Posted: May 13th, 2019
|Case Title:||Anthony W. Ford vs. Douglas Emmett Management, LLC|
|Case Type:||Class Action|
|Court:||Stanley Mosk Courthouse|
DE-Tenants.org is updating a lawsuit we previously reported. On May 10, 2018, Anthony W. Ford filed a class action lawsuit against Douglas Emmett Management, LLC. In the lawsuit, it is alleged that Douglas Emmett systematically refused to pay wages for overtime work, failed to provide legally mandated meal and break periods, and failed to reimburse employee expenses.
According to case filings, over 100 Douglas Emmett employees may have been affected by the practices described in the Complaint. And the allegations of this case bear striking similarity to another class action wage and hour lawsuit that Douglas Emmett settled for $400,000. However, due to a disastrous ruling by the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court, Anthony Ford and other employees will never have their day in court because their claims must be settled individually in closed-door arbitration. The Supreme Court decision has triggered a nationwide push-back as states aim to use legislation to restore common sense and hold law-breaking corporations accountable. Additional details and case filings can be read below.
Anthony W. Ford was employed by Douglas Emmett from December 2015 to August 2017, and occupied a non-exempt, hourly position as a service technician.
Ford alleged that, due to work requirements, employees were often forced to forgo their legally mandated breaks or meal periods. Douglas Emmett allegedly failed to properly compensate the employees affected: according to the California Labor Code, employees should have been paid one extra hour of wages on any day where a violation occurred.
Douglas Emmett Management, LLC also allegedly “maintained a series of policies and/or practices that effectively resulted in Non Exempt Employees working off-the-clock”. According to the complaint, employees were frequently expected to perform work-related activities prior to clocking in and after clocking out, resulting in overtime work going entirely unpaid.
Employees were also required to use their own cars and cell phones on the job. However, Douglas Emmett allegedly did not provide reasonable reimbursement for these expenses. Workers were allegedly paid only $25 per month for cell phone expenses which were often much higher, and were not reimbursed at all for automobile expenses.
All of these details were contained in the Complaint and summarized in an initial post on DE-Tenants.org. The allegations of this case bear striking similarity to those in another class action wage and hour lawsuit that Douglas Emmett settled for $400,000.
However, Anthony Ford and other employees will never have their day in court. As court documents reveal, no notice was ever given to any of the potential class members regarding the existence of the case brought by Ford. This is because Ford signed an arbitration agreement which contains a class action waiver. As the case documents explain, claims by Douglas Emmett employees must be settled individually in closed-door arbitration because of a disastrous 2018 ruling by the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court, overturning lower court rulings. The case Dismissal reads:
In light of Morris v Ernst & Young, LLP, 834 F. 3d 975 (9th Cir. 2016) (“Morris”), in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that class action waivers in arbitration agreements are enforceable, Plaintiff has no other option but to dismiss the class action claims and pursue his individual claims in arbitration. […] Therefore, Plaintiff requests dismissal of the class action claims and individual claims against Douglas Emmett without prejudice.
Arbitration is a private process where disputing parties agree that an appointed lawyer can make a decision about the dispute after receiving evidence and hearing arguments. This process removes a judge and jury from the equation.
Arbitration is often used for the resolution of commercial disputes, particularly in the context of international commercial transactions. However, in the United States, arbitration is also frequently used in employment matters, where arbitration may be mandated as a condition of employment and may include a waiver of the right to bring a class action claim. Arbitration became a source of legal contention before the Supreme Court because it entails separate proceedings whereas American labor law enshrines freedom of association and mutual aid under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.
Arbitration can be faster, more informal and less expensive. But it comes with a series of cons which make it ill-suited to employment matters and fundamentally unfair to workers vis-à-vis a corporate employer with deep pockets and expert legal counsel. Employers prefer arbitration because it allows them to coerce powerless and isolated workers. The cons include the lack of public transparency and the inability to shame a company for its behavior due to the secretive closed-door proceedings; the isolation of a single employee making claims even though a class of employees may be affected; the onerous and prohibitively expensive costs it puts on that single employee with shallow pockets compared to a corporate employer; the uneven playing field created by coercive “take-it-or-leave-it” arbitration clauses; and the questionable objectivity of choosing an arbitrator (employers likely know and have worked with friendly arbitrators). In short, for a worker, going against a corporate employer is inefficient, prohibitively expensive, and does not allow economies of scale or collective power.
The U.S. Supreme Court, dominated by increasingly fringe right-wing appointees including two Trump judges, understood that mandatory arbitration favors corporate power and hurts legitimate worker grievances. The court’s disastrous 5-to-4 decision was backed by countless business interests to disempower America’s workers. But the decision was roundly condemned by worker advocates who correctly noted that it would make it harder to press workplace complaints such as wage theft, discrimination and sexual harassment.
Arbitration contracts are a growing trend. Fifty-four percent of non-unionized companies impose mandatory arbitration agreements today. The number is only likely to grow in the wake of the court decision. But all levels of government nationwide are fighting back. The Democrat-controlled House has introduced federal legislation to end this legal and moral travesty. Every single state Attorney General, regardless of party, asked Congress to end forced arbitration for sexual harassment last year because they felt they couldn’t protect the citizens in their own states. Starting in Republican-dominated Kentucky, the state Supreme Court outlawed mandatory arbitration agreements that require applicants or employees to sign if they want to be hired or remain employed. And now states have taken it upon themselves to right this wrong and restore common sense through legislation.
Particularly in California, the state is crafting legislation designed to withstand the Supreme Court’s ruling. The state’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) is taking on a new life after the ruling. PAGA allows employees to act on behalf of California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency, bringing cases themselves. Since its introduction, PAGA has protected workers from a range of abuses, including direct wage theft, the underpaying of women, unacceptable work conditions and wrongful termination. PAGA aims to create a culture of compliance with workplace laws by putting employers on notice that they can face stiff penalties if they cheat workers.
Together, this massive resistance by all levels of government nationwide can restore common sense and hold law-breaking corporations accountable.
But you can also do your part to hold Douglas Emmett Inc. accountable. The California Labor Federation is asking the public to sign a petition HERE on behalf of Douglas Emmett employees seeking to join a union and bargain collectively for better working conditions.
Download Case Filings
Tagged: Tenant Issues - Lawsuits