Week Adjourned: 7.1.11

Top Class Actions

Best Buy BOLO a NO-GO. Best Buy got hit this week with another potential class action—another discrimination lawsuit—but this time it’s all about you —the customer…

The nation’s largest electronics retailer is facing alleged discrimination in  in the form of customer racial and ethnic profiling. Ah, make that widespread racial and ethnic customer profiling in the District of Columbia and Virginia. The lawsuit was brought by an Arab American Muslim manager, Todd Abed, who was fired for protesting the practice, known internally as “BOLO”. Abed accuses Best Buy of terminating his 13-year career with the company because he objected to his district office’s “Be On the Look Out” policy (BOLO).

So, the allegations go that under BOLO, Best Buy employees circulated e-mails among all managers in the region containing images and descriptions of customers suspected of theft, intended to be posted in their respective stores. According to the lawsuit, the images and descriptions circulated under BOLO consistently involved racial and ethnic minorities who had done nothing to merit suspicion, accompanied by racially-tinged descriptions such as “bearded Middle Eastern guy who looked shady” or “black ghetto guy.” Really?

Abed, a supervisor in charge of loss prevention (read ” theft”), claims he refused to post the discriminatory emails. When this refusal became known to the district staff, they twice denied Abed promotions to General Manager—despite his being the most qualified applicant—and directed Abed’s new General Manager to trump up a reason to terminate him, according to the complaint.

The new General Manager, in turn, allegedly told Abed he would create a “paper trail” to have him fired, taunted his religion, sabotaged performance evaluations, placed him under a pretextual disciplinary “Action Plan,” and ultimately terminated him for allegedly poor performance.

The lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages and attorneys’ fees and costs. Most importantly, Abed seeks a court order permanently ending Best Buy’s customer profiling practices, which he believes continue to this day.

Top Settlements

Pond Drowning Case Settled. This is very sad. The family of a small boy who drowned in a pond while trying to save his younger brother who had also fallen in the pond, has been awarded a $30.7M settlement. The family had filed a premises liability lawsuit.

The story is devastating. Apparently, in 2001, Andrew Kennedy, who was just 11 years old at the time, tried to save his 10-year old brother James who had fallen through an ice-covered pond. Andrew drowned and James suffered severe brain damage. Andrew’s twin brother, Christopher Kennedy, claimed emotional and psychological trauma from witnessing the incident. And the parents alleged that the property owner, Lakes of the Four Seasons Property Owners Association Inc., did not have warning signs in place notifying the public of the dangers, nor did they try to restrict access to the pond. The family also claimed that Four Seasons failed to provide safety devices nearby. A cautionary tale…but at what price?

AON Account Specialists Settlement. And for all those ‘misclassified’ AON employees—justice at last. Los Angeles Superior Court judge gave final approval this week to a $10.5 million settlement of the employees overtime class action.

The story here is that California Account Specialists, whose work involves assisting Account Managers in providing insurance brokerage services to Aon’s clients, were misclassified by the defendant as exempt administrative employees. So the California Account Specialists filed a lawsuit—way back in 2007. And wouldn’t you know it, as the case was preparing for trial, the parties were able to reach a settlement. The settlement covers 534 class members, and best guess is they could have their money within 60 days.

OK. That’s it for this week. See you at the Bar.

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