Waffle House CEO accused of harassing assistant

A former Waffle House executive is in legal trouble after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced from his former assistant. The man, who is currently the firm’s CEO, is accused of forcing his female assistant to perform sexual services in order to keep her job. The woman says she was coerced into performing the degrading acts during her nine-year term with the man.

The woman reportedly submitted to an interview by the Atlanta police in late September, revealing lurid details about the current executive. Officers say the woman’s claims have not been entirely verified, but the investigation in the matter is ongoing.

Allegations from the criminal report state that the woman was harassed as early as 2003, when she started her job as a personal assistant working out of the man’s house. The man reportedly tried to sleep with the woman, and he also sought oral sex from her. When she refused to comply, he settled for manual masturbation, which was a condition of the woman’s employment for nearly a decade. The man also forced the woman to watch pornography, fondled her breasts and often appeared naked in front of her, according to the complaint.

Police documents show that the woman quit her job in June, after her son graduated from high school and earned a college scholarship. She placed the resignation letter in the man’s dresser, in order to spare his wife the humiliation that might come with a public pronouncement.

The woman waited for several months after her resignation to call police. This is not surprising, considering the intimate nature of the alleged harassment. Victims often need time to process their horrifying experiences before they can discuss their harassment.

Police say they have not yet charged the man with any criminal action. Even if the man is not subject to criminal sanctions, however, the woman appears to have a clear case against him in civil court. She could recoup compensatory and punitive damages in civil court under a variety of statutes designed to protect American workers.

Source: CNN Justice, “Waffle House CEO accused of forcing employee to perform sex acts,” Nov. 12, 2012

Banker claims wrongful termination for Ponzi revelations

A Miami whistleblower said he was fired from his prestigious banking position after reporting suspicious activity related to a Ponzi scheme. The man has filed a wrongful termination case against the financier in connection with the allegations, which revolve around money scams initiated by now-famous Scott Rothstein.

The employee, a high-level regulations expert, claims that he was fired after reporting the investor’s misdeeds. His employer, Gibraltar Private Bank, reportedly told him that their workers did not have to abide by federal banking regulations because of their high-level clients. He had reported suspicions related to Rothstein’s accounts as early as 2008, according to the suit, but bank leaders told him to relax regulatory requirements for the investor, saying he was one of the business’s best clients.

When the man refused to ignore the problems and insisted that Rothstein’s accounts be closed, bank managers fired him.

Approximately one year after the man lost his job, Rothstein was apprehended after fleeing to Morocco. Authorities said he had masterminded a giant fraud scheme that ultimately fleeced investors of more than $1 billion. He has since been sentenced to 50 years’ time in a federal prison, according to reports.

Not only did the bank leaders fire the man bringing the suit, but he alleged that they also prevented him from getting other work because they defamed his character. The man’s former supervisors claimed that he was physically violent to other employees, saying that other workers refused to stay alone with the man after hours. The bank also falsely alleged that they were required to hire armed guards after the man was fired because they were afraid he would return with a gun.

The man is seeking compensation for a variety of wrongs, including retaliation, defamation, whistleblower violations and breach of employment agreements. It is not clear how much money the man is seeking in connection with the suit. He is not looking to be reinstated to his former position because the bank has since become defunct.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Exec claims bank fired him for reporting Rothstein’s Ponzi scam,” Iulia Filip, Nov. 8, 2012

Eller & Sons stunned by $11M wage judgment

A Georgia horticulture contractor has been found liable for additional wages due to a group of Guatemalan and Mexican workers. A federal judge ordered the firm to pay more than $11 million to the guest workers, who did not receive appropriate pay while they were planting trees throughout the region. Eller & Sons Trees, Inc., a Franklin company, was punished for its violation of wage and hour laws in the largest court award of its kind.

The plaintiffs in the case were represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The award was granted despite protests from the company’s owners, who say that the lawsuit effectively bankrupted the company and its primary shareholders. Legal representatives for the defendants say that entire communities in Guatemala have essentially destroyed their own ability to make money in America because they targeted Eller & Sons. The lawsuit resulted in the company going out of business, which may have removed the only link those guest workers had to America.

Nonetheless, the class-action suit was successful in obtaining compensation for the 4,000 guest workers who were employed by the company during the 1990s and early 2000s. The company had allegedly failed to pay the workers the federal minimum wage. Workers also contended that Eller & Sons should have paid a prevailing wage instead of the unreasonably low rates.

Attorneys say that the result of this case shows a judicial commitment to protecting workers throughout the nation. Even guest workers deserve to receive a minimum standard of treatment, according to legal teams associated with the case. They say that the decision will have long-lasting effects because it will give employers reason to reconsider their wage policies considering guest workers and legal residents.

In this case, not only had the employer failed to pay the federal minimum wage, but it had also failed to provide a prevailing wage; that means that people doing similar work in the area were receiving significantly more money for the same skilled work.

Source: The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, “Judge: Georgia company must pay foreign workers $11.8 million,” Jeremy Redmon, Oct. 30, 2012.

Wal-Mart faces suit for employment wrongs

More wage and hour claims are plaguing the corporate behemoth Wal-Mart. The company is facing another lawsuit after reportedly violating minimum wage requirements throughout the nation. Wal-Mart is also accused of violating overtime rules, requiring temporary employees to show up early, work late and continue working through lunch.

The workers, who were contracted through two separate staffing agencies, filed a class-action suit against the big-box retailer early last week. The implications for this suit are important for temporary workers throughout the nation.

The civil suit comes after a series of protests that resulted in the first-ever strike against Wal-Mart in early October. Store employees, empowered by the organization OUR Wal-Mart, walked off the job in major cities including Los Angeles and Dallas, according to media reports. Strikes have also been held at some Southern California warehouses because of untenable working conditions, according to experts, and employees at a distribution center in Illinois have also prompted work stoppages.

Throughout the past decade, Wal-Mart’s employment practices have come under fire from both workers and the general public. A 2008 agreement required the company to pay more than $600 million to settle a bundle of state and federal class-action employment lawsuits. The company was accused of withholding wages as a part of those suits, as well.

Additionally, temporary employees are also alleging that Wal-Mart failed to pay the four hours of wages owed on days when a worker was contracted but not utilized. Civil cases involving temporary employees are sometimes more complicated than those that deal only with directly employed workers. Temporary employees receive their paychecks through the agencies that send them to the worksites, but they are accountable to supervisors at the site. Both Wal-Mart and the staffing agency share responsibility for ensuring that the workers have been paid.

It can seem intimidating to pursue legal action against a large company, and some employees who have been wronged may be tempted to simply give up and accept it. To do this, however, not only allows an injustice to go unpunished, but it also clears the way for a company to carry out their injustices on other workers in the future. In this case, Wal-Mart employees seem to be trusting in strength in numbers to empower them as they move forward with their litigation. It is not clear how much the workers are seeking in compensatory damages.

Source: Reuters, “Wal-Mart hit with minimum wage lawsuit as walkout threat looms,” Oct. 22, 2012.

Worker fired for complaining about workplace rodents vindicated

A Florida worker whose employer fired him for complaining about workplace rodents and rodent droppings has been vindicated in a lawsuit filed on his behalf by the U.S. Department of Labor. A judge upheld employee rights to complain about unsafe or unhealthy workplace conditions, and not to be fired in retaliation for being a whistleblower.

The lawsuit targeted the owners of Aquatech Technologies Inc., which the employee worked for. It resulted in the judge issuing an injunction against the defendants engaging in any further violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which outlaws such retaliation. The former employee was also awarded $27,072 in lost back wages, $6,700 in expenses, and $414 in interest, for a total award of $34,186.

After the employee told the company about seeing rodents infesting the office and finding rodent droppings lying around, the employer took some steps, such as placing a few traps. This, however, did not really remedy the situation. When the employee continued to complain, the employer then took the position that no such problem existed.

Frustrated with this inaction, the employee then filed a complaint with OSHA. As soon as OSHA told the employer that it was in receipt of the complaint, the employee was shown the door without warning.

That prompted the fired worker to pursue a claim as a whistleblower through OSHA, resulting in an investigation which found merit to the claim, and the subsequent lawsuit. The result shows that employees who stand up for the right of themselves and their co-workers to have a safe and healthy workplace have some protection against employers who want them to continue to work in filthy or dangerous conditions in violation of the law.

Source: WorkersCompensation.com, “OSHA wins lawsuit against employer for firing whistleblower who complained of rodents,” Oct. 11, 2012.

Whistleblower fired for complaining about workplace rodents

A federal judge in a southern Florida court ruled last week that a Florida company illegally retaliated against one if its employees by firing him after he complained about an infestation of rodents at a company facility in Stuart, Florida. The lawsuit to vindicate employee rights was filed by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The man worked for a canvas products manufacturing company called Aquatech Technologies, which is owned by LOTO Services, LLC. The court found that the firing violated the employee’s rights against retaliation for complaining about workplace safety or health under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The judge awarded the employee $34,186, including $27,072 in lost back wages, $6,700 in expenses, and $414 in interest.

When the employee first complained about rodent droppings in a company office, traps were deployed, but the infestation remained. When the employee repeated his complaint, the employer denied that the problem existed. As a result, the employee notified the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) about the threat to workplace health and safety. When OSHA notified the company about the complaint, the employee was fired.

OSHA enforces federal laws protecting employees who report workplace health and safety rules and other federal regulations. Employers have a mandatory legal duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace consistent with OSHA standards. When these standards are violated or an employee is fired or disciplined for reporting violations, OSHA investigates and takes necessary enforcement actions.

In this case, OSHA’s investigation determined that the employee’s firing was retaliatory and would not have happened absent the employee’s reporting of the workplace rodent problem. It then filed the lawsuit on behalf of the ex-employee.

Source: OSHA Regional News Release, “US Department of Labor wins lawsuit against Aquatech Technologies owners for firing whistleblower who complained about rodents at Stuart, Fla., plant Judge finds canvas manufacturer violated OSH Act by retaliating against employee,” Oct. 10, 2012.

Employer accused of forcing employee to house prostitutes

Some duties that employees are forced to tend to from day to day are simply part of the job. When executives force their employees to do things outside the realm of the workplace, employment violations begin to crop up.

An employment law suit filed by a Florida employee of a debt collection company claims that his boss ordered him to provide housing to prostitutes in his home, and tormented him in other ways. He argues that these actions should be sufficient grounds for voiding his employment contract.

During his 10 year stint with the firm, he asserts, he experienced various objectionable office pranks, found that his co-workers engaged in widespread drug use and that his boss used his home for assignations with prostitutes he wished to have sex with.

His boss did this because he needed a place to engage in sex with the prostitutes, as the man was married, according to the plaintiff. The employee also discovered that one of these prostitutes was left overnight in his residence.

To make matters worse, his boss also purportedly harassed his ill mother, and referred to her with a vulgar sexual nickname and other terms referring to her anatomy. The boss also sent false text messages to the man’s girlfriend, pretending to be him, trying to lure her to a dinner.

Not all the harassment was sexual, however. The boss also kept as much as half of all the commissions which the employee earned on successful collections, denying the employee a major part of his compensation, he claims.

Rightfully so, the employee wants to be awarded damages, including the withheld commissions, as well as to be released from his remaining contract with the company. The lawsuit was filed in a Florida state court. No worker should be forced to endure such a hostile work environment.

Source: Huff Post Small Business, “Mark Oliff, Florida Man, says Boss used his home for sex with prostitutes,” Sept. 28, 2012.

Hotel manager accused of harassing and raping maid

A maid at a Miami based hotel has filed a state court lawsuit accusing a hotel manager of subjecting her to persistent workplace harassment including sexual harassment culminating in sexual assaults and rape.

The plaintiff is the married mother of two children. She asserts that she consistently resisted the male manager’s sexual advances, making it clear to him that she was not interested, but that he persisted, ultimately taking her by force and sexual molesting her on the hotel premises. He also engaged in sexual assaults on other maids employed on the hotel’s property.

At one point, according to court documents she filed, he demanded that she supply him with nude pictures of herself, threatening her with the loss of her job if she refused. He allegedly raped her by using a pretext of asking her to bring towels to a room, waiting inside, and pulling her into the room when she arrived.

After the initial assault, according to the complaint, the hotel manager sexually molested the maid on a number of occasions. In addition to threatening her with loss of her employment, he allegedly said that he would make trouble for her with immigration officials if she complained or failed to comply with his demands. She is an immigrant from Honduras, and was paid $7.67 an hour for her work at the hotel.

The abuse went on for two and a half years, according to the lawsuit.

Sexual harassment is a terrible offense, which can cause severe emotional damage to victims and their families. Workers have a right to do their job in peace and safety, and if the facts of this case are true, then this worker’s rights were violated in the worst possible way. She has not named her assailant as a defendant in the suit, instead targeting three companies involved in her employment. Based on the woman’s report, however, it seems likely that the hotel manager will one day face trial as well.

Source: Opposing Views, “Maid Claims Marriott Manager William Castro Raped Her,” Sept. 18, 2012

Nuclear power plant worker claims wrongful termination

A 53-year-old former worker at a St. Lucie, Florida, nuclear power plant has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Florida Power & Light Company, which operates the facility. He claims that he took action to protect the safety of the plant and public but was fired in retaliation for that action. In his lawsuit, he also asserts claims for defamation (libel), as well as fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The incident at issue occurred on Nov. 21, 2009. On that date, he says, he could see that the nuclear power plant’s Unit 2 nuclear reactor had a leak in one of its valves. Because of this, in his position as operations manager, he refused to start that unit up, allegedly costing the company $6 million to shut down the reactor to address the safety issue from coolant leaking from the valve.

He says that he then reported the problem to a company vice president who acted in a shocking fashion by ordering him to immediately start the nuclear reactor back up without addressing the safety issue. He refused to obey this order, according to the complaint, and following that, supervisory personnel targeted him for retaliation. Among other actions, they allegedly wrote performance reviews of him which were purposefully lower than justified, in order to target him for elimination. Ultimately, he was fired, although that did not happen until June 25 of 2012.

The employer has denied the fired worker’s claims, and asserts that both unit 1 and unit 2 at the nuclear plant were running at 100 percent of anticipated power on the date in question. It also claims that it would never do anything that could compromise the safety of the facility. The lawsuit asks for money damages of $15,000.

Source: The Palm Beach HostFormer Florida Power & Light Co. nuclear plant employee files lawsuit,” Susan Salisbury, Sept. 19, 2012

Tension erupts over pension changes in Florida

Politicians in Florida looking to cover a $3.6 billion budget shortfall targeted the pensions of public employees to do so. While a trial court said that the move, which would save $1 million in pension benefits, was unconstitutional, the lawmakers behind the proposal are relying on the state’s Supreme Court to label it a fair cost-cutting move amid a financial crisis. This battle has proven to be a high-profile employment law issue as the changes essentially equate to an illegal salary reduction for workers, according to the opposition.

Lawmakers, predominately Republicans, altered the way that the state funds pensions for its employees. Public employees are now required to put 3 percent of their income into their pension to help pay for it. The new law also eliminated the cost-of-living adjustment, which would ensure that employees can stay on pace with inflation during their retirement years.

A lawyer representing a group of public employees who are challenging the new law said that it is unfair to make such a drastic change so suddenly. The lawyer, who is representing 11 people who were affected by the new pension law, said that the change was a direct violation of the agreements already struck between the state and its workers. The lawyer’s clients are asking that their contributions to their pensions be given back to them with an extra amount in interest.

A circuit court judge originally sided with the workers in the case, saying that they have the right to collectively bargain over conditions of employment, and in this case, were not able to. However, the state’s high court has agreed to hear the case to determine whether that decision would be reversed or upheld.

If the circuit court’s decision is upheld, Florida will have to continue funding workers’ pensions as it did, plummeting further into a financial hole. On the other side of the coin, if the Supreme Court decides that lawmakers were within their rights in changing pension laws, state workers face an uncertain financial future.

Source: Money News, “Florida $1 billion pension reform faces high court scrutiny,” Sept. 7, 2012