Week Adjourned: 5.13.11

Top Class Actions

Put your paycheck on a diet? These women don’t think it’s a such a good idea. Two Long Island women who worked for Jenny Craig filed a unpaid wages class action lawsuit, alleging that the well-known weight-loss chain put their paychecks on a diet.

The women, in a suit filed May 10 In New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, claim that Jenny Craig Operations Inc., the Carlsbad, Calif.-based chain owned by multi-national food giant Nestlé’s, improperly shortchanged them by a 1/2 hour a day for every shift they worked, even though they worked during their 30-minute break times. The alleged underpayments violate New York’s labor laws, according to court papers.

The suit, which seeks class action status, was filed by Tammy Weinstein, of Bellmore, who has been a program director and weight loss consultant since November 2002 at Jenny Craig locations in Valley Stream and Massapequa, and by Melissa Pallini, of Holbrook, who was a weight loss consultant, program director, part time receptionist, and stocker from June 2008 until June 2010 at the chain’s East Patchogue location.

The suit seeks to represent all New York employees of Jenny Craig who worked as weight loss consultants, receptionists, stock persons, program directors and any other employee at Jenny Craig weight-loss centers. According to court papers, the class included more than 500 people who’ve worked at Jenny Craig since May 2005. The chain has 30 locations statewide, 10 of them on Long Island, in Centereach, E. Patchogue, Great Neck, Farmingdale, Freeport, Hicksville, Huntington Station, Massapequa and Valley Stream.

The employees worked about 15 to 35 hours a week on shifts of five to eight hours one day to five days per week, according to court papers.

Jenny Craig, a commercial program that features portion-controlled, prepackaged meals supplemented by store-bought vegetables and fruit, received top marks this week from Consumer Reports for diet success. The chain offers support through weekly counseling sessions.

The diet chain’s celebrity spokespersons have included actress Kirstie Alley, Valerie Bertinelli, Queen Latifah, actresses Sara Rue and Nicole Sullivan, actor Jason Alexander and, since January, actress Carrie Fisher.

Top Settlements

Where there’s smoke, there’s gas… This is certainly an interesting twist on an old theme. A Flordia judge recently ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in litagation over defective Chinese drywall. The Hillsborough County judge, Robert Foster, ruled that homeowners’ insurance should cover the damage caused by the tainted product. He found no exclusion for it in a Teachers Insurance Co homeowners’ insurance policy.

The suit was filed by Craig and Melissa Walker of Odessa, after Teachers failed to cover the damages resulting from tainted drywall in their home.

The defense had argued that a “wear and tear” exclusion and a defective material exclusion pertained to the corrosion of the drywall. However—and here’s the twist—Judge Foster said that the drywall was not defective because it “serves its purpose and functions as drywall.” It does, however, emit a corrosive gas. The policy covered smoke damage, the judge said, and he interpreted smoke to be the same as gas, hence the favorable ruling for the Walkers.

Judge Foster wrote, “The court finds that the ordinary meaning as found in a Merriam-Webster dictionary, defines ‘smoke’ as a ‘suspension of particles in a gas. The court has applied the definition that allows coverage, which is at least as reasonable as the definition that might exclude coverage.” Sounds like your basic theory of transitivity equation to me—remember that one?—if a=b and b=c then a=c, right?

The drywall settlement amount has not yet been determined as it is awaiting a jury ruling.

Largest Asbestos Drilling Mud Award. And now for something completely different. A $322 million, yes, that’s correct, $322 million jury award to a man who allegedly developed asbestos related disease from working around asbestos drilling mud.

Thomas C. Brown, from Mississippi, was just awarded what is thought to be the largest single award in any asbestos case to date. It is not known if the defendant, Union Carbide Corp, one of the defendants, will appeal the landmark ruling. Co-defendant Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. indicated it would file an appeal.

So what is asbestos drilling mud, you ask? It used to be that asbestos was added to drilling mud, which was used in the oil industry, for decades, since the 1960s in fact. Needless to say people who handled it, like mud engineers, (who knew) were exposed to asbestos over long periods of time, which leads or can lead to the development of asbestos-related illness including asbestos mesothelioma. According to a report by the Associated Press, that’s just what happened to Brown. He was 16 years of age when he went into the oil fields and worked mixing asbestos drilling mud for about six years starting in 1979. Thirty years later he was diagnosed with asbestosis, a time frame consistent with the long lag time for asbestos-related disease to emerge following initial exposure.

Brown’s asbestos drilling mud lawyer noted that the drilling mud was manufactured by Union Carbide and sold by Chevron Phillips Chemical, and that the defendants continued to market the toxic substances long after the dangers inherent with such an asbestos-laden product became known.

The defendants were accused in the oil drilling mud lawsuit of manufacturing a defective product and failing to provide proper warning as to its risks.

Brown is now 48 and requires oxygen 24 hours a day to help manage his asbestosis. There is no known cure.

The asbestos drilling mud problem has come to the fore of public conscience since the BP oil disaster of a year ago.

Oh happy days. Well, that’s it for this week. See you at the bar.

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