Week Adjourned: 1.29.16 – Google, Disney, Lyft

google logoTop Class Action Lawsuits

Couple of big names hit with employment class actions this week…

First up: Googlers Not Gettin’ Paid? A former Google recruiter has filed an unpaid overtime class action lawsuit against Google Inc, for class-wide wage and hour violations, asserting it illegally and deliberately cheated her and other employees of their wages.

Former Google contract employee Tymuoi Ha filed the complaint in Santa Clara Superior Court against Google, Inc. and Urpan Technologies (UrpanTech), one of the many staffing agencies through which Google acquires temporary and contract workers.

The Google unpaid overtime complaint alleges that Defendants violated the California Labor Code by denying employees compensation for all overtime worked, failing to pay owed wages upon separation from employment and not furnishing accurate wage statements.

It also alleges Google, working with staffing agencies like UrpanTech, hires recruiters on a contract basis and refuses to pay them for their many of hours of tireless work, attorneys representing Ha state. The companies restrict the number of hours recruiters can report, knowing that they must work overtime to meet performance goals. In return for the unpaid labor, the companies dangle the possibility of permanent employment. Talk about dangling a carrot…

I’m hearing “do no evil”…somewhere…

Plaintiff Ha seeks to recover damages, including unpaid wages, on behalf of herself and a California class of Google contract recruiters.

And then there’s Disney…the master of magic is facing an employment class action lawsuit filed by a former IT worker who claims Disney violated the anti-racketeering RICO statute by engaging in a “conspiracy to displace US workers.”

According to the Disney labor lawsuit filed by Dena Moore, an IT worker at Disney, the entertainment giant broke the law when it hired cheaper foreign replacements, then fired its current IT department. According to the suit, IT workers were told they would remain employed for 90 days while they trained their less expensive replacements, who were H-1B visa holders. The workers were also told that “if they did not stay and train they would not get a bonus and severance, which most employees reluctantly accepted,” the lawsuit asserts.

Moore also names labor contractor Cognizant Technology Solutions as a defendant in the suit, which goes on to claim that the defendants weren’t truthful when they filled out immigration documents, thus violating a section of the RICO law that bars “fraud and misuse of visas, passports, and other documents.”

This is one of two such suits filed against Disney claiming violations of the RICO statute. “Each making of false and fraudulent statement[s] on an individual visaholder’s H1B application constituted a separate racketeering act,” Moore claims in her proposed class action complaint. It is estimated the total number of IT workers laid off by Disney last year is between 200 and 300.

Who would a thunk it?

The Case is 6:16-cv-00113-JA-KRS. Moore vs. Cognizant technology Solutions and Walt Disney World. 

Top Settlements

Lyft Drivers get a Lift…Bet these guys are feeling a bit of a “lift” right now. Yes indeed, Lyft drivers in California have won their employment class action and reached a $12.25 million settlement this week. However, Lyft refuses to classify its drivers as employees.

Currently, drivers for Lyft are classified as independent contractors. According to the terms of the Lyft settlement, Lyft will also concede its right to terminate drivers at will, pay the costs to arbitrate drivers’ grievances and implement a pre-arbitration process, and provide drivers with additional information on prospective riders such as their passenger ratings.

The lawsuit was filed by Lyft driver Patrick Cotter, in September 2013, over allegations that while the company classified its drivers as independent contractors it treated them as employees, including taking 20 percent off their tips as an “administrative fee”, a violation of California labor laws.

Further, Cotter claimed in the suit that Lyft required inspection of drivers’ personal cars and insurance policies, and that the company maintained the right to fire drivers, and enforced mandatory policies and training, all of which is treatment more befitting employees than contractors under California law.

The suit was initially proposed as a nationwide class action but was later changed to cover drivers in California only, court records show.

Additionally, the settlement agreement stipulates that Lyft create a “favorite” driver option in which riders can designate their preferred drivers, and, as such, give them additional benefits. Further, because Lyft has surrendered its at-will termination right, drivers will now be able to turn down rides without fear of their account being deactivated, the settlement motion states.

Well done.

The next settlement hearing will be on February 18, 2016. The case is Cotter et al. v. Lyft Inc. et al., case number 3:13-cv-04065, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. 

Ok—So that’s a wrap folks… Happy Friday…See you at the Bar!

Week Adjourned: 1.22.16 – Chevy, MLB.TV, It’s Just Lunch

chevyTop Class Action Lawsuits

Gee Whiz GM… Another one? Yes indeed. General Motors (GM) got hit with yet another proposed defective automotive class action lawsuit this week, over allegations its Chevy Cruz, Chevy Malibu and Buick Veranos suffer from a steering defect that could make the cars veer dangerously as well as lower their resale value. Should we be surprised?

Filed by Briani Mendoza, the lawsuit asserts that the steering wheel in her Chevy Cruz locks and requires turning the wheel with extra force, which could make the car turn sharply when the wheel comes unstuck. The Chevrolet lawsuit further asserts that GM knew of the problem in three models from years 2011-2014. However, despite this knowledge, the automaker has so far refused to fix the issue in violation of warranty and consumer protection laws.

“The steering system is one of the most important components for vehicle control and safe driving,” the complaint states. “A defective steering system has serious consequences for the handling, maneuvering and stability of the class vehicles while in operation and can contribute to car accidents and potential injury or death.”

In her complaint, Mendoza claims the vehicle’s electronic power steering system locks in the straight position after the car has been traveling a long distance on a straight highway. After that happens, the driver has to exert more pressure to the wheel to free it and is in danger of exerting too much force, causing the wheel to turn too far and the car to suddenly veer, the lawsuit states.

In November 2014, GM issued a service bulletin via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, offering to repair the alleged defect at free of charge. The letter asked drivers who had experienced the issue to bring their cars to dealerships.

However, the complaint alleges GM used the same defective parts to fix the problem, and therefore the problem would likely manifest again after the car’s limited warranty expired. Further, the suit notes, the automaker should have issued a full recall to fix the steering systems in all of the potentially affected vehicles.

The lawsuit claims GM should have known about the defect via its testing process and customer complaints. Therefore, GM’s handling of the issue together with its probable prior knowledge violated California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act, Unfair Competition Law and Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, the lawsuit claims. Additionally, the automaker breached its express and implied warranties in violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

Mendoza seeks to represent a California and national class of Cruze, Malibu and Verano owners whose cars dropped in value because of the defect, and aims to recover damages or secure an injunction requiring the automaker to fix the steering flaw, along with punitive damages. Time to lawyer up.

FYI—the case is Mendoza v. General Motors LLC, case number 2:16-cv-00404, in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. 

Top Settlements

Couple of nice wins this week…

A Win for Baseball Fans…A possible home run for major league baseball (MLB) fans and broadcasters. They reached a proposed settlement agreement this week, staving off further antitrust litigation over how out-of-market game broadcasts are sold.

Here’s the skinny—under the agreement, MLB will offer an unbundled MLB.TV Internet package for the next five years, allowing for the purchase of single-team packages for $84.99 next season. It represents a 23% reduction from the cheapest version of MLB.TV previously available and a 35% reduction from the most commonly purchased version. The agreement also requires the MLB.TV league-wide package cost to fall to $109.99.

In addition to the single-team package offering and lower prices, the MLB.TV agreement provides new options to consumers. It requires MLB to implement by the All-Star Break, a “Follow Your Team” variant of MLB.TV, which, for the first time in any major professional sports league, will allow consumers to watch a chosen away team’s telecast even when that club is playing an “in-market” team. This new product, which will cost only $10 more than the MLB.TV package, will enable authenticated subscribers, individuals who are pay television subscribers of the Regional Sports Network (RSN) that carries the in-market club, to watch what, up until now, would have been “blacked out” telecasts.

MLB has further agreed that it will endeavor to provide live local team broadcasts over the Internet (so called “In-Market Streaming”) for authenticated subscribers to the 25 RSNs carrying MLB games owned by DIRECTV, Comcast and 21st Century Fox by the start of the 2017 season. If In-Market Streaming is not in place for each and every one of these clubs by the 2017 season, MLB will be prohibited from increasing any of its MLB.TV package prices.

The case is Garber, et al. v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, et al., 12-cv-3704 (SAS), in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Cheaper Date? It’s just lunch—one very expensive lunch as it turns out. This week saw a preliminary $64.75 million settlement agreement reached a consumer fraud class action filed by plaintiffs against the dating site It’s Just Lunch International Inc.

According to the lawsuit, the site’s customers claimed they were overcharged for allegedly personalized matchmaking services while disregarding daters’ stated preferences such as age, employment and marital status, and criminal background. That could get ugly.

Filed in 2007 and then amended in 2008, the complaint states: “In fact, despite promises to the contrary, It’s almost completely ignores the client’s stated preferences. Rather, the company makes matches which are driven entirely by monthly quota requirements, and which wholly and categorically disregard the client’s stated “desires, goals [and] motivations.”

In addition to misrepresenting its services, the lawsuit further claims that It’s Just Lunch violated New York state that prohibits dating services from using contracts that require payment in excess of $1,000.

Under the terms of the proposed It’s Just Lunch settlement, It’s Just Lunch would provide $60 million in vouchers for dates and $4.75 million in cash. Specifically, plaintiffs who opt in to the settlement would receive a voucher for one free date, users in some cities would receive two, which have an estimated value of $450 each.

Further, It’s Just Lunch agreed to post a customer pledge to its website and change its contracts to include a commitment honoring its customers’ specified preferences for dating matches, according to the motion for preliminary approval of the deal.

The $4.75 million non-reversionary cash fund would pay for $100 awards to members of a class of New York daters, the costs of administering the settlement, as well as any court-approved service payments and attorneys’ fees, according to the motion. The plaintiffs have also requested $3.6 million in attorney’s fees and $10,000 in payment for each of the nine names plaintiffs.

The case is Rodriguez et al. v. It’s Just Lunch International et al., case number 1:07-cv-09227, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. 

Ok – So – that’s a wrap folks… Happy Friday…See you at the Bar!

Week Adjourned: 1.15.16 – EOS Lip Balm, Priceline, Vioxx

EOSTop Class Action Lawsuits

EOS Evolution of Sore? Heads up anyone who purchased EOS lip balm—the celebrity-endorsed lip balm—got hit with a consumer fraud class action lawsuit this week, alleging the product causes lips to crack, bleed and blister. Yah, that’s a great look.

EOS, which stands for Evolution of Smooth, pays celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Brittney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Hillary Duff, and others, to post pictures on Instagram and social media, creating a viral marketing frenzy around the product, targeted at consumers. EOS claims the lip-balm is, in addition to making lips smooth, a travel companion and a cure for health and hygiene problems.

Filed by Plaintiff Rachael Cronin, the EOS lawsuit alleges Cronin purchased EOS lip balm based on these claims. As with all of EOS packaging, the packaging contained no warnings about potential adverse side-effects from the products use. Ms. Cronin began applying the lip balm that same day she purchased it. Within hours of applying the product for the first time, her lips became substantially dry and coarse, what Ms. Cronin describes as feeling like “sandpaper,” causing her to apply more of the balm on her lip to achieve the results of becoming “sensationally smooth.”

However, Ms. Cronin’s lips did not become smooth, instead they began severely cracking on the edges causing flaking and bleeding from the cracks. (Sensationally sore? New tag line maybe?) By the next day, Ms. Cronin’s lips and surrounding skin area allegedly had severe blistering and rashes causing her to seek medical care on Monday, December 7, 2015. Ms. Cronin was in severe shock and panic. Her symptoms lasted approximately 10 days. Not good.

Ms. Cronin shared the story of her experience with EOS and posted a picture of her face with boils and blisters on Facebook. The post set off a frenzy of responses from other individuals who shared the identical experience with EOS. It became clear this was not an isolated incident but instead hundreds, possibly tens of thousands of consumers may be affected.

The case is 2:16-cv-00235.

Priceline Profiting? Priceline got hit with a proposed consumer fraud class action lawsuit this week, over allegations it collects taxes from customers for hotel rooms, car rentals and airline tickets booked through the site, but those taxes are not returned to customers when reservations go unused. That’s a nice little earner—if true.

According to the Priceline lawsuit, filed by Priceline customer Richard Laquer, the taxes and fees collected for his car rental in June in San Francisco were not returned to him even though he never picked up the car. Additionally, he claims that this money was never paid to local tax authorities, meaning The Priceline Group Inc, was unfairly profiting from its collection. Ka ching!

“Priceline Group, in charging ‘taxes and fees’ for a rental or purchase transactions that did not complete, violated various local, state and federal laws regarding the charge and collection of taxes,” the lawsuit states. “Priceline Group has been unjustly enriched by the charge and collection of ‘taxes and fees’ for vehicle rentals that did not occur.”

Laquer claims that he used the “Name Your Own Price” feature on the Priceline website to reserve a car rental for $35. However, he was also charged an additional $19.05 in “taxes and fees” for the transaction. When he did not rent the car Priceline kept the charges, the lawsuit states.

“Priceline Group knew when these representations were made, or made them as a positive assertion recklessly, that it would not pay the ‘taxes and fees’ it collected from plaintiff and the putative class members to the various federal, state and local taxing authorities in the event the rental or purchase was not completed,” the complaint states.

The potential class action asserts negligence, unjust enrichment and false representation. It is seeking disgorgement of the taxes and fees collected by Priceline and not returned with canceled orders and actual and punitive damages of not less than $5 million, and an injunction prohibiting the company from charging taxes and fees in the future unless a transaction is completed.

The case is Laquer et al. v. The Priceline Group Inc., case number 5:16-cv-00015, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. 

Top Settlements

Vioxx Socked…Again. Wow—talk about the drug that will not die. This week, Merck announced it will pay $830 million to end the Vioxx multidistrict litigation brought by investors who alleged securities fraud violations concerning the illegal marketing of the company’s now defunct NSAID pain killer Vioxx. In 2011, Merck agreed to pay a criminal penalty of almost $1 billion over its marketing of Vioxx.

In a statement issued by Merck & Co. Inc, the pharmaceutical company denied any wrongdoing, and noted that it still faces individual lawsuits stemming from the same alleged misconduct, specifically that it marketed Vioxx for off-label uses and downplayed its risk of causing heart attacks.

The allegations made by investors are similar to those of the criminal case, alleging Merck attempted to conceal Vioxx’s cardiovascular risks, and claimed that patients taking the drug in a clinical study for rheumatoid arthritis were five times more likely to suffer a heart attack than those who took the comparator drug, naproxen.

In 2004 Merck was forced to recall Vioxx. The recall, in conjunction with media reports concerning the associated risks of the drug, caused Merck’s stock price to fall dramatically, according to the investors, whose claims against the company were consolidated in New Jersey federal court the following year.

The case is In re: Merck & Co. Inc. Securities, Derivative & ERISA Litigation, MDL number 1658 and case numbers 2:05-cv-01151 and 2:05-cv-02367, in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Ok—That’s a wrap folks… Happy Friday…See you at the Bar!


Week Adjourned: 1.8.16 – FitBit, Amazon, Mini Cooper

fitbitTop Class Action Lawsuits

FitBit not as fit as it claims—apparently. The company is is facing a defective products class action lawsuit alleging the heart rate tracking technology in its fitness watches provides “wildly inaccurate” readings and doesn’t work properly during intense physical activity.

Filed in California by Kate McLellan, Teresa Black and David Urban, the FitBit lawsuit claims that FitBit Inc.’s PurePulse heart rate tracking devices, which are featured in two of the company’s fitness watches, “consistently mis-record heart rates by a very significant margin,” especially during exercise. And just when you thought you were doing so well…

The lawsuit further alleges consumer fraud in that the defendant fails to inform customers that the technology works properly only at low or resting heart rates. Instead, the FitBit lawsuit asserts, it depicts users in its advertisements relying on the trackers during intense physical activity. “The heart rate trackers are effectively worthless as heart rate monitoring devices,” the complaint says.

The complaint states, “This failure did not keep FitBit from heavily promoting the heart rate monitoring feature of the PurePulse trackers and from profiting handsomely from it. In so doing, FitBit defrauded the public and cheated its customers, including plaintiffs.”

Additionally, the plaintiffs allege FitBit’s attempt to bind all customers to an arbitration agreement and a class action ban is an unfair and deceptive trade practice and is “unconscionable, invalid, and unenforceable.”

The three named plaintiffs seek to represent a nationwide class of all customers who purchased a FitBit PurePulse tracker, excluding those who purchased their trackers directly from FitBit.com and who did not opt out of the arbitration agreement. They are also looking to establish three subclasses for consumers in California, Wisconsin and Colorado.

The case is McLellan et al v. FitBit, Inc., case number 3:16-cv-00036, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Amazon not Delivering? Amazon stands accused this week of not delivering on wages and overtime. The online retailer got hit with an unpaid wages and overtime class action lawsuit filed by a group of former delivery service workers who claim the online retailer in conjunction with Courier Logistics Services LLC failed to compensate them for overtime pay and pay them tips paid by customers for the deliveries, in violation of federal labor laws.

The Amazon lawsuit was filed by plaintiffs Daniel Curry, Becky Lawrence, Nicholas Mason and Tyechia Webb, all of whom worked in Arizona for Courier Logistics, which is in exclusive contract with Amazon to deliver packages ordered through its newer same-day service. The suit asserts that the plaintiffs have been denied proper overtime wages as defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Further, they were not given the full amount of tips they should have received from delivery customers.

According to the complaint, during the past several years Courier Logistics has had a “consistent policy” of requiring its employees to work nearly 50 hours per week without paying the legally required time-and-a-half overtime wage. Additionally, the lawsuit states that certain employees were misclassified as independent contractors.

The plaintiffs contend that Courier Logistics’ delivery employees are not independent contractors because they are required to show up for work at a scheduled time every day, are paid by the hour, are assigned work and are not allowed to refuse any deliveries.

According to the suit, as joint employers that shared employee-based decisions, Amazon and Courier Logistics “had complete control over the manner in which plaintiffs would complete their work.”

The plaintiffs are looking to recover all unpaid overtime wages, overpayment of income taxes and statutory penalties, along with other unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees. Go get ‘em!

The case is Curry et al. v. Amazon.com Inc. et al., case number 2:16-cv-00007, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.

Top Settlements

Mini Cooper…Not so Mini Settlement. A $30 million settlement has been tentatively approved potentially ending a defective automotive class action lawsuit filed against BMW North America. The class action asserts that the engines in its Mini Coopers are defective.

The lawsuit asserts that vehicle owners were forced to pay thousands of dollars in repairs and replacement costs for a defect in the engine which caused the cars to abruptly stop without warning. The proposed class action, filed in March 2013, involved certain Mini Cooper S Hardtops, Clubmans and Convertibles from model years 2007 to 2010, according to court papers.

The backstory… In the lawsuit, named plaintiffs Joshua Skeen and Laurie Freeman state they both bought new Mini Cooper S models in 2007. They alleged problem was a defect in the vehicles’ timing chain tensioner, which maintains an appropriate tension of the engine’s timing chain. The timing chain controls the timing of the engine’s valves, but when the chain doesn’t have proper tension or synchronization, the engine’s pistons and valves collide with great force and the engine components suffer so much damage that the engine seizes and the vehicle loses all power, according to the complaint.

Skeen and Freeman allege that while the Mini Cooper timing chains are meant to last about 10 years or 120,000 miles, they encountered problems with their engines far sooner than expected.

According to the terms of the settlement, the reimbursement amounts for each class member will see BMW paying for out-of-pocket expenses incurred prior to the settlement, including full costs incurred at authorized Mini dealers and up to $120 for timing-chain tensioners and $850 for timing chains repaired or replaced at independent service centers.

Class members will be entitled to up to $4,500 in out-of-pocket expenses incurred before the settlement to repair or replace an engine due to the problems addressed in the lawsuit, according to the opinion, and those who had to sell their vehicles at a loss before the settlement will get up to $2,250. Compensation amounts are subject to changes because of mileage discounts and other limitations, the opinion states. The final amount of the settlement will depend on the number and nature of claims submitted by the Class.

Additionally, class members will receive a warranty extension for the timing-chain tensioner and timing chain for seven years or 100,000 miles from the date when the vehicle was first placed into service, whichever comes first.

The case is Joshua Skeen et al. v. BMW of North America LLC, case number 2:13-cv-01531, in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Ok—that’s it for this week folks—see you at the bar! Oh—and Happy 2016!!