Apple Sued in Class Action Alleging Sex Discrimination

On June 13, 2024, Altshuler Berzon LLP, together with co-counsel, filed a class action lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court challenging sex discrimination at Apple, Inc. The suit alleges that Apple violates the California Equal Pay Act, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and the California Unfair Competition Law by paying women less than men for substantially similar work and by ​using pay expectations to set starting salary, ​even though that practice has a disparate impact on women.

If you are a woman who was employed by Apple in California in its Engineering, Marketing, or AppleCare divisions any time after June 13, 2020, please call (415) 421-7151 or email nkostman@altber.com if you would like to discuss your rights.

The complaint can be found here.

Wall Street Journal

SF Chronicle

Reuters

Altshuler Berzon Attorney Defends the Biden National Labor Relations Board in Capitol Hill Hearing

As Congressional Republicans continue their attacks on the National Labor Relations Board under the Biden Administration, Altshuler Berzon LLP partner Eileen Goldsmith testified on Capitol Hill on June 12, 2024 in defense of the NLRB’s efforts to protect American workers. The June 12 hearing, entitled “NLRB Overreach: Trampling on Workers’ Rights and Fostering Unfairness,” was part of a series of anti-Union and anti-NLRB hearings called by Republican members of House Education & Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.  Goldsmith testified at the invitation of Democratic members of the subcommittee, defending the NLRB’s work in recent cases and rulemaking to restore long-standing law after the excessively anti-Union stance of the Trump NLRB.  Goldsmith’s written testimony is available here. A full video of the June 12, 2024 hearing is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Tomfp0_NdE.

Federal District Court Blocks Enforcement of Florida’s Discriminatory “Pronoun Ban” on First Amendment Grounds

On April 9, 2024, Chief Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District of Florida issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of a Florida law that prohibits teachers and other school personnel from “provid[ing]” any students with titles and pronouns like “Ms.” and “she/her” if those titles do not “correspond” to Florida’s definition of sex. Under that law, 10th-grade algebra teacher Katie Wood, a transgender woman, had been prevented from going by “Ms. Wood” and from using “she/her” pronouns in her classrooms; another teacher, AV Schwandes, was terminated for using the nonbinary title “Mx.” and “they/them” pronouns in theirs. Altshuler Berzon LLP, together with the Southern Poverty Law Center and Southern Legal Council, filed a lawsuit challenging the law for, among other things, violating the First Amendment, and sought preliminary injunctive relief. Holding that Ms. Wood was substantially likely to prevail on her First Amendment claim because it amounts to a restriction on personal speech with “no meaningful justification,” Judge Walker enjoined Ms. Wood’s school board, the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education, and various other state officials from enforcing the challenged law against Ms. Wood. For now, Judge Walker has made clear that Ms. Wood is free to “vindicate[] her identity, her dignity, and her humanity” through the use of her preferred pronouns and titles; Florida may not, “by silencing her, force[] her to an inhabit an identity that is not her own.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Confirms that Proposed Class Action Lawsuit Challenging USC’s Deception of Students in its Online Master of Social Work Program Will Go Forward

On April 2, 2024, the Los Angeles Superior Court issued a decision in Luna v. University of Southern California largely denying the University of Southern California’s (USC) attempts to dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims and narrow the case.  The court confirmed that all of the plaintiffs can proceed with their claims that USC misrepresents to students that its online Master of Social Work (MSW) program is exactly the “same” as USC’s long-standing and well-respected on-campus MSW program, when in reality USC outsourced the online program to a for-profit partner and provided different content and services.  The misrepresentation claims now proceed to discovery and class certification.  The court also allowed Plaintiffs to plead additional facts to support their assertion that USC racially targeted prospective students for hard sell techniques in violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.

The court’s decision is available here, and further information about the case is available on the website for co-counsel The Project on Predatory Student Lending here.

Federal District Court Rejects Trucking Companies’ Challenge to Assembly Bill 5’s Worker Misclassification Test

On March 15, 2024, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of California issued a final decision in California Trucking Association v. Bonta, rejecting claims by the trucking industry that Assembly Bill 5’s (“AB 5”) “ABC” test for employment status is preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (“FAAAA”), a federal statute that deregulated the trucking industry, or that it violates the Dormant Commerce Clause or Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  Under the “ABC” test, a worker is presumed to be an employee unless the employer can establish all three of the following requirements: (A) the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact; (B) the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and (C) the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business.

The same federal district court had issued a preliminary injunction against the application of AB 5 in the trucking industry before the law took effect, but that decision was overturned by the Ninth Circuit in 2021.  Since then, AB 5 has been in effect, and the district court’s decision makes clear that the State is permitted to use the “ABC” test, in its entirety, to combat misclassification in the trucking industry.  Evidence presented in the case showed that driver compensation in the trucking industry has fallen steadily for decades as misclassification practices became dominant, and many misclassified drivers end up earning less than the minimum wage (causing high turnover in the industry and safety concerns).

Altshuler Berzon LLP represents the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which intervened in the case on the side of the State to defend AB 5.  The district court’s decision can be found here.

Ninth Circuit Reaffirms McGill and Blair, Holds Mandatory Arbitration Agreement that Prohibits “Public Injunctions” Unenforceable in Consumer Class Action

On March 14, 2024, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously affirmed a decision by U.S. District Court Judge James Donato denying Defendant RAC Acceptance East, LLC’s (RAC) motion to compel arbitration.

The underlying case, McBurnie v. Acceptance Now, Case No. 3:21-cv-01429, in which Altshuler Berzon LLP is co-counsel with Dostart Hannink LLP, is a putative class action on behalf of California consumers that challenges predatory fees charged to consumers by RAC in connection with rent-to-own transactions.  Plaintiffs allege that RAC charged California consumers two unlawful fees—1) a $45 “processing fee” at the point of transaction; and 2) a $1.99 “expedited payment fee” whenever a consumer made a rental payment by telephone rather than at a store or online—in violation of California’s Karnette Act and other statutes, which prohibits companies from charging fees for rent-to-own transactions unless the fees are reasonable and cover costs actually incurred by the company. Plaintiffs seek statutory damages and a public injunction that would prohibit this practice.

In denying the motion to compel arbitration, Judge Donato rejected RAC’s argument that the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana, 596 U.S. 639 (2022), overruled prior Ninth Circuit precedent in Blair v. Rent-A-Center, Inc., 928 F.3d 819 (9th Cir. 2019), which had held that RAC’s consumer arbitration agreements were unenforceable under California law because they required consumers to waive their ability to seek public injunctive relief – a remedy the California Supreme Court in McGill had held was an unwaivable substantive statutory right.  In its published decision, the Ninth Circuit agreed with Judge Donato, holding that “[f]ar from overruling our holding in Blair, Viking River reaffirms it.”  This ruling is a key victory in clarifying post-Viking River that California consumers cannot be forced into arbitration if they would be required to give up their ability to seek public injunctive relief.

The case will now return to the district court where plaintiffs’ motion for class certification is currently fully briefed and awaiting hearing.

The decision can be found here.

Federal district court denies Aetna’s motion to dismiss class action lawsuit alleging Aetna’s fertility policies discriminate against LGBTQ people

On February 29, 2024, U.S. District Court Judge Haywood Gilliam denied Aetna’s motion to dismiss a case alleging that Aetna’s policies discriminate against LGBTQ people seeking fertility treatment coverage nationwide.

The lawsuit, which Altshuler Berzon LLP, together with the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and Katz Banks Kumin LLP, originally filed in April 2023, alleges that Aetna’s discriminatory infertility policy requires LGBTQ people who wish to become pregnant to pay more and wait longer before accessing the fertility benefits covered by their Aetna health plans, compared to those in heterosexual relationships. Aetna makes fertility treatments readily accessible to plan members in heterosexual relationships who seek them but requires LGBTQ plan members who wish to have children with their partners to submit proof that they have undergone six or 12 cycles (depending on age) of arduous and expensive artificial insemination treatments – among the very fertility treatments for which they seek coverage – before they can access the fertility benefits included in their health plans.

In denying Aetna’s motion to dismiss, Judge Gilliam rejected Aetna’s argument that its fertility policy is “facially neutral,” ruling that Plaintiff Mara Berton has plausibly alleged that she and others Aetna members with same-sex partners face “inherently different and more demanding burdens” under Aetna’s fertility coverage policy. Importantly, Judge Gilliam held that a policy that makes access to fertility coverage inherently more burdensome for LGBTQ plan members violates Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care based on sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity. This ruling is a major step forward in ensuring that LGBTQ people have equal access to health care benefits, including fertility treatment coverage.

The court’s decision can be found here, and further information is available here.

Lawsuit filed against professional hockey leagues’ anticompetitive practices that exploit teenage players

Altshuler Berzon LLP, along with five other law firms, filed a landmark antitrust case in New York federal court against the National Hockey League, the Canadian Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League, the Western Hockey League, the Québec Maritimes Junior Hockey League, and each of those leagues’ member clubs, challenging the systematic exploitation of teenaged athletes pursuing their dream of playing in the NHL. This historic class action is about Defendants’ unlawful agreements to restrain competition for these players, rendering them little more than the property of the major junior teams that draft them and compensating them at artificially suppressed, non-competitive levels. Plaintiffs in the case are the World Association of Icehockey Players Unions North America Division, as well as two former hockey players, who seek to represent a class of similarly situated hockey players.

For more information, please visit https://hockeyantitrustlitigation.com/ and see here.

 

Lawsuit filed challenging Starbucks’ claims of “100% ethical sourcing” despite reported human rights and labor abuses in its supply chain

On January 10, 2024, the National Consumers League, represented by Altshuler Berzon LLP, filed a lawsuit against Starbucks Corporation under the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act.  The lawsuit, filed in the District of Columbia Superior Court, alleges that Starbucks has engaged in the unfair and deceptive trade practice of misrepresenting to consumers that it is “committed to 100% ethical coffee sourcing” and to “100% ethically sourced tea” when in reality Starbucks does not ethically source its coffee beans or tea leaves. Instead, the lawsuit alleges, Starbucks sources coffee beans and tea leaves from cooperatives and farms that have committed documented, severe human rights and labor abuses, including the use of child labor and forced labor as well as rampant and egregious sexual harassment and assault.

Starbucks prominently displays that it is “Committed to 100% Ethical Coffee Sourcing” on the front of every retail bag of coffee beans and every box of K-Cup coffee pods it sells throughout the country.  But according to the lawsuit, governmental investigators and journalists have repeatedly uncovered egregious forms of worker exploitation occurring on farms supplying to Starbucks and/or “certified” by Starbucks as “ethical” in countries including Brazil, Guatemala, and Kenya.

A copy of the complaint can be found here.  Altshuler Berzon LLP is counsel for the plaintiff National Consumers League along with James & Hoffman, P.C. and The Rezvani Law Firm LLC.  The National Consumers League press statement can be found here.

News reports can be found here:

NBC News

Forbes