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Class Action Suit Alleges Pattern of Unpaid Overtime, Other Labor Violations at Douglas Emmett

Posted: March 13th, 2018

Case Details

Case Number: BC466315
Filing Date: 7/28/2011
Court: Stanley Mosk Courthouse (Los Angeles County)
Status: Settled in 2014

Case Summary

In July 2011, Antoinette Lindsay filed a class action lawsuit against Douglas Emmett Inc. In her lawsuit, Lindsay alleged that Douglas Emmett had a pattern of unlawful wage and hour violations—denying employees correct overtime pay despite California’s labor laws. Following the Lindsay suit, other one-time Douglas Emmett employees filed similar cases in Los Angeles County court.

Many of the cases were eventually rolled up into a class action lawsuit, which was settled for a total of $400,000 and distributed among Douglas Emmett workers.

This post will summarize the Lindsay v. Douglas Emmett case.

In the course of the court proceedings, court documents were made public. They can be read in the downloadable case filings at the end of this page.

Complaint narrative

In July 2011, Antoinette Lindsay filed a class action lawsuit against her former employer, Douglas Emmett Inc., on behalf of both herself and Douglas Emmett’s Los Angeles workers. Ms. Lindsay had worked for Douglas Emmett as an assistant property manager from 2008 to 2010.

In the suit, Lindsay alleged that Douglas Emmett had a pattern of committing unlawful wage and hour violations against its workers, including compelling unpaid overtime, not allowing workers to take legally-required breaks, and making workers work through meal periods without paying legally-mandated compensation. According to Lindsay’s complaint, Douglas Emmett Inc. “engaged in a uniform policy and systematic scheme of wage abuse against their hourly paid or non-exempt employees.” The complaint further alleged that employees were “denied wages, all in order to increase [Douglas Emmett’s] profits.”

Per the litigation, supervisors would often compel workers to turn in time sheets showing 8-hour days and 40-hour weeks when, in reality, employees would often work additional hours. Workers would see no pay for these overtime hours. According to court documents, Douglas Emmett’s policy was that overtime had to be approved in advance.

Per the Lindsay lawsuit, these unlawful wage and hour violations affected various types of Douglas Emmett employees from property managers to engineers to day porters to concierges.

For its part, Douglas Emmett Inc. denied the allegations in its official answers to the lawsuit.

Workers Speak Out

As the case progressed, former Douglas Emmett employees provided Lindsay’s lawyers with declarations attesting to their work conditions under Douglas Emmett, Inc. These claims are contained in the “Compendium of Putative Claims” dated May 7, 2013.

Per the declarations, Douglas Emmett has a corporate culture that induced employees to report to their jobs early, work long hours and neglect lunch and legally mandated breaks. Workers who voiced displeasure with the policies reported being threatened with dismissal.

In her declaration, residential leasing agent Alicia A. explained why she regularly worked over 8 hours per day and over 40 hours per week. She wrote, “I regularly had to work later than my scheduled shift in order to show an apartment or meet with a prospective tenant who was signing a lease. […] I had to work after my scheduled shift because often prospective tenants were unable to tour the properties until after they themselves had left work. If I had refused to meet with prospective tenants after the end of my shift, I would not have been able to meet corporate’s leasing expectations, which could have subjected me to discipline.” Despite regularly working late, Alicia said she was paid only for the 8 hours that she was scheduled to work. In fact, while working for Douglas Emmett, Alicia says she did not record her hours on a timesheet and there was no time clock for her to “clock in” and “clock out.”

Rudolfo C. declared that he worked as a utility engineer for Douglas Emmett for 8 years. During that time “[t]he duties and tasks that [he] was expected to perform as a Utility Engineer required that [he] work some time before and after [his] scheduled shift, and at times work during [his] meal and rest periods.” Rudolfo described frequently losing out on his lunch break:

I was often interrupted by calls from the main security center. I estimate that my lunch was interrupted by a call at least 3 times per week while I was working the swing shift […] I was never paid for the work I performed while on my lunch break, and I was usually not able to take a full uninterrupted lunch break after I returned from the call. I always handled the calls because it was my responsibility and if I did not, I would be reprimanded by my supervisors.

Rudolfo endured this unfairness because he feared his supervisors: “I was afraid that if I complained, my supervisors would retaliate against me in my performance review which would result in me being fired from my job. Once when I tried to voice a grievance, one of my supervisors said, ‘If you don't like it, give me your keys because you don't have to work here.’”

Another employee named Luis D. also expressed fear of retaliation. He wrote:

Douglas Emmett's policy was that overtime hours had to be approved in advance. If I submitted a timesheet with hours other than my exact scheduled hours, my boss would reprimand me. In fear of retaliation and losing my job, I submitted my timesheets according to his instruction of always putting 8:00a.m. to 5:00p.m. with a one hour lunch, regardless of the number of hours I actually worked. When I asked my supervisor why we could not get overtime, he told me, “If you don't like it, there is the door.”

Like other employees, Luis explained that “approximately three times per week my lunch period was interrupted by a call that I was required to attend to. For example, I once got a call that the water heater was leaking, and I had to take care of it immediately […] If there was a leak, I was required to stay and fix it, no matter how long it took. I estimate that at least two or three times each week I had to stay late, sometimes until 9:00 p.m.”

Antoinette Lindsay explained why she never recorded her real hours worked on her handwritten time sheet: “I recorded my scheduled hours, rather than my actual hours, because on occasions when I submitted a time sheet not reflecting my scheduled hours my supervisor would return the time sheet to me and require that I change the time sheet. In fear of not being paid, I changed the timesheet and signed it.”

Ms. Lindsay explained that “Douglas Emmett forbade [her] from receiving overtime that was not pre-approved.” Yet the nature of her professional responsibilities required her to work beyond her scheduled hours:

The amount of work that I was required to complete was overwhelming. Completion of all my assigned work duties within the eight hours allotted for my scheduled shift was impractical, and often required that I work after the end of my scheduled shift. Approximately three times per work week, I performed approximately thirty minutes of work after the end of my scheduled shift.

The alleged labor violations extended to a variety of different roles within the company. In one declaration, a corporate concierge named Deborah M. describes being compelled to plan and work Douglas Emmett’s corporate events. These events – corporate retreats and holiday parties – were often full days for which she was totally unpaid. Deborah’s supervisor would usually, but not always, give her a day off during the week following the corporate events because he did not believe the company would pay her overtime. Deborah explained, “He told me that allowing me this time off was the best he felt he could do to compensate me for the extra hours I worked.”

Katayoon M. worked as an assistant property manager, and although she was scheduled to work until 5 p.m. she regularly worked until 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. to meet deadlines and obligations. Despite working over 8 hours a day, Katayoon states: “I was instructed by my supervisor that recording the extra hours after the end of my scheduled shift could result in disciplinary action taken by Douglas Emmett against me or my supervisor. […] Thus, I was never paid for the work I performed after my scheduled shift.”

A day porter named Herbert P. worked through his lunch break on the explicit order of his supervisor. Per his declaration, when Herbert submitted an accurate timesheet to reflect this, his supervisor instructed him to alter his timesheet to include a lunch break that he did not take. According to Herbert: “[my supervisor] told me if I did not fill it out ‘properly’ I would not get paid.”

Another employee named Edvin T. worked as an accountant and explicitly notified his supervisors about his demanding work: “I talked to my supervisors about my workload and expressed concern that I was not able to get everything completed in an 8 hour day. I do not believe they took my concerns seriously because my workload was never reduced […]”

Douglas Emmett Asks Employees to Waive Rights to Enter Class Action

As the lawsuit progressed, Douglas Emmett distributed a waiver that offered $250 to workers in exchange for them waiving their right to enter the class action lawsuit. This was a complex legal document allegedly provided to many former and current employees only in English. Many of Douglas Emmett’s maintenance workers were not fluent in English, and thus had no grasp of the implications of the document. Per many accounts in the declarations, the employees were not given verbal explanations of the document or its implications. Nor were the employees told of the Lindsay litigation or the right to potentially take part in the lawsuit. Per documents filed in the Lindsay case (see “Compendium of Evidence” dated September 3, 2013), at least 79 current and former employees were believed to have signed away their rights to take part in the class action suit.

Ultimately, a handful of similar wage and hour lawsuits brought against Douglas Emmett were deemed legally related to Lindsay v. Douglas Emmett. They included Vinluan v. Douglas Emmett (BC474960), Rodriguez v. Douglas Emmett (BC478699), and Wiss v. Douglas Emmett (BC474789). Together, the cases were included in a final settlement in 2014. Douglas Emmett agreed to pay a total of $400,000 distributed among the participants in the suits and qualified claimants who worked as non-exempt employees of Douglas Emmett since 2007.

In the course of the proceedings, court documents were made public. They can be read in the case filings below.

Download Case Filings

Date Document
2011-07-28 COMPLAINT
2011-09-06 ANSWER