Labor Code Section 1102.5(b) Encompasses A Report Of Unlawful Activities Made To An Employer Or Agency That Already Knew About The Violation
People ex rel. Garcia-Brower v. Kolla’s, Inc., 2023 WL 3575254 (2023)
In Mize-Kurzman v. Marin Community College Dist., 202 Cal.App.4th 832, 858 (2012), the Court of Appeal oddly held that whistleblower protections are not available for employees who disclose illegal conduct to the employer or to a government or law enforcement agency if the employer or government or law enforcement agency was already aware of the illegal conduct. In Kolla’s, the California Supreme Court rejected the reasoning in Mize-Kurzman and held that the Labor Code whistleblower retaliation statute does not require that a reported violation be unknown to the recipient.
A federal agency has charged that a for-profit graduate medical education provider in Nashville terminated an employee for filing a discrimination complaint.
HCA Healthcare, Inc. (along with its divisions Tennessee Healthcare Management, Inc. and GME Overhead), a for-profit healthcare corporation based in Nashville that provides graduate medical education in over 2,300 facilities, is facing a lawsuit. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has accused HCA Healthcare of violating federal law by denying a promotion to an employee based on his age, race, and national origin and subsequently firing him in retaliation for complaining about the discrimination.
The employee, who is Asian American, has claimed that despite meeting all necessary qualifications, HCA Healthcare selected an underqualified white candidate for the promotion over him. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is seeking injunctive and monetary relief against HCA Healthcare for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
It is imperative to abide by state and federal laws that prohibit any form of discrimination based on race or nationality in the workplace. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically Title VII, is a critical law that unequivocally prohibits racial discrimination in every aspect of employment. Employers are legally bound to ensure they do not engage in discriminatory practices such as refusing to hire or promote someone or treating them unfairly regarding compensation or job benefits due to their race or national origin.
Age discrimination and harassment are strictly prohibited by both California and Federal law. It is important to note that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) is a federal law that provides extensive protection to individuals aged 40 or above from age-based discrimination in employment. Any form of discrimination against a person due to their age with respect to any employment term, condition, or privilege, including but not limited to hiring, firing, layoff, compensation, promotion, or job assignments, is considered illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
It is worth noting that HCA Healthcare owns and operates over 100 hospitals and employs over 275,000 people in multiple states and the United Kingdom.
Retaliation Verdict In Favor Of Employee Reversed Where Trial Court Allowed Into Evidence Actions That The Employer Took Before The Plaintiff Engaged In The Protected Activity
Kourounian v. California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, 2023 WL 3612540 (2023)
Rafi Kourounian obtained a $425,562 jury verdict in his favor on his claim that the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration retaliated against him for filing an internal complaint with its Equal Opportunity Office (EEO). The Department appealed, contending that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of allegedly retaliatory conduct, which pre-dated the filing of his internal complaint. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the trial court erred in admitting evidence about activity that occurred before the filing of his EEO complaints:
As a matter of both logic and law, acts of retaliation must occur after the protected activity. To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, a plaintiff must show that she engaged in protected activity, that she was thereafter subjected to adverse employment action by her employer, and there was a causal link between the two. Because retaliation under FEHA requires the plaintiff to show that the employer was motivated to retaliate by the plaintiff’s protected activity, actions the employer took before the plaintiff engaged in the protected activity necessarily are irrelevant.
Kourounian v. California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, 2023 WL 3612540 * 8 (2023)(cleaned up).
The Court of Appeal also held that the trial court should not have admitted the plaintiff’s EEO complaint because it was hearsay:
Hearsay may be briefly understood as an out-of-court statement offered for the truth of its content. Evidence Code section 1200, subdivision (a) formally defines hearsay as evidence of a statement that was made other than by a witness while testifying at the hearing and that is offered to prove the truth of the matter stated. A ‘statement’ is oral or written verbal expression or the nonverbal conduct of a person intended by him as a substitute for oral or written verbal expression. Documents like letters, reports, and memoranda are often hearsay because they are prepared by a person outside the courtroom and are usually offered to prove the truth of the information they contain. Documents may also contain multiple levels of hearsay. An emergency room report, for example, may record the observations made by the writer, along with statements made by the patient. If offered for its truth, the report itself is a hearsay statement made by the person who wrote it. Statements of others, related by the report writer, are a second level of hearsay. Multiple hearsay may not be admitted unless there is an exception for each level.
There is no doubt that the EEO complaints were prepared outside the courtroom. Thus, like an emergency room report, Kourounian’s written complaints, if offered for its truth, is a hearsay statement made by Kourounian, the person who wrote it.
The fact that Kourounian was available for cross-examination does not transform his statements in the complaints into non-hearsay or provide an exception to the hearsay rule. Hearsay is generally excluded because the out-of-court declarant is not under oath and cannot be cross-examined to test perception, memory, clarity of expression, and veracity and because the jury (or other trier of fact) is unable to observe the declarant’s demeanor. To challenge a testifying witness’s own prior, out-of-court statement as inadmissible hearsay is unusual, but we agree with the defendant that the testifying witness’s own statement to his wife constituted hearsay evidence, for it was an out-of-court statement that was offered for its truth. We are not free to disregard this holding by the Supreme Court and contrary to Kourounian’s claim, neither was the trial court.
The fact that Kourounian is a party, not merely a witness, does not make his out-of-court statements admissible. The Evidence Code provides only limited exceptions to the hearsay rule for the out-of-court statements of a party, and Kourounian has not identified any of them as applicable.
Finally, by way of analogy, federal caselaw is abundant that EEOC charges are inadmissible hearsay, as is the narrative attached to the charge.
Kourounian v. California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, 2023 WL 3612540 * 9 (2023)(cleaned up).
An athlete with Down syndrome made history. Then the abuse began, the suit says.
Caden Cox ran out to the 13-yard line with 3:22 left in the third quarter as his Hocking College Hawks battled the Sussex County Community College Skylanders on Sept. 11, 2021.
With Cox ready, the center snapped the football to the holder, who caught it and put it on the turf. Wearing No. 21, Cox trotted forward, pulled back his right leg, and swept it forward, lifting the ball through the uprights.
The extra point was good.
With that, Cox made history as the first known player with Down syndrome to score during a college football game. The feat earned him a spot in the history books and a 5½-minute segment on ESPN.
People talked to me and said, ‘Wow, it was an awesome kick
“People talked to me and said, ‘Wow, it was an awesome kick,’” he told a reporter at the time.
Less than two years later, Cox is suing his alma mater, alleging that the very thing that made his kick historic also made him a target for discrimination. In a lawsuit filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio, Cox alleges that college officials in Nelsonville, Ohio, discriminated against him because he has Down syndrome and then retaliated against him when he reported it to administrators. In one incident, a supervisor at the college’s student center threatened him with a knife and was later convicted in the incident.
President Betty Young declined to comment on Cox’s allegations but, in a statement to The Washington Post, said that she’s “happy Hocking College could provide opportunities for Caden to receive a college education and to participate in college athletics.”
“We remain committed to provide such to all our students,” she added.
Cox alleges that the discrimination started soon after June 2021 when the college hired Matthew Kmosko, a former professional soccer player, as a soccer coach and a supervisor at the college’s student center. In the latter role, Kmosko oversaw Cox, who worked at the center as a student-employee. As Cox’s boss, Kmosko consistently used “derogatory slurs” about people with Down syndrome and repeatedly berated him in front of his co-workers, the suit alleges.
Court records do not yet list an attorney for Kmosko. The public defender who represented Kmosko in the criminal trial declined to comment on Cox’s allegations in the civil suit.
In July 2021, Cox’s mother, Mari, who works at the college, filed a written complaint about Kmosko’s behavior with the college’s human resources department, according to the suit.
The misbehavior not only continued but also escalated, it alleges.
In January 2022, Mari emailed another complaint about Kmosko, asking that he be replaced as her son’s supervisor, the suit says. In the message, she accused Kmosko of calling her son the r-word, taking his phone without permission, and “putting his hands on [her son] inappropriately.”
Then, on May 12, when Cox went into a men’s bathroom to change the garbage bags, Kmosko allegedly followed him, blocked the exit and screamed at Cox while preventing him from leaving. As Kmosko did, he pointed a knife at Cox’s chest, the suit states.
Cox told investigators he feared that Kmosko would stab him, according to a police report.
Surveillance cameras captured Kmosko walking into and out of the bathroom with the knife, the suit states. Shaken and scared, Cox returned to the front desk, where he said he received a call from Kmosko. He allegedly told Cox that he could see him sitting there and ordered him to “get up and do something” before hanging up.
Cox “was terrified and traumatized and called his mother immediately,” according to the suit.
In July, Kmosko, who resigned from the college, was charged with aggravated menacing, a misdemeanor, in connection with the incident, and an Athens County jury found him guilty in January of menacing, a lesser charge. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
This past October, the college sent an email to employees calling for nominations for awards at the fall graduation ceremony, the suit states, and Cox “was nominated for nearly every award” by several staff members, including his coaches. Once the votes were tallied on Nov. 11, Cox had won three honors: the Inspirational Award, the Scholar Athlete Award, and the Hocking College Trustee Award, which was to be bestowed at a graduation ceremony on Dec. 10.
On Dec. 2, lawyers representing the Cox family delivered a letter to Young, laying out their allegations of discrimination, harassment, and assault.
On Dec. 9, a day before the ceremony, Cox’s father, Kevin, who worked at the college as a football coach until he resigned in February, arrived at the school to set up for the next day’s festivities. Reviewing the ceremony program, he noticed it listed his son as having won only one award, although a QR code on posters around the school routed to a digital version showing all three.
“Retaliation is the only plausible reason for the surreptitious and punitive removal of [Cox’s] graduation awards days before the graduation ceremony was to take place,” the suit alleges.
For people with Down syndrome, a longer life, but under a cloud
After graduating, Cox completed a football-related internship at Texas A&M University, where his older brother works as a strength coach, his lawyer, Mark Weiker, told The Post. He’s back in Ohio and, in June, plans to go to orientation at an Ohio State University program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
But a year later, the knife incident still haunts Cox, according to his lawsuit. He continues to suffer from nightmares and anxiety. When he visits Hocking’s campus, he gets especially scared when he sees a red car like the one Kmosko used to drive to school.
“The distress that [Caden] suffered and continues to suffer from as a result of the trauma he endured,” the suit states, “will affect him emotionally and psychologically for the rest of this life.”
New Hampshire chimney services contractor pays $26K to settle allegations of retaliation and interference with a federal investigation of pay practices.
Federal law prohibits employers from punishing workers who exercise their legal rights.
MANCHESTER, NH – A Manchester chimney services contractor has paid a total of $26,163 to three workers to resolve allegations that the employer violated the Fair Labor Standards Act’s anti-retaliation provisions enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.
The U.S. Department of Labor takes allegations of employee retaliation very seriously. Federal law protects workers’ ability to exercise their rights freely without fear of reprisals,” explained Wage and Hour Division District Director Steven McKinney in Manchester, New Hampshire. “These rights include the ability to contact the department and other agencies about the employer’s pay practices and to speak openly with investigators and other department officials during an investigation.
Division investigators found Ceaser Chimney Service Inc. fired an employee in June 2021 after they contacted the New Hampshire Department of Labor to inquire about their rights under the labor laws. During its investigation, the employer also unlawfully questioned two other employees regarding their communications with the Wage and Hour Division. Anti-retaliation provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act prohibit employers from discharging an employee or discriminating against an employee who engages in protected activity, including filing a complaint, participating in an investigation, or even simply asking questions about their wages.
Per the settlement agreement, Ceaser Chimney Inc. has done the following:
Paid the terminated employee a total of $21,163, which includes $2,463 in back pay for the time they were unemployed after the termination, $8,700 in front pay, and $10,000 in punitive damages.
Paid the other employees punitive damages totaling $5,000, or $2,500 each.
Agreed not to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because they filed a complaint, testified, or participated in any Fair Labor Standards Act investigation or proceeding or has asserted any right guaranteed by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Agreed to provide all current and future employees with a written statement of their Fair Labor Standards Act rights for a five-year period.
The division will continue to enforce these protections vigorously and make it clear – as Ceaser Chimney Inc. has learned – that retaliation against workers has costly consequences. The Wage and Hour Division encourages workers and employers in northern New England to contact the Manchester District Office to learn more about their respective rights and responsibilities under federal law,” added McKinney.
The FLSA requires that most employees in the U.S. be paid at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime pay at not less than time and one-half the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.
Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division. Employers and workers can call the division confidentially with questions regardless of their immigration status. The department can speak with callers confidentially in more than 200 languages through the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243).
Burger King Franchise to Pay $60,000 to Settle EEOC Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Suit
Employer Allowed Abuse of Pregnant Employee and Fired Her After She Complained, Federal Agency Charged
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – North Georgia Foods, Inc., a Georgia-based company operating several Burger King restaurants, including one in Murphy, North Carolina, has agreed to pay $60,000 and provide other relief to settle a sex harassment, retaliation, and pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC’s complaint, from at least August 2018 through approximately July 2019, a team member at North Georgia Foods’ Murphy, North Carolina location was sexually harassed by a male assistant manager. The harassment included vulgar sexual comments, threatening behavior, and unwelcome sexual touching. The team member complained multiple times and asked not to work alone with the male assistant manager. North Georgia Foods did not take action to stop the harassment but instead removed the team member from the schedule completely in June 2019. The company refused to communicate with the team member and later refused to reinstate her employment. The EEOC also alleged the team member was discriminated against because of her pregnancy.
This alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which protects employees from sex-based harassment in the workplace. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. North Georgia Foods, Inc, d/b/a Burger King, Case No. 1:22-cv-00049) in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement via its voluntary conciliation process.
The outcome of this case demonstrates that employers who ignore complaints of sex-based harassment in the workplace or retaliate against employees for asserting their rights under Title VII will be held accountable.
The suit was resolved by a two-year consent decree that prohibits North Georgia Foods from discriminating and retaliating against employees in violation of Title VII. North Georgia Foods must also prominently post a telephone number for an off-site reporting official, revise its written anti-discrimination policies, and train employees on the process for reporting complaints of discrimination and the requirements of Title VII, including its anti-retaliation provisions.
“The outcome of this case demonstrates that employers who ignore complaints of sex-based harassment in the workplace or retaliate against employees for asserting their rights under Title VII will be held accountable,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Melinda C. Dugas.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The EEOC’s Charlotte District is charged with enforcing federal employment discrimination laws in North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina.
Hundreds Allege Sex Harassment, Discrimination at Kay and Jared Jewelry Company
Hundreds of former employees of Sterling Jewelers, the multibillion-dollar conglomerate behind Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers, claim that its chief executive and other company leaders presided over a corporate culture that fostered rampant sexual harassment and discrimination, according to arbitration documents obtained by The Washington Post.
Declarations from roughly 250 women and men who worked at Sterling, filed as part of a private class-action arbitration case, allege that female employees at the company throughout the late 1990s and 2000s were routinely groped, demeaned, and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed. Sterling disputes the allegations.
The arbitration was first filed in 2008 by more than a dozen women who accused the company of widespread gender discrimination. The class-action case, still unresolved, now includes 69,000 women who are current and former employees of Sterling, which operates about 1,500 stores across the country.
Statements allege that top male managers, some at the company’s headquarters near Akron, Ohio, dispatched scouting parties to stores to find female employees they wanted to sleep with, laughed about women’s bodies in the workplace, and pushed female subordinates into sex by pledging better jobs, higher pay or protection from punishment.
Though women made up a large part of Sterling’s sales force, many said they felt they had little recourse with their mostly male management. Sanya Douglas, a Kay sales associate and manager in New York between 2003 and 2008, said a manager even had a saying for male leaders coaxing women into sexual favors to advance their careers, calling it “going to the big stage.”
“If you didn’t do what he wanted with him,” she said in the 2012 sworn statement, “you wouldn’t get your (preferred) store or raise.”
Not all of the 69,000 class members are alleging sexual impropriety. Many are accusing Sterling of wage violations, arguing women were systematically paid less than men and passed over for promotions given to less experienced male colleagues.
Sterling, like other U.S. companies, requires all workers to waive their right to bring any employment-related disputes against their employer in public courts. Instead, complaints must be decided in arbitration — a private, quasi-legal system where cases are guaranteed little transparency.
More than 1,300 pages of sworn statements were released Sunday and feature company-approved redactions that obscure the names of managers and executives accused of harassment or abuse. But a memorandum by the employees’ attorneys supporting their motion for class certification, filed in 2013, revealed that top executives including Mark Light, now chief executive of Sterling’s parent company, Signet Jewelers, were among those accused of having sex with female employees and promoting women based upon how they responded to sexual demands.
Many of the most striking allegations stem from the company’s annual managers meetings, which former employees described as a boozy, no-spouses-allowed “sex-fest” where attendance was mandatory and women were aggressively pursued, grabbed, and harassed.
Multiple witnesses told attorneys that they saw Light “being entertained” as he watched and joined nude and partially undressed female employees in a swimming pool, according to the 2013 memorandum.
Routine sexual “preying” at company events “was done out in the open and appeared to be encouraged, or at least condoned, by the company,” Melissa Corey, a manager of Sterling stores in Massachusetts and Florida between 2002 and 2008, said in her declaration.
Ellen Contaldi, a Sterling manager in Massachusetts between 1994 and 2008, said in her declaration that male executives “prowled around the (resort) like dogs that were let out of their cage and there was no one to protect the female managers from them.”
“I didn’t like being alone, anywhere. I used to dread going” to the meetings, Contaldi told The Post in an interview. “If you were even remotely attractive or outgoing, which most salespeople are, you were meat, being shopped.”
“It was like nobody knew right from wrong, and there was nobody trying to show anybody right from wrong,” Contaldi added. “There was no discipline. There was no consequence. You were on your own.”
Former employees who sought help or reported abuse through an internal hotline alleged in their declarations that they were verbally attacked or terminated. Kristin Henry, a five-year Sterling employee who said she was 22 when an older district manager tried to kiss and touch her at a managers event, told The Post she was falsely accused of theft and quickly fired after reporting his advances to superiors at Sterling.
The case, Jock et al. v. Sterling Jewelers, was filed before the American Arbitration Association, one of the nation’s largest arbitration organizations. Kathleen A. Roberts, the case’s arbitrator, and a retired federal magistrate is forbidden by association rules from speaking with the media. Like other arbitrations, the case before Roberts is conducted in private and is legally binding. While arbitrator decisions are appealable, there are very limited grounds on which decisions can be overturned. The confidential nature of the case has made it difficult to determine why it has taken so long to resolve.
In a 2015 decision to grant class-action status to the women, Roberts wrote that the testimony includes references to “soliciting sexual relations with women (sometimes as a quid pro quo for employment benefits), and creating an environment at often-mandatory Company events in which women are expected to undress publicly, accede to sexual overtures and refrain from complaining about the treatment to which they have been subjected.”
“For the most part Sterling has not sought to refute this evidence,” Roberts wrote. Instead, she wrote, “Sterling argues that it is inadmissible, irrelevant and insufficient to establish a corporate culture that demeans women.”
The case could deeply tarnish a business that sells billions of dollars worth of jewelry a year through romance-centered marketing campaigns such as “Every Kiss Begins with Kay.” Signet told shareholders in an annual report last year that it would have to “pay substantial damages” if it lost the case.
Sterling’s mall outlets and storefronts account for a large chunk of America’s jewelry market, as well as more than 18,000 jobs across all 50 states. Its parent company, Signet, which is domiciled in Bermuda but headquartered in Ohio, is the world’s largest retailer of diamond jewelry, selling more than $6 billion of jewelry, watches, and services in 2015, company filings show.
Joseph M. Sellers, a partner at the Cohen Milstein law firm and lead counsel for the case, told The Post in an interview that the former employees’ statements provide “breathtaking evidence of ways in which women were mistreated in the workplace.”
“It was terribly demeaning to them as women,” Sellers said, “not just because they themselves were mistreated but because they saw how their co-workers were treated as sexual objects.”
‘Backed into a corner’
When Heather Ballou left her job at a small jewelry store and moved to a Kay retail outlet in Pensacola, Fla., in 2000, she believed she had made the right move to advance her young career. Sterling seemed to offer high standards, a professional atmosphere, and managers willing to groom and mentor new employees, Ballou, a class member in the arbitration, said in an interview with The Post.
As she worked her way up to store manager, though, she said, she became increasingly disturbed at the frequency of sexual harassment from the company’s crude “boys club.” At a managers meeting in 2005, a district manager promised to help transfer her to a better store if she had sex with him, she said in her sworn statement. That night, she did, believing she was “backed into a corner” and had no other way to advance.
“Looking back, I can’t believe I did some of the things I had to do,” Ballou, 41, told The Post, adding that in the moment she thought: “You suck it up and do what you have to do for your family. You need this job.”
Ballou attended four of Sterling’s multi-day managers meetings, where attendance was mandatory for managers at company stores nationwide. The events, which were mostly held in Orlando, included daytime work seminars but were infamous for their wild parties at night, employees said. It was common practice, former employees said, for executives and high-level managers to ply subordinates with alcohol.
One night, Ballou told The Post, she saw a top executive watching as female managers in varying stages of undress splashed in a hotel pool. “He had a drink in one hand and a cigar in the other, just taking it all in, like, ‘I am the king and this is my harem,’ ” she told The Post. She was prevented by her attorneys from naming which executive was involved, because of the condition of the arbitration documents’ release. The 2013 class-action motion states Light took part in a pool-related incident similar to the one Ballou described.
Henry, who attended the 2005 meeting, said she was retrieving her shawl from a hotel room when a male district manager who was her father’s age, and whom she had been told to treat like a mentor, forcibly tried to kiss and touch her. Stunned, she left immediately afterward and called her parents for advice.
“I was so embarrassed,” she told The Post. “I was afraid of what would happen next, how I would be treated if it was something he would tell other employees about.”
A few days later, she called an internal hotline to report the encounter, believing her identity would be protected. But within days of her report, a regional boss visited her store for two days, interviewed her co-workers, and reviewed surveillance video before accusing her of stealing a gold necklace and $100 in cash. She told The Post she showed the boss evidence that she had not stolen anything, but Sterling fired her, a few days before she was set to receive an annual commission payment worth roughly $30,000, she alleged.
Because she was fired and accused of theft, she told The Post, that she was unable to find a job at another jewelry store. Now 34, she works as a nurse in Florida.
“Friends to this day ask: What ever happened to that job? And it’s one of those situations: Do I tell the truth? Or do I say I just moved on, to save myself the embarrassment?” she told The Post. Seeing Kay commercials, she said, continues to unnerve her.
“They’re still hiring younger women, and I worry about those women,” she told The Post. “I worry about what might happen to them.”
Julia Highfill, a nine-year Sterling manager in Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, said in her sworn statement that the company “did not have an effective or serious mechanism by which female employees could complain about their mistreatment.” After calling the company to report that a district manager had arrived to work late and reeking of alcohol, she alleged that he called soon after to warn her against calling again. He told her, “Anything you say, I’m going to know,” she recalled in an interview.
Men who are not part of the class also filed sworn statements alleging Sterling was a hostile workplace for women. Richard Sumen, who worked for Sterling in Ohio from 1992 until 2005, said in his declaration that a group of managers and officers are commonly known as the “good ole boys” was infamous for “protecting and promoting their friends, and wild escapades of sex, drugs, excessive drinking and womanizing.” He recalled one former Ohio-based executive saying, “Why pay women more when they just get pregnant and have families?”
In his sworn statement, Sumen also recounted an incident at corporate headquarters in which an executive pointed to a female secretary and asked a district manager, “Are you doing her?” The secretary looked visibly uncomfortable, Sumen said, but the executive said again, louder, “I want to f—ing know if you are f—ing doing her.”
Sumen told The Post that he remained troubled by what he called Sterling’s discriminatory corporate climate. He wrote in his 2008 declaration, “This culture of sexism and womanizing was so prevalent that female management employees were pressured to acquiesce and participate.”
Like ‘an abusive relationship’
This culture seemingly arose in a company whose sales force was mostly women. More than 68 percent of Sterling’s store managers are women, the company told The Post. Three of Signet’s 10 executive officers are women. A job-recruitment video calls Sterling “your place to shine” and promises an “exciting and fulfilling career.”
Light was made Sterling’s chief executive in 2006 and presided over an eight-year growth streak during which the company’s sales more than tripled. Light, now 54 and chief executive of Signet, earned about $7.4 million in salary, stock, and bonuses in fiscal 2016, up from $2.4 million in 2014, company filings show.
Signet, the parent company of Sterling, Zales, and other jewelry brands, has struggled in recent months because of disappointing holiday sales, investors’ worries over how much of its jewelry is bought on credit, and a scandal during which Kay customers alleged diamonds they had brought in for cleaning were swapped for lesser-quality stones. The company denied the diamond-swapping allegations. Its share price has dropped by half since its late-2015 peak.
Since 1998, Sterling has forced all employees to agree to arbitration — a no-judge, no-jury resolution system that allows companies to keep potentially embarrassing labor disputes and case records mostly confidential.
The nonprofit American Arbitration Association, where the Sterling case is being heard, allows companies to refuse arbitrators they believe will not fairly rule on their case.
Some companies have argued that arbitration allows them a quicker path to resolving employee disputes beyond traditional courts. Workers effectively consent to the rules when they sign agreements requiring arbitration as a condition of their employment, as seen with Sterling’s contracts.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in a report last year that mandatory arbitration policies “can prevent employees from learning about similar concerns shared by others in their workplace.”
Ballou, who left the company in 2009, is hoping the case leads to more than back pay. Now 41, the single mother is back in school studying to become a registered nurse and working as an office manager for a real estate company, where she told The Post she “hasn’t encountered an inkling” of what she saw at Sterling.
“What’s sad is that I was there for so long, it was almost like when someone is in an abusive relationship: You think that’s what normal is,” she told The Post.
“I can’t even go into a Kay anymore. It just turns my stomach,” she added. “Even seeing those ‘Every Kiss Begins with Kay’ commercials revolts me, thinking of what’s behind them. All the good things they do, all the lovely things they promise. It’s a lie.”
She told The Post she wanted to speak out in hopes that it could help other women, as well as her 8-year-old daughter.
“I was a victim, and I didn’t have anyone to speak for me,” Ballou said. “As humiliating as it was, it was worth it, because now maybe it won’t happen to her.”
Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC ordered to pay more than $225K to worker terminated after reporting injury at Kansas City, Kansas, rail yard
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC wrongfully terminated an employee in Kansas City after he reported an injury to his left shoulder, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The company has been found in violation of the Federal Railroad Safety Act*, and OSHA ordered the company to pay the apprentice electrician $225,385 in back wages and damages, remove disciplinary information from the employee’s personnel record and provide whistleblower rights information to all its employees.
“The resolution of this case will restore the employee’s dignity and ability to support his family,” said Marcia P. Drumm, OSHA’s acting regional administrator in Kansas City, Missouri. “It is illegal to discipline an employee for reporting workplace injuries and illnesses. Whistleblower protections play an important role in keeping workplaces safe because they protect people from choosing between their health and disciplinary action.”
OSHA’s investigation upheld the allegation that the railroad company terminated the employee following an injury that required the employee to be transported to an emergency room and medically restricted from returning to work. The company’s investigation into the injury, reported on Aug. 27, 2013, concluded that the employee had been dishonest on his employment record about former, minor workplace injuries unrelated to the left shoulder. These conclusions led the company to terminate the employee on Nov. 18, 2013.
OSHA found this termination to be retaliation for reporting the injury and in direct violation of the FRSA. BNSF has been ordered to pay $50,000 in compensatory damages, $150,000 in punitive damages, more than $22,305 in back wages and interest and reasonable attorney’s fees. Any of the parties in this case can file an appeal with the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the FRSA and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, worker safety, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime and securities laws.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.
Commenting about her lawsuit, Ms. Holycross’ attorney, Andrew H. Friedman of Venice-based Helmer Friedman, LLP said “California law clearly prohibits employers, and certainly their highest level officials, from firing an employee for complaining about illegal conduct. We look forward to vigorously representing our client and obtaining the remedies to which she is entitled under the law.”