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Sexual harassment may signal other issues if not stopped

Sexual harassment in the workplace may just be the tip of the iceberg, depending on the psychology of the harasser. It may be the not so subtle signal of other mental issues percolating in an individual’s mind, waiting for an outlet. Certainly sexual harassment is a clear warning signal that something is wrong. Employers need to pay heed to such behavior and not brush it under the rug or ignore it.

Consider the Homeland Security Department (HSD) case involving a gun battle inside a secure government building, on a secure floor of a southern California office building. Deceased supervisory agent Ezequiel “Zeke” Garcia, 45-years-old at the time of the shoot-out, started a gun battle in 2012 inside the Long Beach offices of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations. Garcia was armed. His target that day, senior regional manager, Kevin Kozak, was not. Perry Woo, his supervisor, killed Garcia with a shot to the back of his head.

According to the Associated Press (AP), who obtained the report on the incident, HSD missed Garcia’s clear warning signals. Had they taken action to deal with Garcia, Kozak may not have sustained severe gun shot wounds to his back, leg, hands and abdomen. Kozak may yet lose his leg and suffers greatly from his debilitating injuries.

Garcia had been the subject of four substantiated sexual harassment complaints. He was heard to complain to co-workers that management were targeting him to demote him despite his 21 years of service.

The report the AP obtained under the auspices of the Freedom of Information Act revealed frightening details that clearly showed Garcia needed help. In fact, it went on to outline that Garcia’s previous supervisor recalled a conversation in which Garcia said the agency “had taken away from him everything that mattered” and that Garcia had to be talked “off the ledge every day in an effort to motivate him to work.”

In summation, the internal HSD investigation report also concluded that Garcia’s behavior and misconduct would have alerted his superiors, had they known his full history — a remark that points out that perhaps no one was really paying attention to his actions, or comprehending what they may mean. Add to the fire that the deceased agent was known to be easygoing may have meant his actions were not given much scrutiny. In other words, no one knew he was capable of such deathly violence on a moment’s notice.

Substantiated sexual harassment charges were just the beginning of the end in this case. Never ignore sexual harassment in the workplace. Pay attention to other signs and signals. Ensure the harasser gets help.

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It’s About Time, UC Berkeley: The Aftermath of the Geoff Marcy Sexual Harassment Debacle

It is enormously disappointing to find out that recently released documents show astronomer Geoff Marcy did not respect the boundaries between students and professors.

If that were not bad enough, UC Berkeley turned a nearly blind eye to the issue and used a heavy-handed, slow as molasses approach to deal with the reported harassment. Nothing says lack of motivation to deal with an issue quite like taking years to deal with numerous reports of sexual harassment by the same individual.

For a number of years now many university campuses have been mired in ugly sexual harassment cases, with accusations that the administration would not take student complaints seriously. When the lid finally blew off the debacle and the truth of the matter was outed, it became apparent that sexual harassment was rampant across the nation. It also was glaringly evident that no one in a position of authority did much about it, other than pay lip service to the notion of punishment. Instead, the issue was swept under the rug and the victim was deemed to be the problem.

It is not rocket science to understand that sexual harassment by a person in a position of authority is against the law. The Marcy case is a good example of a harasser (at first) getting off lightly, until the media published the university’s investigative report of the allegations, four in total, which confirmed he had harassed students. The sky did fall and Marcy was forced to resign.

The complaints were fairly explicit and there seemed to be no clear reason why the university would not take them seriously and take action, other than the possibility that losing Marcy may have affected their funding. Apparently Marcy’s behavior was a well-known hidden secret and yet nothing was done until his actions went public. And so now, an advisory committee is to make recommendations on how to handle sexual violence, harassment and assault cases involving faculty members.

The time to do that was when the first sexual harassment complaint was filed. But better late than never.

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Will the Geoff Marcy scandal change educational institutions’ attitude about sexual harassment?

Geoff Marcy was considered to be an icon in the field of astronomy. He is known worldwide for his work discovering planets in far away solar systems. Now, he is known worldwide for this proclivity to sexually harass students.

The scandal that drove Marcy to resign from UC Berkeley was not just about his actions, but about the inaction of the institution itself in refusing to deal with accusations levelled against him.

The scandal revolving around Marcy’s actions raised questions regarding the university administration’s inaction when accusations were levelled against him. Were they too indifferent or too intimidated to put a stop to a famous man who sexually harassed his female students? Was it too inconvenient to properly address the harassment when the harasser was a star of their astronomy department and of the scientific community?

There may never be a clear answer to that question, but the facts do speak clearly for themselves. Marcy broke the rules, students complained, and the university looked the other way. The scandal took on a life of its own, forcing Marcy to resign from his position at the university and his role as a principal investigator for the Breakthrough Listen project to search for extraterrestrial intelligence, though he had some kind of agreement hammered out that may have allowed him to remain at both.

For years, UC Berkeley administration studiously avoided the Marcy situation, even though many on campus, including his colleagues, knew about his behavior. However, within just five days, once the full scope of Marcy’s actions was revealed to an international audience, Marcy was gone. Was this indicative of a change in attitude on the part of the university or a profound shift in public opinion condemning such behavior?

While it would be gratifying to think educational institutions are fed up with those who push the boundaries and bend or ignore sexual harassment policies, it does not appear that those places of higher education actually want to deal with such behavior. If they did, Marcy would have been properly punished a number of years ago.

It appears the bottom line for many educational edifices and corporate boardrooms continues to be, “Silence is golden to protect the Golden Goose.”

What happened to the basic right of students to expect a good education and feel safe from harassment and abuse while they are in school or at work? Where is it written that it is okay for a famous person to sexually harass students because he or she brings prestige and money to the university or acclaim to a business?

Each individual is accountable for his or her actions — period. When those illegal, unethical and morally corrupt actions are tacitly condoned, the perpetrator is enabled to continue his or her deplorable actions. But they are not invincible. They do eventually pay the price for their actions; but what is the cost to their victims?

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SLU MD Graduate Denied Promised Promotion, Dismissed for Reporting Racism at Jefferson Barracks VA

This case bears witness to alleged racism, discrimination, sexual harassment and fraudulent administrative actions that prompted St. Louis University MD graduate, Dr. Jane Doe, to blow the whistle and reveal the full extent of the story. Doe filed a racism/sexual harassment/Veterans Affairs (VA) government fraud complaint with the Missouri U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) in Aug. 2014. Mediation is still ongoing in 2015.

Doe’s career was promising, until Doe ran afoul of Dr. Muhammad Atthar Naeem and Dr. Robert M. Heaney for reporting alleged racism, according to a statement of complaint filed with the EEOC.

In her complaint, Doe reveals she started a psychiatry Fellowship program appointed by St. Louis University School of Medicine to proceed at Jefferson Barracks VA Medical Center, under the supervision of physician Naeem. Dr. Jothika Manapalli was her program director.

Doe allegedly heard Naeem refer to African American veterans seeking psychiatric care as being mostly drug seekers, and further referred to them as “stupid Americans.” She also claims to have been advised by Naeem that African American nurses had very limited intellectual abilities and that Doe would need to make things simple for them to grasp.

Allegedly, Doe further witnessed Naeem give honors grades to rotating foreign-born doctors and medical students from St. Louis University School of Medicine, even if they did not report for work.

Inappropriate sexual remarks were directed at Doe from Naeem, and she was allegedly asked frequently if she would introduce herself as his girlfriend because his wife did not care if he did. Later it was discovered that prior sexual harassment complaints were made against Naeem during his residency under Manapalli at St. Louis University.

Naeem allegedly falsified government medical records indicating he had seen patients he did not see. Doe claims he allegedly said he could do what he pleased and did not have to see his patients since they were in a controlled environment.

Doe was expecting a job promotion within two months and reported all incidents to her program director Manapalli. He did not follow University protocol in addressing the complaints, and instead called Naeem and his best friend to verify Doe’s claims. Later that day, Doe discovered her vehicle had four slashed tires.

Doe allegedly took her grievances to a higher entity at her place of employment, the Graduate Medical Education Director at St. Louis University School of Medicine, Dr. Heaney. She wanted assurances that her promotion would not be affected and that other staff would be protected. Heaney allegedly assured her that the complaints would not affect her promotion and that she would be protected.

Doe was not promoted. She intends to prove that Heaney approached and threatened her with dismissal that subsequently resulted in actual termination and being ostracized from the University.

This story, as told by Doe, is not just about racism and harassment at an inpatient VA psychiatric facility. It is about alleged harassment and racism on a university campus. Nationwide campus riots tell similar stories in graphic demonstrations and confrontations.

Despite evident unrest across the nation in relation to racism on university and college campuses, the issue continues to rear its head when administrative officials aim to keep such matters quiet and allow the practice to continue, either due to inaction or ineffective action.

If mediation efforts are unsuccessful, the EEOC will issue a right to sue notice and Doe’s complaint will promptly be filed in U.S. District Court.

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Sexual harassment allegations led to resignation of astronomer Geoff Marcy

Apparently, world-renowned astronomer Geoff Marcy has more than just a solid track record for finding exo-planets. He has a documented, but deliberately squelched track record for sexual harassment while working at two universities in California: University of California, Berkeley, and San Francisco State University (SFSU).

And while it appears that university officials knew about his sexual offenses, nothing was done about it until recently. The court of public opinion turned the tide against him and he was forced to resign from his post. Marcy had run afoul of Berkeley’s sexual harassment policies multiple times between 2001 and 2010. He posted a mea culpa message on his website suggesting he did not realize his behavior caused women distress.

Three women from SFSU say he sexually harassed students there, too, by making lewd remarks, touching and massaging students. Marcy was employed at SFSU for 15 years prior to leaving for Berkeley in 1999. According to a former sexual harassment officer, several women tried to register complaints about him. She also verified she had seen emails written by him at that time to the women in question.

Marcy’s open letter stated, in part: “While I do not agree with each complaint that was made, it is clear that my behavior was unwelcomed by some women. I take full responsibility and hold myself completely accountable for my actions and the impact they had. For that and to the women affected, I sincerely apologize.” According to one complainant, Marcy allegedly thought his actions boosted his female student’s self-esteem, even though he was told to stop.

There was a possibility Marcy would retain his job, while his behavior was to be subjected to rigorous control. When faculty, staff and students discovered there was a possibility he would retain his job despite being found to be in violation of Berkeley’s sexual harassment policies, the uproar demanding his resignation began. Berkeley’s attempt to retain a serial sexual harasser was regarded as hypocritical in that it would strictly go against the reason the university had a sexual harassment policy in place. It was regarded as morally, ethically and legally wrong.

Despite the claims by some, including his wife, who said Marcy’s behavior was merely friendly, his actions were wrong. When he was told to stop, he did not. Sexual harassment is sexual harassment, no matter what one chooses to call it.

If you are facing a situation like this at work, make certain to contact an experienced sexual harassment attorney and find out what your options are and how to proceed to file a lawsuit.

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Uber says drivers are independent contractors, drivers say they are employees

More and more employees in California are taking a hard look at the nature of their employment contracts.

Are they being denied benefits? Is their employer flaunting the law and not paying them formeal breaks or allowing rest time? Are they wrongly classified as independent contractors when in reality they are employees?

An Uber company driver is suing the company in federal court by invoking the Fair Labor Standards Act and alleging he is owed unpaid wages. Legal counsel is requesting that the court grant class action status to permit other drivers to join the suit.

This is not the first lawsuit of a similar nature that Uber is dealing with either. Three other drivers are making claims they are not independent contractors but rather employees and thus entitled to various benefits such as claiming expenses. In his statement of claim, Greg Fisher says he should be paid minimum wage, overtime wages (overtime must be paid after 40 hours of work per week) and other damages under the law that were not paid due to Uber classifying him as an independent contractor.

Fisher alleges he has driven for the company forstints of longer than eight hours. Of interest is that the California Labor Commission (CLC) has a decision on record that may impact Uber and other companies that utilize on-demand workers. The Commission ruled a specific Uber driver, Barbara Berwick, was indeed entitled to be paid for driving expenses, an amount of $4,152 which included toll fees she paid out while driving and a per mileage expense rate of 55 cents per mile.

The main question in these cases revolves around just how involved Uber is with its on-demand workers.According to the CLC, Uber not only approves drivers, but vets them first, dictates what cars they drive, tracks their ratings, controls the amount of money they earn by setting rates and manages driver access to the Uber application. Therefore, a driver is an Uber employee.

If you are in a questionable job situation and do not know if you are an independent contractor or not, talk to an experienced employment attorney who understands the labor laws in your jurisdiction. You may find out you are actually an employee and may be able to sue for unpaid and overtime wages that you are entitled to under the law.

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Guess Retail Inc. former worker alleges unpaid meal breaks, improper payment of wages

This lawsuit is the third launched against Guess Retail Inc. this year and has the potential to become a class action lawsuit. Burgos v. Guess Retail Inc., Case No. BC592087, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles.

Former employee Kriss Burgos alleges that she was not paid for missed meal breaks, was improperly paidlater than mandated by law on termination and that there were other irregularities relating to wage payment and her employment records. Court documents indicate that Burgos was a non-exempt hourly worker and required to work without rest or meal breaks and was never compensated for them.

According to California labor law, employers must provide for regular rest breaks and an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break after the fifth hour of working.

There are five claims of violations, and the lawsuit is seeking straight time, overtime and double compensation due to Guess’s alleged failure to pay, as well as other compensatory damages and penalties.

Any worker who believes they have been unfairly denied meal or rest breaks or who were not paid according to the existing labor laws of their state should seek experienced legal counsel to determine their rights and how to proceed with a lawsuit, if that is the appropriate course of action.

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Misclassification of independent contractors an issue nationwide

Misclassification of workers as independent contractors is a problem nationwide. A misclassification of employee status prevents workers from attaining workplace benefits to which they may be entitled.

Recently, Idaho signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Labor to collaborate to identify businesses that engage in this illegal activity and to stop the misclassification of independent contractors. This latest move to protect workers brings Idaho in line with 23 other states that have similar agreements in place.

Those states are: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The issue that prompted revamped legislation is that state and federal agencies need to know with certainty what actual benefits and protections are accorded to an employee, such as family medical leave, employment taxes, meal and break periods, overtime pay and minimum wage.

If a worker is misclassified,the business cheats the government out of legally mandated taxes and cheats workers out of legally mandated protections. Misclassification of a worker is a benefit for a company until it gets sued or reported and investigated. It is actually less expensive for the company to strictly comply with the labor laws of each state, or make it their priority to find out what those laws say, rather than be sued and have the court award a higher amount than may actually be owed.

If companies are allowed to get away with misclassifying workers, they also unfairly affect the tenor of the industry in which they compete. It is an unfair and illegal advantage to misclassify workers to get a competitive pricing edge to obtain more clients. Enforcement of stated labor laws protecting workers is the priority of states seeking to level the playing field and protect workers.

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Wrongful termination lawsuit filed against California radio station

In Los Angeles, California, two former employees of a radio station filed lawsuits alleging wrongful termination as defined by California labor laws. They are accusing the station of engaging in acts that constitute defamation of character. The employees claim that the company retaliated against them for being whistleblowers regarding fraud perpetrated by the station, and the hiring of illegal immigrants.

The defendant, Grupo Radio Centro LA LCC, has denied the allegations. The plaintiffs are Sean O’Neill, who worked in the role of vice president/general manager, and Rosa Ambriz, who served as office manager. After entering into a four-year contract, O’Neill started working for the station in January 2014. He was terminated in August 2014 after having worked there for only seven months. Ambriz was laid off from her role at the same time.

The plaintiffs allege that Grupo terminated them after they were vocal about fraud concerning Nielsen ratings, and “payola” and “plugola,” which are methods of payment and incentives to publicize and/or advertise products illegally. They claim that Grupo retaliated against them by creating a hostile work environment, subjecting them to unbearable working conditions, and wrongfully terminating them. In response, Grupo’s legal counsel claims that O’Neill was fired because he failed to meet sales goals, in addition to allegations that he harassed employees.

While O’Neill alleges that Grupo violated the California Labor Code and committed breach of contract, defamation and wrongful termination, Ambriz accuses Grupo of wrongful termination and violation of the California Labor Code. There is also a co-defendant named Ricardo Sanchez, who is alleged to have composed a memo to O’Neill dated July 8, 2014, that contained remarks that were defamatory and demeaning. It is alleged that the email accused O’Neill of producing low morale among the sales workers, and that it accused O’Neill’s department of underperforming. In addition, the email stated that the clients felt uneasy engaging in business dealings with O’Neill, and that O’Neill destroyed the station.

If you think that you are the victim of wrongful termination or other violations of California labor laws, you should consult an employment lawyer.

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Wholesale bakery commits wage theft violations

A wholesale bakery based in Vista, San Diego, was cited for several wage violations, with assessments totaling more than $185,000. According to an investigation, Cookies con Amore, which sells its gourmet cookies to gourmet grocery stores and Whole Foods, consistently withheld overtime pay, rest and meal breaks from 73 workers, and compelled a number of them to sign a statement consenting to the wage theft violations. Interviews of employees and an audit revealed that such violations occurred between October 2013 and December 2014.

Although workers labored for shifts of 10 or more hours, they were compensated at straight time, and did not receive any overtime pay. They were permitted just one 30-minute break without any other rest period or break for a second meal. If the workers did not sign the statement agreeing to the unfair working conditions, they were directed to seek other employment.

The investigation by the Labor Commissioner was conducted in response to complaints received from California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), which is a non-profit program focusing on legal services. The Office of the Labor Commissioner, which is officially called the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, examines workplaces to determine whether any wage and hour violations have been committed, adjudicates wage claims and enforces wage rates in public works projects. It also investigates whistleblower and retaliation complaints, provides licenses and registrations for businesses and informs the public about labor laws.

A public awareness campaign called Wage Theft is a Crime was launched in 2014 by the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), and has assisted workers in becoming more aware of their rights. The campaign consists of print and outdoor advertising as well as radio commercials on ethnic stations in different languages.

If you think you have been the victim of wage theft, you should consult an experienced employment lawyer.

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