The Department of Justice issued a number of press releases over the last month, summarizing multiple False Claim Act and Qui Tam settlements. The False Claim Act was the nation’s first whistleblower law, intended to combat fraud against the government.
The False Claims Act was updated to add additional penalties and protections including the addition of whistleblower rewards. Rewards of up to 30% of the eventual fine or fee paid by bad actors could be awarded to the whistleblower who reported the fraud.
The California Department of Industrial Relations maintains a database of wage theft claims presented to the office by employees, and Wage Claim Judgments against individuals and corporations. We have reviewed this database for judgments from April 1st to June 30th, the second quarter of 2023. When a wage claim judgment occurs, the information about the defendant, the amount, and their industry is made public. When a wage claim is filed, the Labor Commissioner’s Office investigates the claim and publicly shares information about the name of the organization, the date of the claim, and again information categorizing the company or work by industry and location.
$3.8m Whistleblower Settlement for California and Department of Justice with Skilled Nursing Company
The United States Department of Justice and the California Attorney General each sent print releases on June 21st, 2023, noting a large $3.8m settlement with a skilled nursing facility in Riverside, California. The facility and their management company have agreed to the settlement to end litigation where they are alleged to have submitted false claims to Medicare and Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) by paying physicians for referrals. These referral payments are alleged by the US and CA governments to be illegal kickbacks. The companies admitted no liability in the settlement. The U.S. Department of Justice press release noted that the settlement amount was in part based on the defendant’s ability to pay.
California Supreme Court Rules Third Party Screening and Hiring Companies are Liable for Employment Discrimination
On August 21st, 2023, the Supreme Court of California issued a ruling that held that third party companies used in the hiring process, or who provide services to employees, can potentially be liable for employment discrimination under California’s civil right laws. The decision was unanimous. Plaintiffs had alleged health screening questions that covered multiple protected categories of information including pregnancy and medical physical and mental health.
The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires employers in the United States with 100 or more full time employees to provide 60-day notice in advance of mass layoffs or plant closings. The WARN Act applies to full-time workers and provides workers with time to prepare for the transition between the jobs they currently hold and new jobs. States such as California, New York and others maintain their own state level WARN Acts.
Here are WARN acts notices from a search of pubic databases, for the second quarter of 2023.
On July 26, 2023, the Honorable Paul G. Gardephe granted preliminary approval of a settlement between Plaintiffs and Defendants in the case of Jacobs v Verizon Communications Inc. et al (Case Number: 1:16-cv-01082). The settlement includes a gross settlement amount of thirty million dollars ($30,000,000).
Growing concern about warehouse employers use of work quotas, including quotas for how quickly warehouse workers must complete tasks, or what percentage of workers shift must be “time on task”, has driven three states to pass laws limiting warehouse centers quotas. The laws also require written disclosure of quota data to employees, prohibit using non-disclosed quotas against employees and protect against retaliation.
Quotas affecting warehouse workers in California, New York, and Washington (when the WA law goes into effect in 2024) must be disclosed to workers. Quotas must not prevent workers from taking rest breaks, meal breaks, bathrooms breaks, or prevent compliance with health and safety standards.
California Supreme Court: Section 1102.5(b) of the California Labor Code Prohibits Whistleblower Retaliation
The Supreme Court of California issue an opinion on May 22nd, 2023, stating plainly at the start of the opinion that: “The Labor Code prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for disclosing information concerning suspected violations of the law either internally or to government or law enforcement agencies. (Lab. Code, § 1102.5, subd. (b) (section 1102.5(b)); all undesignated statutory references are to the Labor Code.) Violators are subject to various sanctions, including civil penalties remitted to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) of the Department of Industrial Relations.”
“Dark Patterns” Making Online Subscriptions Harder to Cancel Draws Lawsuits, Settlements and Government Scrutiny
A “dark pattern” is a user experience design (UX) that makes it harder to cancel an ongoing paid service with an online service provider, or fail to recognize you are signing up for auto renewals or other expenses.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched lawsuits and settled with some defendants, while plaintiffs in California and other states are suing to recover alleged money lost after subscriptions continued despite attempts to cancel a service.
Workers, especially new workers not accustomed to their environment, can be injured or killed by heat exposure. Older workers, obesity, pregnancy and other factors can combine to increase risk, and by occupation the most common industry for a reported heat death was in construction, followed by agriculture and mining.
Heat stroke, heat exhaustion, syncope, kidney failure or injury and rhabdomyolysis are all possible when a worker is exposed to excessive heat and not given sufficient water, breaks and if working outside shade or in a hot interior.
Official government trackers show a problem but a small one, only 40 or so deaths per year, and several thousand injuries, but due to failure to report and self-reporting mechanisms, it is acknowledged the problem is much larger. When researchers used larger more complete data sets, including workers compensation claims across California, they discovered a likely 20,000 additional injuries occurred during high heat than would have occurred in lower temperatures. These 20,000 additional injuries are just for California. For all of the United States, injuries at this rate could exceed 150,000 per year.