Plaintiffs and Google Agree to $118 Million Settlement of Pay Equity Class Action

Plaintiffs’ law firms Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP and Altshuler Berzon LLP announce today that Plaintiffs have reached an agreement with Defendant Google LLC ( “Google”), in which Google will pay $118 million to settle a class action gender discrimination lawsuit, Ellis v. Google LLC, No. CGC-17-561299, pending since 2017. The settlement covers approximately 15,500 female employees in 236 job titles (“covered positions”) in California since September 14, 2013.

In addition to monetary relief, the Settlement provides that an independent third party expert will analyze Google’s leveling-at-hire practices and that an independent labor economist will review Google’s pay equity studies.  The post-settlement work will be supervised by an external Settlement Monitor over the next three years.  The lawsuit challenged Google’s pay and leveling processes, and Plaintiffs believe these programs will help ensure that women are not paid less than their male counterparts who perform substantially similar work, and that Google’s challenged leveling practices are equitable.

Plaintiffs:  The Named Plaintiffs are Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease, Kelli Wisuri, and Heidi Lamar.  All of the Plaintiffs are women who worked for Google in California in a covered position since September 14, 2013.  Their backgrounds:

Plaintiff Kelly Ellis worked as a Software Engineer at Google’s Mountain View office for approximately four years, departing the company with the title of Senior Manager.

Plaintiff Holly Pease worked for Google for approximately 10.5 years, in both Mountain View and Sunnyvale, holding numerous technical leadership roles, including: Manager, Corporate Network Engineering; Manager, Business Systems Integration; Manager, Corporate Data Warehouse/Reporting Team; and Senior Manager, Business Systems Integration.

Plaintiff Kelli Wisuri worked for Google for approximately 2.5 years in its Mountain View office, as an Enterprise Operations Coordinator, Enterprise Sales Operations Associate, and Google Brand Evangelist, Executive Communications Program (aka Sales Solutions Senior Associate).

Plaintiff Heidi Lamar worked as a Preschool Teacher and Infant/Toddler Teacher at Google’s Children Center in Palo Alto for approximately four years.

Next Steps:  The court will set a hearing date for preliminary settlement approval, which if approved will result in the third-party administrator issuing notice to the class members.  If the court later grants final settlement approval, the third-party administrator will allocate settlement amounts based on an objective formula to each qualifying class member. More information is available at the website: https://googlegendercase.com/

Statements on the Settlement:

“As a woman who’s spent her entire career in the tech industry, I’m optimistic that the actions Google has agreed to take as part of this settlement will ensure more equity for women,” said Plaintiff Holly Pease.  “Google, since its founding, has led the tech industry.  They also have an opportunity to lead the charge to ensure inclusion and equity for women in tech.”

Plaintiffs’ co-counsel Kelly Dermody stated, “Plaintiffs believe this settlement advances gender equity at Google and will be precedent-setting for the industry.”

“Google has long been a technology leader. We are delighted that in this Settlement Agreement and Order Google is also affirming its commitment to be a leader in ensuring pay equity and equal employment opportunity for all of their employees,” said Plaintiffs’ co-counsel Jim Finberg.”

Information about Plaintiffs’ Counsel:

Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP:  Lieff Cabraser is one of the country’s largest and most successful firms exclusively representing plaintiffs in civil litigation, having secured verdicts or settlements worth over $127 billion for clients nationwide. With 120 attorneys, the firm has led some of the most significant litigation of the last decade, including the VW clean diesel emissions case, which resulted in over $15 billion for VW owners (In re: Volkswagen ‘Clean Diesel’ Marketing, Sales Practices, and Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2672 (Northern District of California federal court)); and the high-tech cold-calling wage conspiracy case alleging an agreement among prominent technology companies to not poach each other’s employees, which resulted in settlements totaling $435 million (In re: High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation, 11-cv-2509-LJK (Northern District of California federal court)).  Partner Kelly Dermody, co-lead counsel here, led High-Tech for her firm. She is currently Chair of the Section of Labor and Employment Law of the American Bar Association, and Managing Partner of the San Francisco Office of Lieff Cabraser.

Altshuler Berzon LLP:  Altshuler Berzon LLP is a San Francisco law firm that specializes in labor and employment, constitutional, environmental, civil rights, campaign and election, and impact litigation. Altshuler Berzon, LLP has been co-lead counsel in a number of civil rights class actions, including Ries v. McDonalds, 1:20 CV 0002 HYJ RSK ( W.D. Mich. 2022) (sex harassment class action); and Satchell v. Federal Express, C03-2878 SI ( ND Cal.) (race discrimination class action). Altshuler Berzon is currently serving as co-lead counsel in the Jewett v. Oracle Equal Pay Act class action in San Mateo Superior Court, 17 Civ 02669 (San Mateo Sup.) set for trial on January 23, 2023.

For more information, visit GoogleGenderCase.com.

Ninth Circuit Rejects Challenge to Home Care Provider Union Dues Deductions

On June 8, 2022, the Ninth Circuit issued a published opinion dismissing claims that deducting voluntary union dues from the paychecks of home care providers violates the First Amendment and the Medicaid Act.  The plaintiffs in the two related cases, who were represented by anti-union advocacy groups, argued that the deduction of voluntarily authorized union dues violates the First Amendment, as well as the Medicaid Act’s “anti-reassignment provision,” which prohibits Medicaid providers from assigning their right to payment from the federal government to other entities.  If the plaintiffs had prevailed, home care workers would have been prevented from paying their union dues using the method that is most convenient and economical for them, which is the method routinely used by workers in thousands of industries across the country.

The Medicaid Act’s anti-reassignment provision was adopted decades ago in order to prevent fraud and abuse in the Medicaid program that had occurred when claims were sold and then falsely inflated by the purchasers.  It was not intended to cover routine payroll deductions like these.  But the courts did not have to reach the merits of the issue because in the two cases below, Polk v. SEIU 2015 et al. and Quirarte v. United Domestic Workers of America, AFSCME et al., the federal district courts dismissed the Medicaid Act claims as a threshold matter, holding that Congress did not intend to give providers a right of action under the anti-reassignment provision.  The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district courts’ rulings.

Altshuler Berzon LLP represented the unions that were the defendants in each of the cases, SEIU Local 2015 and United Domestic Workers of America, AFSCME.

You can read the Ninth Circuit’s decision here.

Federal District Court Denies Preliminary Injunction, Allowing Continued Enforcement of San Jose Unified School District’s Non-Discrimination Policy

On June 1, 2022, Judge Haywood Gilliam of the Northern District of California denied a preliminary injunction requested by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), which sought to enjoin the San Jose Unified School District’s application of its non-discrimination policy to an FCA-affiliated student group.  The District requires high school clubs that seek Associated Student Body (“ASB”) recognition to agree that all students are eligible for membership and leadership regardless of their status or beliefs.  Clubs that don’t obtain ASB recognition may still meet on campus but do not receive the benefits of recognition such as a faculty advisor and ASB account.

The FCA at one District high school had its recognition revoked when the District learned that students seeking leadership positions were required to sign a pledge that, among other things, affirms that they oppose same sex relationships and will conduct themselves in accordance with that belief.  The FCA sued and later sought a preliminary injunction, asserting that the District’s action violated the group’s constitutional rights to the free exercise of religion, speech, and expressive association, as well as parallel statutory rights.

Judge Gilliam denied the preliminary injunction, holding that the FCA plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed in either their facial challenge to the District’s policy or on a theory of selective enforcement.  A motion to dismiss some of the plaintiffs and claims remains pending.  Along with Dannis Woliver Kelley and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Altshuler Berzon LLP represents defendant school district officials, a high school principal, and a high school teacher in the case.

The federal district court’s opinion can be found here.

Stanford and Packard Nurses, Represented by Altshuler Berzon LLP, Win New Industry-Leading Contracts After One-Week Strike

May 3, 2022 – On Sunday, May 1, an overwhelming majority of the approximately 5,000 Nurses at Stanford Health Care and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford represented by the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA) voted to ratify new collective bargaining agreements. The new labor contracts include improvements in every priority area identified by the union, including: new protections that require staffing based on patient acuity, industry leading wages (17% increase over the next three years), significant improvements to retiree medical benefits and mental health resources, new incentive pay for Nurses in high-acuity, hard-to-staff units, rapid responses to workplace violence incidents, and the right to schedule an additional week of vacation. The contract settlements come after the Nurses went on strike on April 25, vowing to strike until fair contracts could be reached. The Nurses were joined on the picket line by many labor allies and elected officials. Altshuler Berzon LLP served as lead negotiator for CRONA in the negotiations. You can read more about the contract settlement here, here, and here.

Stanford and Packard Nurses, Represented by Altshuler Berzon LLP, Go On Strike in Collective Bargaining Dispute

April 25, 2022 – Some 5,000 nurses at Stanford Health Care and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford went on strike on Monday morning, April 25, for better wages, benefits, and working conditions, after 93 percent voted to authorize a strike.  Contract negotiations between the hospitals’ management and the Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA), the nurses’ collective bargaining representative, are ongoing.  Altshuler Berzon LLP is serving as lead negotiator for CRONA in the negotiations.  You can read more about the strike here, here, here, and here.

 

Altshuler Berzon LLP seeks fair wages for community college part-time faculty

Altshuler Berzon LLP has filed a class action lawsuit against the Long Beach Community College District seeking to change the District’s compensation practices for part-time instructional faculty and obtain damages for minimum wages owed. The lawsuit alleges that the district’s compensation structure for part-time instructional faculty, also known as adjunct faculty, violates California minimum wage law. Part-time instructional faculty members are paid only for the time they spend teaching in the classroom, but receive no compensation for the work they perform outside the classroom in connection with teaching their classes. This outside-the-classroom time includes such work as preparing for classes, grading student tests and writing assignments, and communicating with students. The lawsuit alleges that the District knows and expects part-time instructional faculty members to perform this outside-the-classroom work, and that it is unlawful for the District to refuse to compensate part-time instructional faculty members for the many hours that they necessarily work outside the classroom to teach their classes effectively.

The lawsuit, Karen Roberts and Seija Rohkea v. Long Beach Community College District, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeks damages, liquidated damages, penalties, and injunctive and declaratory relief on behalf of a class of at least 600 individuals.

Ninth Circuit Rejects Challenge to California’s Disclosure of Home-Care Aide List

On February 14, 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in HCAOA v. Newsom, rejected a challenge to a California statute that permits labor organizations to obtain registered home-care aides’ names and telephone numbers from the State, so long as a home-care aide does not object to such disclosure.

Two industry groups claimed that the California statute is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act because the state law makes it easier for home-care aides to organize and demand better wages, benefits and working conditions.  The Ninth Circuit held that the industry groups failed to demonstrate that they had standing to challenge the law and, therefore, directed the district court to dismiss the case.

Altshuler Berzon LLP represented SEIU Local 2015, which intervened in the case to oppose the industry challenge.

Ninth Circuit Rejects Challenge to California Law That Prohibits Public Employers from Deterring or Discouraging Union Membership

On February 7, 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Barke v. Banks affirmed the dismissal of claims brought by a group of individual local government elected officials challenging California Government Code Section 3550.  That law provides that a “public employer” shall not “deter or discourage” public employees from becoming or remaining union members or from authorizing membership dues deductions.  The plaintiffs brought a pre-enforcement suit against the members of California’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), alleging that the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights were chilled because they feared Section 3550 would be enforced against them.

Altshuler Berzon LLP represented California Teachers Association, SEIU California State Council, the California Federation of Teachers, the California School Employees Association, and the California Labor Federation, as intervenor-defendants in both the district court and the Ninth Circuit, and presented oral argument on appeal.

The Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiffs had no standing to bring this pre-enforcement challenge because, as individual local government board members, they are not “public employers” subject to regulation under Section 3550.  The Court recognized that “section 3550 does not regulate Plaintiffs’ individual speech, and any restrictions the statute does impose on Plaintiffs’ ability to speak on behalf of their employers do not injure Plaintiffs’ constitutionally protected individual interests” because the First Amendment does not restrict the state from regulating the government speech of public employers or their agents when speaking on behalf of the government.

A copy of the Court’s opinion can be found here.

California Court of Appeal Clarifies Application of Relation-Back Doctrine in PAGA Cases

On February 7, 2022, the California Court of Appeal granted a petition for writ of mandate filed by Altshuler Berzon LLP and co-counsel, resolving an important question regarding application of the relation-back doctrine to claims brought under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”). Former UBS Financial Services employee Andrew Hutcheson, who had timely notified the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency of alleged Labor Code violations by his former employer, sought to substitute as the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by another former UBS employee, who also had timely notified the Agency of the same claims prior to Mr. Hutcheson. The trial court concluded that, with Mr. Hutcheson as the new named plaintiff, the PAGA claims at issue in the amended complaint could not relate back for statute of limitations purposes to those in the original complaint because relation back would frustrate PAGA’s exhaustion requirement. Mr. Hutcheson filed a petition for writ of mandate seeking to vacate the trial court’s order.

The Court of Appeal initially issued a summary denial of Mr. Hutcheson’s petition. Mr. Hutcheson then filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court, which the Supreme Court granted, remanding the question to the Court of Appeal for plenary consideration. On remand, the Court of Appeal revisited Mr. Hutcheson’s writ petition and issued an opinion holding that the relation-back doctrine may apply in PAGA cases where a substitute plaintiff administratively exhausted claims after a first plaintiff. The Court of Appeal recognized that barring application of the relation-back doctrine in cases like Mr. Hutcheson’s would be “contrary to PAGA’s goal of strengthening Labor Code enforcement.”

Altshuler Berzon LLP, Clapp & Lauinger LLP, and the Wynne Law Firm represented Mr. Hutcheson in the appellate proceedings.

A copy of the Court’s opinion can be found here.

Altshuler Berzon LLP Seeks Justice for Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman

On February 2, 2022, Altshuler Berzon LLP and nonpartisan nonprofit Protect Democracy filed a civil rights conspiracy complaint in federal court in Washington, DC on behalf of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman (ret.) against former White House and Trump Campaign officials, including Donald Trump, Jr., Rudolph Giuliani, Julia Hahn, and Daniel Scavino, Jr., alleging a campaign of witness intimidation and retaliation against him after he was subpoenaed by Congress to testify during former President Trump’s first impeachment proceeding.

In July 2019, as part of his official duties as the National Security Council’s singular Ukraine expert, Lt. Col. Vindman listened to a phone call between former President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which President Trump attempted to coerce Zelensky into publicly undertaking an investigation of then-former Vice President Biden and his son. Lt. Col. Vindman, a career public servant, was immediately concerned that President Trump’s attempt to pressure Zelensky was improper, and likely unlawful, and risked national security. Honoring his oath of office to support and defend the Constitution, he reported his concerns through appropriate internal channels.  Months later, Lt. Col. Vindman was twice called as a witness in impeachment proceedings against President Trump and provided sworn testimony.

The lawsuit alleges that, as a result, Lt. Col. Vindman became the target of an unlawful conspiracy by President Trump and his close aides and allies, including key figures in the media, to intimidate and retaliate against him for his testimony.  According to the Complaint, the defendants in the suit and other unnamed conspirators engaged in a coordinated campaign to falsely portray Lt. Col. Vindman as disloyal to the United States and to ruin his career in the military.  Neither the former president nor his conspirators have been held accountable for their blatant attempts to obstruct the impeachment proceedings.

The entire complaint can be found here.  A press release regarding the case can be found here.