverage choices,” including liquorice, which she was required to “regularly squeeze to make sure they were soft.”  Ms. Thomas alleges that because she was the only flight attendant and had to spend so much time on the above-mentioned tasks, that she was never allowed to take full meal or rest breaks.

What do you think of the age discrimination claim against Magic?

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“The Bachelor” Race Discrimination Lawsuit Thrown Out of Court

Update from a previous post:

Several months back I wrote a post on the lawsuit filed by two African-American men who sued the shows “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” for race discrimination because they did not have African-American contestants (see my first post below).  Well, last week the judge dismissed the case on grounds that casting decisions by the network and the series’ producers are protected by the First Amendment.

The federal judge stated that while the Plaintiffs’ efforts are “laudable,” they cannot regulate the show’s content under the First Amendment.  The judge ruled that:  “Ultimately, whatever messages `The Bachelor’ and `The Bachelorette’ communicate or are intended to communicate – whether explicitly, implicitly, intentionally, or otherwise – the First Amendment protects the right of the producers of these shows to craft and control those messages, based on whatever considerations the producers wish to take into account”.

What do you think of this ruling on First Amendment grounds?  Wouldn’t then all discrimination be allowable as freedom of expression?

Comment below or at www.ShiraziLawFirm.com/blog

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:  Two African Americans are suing the long-running show “The Bachelor” for race discrimination.  The two men say that they—like many other African Americans—were not chosen by the show’s producers because of their race.

This case brings up two points.  First, most people think of race discrimination as being outlawed only by employment laws.  It seems unlikely that a Bachelor contestant would be an employee, but race discrimination laws can still apply.  Many states have civil rights laws prohibiting race discrimination in all sorts of situations—such as public accommodations.

Next, there is the question of whether there are exceptions to the civil rights and employment laws for such discrimination.  In the employment law context, many state laws have an “entertainment” exception.  For example, if a Broadway play or TV show is trying to cast someone to play the role of Martin Luther King, it is permissible to only hire/cast someone who is an African American male.

Now, The Bachelor does not have specific racial roles, but the producers may (rightly or wrongly) argue that their target audience is a specified gender, age, and race group.  This is a tough one to decide.  What do you think?

http://www.shirazilawfirm.com/suing-the-bachelor-for-race-discrimination/

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