California Employment Attorneys – We Can Help

Harris & Kaufman is a California law firm that’s dedicated to representing employees in disputes against their employers to do with employee rights in California. Our California labor lawyers also represent employees and workers in wage disputes, overtime pay, vacation pay, unlawful termination, rest and meal period cases, sexual harassment, workplace discrimination, gender and race discrimination,pregnancy discrimination, and cases regarding tips and tip pooling. Our lawyers can assist you if you believe that your employer has broken the California Labor Laws.

Our employment attorneys are experienced and have had numerous trials, arbitrations, and appeals and have litigated on behalf of thousands of employees.

Harris & Kaufman has represented workers in state and federal court and in administrative proceedings before the California Labor Commissioner. Determined and aggressive, our cases include individual disputes and class action lawsuits.

We can assist you with a wide variety of workplace disputes to do with the California Labor Laws. We are aggressive and experienced lawyers and can help enforce your rights under California state law or state regulations. Based in Sherman Oaks, California we serve greater Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura County and have cases statewide.

For more information on your employee rights in California call:
Toll Free 1-800-559-6868

California Court of Appeal declares Circuit City’s Arbitration Agreement Unenforceable

A good example of an unfair arbitration agreement is discussed in the decision of Gonlugar v. Circuit City Stores, Inc. Harris & Kaufman represents the plaintiff against Circuit City in an overtime pay class action. In September 2004, a court of appeal said that Circuit City’s arbitration agreement could not be enforced. The court of appeal found that the terms of Circuit City’s arbitration agreement were so one-side that it “shocked the conscience”. Among the things, Circuit City’s arbitration agreement bound only the employee to arbitration, required the employee to pay fees to Circuit City just for initiating the arbitration (Circuit City pays no such fees), imposes a shortened statute of limitation on the employee (and not on Circuit City), and prohibits class actions. The court concluded that the “central purpose of the agreement” was “tainted with illegality”.

Harris & Kaufman Employee Attorneys Prevail at Trial, Prove that U-Haul General Managers Entitled To Overtime Pay Under State Law

In a case with major state-wide implications, Harris & Kaufman employee attorneys successfully represented the plaintiffs in a class action for overtime pay against U-Haul International, Inc. In Crandall v.s. U-Haul International, Inc., Harris & Kaufman, with William E. Harris & Matthew A. Kaufman acting as lead attorneys, represented 480 current and former employees, entitled “General Managers,” of U-Haul rental outlets. At trial, the employees argued that the Phoenix-based company wrongly classified them as exempt from overtime requirements of California law. The plaintiffs claimed that they spent most of their work time engaged in sales and the same work as the other non-management employees at the stores. The court agreed with the plaintiffs, ruling that the evidence did not show that the employees spent over 50% of their time engaged in management work as required by state law.

U-Haul threw everything but the kitchen sink at the plaintiffs. U-Haul spent millions of dollars in its defense by hiring four law firms, an uncountable number of lawyers, and many high-priced expert witnesses. Adding to U-Haul’s resources, the California Employment Law Counsel, an organization financed by big business, also appeared as a party in the case and lobbied the court of appeal and supreme court to intercede. Despite the financial mismatch, Harris & Kaufman proved their determination and that the employees were non-exempt by persuading the trial judge to disregard U-Haul’s arguments and rule on behalf of the employees.

This is the first class action to go to trial on the issue of whether managers spent over half their work time engaged in exempt work under California law. The case, which was the subject of articles in Business Week, CFO Magazine, The Los Angeles Times and The Los Angeles Daily Journal, was closely followed by the employer’s bar and lobby. The result implicates the common practice throughout the state of classifying as “exempt” employees who work on the sales floors and production lines.

Arbitration in Employment Disputes: Don’t Believe The Hype!

Arbitration is where parties to a dispute agree to resolve a dispute outside of court. The parties hire a third person, usually a retired judge, and their agreement determines the rules of how the arbitrator makes his or her decision. There is no jury and, usually, no appeals. Even if the arbitrator makes a mistake, the parties usually have to accept the arbitrator’s decision. Thereafter, a court will enforce the arbitrator’s judgment the same way it enforces its own judgments.

Much effort has been put into convincing the public that arbitration is a great way to resolve any dispute, including employment disputes.  Arbitration advocates say that arbitration is quicker and less expensive for everyone.  If this is so, then why not prefer arbitration?

These arguments are concocted to favor business.  Would you still prefer arbitration if the rules of conducting the arbitration favored the employer?  How would you feel if the arbitrators likely would favor the employer when awarding damages, and would award less on claim than a jury?  Those arbitrations are not free by the way, and the arbitrators (at least where I practice in Los Angeles) charge in the neighborhood of $450 per hour.  You may be required to pay half or all of the arbitrator’s fee, which probably will be thousands of dollars.

Arbitration is big business.  For example, the American Arbitration Association reports that its revenues were almost $84 million a year in 2002.  Like any business, it will favor its repeat customers, namely, other big businesses.  (Who do you think conducts more arbitrations, you or General Motors?).  In fact, the California Supreme Court acknowledges the pro-defense and pro-business bias of arbitration.  “The perceived advantages of the judicial forum for plaintiffs include[s] . . . the fact that courts and juries are viewed as more likely to adhere to the law and less likely than arbitrators to split the difference‚ between the two sides, thereby lowering damages awards for plaintiffs.” ‚Armendariz   v. Foundation Health Psychcare Services, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal. 4th 83.  That is a nice way of saying, “people know that arbitrators don’t always stick to the law and award less.”  If you don’t believe me, I can’t wait for your first arbitration result.

I have seen many arbitration agreements in my practice, and I am always surprised at how low employers will go to skew the process of arbitration in their favor.  For example, Circuit City’s arbitration agreement requires their employees to pay a fee to Circuit City before beginning an arbitration.  No Court in the United States requires that one party pay a fee to another party just to get into court.  Many arbitration agreements shorten the statutes of limitations or require that their employees bring their disputes to a panel of employees first for resolution, thereby subjecting the employee to the company attorneys before the employee gets legal representation.  Others limit how much fact finding (discovery) the employee can do prior to the arbitration.  This favors employers tremendously, because their lawyers and not the lone arbitration claimant will have access to many employees and documents.  These clauses are designed to skew the conflict in the employer’s favor.


Arbitration in California

Unfortunately, in California, an employer can require its employee to agree to arbitration as a term of employment.  There are some protections.  If an agreement has too many unfair or one sided terms, California courts may refuse to enforce the arbitration agreement or sever the unfair terms.

Do not ignore these agreements if you have a dispute with your employer.  Many people think that these agreements can be ignored or that it is some paperwork to cover a legal formality.  In California, if you ignore the arbitration agreement, at some point a court may find you in breach of the arbitration agreement.  In that case, you will not be able to proceed with an arbitration or in court, and you will not be able to get any remedy for your dispute no matter how good your case is.

Arbitration is a very tricky area because the law is still developing.  You should consult a knowledgeable attorney before to trying to resolve any dispute where you have an arbitration agreement.


California Employment Attorneys Harris & Kaufman Can Help

Harris & Kaufman can assist you with a wide variety of workplace disputes. We are aggressive and experienced attorneys and can help enforce your rights under state law or state regulations. If you believe that your employer has violated your rights call us toll free at 1-800-559-6868.


Advice for California Employees: What You Should Do If You Are Being Harassed or Discriminated Against

Some advice remains true for many workplace problems, including sexual harassment, hostile work environment, racial or sexual discrimination, and other forms of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. I am a California attorney, and some concepts seem to apply to all work situations.


Follow Your Company’s Human Resource Policies!

If you feel you are subject to workplace harassment or discrimination, do what your company tells you to do in such a situation. In other words, read your employer’s sexual harassment policies and racial discrimination policies, and do what they tell you.

In assessing these racial discrimination and sexual harassment cases, jurors want to see detailed policies on diversity, discrimination, and sexual harassment training as well as basic management techniques. The employees should be educated in these policies and they must be enforced fairly and consistently. Companies can have such policies in writing but do not follow them in practice. If this happens, it often will reflect poorly upon the company in court. Likewise, it may reflect poorly upon the employee if they fail to make use of the policies.

Besides juries, the courts want to see employees taking advantage of the employer’s anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies. If you ignore these policies, the courts may cut your damages or wipe them out entirely.

Therefore, the victim of harassment discrimination in the workplace has the burden of making use of these policies and following the company’s procedures. Typically, these policies direct employees to complain immediately to the company’s human resources department, and thus you should report what you feel is wrong to human resources. When you make reports, be specific about what happened and be sure to include all conduct that you felt was objectionable.

If no written policies exist, complain to your immediate supervisor.


Take Notes of the Relevant Events, but only the Relevant Events!

While your memory might be clear now, when your case comes to court in two or three years the events will be much more difficult to recall. Cases may turn on the nuances of what someone did or said, and you don’t want your memory to be fuzzy at trial. Therefore, taking notes at the time of the events will be an enormous help. Notes made at the time of the events appear more credible than your memories after a lawsuit has started, and jurors will give them more weight.

However, use caution in your note taking. All of the notes could be evidence in your case. Therefore, limit your note taking to only the relevant harassing or discriminatory conduct. Some people go overboard by documenting all transgressions against them, real or perceived. They appear to be vexatious and disagreeable people. Certainly that will not go over well with a jury!


Gather Your Evidence!

A hostile work environment can take many forms. Did someone draw an offensive picture? Write you a harassing e-mail? Save those items. People sometimes discard these things out of disgust, but they are also destroying their best evidence. These should be kept because you have to prove your case.

You should also save any papers given to you that relate to your problem, such as copies of “write-ups”, policies, etc. By no means should you take confidential or proprietary items from your employer (if you do, you may not be able to use it in your case), but, if such things relate to the harassment or discrimination you are suffering, you should take notes on their author, date, content, where it is kept, and other identifying information so it can be retrieved later on in formal proceedings.


Don’t Try to Secretly Tape or Record Conversations!

Many people secretly record meetings in a hope to catch someone in a damaging admission. “Aha!” they think, “I’ve got them on tape! They can’t deny it now!” Wrong: someone who secretly records a conversation is in big trouble. In California where I practice law, tape recording conversations without the consent of the other person is a crime and you could be prosecuted for it. Even if you do record damaging admissions, the admissions very likely will not be admitted as evidence in support of your case. However, if you make an admission that damages your case, then very likely it will be in evidence against you. It is a no-win situation for people who make secret tape recordings. The best advice is don’t do it.


Do Not Encourage the Harassment or Discrimination!

A big defense to sexual harassment cases is consent. If you appear to enjoy what is occurring, then certainly you will have a hard time proving that you were harassed or discriminated or that you were in a hostile work environment. By all means, do not play along with something you do not like. Rather, make it clear that you do not like what is going on, and then follow your company’s human resource policies on what to do when you feel harassed or subject to discrimination.


Get Legal Advice!

If you feel something wrong is going on, call an attorney such as myself. You will only benefit by getting advice from someone who has experience in tough work situations and who knows the law. There is no downside for you.

California attorneys who specialize in employee rights typically charge contingency fees, meaning that you do not pay them money unless you win a recovery. I often counsel employees in harassment and discrimination situations free of charge.

Workplace harassment takes many forms and not all advice may be appropriate for each case. If you feel you are subject to sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, or other forms of workplace harassment, call Harris & Kaufman at (818)990-1999. We are California attorneys located in Sherman Oaks, California.