Category Archives: Verdicts and Decisions

We fight for workers’ rights all the way to the US Supreme Court

Workers on offshore oil platforms are entitled to be paid California wages

Our firm’s motto is that we are Fighting for Workers’ Rights. We take that message very seriously, even if it means taking our cases all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

On June 10, 2019, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Parker Drilling Management Services, Ltd. v. Newton, holding that California overtime and minimum wage laws do not apply to work performed on oil platforms in federal waters off the California coast. Mr. Newton is our client, and we’ve been litigating his claims against Parker Drilling since 2015. We’re going to keep fighting on his behalf and on behalf of all the other workers who, like Mr. Newton, worked on oil platforms off the coast of California. The Supreme Court may have held that these workers are not entitled to the protections of California overtime and minimum wage claims, but the rest of their claims — including those for violations of California’s meal and rest period, paycheck stub, and final wage payment laws — are are still valid.

One friend of Strauss & Strauss put it best when he said we need to “keep swinging.” That’s exactly what we’re going to do, even if it means fighting for these workers’ rights issues to the United States Supreme Court again.

California Wage Laws Apply on Offshore Oil Platforms

Oil platform workers off the California coast could be in for a payday. On February 5, 2018, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously held that California wage laws apply on the offshore oil platforms off the California coast.

The case, Newton v. Parker Drilling Management Services, Ltd., Case No. 15-56352, is the first decision in any federal appellate court to address the issue of whether California wage laws apply on offshore oil platforms in federal waters. Michael Strauss from our office argued the case before the Ninth Circuit and is lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the Parker Drilling case.

The Parker Drilling case is huge for oil platform workers off the California coast, who typically work multi-day “hitches.”  They begin their hitch on California soil, when they take a boat or helicopter out to their assigned offshore drilling rig. Many hitches last a week or more, after which the worker returns to California soil.

Because of the nature of the work on the oil platforms, workers cannot reasonably leave their worksite. They have to spend their nights on the platforms. They have to respond to emergencies and drills, even while sleeping.

With exceptions that do not apply here, California wage laws provide that an employee who can’t leave the worksite must be paid for all hours he is confined to the worksite.  Because the Parker Drilling case holds that California laws apply on the offshore drilling platforms off the California coast, that means that workers on the platforms must be paid for every hour of their hitch.

As an example, take an employee making $20 per hour who works a seven-day hitch. Many offshore services companies pay their employees 12 hours for each day of a hitch. So in this example, the worker is typically paid as follows:

  • Day 1: 8 hours at regular rate of $20 per hour, plus four hours of overtime at $30 per hour, for a total of $280 paid
  • Day 2: 8 hours at regular rate of $20 per hour, plus four hours of overtime at $30 per hour, for a total of $280 paid
  • Day 3: 8 hours at regular rate of $20 per hour, plus four hours of overtime at $30 per hour, for a total of $280 paid
  • Day 4: 8 hours at regular rate of $20 per hour, plus four hours of overtime at $30 per hour, for a total of $280 paid
  • Day 5: 8 hours at regular rate of $20 per hour, plus four hours of overtime at $30 per hour, for a total of $280 paid
  • Day 6: 8 hours at regular rate of $20 per hour, plus four hours of overtime at $30 per hour, for a total of $280 paid
  • Day 7: 8 hours at regular rate of $20 per hour, plus four hours of overtime at $30 per hour, for a total of $280 paid
  • Total Pay for Hitch: 7 x $280 = $1,960.

Assuming California overtime laws apply, which the Parker Drilling case says is true, then the pay earned by a worker on the platforms during a seven-day hitch would look like this:

  • Day 1: 8 hours at regular rate of $20 per hour, plus four hours of overtime at $30 per hour, plus 12 hours of doubletime at $40 per hour, for a total of $760 earned
  • Day 2: 8 hours at regular rate of $20 per hour, plus four hours of overtime at $30 per hour, for a total of $760 earned
  • Day 3: 8 hours at regular rate of $20 per hour, plus four hours of overtime at $30 per hour, for a total of $760 earned
  • Day 4: 8 hours at regular rate of $20 per hour, plus four hours of overtime at $30 per hour, for a total of $760 earned
  • Day 5: 8 hours at regular rate of $20 per hour, plus four hours of overtime at $30 per hour, for a total of $760 earned
  • Day 6: 8 hours at regular rate of $20 per hour, plus four hours of overtime at $30 per hour, for a total of $760 earned
  • Day 7: 8 hours at regular rate of $20 per hour, plus four hours of overtime at $30 per hour, for a total of $760 earned
  • Total Pay Earned for Hitch: 7 x $280 = $5,320 earned

Because California law now applies on the platforms off the California coast, this hypothetical employee would be owed about $3,360 per hitch. Offshore oil platform workers can go back up to four years to recover the wages that their employers should have been paying them. Assuming the hypothetical employee making $20 per hour worked 26 hitches each year for the last four years, he would be owed approximately $349,440 in overtime/doubletime wages, plus interest.

(Please note that the Parker Drilling decision, although was published by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, is not yet final and may be subject to review by the full Ninth Circuit or the Supreme Court. In no way does Strauss & Strauss claim that the employees affected by the decision are entitled to any money from their employers. The example given above is illustrative only and may not represent what an employee could actually expect to receive in a settlement or judgment. There are too many intervening factors to allow us to predict an outcome or to guarantee any results.)

Strauss & Strauss is presently handling multiple cases representing offshore oil platform workers and crew boat workers. The cases include:

  • Newton v. Parker Drilling Management Services, Ltd.
  • Curtis v. Irwin Industries
  • Newell v. Ensign United States Drilling (California) Inc.
  • Berry v. DCOR, LLC
  • Jensen v. Secorp Industries, Inc.
  • Heraux v. C & C Boats, Inc.
  • Jefferson v. Beta Operating Company, LLC
  • Savannah v. Sodexo, Inc. and Sodexo Remote Sites Partnership
  • Williams v. Brinderson Constructors, Inc.
  • Garcia v. Freeport-McMoran Oil & Gas, LLC

 

If you are an employee working multi-day hitches on either boats or oil platforms throughout the OCS, please contact Strauss & Strauss, APC for a free consultation about your potential claims for unpaid wages. Such consolations are entirely confidential, and protected by the Attorney-Client confidentiality protections, regardless of whether you choose to proceed with claims or not. Strauss & Strauss, APC, is currently handling several similar cases against employers on the OCS, and is well-versed in this nuanced area of the law.

Labor Commissioner Award in Owner-Operator Misclassification Case

Strauss & Strauss recently obtained a victory of over $74,000 against Central Freight Lines, Inc. The case, Villarreal v. Central Freight Lines, Inc., was heard by the California Labor Commissioner. Plaintiff sought unlawfully deducted wages, interest thereon, and penalties. The Labor Commissioner sided with the plaintiff and issued the award below.

This case was another owner-operator misclassification case. Plaintiff was a driver for Central Freight Lines, Inc., and he leased his truck from the company. Central Freight Lines, Inc. deducted various items from Plaintiff’s pay, including sums for maintenance, insurance, and the lease payments. The Labor Commissioner found that Plaintiff was lawfully an employee, not an independent contractor, and that the deductions that Central Freight Lines, Inc. made from his pay violated California law, which prohibits employers from making certain types of deductions from pay.

The decision of the Labor Commissioner is below. Please call Strauss & Strauss if you have been misclassified as an owner-operator independent contractor driver for a trucking company.

http://www.strausslawyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/2016.10.12-OrderDecision-or-Award.pdf

Judgment for Unpaid Overtime Obtained in Kern County

On March 10, 2016, the Kern County Superior Court entered judgment in favor of Warren Davis against his former employer, Komoto Pharmacy, Inc., for nearly $80,000 in unpaid overtime and interest thereon. Davis, a licensed pharmacist and the “pharmacist-in-charge” of Komoto Medical Pharmacy in Bakersfield, alleged that he was not paid overtime when he worked over eight hours in a day or 40 hours a week, as required by California law. Medical Pharmacy argued that Davis, as the “pharmacist-in-charge,” was exempt from overtime pay. Davis also brought additional claims, including a claim for wrongful termination.

Judge David R. Lampe of the Kern County Superior Court found for Davis on the claim for unpaid overtime after a bench trial. The court found that Komoto Pharmacy failed to prove that Davis was exempt from overtime pay, and that Davis worked on average 15 hours of overtime per month. Including interest, the court awarded Davis $79,341.32 on his claim for unpaid overtime.

Michael Strauss, who represented Davis at trial, was pleased with the outcome. “Mr. Davis worked hard for Medical Pharmacy, and I’m happy that he is finally being awarded the overtime that he earned.”

By California law, pharmacists cannot be exempt from overtime under the “professional” exemption, which is available to professionals such as doctors, lawyers, architects, dentists, optometrists, engineers, teachers, or accountants. Pharmacists can only be exempt from overtime under the “administrative” or “executive” exemptions set forth in California’s IWC Wage Orders and the Labor Code. (See Lab. Code, § 1186.)

A copy of the court’s statement of decision is below.

http://www.strausslawyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/2016.03.10-P-Statement-of-Decision.pdf

Court of Appeal Upholds $1.2 million Fee Award

The First District Court of Appeal for the State of California has affirmed a decision of the Alameda County Superior Court to award attorney’s fees of approximately $1,162,000 to Strauss & Strauss, APC and co-counsel the Hathaway law firm of Ventura.

The case, Britto v. Zep Inc., began as a putative class action brought by Plaintiffs Keith Britto and Justin Cowan on behalf of themselves and other salespersons of Zep Inc. in California.  Plaintiffs sought reimbursement for job-related business expenses (such as mileage) and deductions from their wages.  Plaintiffs also sought civil penalties under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”) for Zep’s violations of the California Labor Code.

After the trial court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, over fifty putative class members attempted to intervene in the Britto action.  Ultimately, the intervenors had to file their case separately, and Zep removed it to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.  Zep also compelled eight of the intervenors into arbitration.  (Each of those cases ultimately resolved, with the plaintiffs prevailing in each of the eight arbitrations.)

Back in state court, the Britto case resolved after Zep unsuccessfully brought a motion for summary judgment. Zep made an offer of compromise pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 998, which offered to pay (2) Plaintiffs Britto and Cowan a certain amount each for their individual claims, (2) the State of California (Labor and Workforce Development Agency) penalties under PAGA in the amount of $275,000, and (3) Plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees and costs.

On motion by Plaintiffs for their attorney’s fees and costs, the Alameda County Superior Court awarded fees of approximately $1.16 million, which included a fee multiplier of 1.25.

Zep appealed the award of attorney’s fees on the basis that the trial court awarded too much. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that the trial court has broad discretion to award fees and that the record supported the trial court’s decision to come up with an appropriate fee award.

The appellate decision is below:

 

http://www.strausslawyers.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/2018.09.25-Ct-App-Opinion.pdf

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