Uber and Airbnb Executives Sued for Sexual Harassment and Overtime

Julieta Yang, a 45 year old mother of three from the Philippines and live-in domestic worker is suing her power couple former employers for alleged sexual harassment and wage theft.

Yang claims that her employers, Cameron Poetzscher, (the head of corporate development for Uber) and Varsha Rao (the head of global operations for Airbnb), subjected her to a sexually hostile work and home environment during her time of employment. She also claims they failed to pay her for minimum wage and overtime. 

The San Franciscan tech executives, who have two children, first hired Yang in March 2008 while they were living in Singapore. Yang claims that Poetzscher would watch her cook dinner for the family, all the while being completely naked. When Rao traveled for work, the sexual harassment got worse for Yang. According to the suit, Yang was subjected to Poetzscher’s frequent nudity, sexual comments, sexual advances, and unwanted touching including rubbing his groin against her. Poetzscher warned Yang about complaining to Rao because she would get angry. 

In July of 2013, the couple moved to San Francisco. They offered to triple Yang’s salary if she made the move with them. Though she signed a contract stating that she worked 30 hours a week for $12.50 an hour, Yang actually worked much more than that per week. In fact, she was paid a fixed rate of $450 per week regardless of the actual hours she worked. Yang also claims that she was not given legally mandated meals or breaks. 

While in San Francisco, the inappropriate behavior continued. 

  1. Poetzscher would often disrobe in the room that Yang was working in.
  2. Poetzscher asked Yang to give him a massage using a rolling pin. He later apologized saying he was not supposed to act that way in the US.
  3. Poetzscher would use the toilet with the door open. 
  4. When Yang asked to talk to Pao about the behavior, Pao told her that she didn’t have time to talk and that Poetzscher would have to handle it. 

The San Francisco tech executives claim that Yang’s allegations are completely false. Pao and Poetzscher claim that Yang was part of the family for seven years and just up and left in April.

Do you think live in domstic workers are more vulnerable to this sort of harassment? 

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Con-Edison to Pay $3.8 Million for Gender Discrimination and Sexual Harassment to Over 300 Women

Consolidated Edison, one of the largest energy companies in the United States, just settled a gender discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit with more than 300 women employees totaling $3.8 million.

The female employees that filed the lawsuit claim that they were harassed, paid less than male employees doing similar work, and not given promotions because of their gender. In addition, female employees also allegedly endured the following:

  1. One female employee was given a form with graphic images of female body parts. 
  2. One female employee alleges a male co-worker purposely ran in to her parked truck. 
  3. When any of the female employees had discrepancies in the workplace they were labeled as “angry”. 
  4. An employee claims she was terminated as retaliation when she filed a discrimination complaint. 
  5. The investigation, which began in 2007, was the result of Consolidated-Edison failing to address the hostile working environment complaints alleged by female employees. Female employees were feeling they had to ‘’toughen up’ in order to continue working in the “boy’s club”. 

Payouts will begin being distributed amongst 300 female employees. Each employee will receive $5,000 and then Consolidated-Edison has an additional pool of money set aside for employees that experienced repeated or more severe cases of harassment, termination or retaliation.

The settlement sends a message to Consolidated-Edison, employers across New York state, as well as companies nationwide, that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently went on record saying that “All women—especially those working in male-dominated workplaces—deserve respect and equal treatment.” We agree. 

*image by Reeve Jolliffe, Flickr

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California Passes Historic Equal Pay Law

Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a gender wage equality law that gives women new tools to protect them from being paid unfairly because of their gender. The law had bipartisan support and is one of the strongest in the nation. 

California is leading the way when it comes to addressing and tackling the gender wage inequality problem that plagues women in the United States. According to a study done in 2013, women employed full time in California were paid 84 cents for every dollar that their male counterpart earned. The gap was even greater for minority women.

Now that more and more families rely on a woman’s income, income equality is essential to having a prosperous economy. It is estimated that the gap in California alone causes families to miss out on an additional $33.6 billion a year, money that would then be pumped back into local business and economy.

As of late, high-profile actresses such as Patricia Arquette have been voicing their feelings on the matter, which is said to have influenced California lawmakers.  For example, Arquette used her Oscar moment to stir controversy with her equal-pay remarks, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” 

Some effects of the new law are:

  1. Puts the burden on the employer to prove that a male’s salary is higher due to seniority or merit.
  2. If a woman believes she is being paid unfairly because of her gender, she can question her employer without fear of repercussion/retaliation.
  3. Encourages women to inquire if they are being paid unfairly.
  4. Opens the door for other states to follow suit.

Do you think wage inequality is intentional by employers?  Or do you think wage inequality has more to do with outside factors not having to do with discrimination?

*image byFlickr

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Casino Loses Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Re High Roller

A Pittsburgh cocktail waitress was recently awarded over one million dollars in a lawsuit against her employer, the Rivers Casino.

According to the report, a high-roller placed a $1 tip in Allyson Pelesky’s bra while she was serving him. As a result, he also touched her breast. Pelesky immediately reported the incident to the police but later dropped charges when she was promised that the man would not be allowed to return to the casino. A little more than a month later, the casino lifted its ban on the man, leading Pelesky to file a lawsuit against the casino for violating its zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy. 

Pelesky, who was teased by her co-workers, says she filed the lawsuit because she did not want to have to see the man who sexually harassed her every day. “Whether you’re a waitress, a manager, it doesn’t matter. We just deserve respect,” Allyson told the press. She feels that the casino only let the man return because he is a “Signature Card” player. 

Pelesky was awarded $150,000 in compensation and $999,000 in punitive damages.

According to a recent report by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, nearly 90 percent of females that work in the restaurant industry, have experienced some type of sexual harassment at one time or another. 

How prevalent do you believe sexual harassment is in the restaurant/hospitality industry?

*image by Thomas Hawk, Flickr

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Obama Orders Paid Sick Leave for Government Contractors

President Obama recently signed an executive order that will require government contractors to be given at least seven paid sick days a year. For every 30 hours worked, contractors will earn a minimum of one hour of paid sick leave. The new regulations will go into affect starting in 2017 and will affect around 300,000 people. 

Some studies have shown that paid sick leave not only contributes to friendlier worker relations and increased loyalty, but it is especially beneficial to workers with families. As Obama nears the end of his second term, the White House has been working diligently to expand access to paid leave. In addition to the most recent executive order, Obama has also directed the following changes this year:

1. In January 2015, Obama issued a presidential memorandum to advance up to 6 weeks of paid sick leave for the birth or adoption of a child.

2. Obama is currently pushing Congress to pass a law that would grant government employees 6 additional weeks of paid maternal leave.

3. Obama is pressing Congress to pass The Healthy Families Act which would require any business with 15 or more people, to give employees up to 7 paid sick days per year.

The United States is the only advanced nation that does not guarantee paid maternity leave. As it currently stands, only 60 percent of the total private-sector workforce in the United States, has access to some sort of paid sick leave.  In California, mandatory paid sick leave went into effect on July 1, 2015.  Over a decade ago, California also instituted paid family leave, but those funds come from the taxpayers, not employers.

What do you think of government mandating sick and family leave pay by employers?

*image by Marc Nozell, Flickr

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Home Improvement Company Sued for Pregnancy Discrimination

The CEO of Carl’s Fencing, Decking and Home Improvements and his wife are being sued by a former employee for pregnancy discrimination. Ashley Meyer, the plaintiff, claims that she was harassed by Carl and Donna DelPizzo, the defendants, when she informed them of her pregnancy. She said she was then fired after she took time off after her premature son was released from the hospital.

Meyer was hired by the DelPizzos in January 2014 as the Marketing Coordinator. According to the complaint, Meyer was asked if she had children during her interview. Under New Jersey state labor law it is against the law for a prospective employer to ask this. 

When Meyer became pregnant a few months after being hired, she said her $57,000 was cut in half. In addition to the pay cut, she began experiencing harassment in the workplace. The harassment included making comments about her hair and makeup, being rude and abrasive, and saying she had a “baby brain” when she made mistakes at work. 

When Meyer returned to work after the birth of her son, she was demoted from Marketing Coordinator to a part-time administrative sales assistant who primarily answered phones. When Meyer found out her premature son was being released from the hospital, she told the DelPizzos she would be taking six weeks of leave to be with her baby. Though Meyer is protected under the Family Leave Act (and she gave the DelPizzos 30 days notice,) they tried to convince her to continue working for the company part time. When she refused, they refused to tell Meyer whether or not she would have a job when she returned from her leave. Meyer was let go in March 2015. 

Under the Family Medical Leave Act “FMLA”, parents have 12 months from the birth of their baby to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.  In addition, a company with 50 or more employees cannot fire an employee for taking unpaid leave to care for a family member or baby. 

How prevalent do you think pregnancy discrimination is in the workplace?

*image by KT Lindsay, Flickr

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Female on Female Sexual Harassment Case Filed Against the City of Sacramento

Though most sexual harassment cases involve a male superior and a female subordinate, the most recent case out of Sacramento involves two females. A utilities employee in Sacramento, Jewel Mason, recently filed a sexual harassment claim against Elsie Fong, her female supervisor and Program Manager. According to the claim, Fong created a sexually hostile environment for two years. When the plaintiff complained about the sexual harassment she was experiencing, she claims she was denied a permanent position in the department as retaliation.

Fong allegedly contributed to a sexually hostile work environment by wearing excessively provocative clothing, purposely displaying her undergarments, complimenting Mason’s appearance, asking Mason personal questions about her life, intimately hugging Mason, and repeatedly directing sexual behavior towards Mason. The plaintiff also claims that Fong told her the job benefits were contingent upon Mason submitting to sexual acts.  

In March of 2014, Mason made a complaint to Fong’s superiors. Though the harassment improved for a few weeks, the plaintiff claims Fong took away two of her paid vacation days around this time. Fong was also overhead admitting as well as bragging about the harassment allegations. In October 2014, Mason made a formal discrimination claim against Fong with the EEOC. Though Fong was moved from the city’s utilities department, Mike Malone, another manager, retaliated against the plaintiff. Not only did Malone also harass Mason, but he also reduced her job responsibilities. The plaintiff believes that she was denied a permanent position as well as a parking spot because of her complaint to the EEOC. 

This is the third sexual harassment claim the city has seen in the last few months. The first was a claim against Mayor Kevin Johnson that was thrown out in May. The second claim comes from a former staff member of city councilman Alan Warren. Warren was allegedly using his authority to coerce subordinates into sexual acts. When the staff member refused to continue the sexual relationship, he fired her. 

Do you think these women are actually being sexual harassed or do you think it is an example of following the trend?

*image by Unsplash.com

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County of Los Angeles Votes for Minimum Wage Increase SImilar to City of LA’s $15 per Hour by 2020

UPDATE: (July 22, 2015) The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors just voted to incrementally raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in unincorporated areas of the county over the next five years.

Following in the footsteps of Seattle and San Francisco, the city of Los Angeles recently voted to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by the year 2020 and then indexed to inflation thereafter. To put the increase in perspective, an average minimum-wage full-time worker will now receive an extra $3,000 per year.  

The first increase will be to $10.50 an hour starting July 1, 2016.  Then increased each year until July 2020, when the minimum wage will be $15 an hour. Two years later, increases will be pegged to the Consumer Price Index.  Businesses with less than 25 employees get an additional year before having their minimum wage hiked.

Like most laws, this will have winners and losers.  This is seemingly great news for minimum-wage workers, but consider the affect the increase will have on small businesses or entrepreneurs. In order to avoid a loss of profits, some businesses will be forced to move their companies to a neighboring city, raise prices, decrease their total number of employees, reduce the quality of their services, or close all together. The question is how many businesses.

This will likely hit the restaurant industry the hardest.  Restaurants fought hard to get the City Council to include tips in this new minimum wage calculation, but failed.  According to Forbes.com, after the city of Seattle raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour, they saw an increase of restaurant closures. Some people are saying up to 25% of all restaurants in the City of LA may close or move to neighboring cities.  Restaurants may also get creative by eliminating tipping and instead raising menu prices significantly and adding a service charge.  

While supporters of the minimum-wage increase believe this will lift the families of full-time workers out of poverty, the critics are not so sure. Instead, they believe the wage increase will have an inflationary affect, driving rents and other prices up. 

Do you think a large jump in the minimum wage for an individual city is a good idea? Consider the affect these increases have on things such as small business profits, unemployment, exodus of employers to neighboring cities.  How easy would it be for most small business to move to neighboring cities like Santa Monica, Culver City, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills etc.? 

*image by Flickr

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Wife of NFL Player Suing Employer for Sexual Harassment and Discrimination

Philippa Okoye, wife of NFL player Lawrence Okoye, is suing her former boss and employer for sexually harassing her, openly mocking her interracial marriage, and demoting her when she complained. When Okaye was hired as a senior investment adviser in 2013, she was the only woman working in the Manhattan division of deVere Group, the world’s largest group of international financial advisers. 

Okaye alleges that a senior area manager for deVere was the one that primarily led the harassment. Okaye alleges that the senior manager openly expressed that he wanted the office to have the same drug and sex fueled escapades seen in The Wolf of Wall Street and The Boiler Room

Okaye, the only female employee amongst 21 male-coworkers, allegedly faced sexist antics daily. In addition to making inappropriate comments, her co-workers would also allegedly rate visiting women on whether or not they were worth “f*cking”. Some of the inappropriate things said to Okaye by her coworkers during her time of employment include:

1. Don’t change your surname if you marry Lawrence, because people will think you’re black, and that’s not good for business.

2. How many cheerleaders has your boyfriend f*cked today? He’s probably f*cked the whole cheerleading squad by now.

3. So can you handle the banter or are you going to be a woman about it and be sensitive? 

4. I think it’s disgusting when white women go out with black guys. 

When Okaye complained to the senior area manager about the sexist and racist comments directed towards her, he allegedly replied, “this is why I didn’t want women in the office.” She alleges she was then demoted and eventually fired in retaliation for her complaint. 

deVere Group claims that the allegations are “false and incredulous” and that Okaye is just a disgruntled employee. 

*image by Esteban Chiner, Flickr

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Five Female Police Officers Suing for Sexual Harassment

Five female police officers in Bridgeton, New Jersey have filed a lawsuit against the city of Bridgeton as well as two Bridgeton police officers (twins Angel and Luis Santiago.) The women allege that Angel Santiago, a fellow officer, sexually harassed and discriminated against them for five years. 

Angel Santiago, the officer being accused of over 70 sexually explicit actions, allegedly made inappropriate comments towards the women as well as kissing them forcibly, smacking their butts, and preventing entry to the women’s bathroom without a kiss. In addition, Santiago also allegedly rubbed his clothed genitals on the women, grabbed their breasts and shared inappropriate cell phone images.

When the women filed a formal complaint, they said that Angel Santiago’s twin brother, Sgt. Luis Santiago retaliated against them. In the suit, Luis Santiago is accused of having a condescending attitude towards the women, insulting them, and making false complaints against them following their complaint. The women are also suing the city of Bridgeton for ignoring their complaint.

The lawsuit seeks back pay, lost wages and benefits, punitive damages, interest, attorney’s fees and costs, and reinstatement to the office jobs they held prior to the alleged retaliation of Luis Santiago.  Read about a similar officer sexual harassment case here.

Do you think sexual harassment is more likely to be covered up in male-dominated professions?

image by Flickr

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Shirazi Law Firm, PC

Shirazi Law Firm, PC

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