Week Adjourned: 7.17.15 – Walmart, Gerber, Hotel Wrongful Death

walmart logoTop Class Action Lawsuits

Save Money. Live Better…? Words to live by…except for…Walmart got hit with a discrimination class action lawsuit this week, filed by an employee alleging the company denies its staff benefits for same-sex spouses. Filed by Jacqueline Cote, the lawsuit claims that Walmart repeatedly denied medical insurance for her wife before 2014, when the retail giant started offering benefits for same-sex spouses.

The back story…Cote and Simpson met in 1992, while they were both working at Walmart in Augusta, Maine. They subsequently moved to Massachusetts and remained employees of Walmart. They were married in May 2004, days prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage in that state.

In 2007, Smithson quit her job at Walmart to take care of Cote’s elderly mother. As a result Cote attempted to have Smithson added to her employee health plan the following year.

In 2012, Cote’s wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which resulted in the couple incurring $150,000 in medical bills.

According to the proposed Walmart class action, Cote tried to enroll her spouse online, but the system wouldn’t let her proceed when she indicated her spouse was a woman. When she sought an official explanation, she was told that same-sex spouses were not covered. Cote continued to try and have Smithson enrolled in her Walmart employee health plan every year thereafter including the year Smithson was diagnosed with cancer.

The lawsuit seeks damages for the couple and any other Walmart employees who weren’t offered insurance for their same-sex spouses. A federal commission concluded that Walmart’s denial amounted to discrimination and said in May that Cote could sue.

Although no other Walmart employees are named in the suit, it seeks damages for those who come forward. Further, the suit seeks damages for Cote and her wife, Diana Smithson, and it asks Walmart to acknowledge a legal responsibility to continue offering benefits for same-sex spouses. 

What’s Gerber been Puffing On? Gerber, famous maker of healthy baby foods and an instantly recognizable household brand, got slapped with a consumer fraud class action lawsuit alleging the company is misleading parents into buying a product that is far from nutritious. The product? Graduates Puffs food for toddlers. Puffs? Really?

According to the Gerber Graduates lawsuit, the packaging for Puffs is dominated by pictures of fruit or vegetables: juicy peaches, slices of ripe banana, nutritious sweet potatoes. But the ingredients list belies these pictures. Banana-flavored Puffs contain no bananas, only a trace amount of banana flavoring. Sweet potato-flavored Puffs don’t contain actual sweet potatoes, or any other vegetable, only miniscule amounts of sweet potato “flavor.” The closest thing to a fruit or vegetable in Puffs is a very tiny amount of dried apple puree, powder, in other words.

The suit alleges that parents trying to buy healthy and nutritious snacks for their toddlers have trusted Gerber’s reputation and package presentations, paid Gerber’s premium prices based on that reputation, and, in exchange, unwittingly provided their toddlers with empty calories. Far from the healthy treat the labels and Gerber’s reputation suggest, Puffs are little more than flour and sugar. Doesn’t sound like brain food to me…

The lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, and is titled Gyorke-Takatri, et al., v. Nestle USA, Inc. and Gerber Products Company. 

Top Settlements

Huge Settlement for a Huge Loss…and a cautionary tale in more ways than one…a Florida jury awarded a $24,057,83.00 verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit involving The Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. In 2012, a newlywed couple were visiting the hotel on their honeymoon. They were killed by a speeding car. The lawsuit alleged that the Riverside Hotel had actual or constructive knowledge that motor vehicles regularly and routinely exceeded the posted speed limit in proximity to the hotel property.

Michael and Alanna DeMella, who were seven months pregnant, checked into the hotel and went to the pool. According to media reports they had stepped into the cabana restroom moments before the incident. Mrs. DeMella was killed on hotel property while in an on-site pool cabana, by Rosa Kim, who drove into a structure on hotel property utilized by hotel guests in the pool area as she used excessive speed on the adjacent road.

In hearing the evidence, the civil jury entered a verdict that found the Riverside was 15% responsible for the tragedy and that they should pay that portion of the verdict.

That’s a wrap folks…See you at the Bar!

Week Adjourned: 10.19.12 – Healthcare Workers, Madden NFL, Chantix

The weekly wrap on top class action lawsuits and settlements for the week ending October 19, 2012. This week’s top stories include Healthcare workers at Maxim Healthcare, Electronic Arts and NFL Madden games and the first Chantix settlement.

Top Class Action Lawsuits

Overworked and Underpaid on Overtime. An overtime class action lawsuit has been filed against Maxim Healthcare Services Inc, by Jas

mine Lawrence, who was employed as a Home Health Aide by the defendant until October 2012.

In the unpaid overtime lawsuit, Lawrence alleges that Maxim Healthcare Services Inc, violated, and continues to violate, the Ohio Minimum Fair Wage Standards Act (OMFWSA) because of its willful failure to compensate her and the class members at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay for work performed in excess of 40 hours in a workweek. Lawrence claims she regularly worked over 70 hours per week while employed by Maxim Healthcare and the majority of her time was spent performing general housekeeping duties as opposed to patient care.

Lawrence also alleges that she and the members of the putative class who are employed by the Defendant in Ohio are “employees” within the meaning of the OMFWSA.

Lawrence, the lead plaintiff in the employment class action, seeks to bring her claim for violation of the Fair labor Standards Act (FLSA)  as a nation-wide collective action, and as a statewide class action based for violation of the OMFWSA.

Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc, is a Maryland corporation which, through hundreds of office locations nationwide, provides in-home personal care, management and/or treatment of a variety of conditions by nurses, therapists, medical social workers, and home health aides. Lawrence and the class are represented by Ben Stewart of Stewart Law PLLC.

Top Settlements

And it’s a Touchdown! The Plaintiffs score a proposed $27 million settlement that’s been reached in a class action lawsuit pending against Electronic Arts. The Electronic Arts settlement, if approved, will apply to anyone who purchased a new copy of an EA Madden NFL, NCAA Football or Arena Football video game between 2005 and 2012 and is an eligible class member.

The backstory—in case you missed it—The Electronic Arts video game antitrust lawsuit was filed in 2008 entitled Pecover v. Electronic Arts, Inc., and alleged that EA violated antitrust and consumer protection lawsuits by holding exclusive license agreements with the NFL, NCAA and AFL to market branded football software. The lawsuit further alleged that the arrangement shut out competitors, enabling EA to charge 70 percent more for “Madden NFL.”

And the skinny on the proposed deal: Class Members of the EA football game class action settlement include all U.S. consumers who bought a new copy of an Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL, NCAA Football, or Arena Football video game for Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, GameCube, PC, or Wii, with a release date of January 1, 2005 to June 21, 2012.

If approved by the court at the February 7, 2013 Final Fairness Hearing, Settlement Class Members who submit timely and valid claim forms will receive the following CASH benefits:

If you are an eligible Settlement Class Member, your share of the net proceeds of the Settlement will be based upon the number of video game titles you purchased new, as well as the number of Settlement Class Members who submit valid claims.

Valid claims for the purchase of Madden NFL, NCAA Football, or Arena Football video games for the Xbox, PlayStation 2, PC, or GameCube platforms (“Sixth Generation Purchasers”) will be valued at $6.79 per new game purchased, up to a total of eight units ($54.32).

Valid claims for the purchase of Madden NFL, NCAA Football, or Arena Football video games for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or Wii platforms (“Seventh Generation Purchasers”) will be valued at $1.95 per new game purchased, up to a total of eight units ($15.60).

The only way to receive cash benefits from the EA antitrust settlement is to submit a Claim Form either online at EASportsLitigation.com or postmarked no later than March 5, 2013.

Let’s hope this settlement levels the playing field…

Here’s a Bittersweet Ending… A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit against Pfizer and its anti-smoking drug Chantix. The Pfizer Chantix settlement, the details of which remain confidential, was reached just prior to the case going to trial.

The lawsuit was brought by the widow of Mark Alan Whitely, from Minnesota, who allegedly killed himself in November 2007 as a result of taking the controversial drug. The lawsuit alleged that Pfizer failed to sufficiently warn that Chantix could increase the risk of suicide.

FYI—in July 2009, the FDA announced an update to Chantix (known generically as varenicline) warnings, alerting patients to the risk of serious mental health events linked to use of the smoking cessation drug. Pfizer, maker of Chantix, was required to put a Boxed Warning on the Chantix label, highlighting the risk of depressed mood, hostility and suicidal thoughts when using the medication. When the FDA made its announcement in 2009, it had received 98 crude reports of completed suicide associated with Chantix (a crude report means the FDA had not examined each report in depth to ensure there were no duplicates). It had a further 188 crude reports of suicide attempts.

The Whitely lawsuit is reportedly the first of some 2,500 Chantix cases that have been combined in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in Alabama for pretrial evidence-gathering and the first trials.

The consolidated cases are In re Chantix (Varenicline) Products Liability Litigation MDL 2092, 09-cv-2039 U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama (Florence). The consolidated cases are In re Chantix (Varenicline) Products Liability Litigation MDL 2092, 09-cv-2039 U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama (Florence).

And on that note—I’ll see you at the bar. Have a great weekend!