Former Marshalls assistant managers sue TJX Cos.

Two former assistant store managers who worked at Marshalls have filed suit in US District Court in Massachusetts against The TJX Companies and related entities, alleging that the company violates wage and hour laws.
The suit, filed Dec. 11, names Marshalls of MA, Inc.; Marmaxx Operating Corp., doing business as Marshalls HomeGoods; Marshalls; T.J. Maxx HomeGoods; and HomeGoods, Inc. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status and are seeking compensation for allegedly unpaid wages, damages and attorney’s fees.
According to the suit, Celina Roberts worked an assistant store manager at Marshall’s in Laredo, Texas. She was hired in May 2008 and promoted in June to the assistant manager position, the suit states. Roberts worked 60 to 70 hours a week and often worked six or seven days a week, according to the suit. As an assistant store manager, she did not receive overtime for working more than 40 hours, the suit said.
Her work was “largely unrelated to the management of the store,” the suit alleges. Rather, Roberts on a daily basis stocked merchandise, cleaned, worked the register, unloaded delivery trucks and the like, the suit alleges.
Roberts alleges she complained to the store manager and to a district manager that she should be paid for the hours she was working and said that, if she had known she would end up working as many hours as an assistant manager, she would have remained a back room coordinator, “performing almost identical duties, and receiving overtime pay,” the suit states.
Plaintiff Anthony Sciotto was hired as an operations assistant store manager at Marshalls in Westbury, N.Y., the suit states, and worked at various other Marshalls locations in New York. The suit alleges that Sciotto worked a minimum of 10 hours a day, five days a week, and at times, up to 70 hours a week.
Like Roberts, the suit alleges, Sciotto largely was not performing managerial duties and was instead performing routine tasks such as stocking merchandise, unloading trucks “and other duties typically expected of hourly employees.”
Sciotto and other assistant store managers “had to perform such non-exempt duties because there were an insufficient number of hourly employees available to perform such tasks,” the suit said.
The suit alleges that Marshalls and HomeGoods stores operate under the same corporate policies and all assistant managers share the same uniform job descriptions.
A spokeswoman for The TJX Companies declined comment, citing company policy regarding pending litgiation.
The lawsuit in Massachusetts mirrors a separate case against T.J. Maxx in U.S. District Court for Eastern New York, which was filed in early 2011 by a former assistant manager in New York. Last November, a federal court judge in New York granted conditional certification for a collective action lawsuit, which is similar to a class-action suit, in that case.
The Massachusetts case against focuses on Marshalls and HomeGoods, rather than T.J. Maxx, but makes similar allegations against the Framingham company.
– Staff Writer Mary Moore, Boston Business Journal
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New York Movie Shoot Parking Workers Sue Studios Over Pay

Workers who secure street parking for movie and TV shoots in the city are suing major studios, saying the studios often underpaid them for working long hours in trying conditions.
The workers, called parking production assistants, play the unglamorous role of keeping parking spaces clear for movie trucks and trailers and watching over the film vehicles in 12-hour shifts at the sets of such films as “American Hustle” and “The Bourne Legacy,” according to their federal labor law suits.
“We’re always overlooked and underpaid,” parking assistant Christian Pellot said at a news conference Wednesday. “We’re subjected to sleeping in our cars and using the bathroom in buckets … when these billion-dollar companies have the money to at least give us a Porta-Potty.”
Pellot and several other workers sued Lionsgate, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Bros. and others on Tuesday.
Lionsgate is based in Santa Monica, California, and Vancouver, British Columbia. NBCUniversal is based in New York. Sony Pictures Entertainment is based in Culver City, California. And Warner Bros. is based in Burbank, California. They declined to comment Wednesday on the lawsuits, which follow similar suits in recent years.
The parking coordinators get paid a flat rate, commonly $150, for a 12-hour shift, according to their lawyer, James Vagnini.
“It should be a job that’s exciting. Who wouldn’t want to work on a set with celebrities and all these great crews?” Vagnini said, but the parking assistants have “been ignored, subjected to horrible conditions and, now, unfairly underpaid.”
The workers say they often aren’t paid for all their hours and don’t get overtime while sometimes working 80 or even more than 100 hours a week. Many use their own cars to hold parking spots and to try to stay warm or cool.
“I’ve had co-workers who have lost toes” because they couldn’t afford to idle their engines for hours, said Pellot, who has worked in the field for five years.
With no access to set restrooms unless filming is active, the parking workers have to try to use restrooms at local businesses or resort to using buckets or bottles in their cars, according to the lawsuits, which seek class action status and unspecified damages.
Meanwhile, local residents sometimes get angry with the parking assistants, said Corey Leach, who has worked in the job for eight years.
Leach settled a similar wage suit against The Weinstein Co. and others in 2012, for terms not disclosed in court documents. He said he’s now suing again in hopes of making broader changes.
– Staff Writers Rachelle Blidner and Jennifer Peltz, Associated Press
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People Who Worked on Major Hollywood Sets Say They Were Forced to Pee in Their Cars

Corey Leach was excited about the idea of working for Hollywood, even if he lives in New York City. He found out about a job as a parking production assistant about a decade ago — the person who keeps the streets clear of cars and pedestrians when studios do a shoot in a neighborhood and guards production vehicles and equipment while they’re on set. “It seemed like an interesting job, who doesn’t want to work in Hollywood,” he said. “You’re so excited in the beginning.”
But the reality has turned out to be far from glamorous. “Once you realize the reality of it, you say, ‘Hold on, something is wrong,’” he said.
Late on Tuesday night, Leach and a group of more than 100 people who have worked as parking assistants on movie and television sets in New York City filed class action lawsuits against five major studios: Lions Gate, Ratpac-Dune, Sony, Universal, and Warner Brothers. The complaints allege that parking production assistants, or PPAs, were routinely and illegally denied wages and forced to endure inhumane conditions in their jobs. Sony declined to comment, while the other studios couldn’t be reached.
The lawsuits allege that the plaintiffs, who all worked as PPAs over the last six years, were paid flat rates of somewhere between $140 to $160 per 12-hour shift for weeks that averaged between 60 and 100 hours, sometimes more. At the same time, the complaint alleges that if PPAs were called to a site but didn’t work at least four hours, they wouldn’t be paid at all. Leach says his hours sometimes added up to more than 120 straight in a week, yet he’s seen people paid as little as $110 a shift.
The attorney representing all of the lawyers, James Vagnini, pointed out that in other cities, studios rely on police departments to do this kind of work. But in New York, studios pull workers from the same group of non-union, private-sector employees — the only people at a shoot who aren’t unionized. “When you’re skimming 100 bucks, 200 bucks off of every paycheck, it saved [studios] millions of dollars,” he said.
Perhaps even worse than the low pay, however, is some of the things the PPAs say they had to endure on the job. PPAs aren’t allowed to leave the sites for inclement weather, if the site gets shut down, to get food, or to use the restroom. “We’re out there 24 hours, we don’t have bathrooms,” Leach said. “The on-location bathroom is not made available to us.”
The solutions that the employees say they have had to resort to are disturbing. Many wear diapers; others say they had to urinate or defecate into bottles or buckets in their cars. “Holding it when you’ve got to go…over the years that wears on your body,” Leach said. “That’s unhuman.”
“They can’t control it sometimes and just go,” Vagnini added. “It’s embarrassing.”
The PPAs also say they weren’t allowed to leave the sites in the middle of cold winter weather or sweltering summer heat and weren’t allowed to bring in external heaters, instead having to run their vehicles on their own dime, as they are not compensated for gas. “In the summertime, you’re running the car because it’s hot and you need the AC,” Leach explained. “In the winter time you’re running the car because you need heat. But you’re not being reimbursed for gas or anything.”
Some stories are even more extreme. “One gentleman had to have his toes amputated because he got severe frostbite,” Vagnini said. Others reported different health effects, such as bad circulation or back issues, from sitting in their cars for such long periods.
The lawsuits seek to have the workers paid back wages that they say they are owed in unpaid minimum wage and overtime as well as damages, which could include compensation for the health impacts of their working conditions. “I think there will be some additional damages for these individuals besides pay,” Vagnini said. Besides gas, PPAs say they have to use their own vehicles and buy their own food even though other crew are fed. “They’re paying out of pocket expenses that should be paid by studios and it’s coming out of already very low pay. Take that into consideration and they’re probably not making even minimum wages.”
And while it isn’t part of the complaints, Vagnini noted that there is a racial aspect to the issue at a time when Hollywood studios are already under heavy criticism about a lack of diversity, which is showing up in this weekend’s Oscars awards. The people who do these jobs “are predominantly, if not entirely, African American and Hispanic,” he said. “I’ve yet to see any Caucasian individual that this is happening to.”
Leach has noticed the same thing. “From the top to the bottom it’s a predominantly white [business], we’re on the bottom of the totem pole,” he said. “It’s not a bunch of white people coming to this position, it’s a bunch of black and Latino people.”
– Staff Writer Bryce Covert, Think Progress
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Workers Who Reserve Parking Spots for Film Sets Denounce Conditions in Suit

For Christian Pellot, most weeks begin the same way, with a text from an unfamiliar number telling him to show up at a specific address. When he arrives, he is told to sign a wage form, with the hours and pay rate to be filled in at a later date. Then his work begins, sitting for days and nights in a parked vehicle to save street spots for any one of the scores of television, movie and commercial productions filmed around New York each year.
In a class-action complaint filed this week, Mr. Pellot and more than 100 other parking production assistants — almost all of them black or Hispanic — charged that several major studios and production companies that do business in the greater New York area systematically underpay these workers, deny them minimum wage and overtime pay to which they are legally entitled, forge time sheets, and threaten to withhold future jobs if they do not comply.
At a news conference outside the now-closed Ziegfeld Theater, several plaintiffs gathered on Wednesday to describe their experiences working on movies like “Trainwreck,” “American Hustle” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
“Without us, there are no movies and no shows, and yet we’re still overlooked and underpaid,” said Mr. Pellot, 43, a single father of two daughters from East New York, Brooklyn, who said he had worked as many as 150 hours a week on productions like “The Wolf of Wall Street.” “All we want is our fair share.”
The suit names Lions Gate Entertainment, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures and NBCUniversal, whose representatives all declined to give a statement, as well as Marvel Studios, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Parking production assistants are the invisible laborers in an industry that spent $8.7 billion in the city in 2014, according to one study. Most New Yorkers grumble when they see the telltale “No Parking” signs on lampposts. But long before the trailers and movie stars arrive on set, parking production assistants carry out their decidedly unglamorous task. They say that in addition to the long hours and low wages, they are forced to work under onerous and degrading conditions. Many of the workers said that because they were denied breaks and access to restrooms, they were often forced to relieve themselves in buckets or bags in their cars.
“It is just completely humiliating,” said Robert Tracey, 58, who has taken to wearing adult diapers after developing an enlarged prostate while on the job. Still, Mr. Tracey noted that some of his co-workers have even worse health consequences, including one man who lost several toes to frostbite after a winter spent sleeping in an inadequately heated car.
The complaint details a system whereby parking production assistants are given a flat rate for a full 12-hour shift, or a six-hour half shift. However, if they work too few hours to meet a minimum, they are paid nothing for their time, the suit alleges. And if they exceed the set hours, the suit charges, time sheets are falsified to give the appearance of complying with wage laws.
James A. Vagnini, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, described this practice as “backing into” the time sheets.
“Basically they are fudging the hours in order for it to neatly fit into the shift pay, no matter how many hours the guys worked,” he said. “It makes it look like they are abiding by the law and still staying on budget when in fact they are shortchanging the workers.”
While the complaint does not accuse the employers of racial discrimination, both the lawyers handling the case and the plaintiffs noted that the situation overwhelmingly affected minorities.
“When big business wants to save a couple of dollars, they usually turn to their minorities,” said Mr. Vagnini, a partner at Valli Kane & Vagnini.
“At first it seemed like a coincidence; I didn’t want to think about it along racial lines,” said Stevie Leach, 35, a parking production assistant. “But then I just couldn’t deny it anymore.”
Compounding the problem is that parking production assistants have been repeatedly stymied in their efforts to unionize, lawyers said.
“We’re not like the Teamsters or anyone else on set, really,” Alexander Campbell, 58, said. “We don’t have anyone out there protecting our interests.”
Pulling a hood over his head, Mr. Campbell headed into the rain, back toward his car.
– Staff Writer Noah Remnick, New York Times
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$4M Settlement Awarded in Sara Lee Discrimination Case

Federal attorneys with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission today announced a $4 million settlement for former workers at the now closed Sara Lee factory in Paris.
The settlement is said to be the largest in the history of the EEOC in Dallas involving a hostile work environment.
This past Febuary, the EEOC released its findings, the results of a two year investigation into complaints.
It found violations of civil rights, that black employees suffered intimidation, racial taunts such as being called the ‘N’ word,  and graffiti, and were steered into hazardous areas of the plant, exposing them to toxic materials.
More than two dozen workers from the now-shut down baking factory are part of the federal lawsuit.
Sara Lee, now a  subsidiary of Tyson, sent CBS11 a statement saying in part they’re “committed to treating team members with dignatiy and respect and have a policy against harassment and discrimination.”
While the company says it doesn’t agree with all of the allegations in this case, it believes it makes sense to resolve this matter.
– Originally published in CBS DFW
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The EEOC and Sara Lee: A Landmark Discrimination Case in Texas

After a two year investigation into complaints of civil rights and health violations, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced a $4 million settlement for former employees at the Sara Lee factory located in Paris, Texas. This case marks the largest settlement in EEOC history involving a hostile work environment. The EEOC took on the case after twenty-five workers filed complaints against the company during their time at the now-shuttered factory, which closed in 2011. Attorneys now estimate that over seventy employees stand to benefit from the settlement. In addition to financial reparations, the company will be required to implement measures to prevent workplace discrimination and to submit regular reports to the EEOC. Read on for a look inside the landmark case.


The EEOC’s two year investigation found that black employees were targets of intimidation and were denied promotions that went to their white peers. Black employees reported racial slurs and graffiti during their time at the factory, incidents which were corroborated by the EEOC. A lawsuit filed separately from the EEOC complaint revealed that the graffiti included racial slurs, threats, and crude drawings of apes and black men with nooses. A large portion of the alleged abuse came from white supervisors within the factory and several Sara Lee officials have been accused of ignoring complaints from black employees about the conditions within the factory. In addition, workers were reportedly exposed to black mold asbestos and other toxins during their daily work. The working conditions were so hazardous that:

One of the cake lines was nicknamed the ‘cancer line,’ because so many people were getting sick, said Sara Kane, one of the workers’ attorneys, of the law office Valli, Kane & Vagnini.

According to the investigation, black employees were exposed to these conditions while their white colleagues were promoted to positions located in safer areas of the factory. These white employees were allegedly often less-experienced than their black co-workers but they received promotions nevertheless.
According to the EEOC’s report, several black employees contracted cancer and other diseases as a direct result to their exposure to toxins in the workplace. When black employees reported their diseases to management, their complaints were either ignored or dismissed as being unrelated to working conditions within the factory. The closure of the factory in 2011 meant that the EEOC had relatively limited exposure to the physical conditions of the factory, so the investigation did rely heavily on interviews with employees.


The EEOC enforces federal laws against discrimination in most companies with 15 employees or more (although this can vary according to certain jurisdictions and circumstances). The EEOC processes both private sector and federal sector violations of discrimination laws, although it takes a more active investigative role in private sector cases. There are two distinct private sector and a federal sector mediation programs, which each offer dispute resolution with EEOC cooperation. If conciliation cannot resolve a private sector dispute, the EEOC has the right to pursue litigation and also has a right to participate in an ongoing lawsuit. According to the EEOC website,

The EEOC has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers who are covered by the law. Our role in an investigation is to fairly and accurately assess the allegations in the charge and then make a finding. If we find that discrimination has occurred, we will try to settle the charge. If we aren’t successful, we have the authority to file a lawsuit to protect the rights of individuals and the interests of the public. We do not, however, file lawsuits in all cases where we find discrimination.

The EEOC may handle tens of thousands of complaints every year, but they very rarely escalate to the heights that the Sara Lee case has, which makes the future of Sara Lee critically important. If Sara Lee complies with the EEOC regulations and actively changes its workplace environment in the coming years, it will serve as a model for other companies that have had large-scale reports of discrimination. The successful transformation of the Sara Lee case will lie with its parent company–Tyson Foods.


In 2012, so chronologically after the alleged abuse occurred, Sara Lee went through a major re-branding, effectively splitting the business in two. The food side of the business was labeled Hillshire Brands while the tea and coffee end of the company (centered in Europe) was named D.E. Master Blenders 1753. The name change was speculated to have been prompted by lackluster sales of meat products.
In 2014, Hillshire Brands completed a merger with Tyson Foods, Inc. which The Wall Street Journal referred to as the “meat industry’s biggest deal.” After the merger, Hillshire’s chief executive Sean Connolly stepped down, clearing the way for new leadership. However, the Sara Lee discrimination case did not disappear with the name change. Although headlines associate the case with Sara Lee, Tyson is now liable for the settlement and for rebuilding the brand’s image in the wake of the EEOC investigation. In an interview with Buzzfeed News, Tyson Foods spokesperson Worth Sparkman said the company is

‘Committed to treating our team members with dignity and respect and have a policy against harassment and discrimination,’ noting Tyson Foods requires annual training and offers a toll-free help line for workers to report any concerns without fear of retaliation. ‘While we don’t agree with all of the allegations in this case, we oppose any unlawful discrimination in the workplace and believe it makes sense to resolve this matter,’ Sparkman wrote in an email. When asked which allegations the company disagrees with Sparkman said, via email, ‘We’ll point out that any alleged conduct in this case occurred before portions of Sara Lee were acquired by Tyson Foods in 2014.’

The Tyson brand has also had a series of legal skirmishes over working conditions over the past few years. This November, the Supreme Court heard a case against Tyson in which employees argued that Tyson unlawfully failed to pay for the time it took them to put on and then remove safety equipment during their daily tasks. In a lower court, employees were awarded half of what their counsel requested. The case has raised interesting questions about collective action lawsuits, as the case involves more than 3,000 workers in total: Should that many employees be allowed to file their complaint at one time, in a single case?
The Supreme Court has approached the case less as an issue of wage violations and more as a debate over what the threshold should be for the number of participants in a collective action lawsuit. Yet, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the employees, Tyson may pay out even more than they did in the Sara Lee case–approximately $6 million.


The Sara Lee case is a unique one in that a significant number of workers were courageous enough to file complaints and patient enough to wait for the legislative process to work over several years. Not every discrimination case is investigated by the EEOC, either because there is not sufficient evidence or because victims do not feel safe reporting misconduct. Hopefully, the Sara Lee case will inspire other companies to enact preventative measures to disband discrimination. The EEOC has delivered a decisive victory for the employees of the Texas factory, we’ll have to see what effects it might have in future discrimination cases.
Staff Writer Jillian Sequeira, Law Street Media
Read original article in Law Street Media

Sara Lee agrees to pay $4M to black employees who say they were called racial slurs and exposed to black mold and asbestos more often than white workers

Sara Lee will be rolling out a lot of dough to some of its black employees after a federal lawsuit said they were exposed to racist slurs and graffiti and developed cancer as a result of working in more hazardous environments than their white co-workers.
The corporate bakery, now known as Hillshire Brands, will give $4 million to 74 of its black employees in a settlement announced Monday after they complained they were subjected to “environmental racism.”
“We’re extremely pleased that our clients will receive some relief after everything they went through. Many of our clients worked for Sara Lee for decades,” said attorney Sara Kane, whose New York firm Valli Kane & Vagnini represented the clients in the lawsuit.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission launched a two-year investigation into the Texas facility, which shuttered in 2011 and found that white supervisors “berated” black factory workers with racial slurs like the n-word and that the walls of the factory were filled with vulgar racial graffiti including “KKK” and apes hanging from nooses, the complaint alleges.
Black employees also accused the factory’s supervisors of assigning them to positions where they developed cancer from asbestos and black mold exposure more often than their white co-workers, who were routinely promoted out of those jobs, according to the lawsuit.
The employees said their requests to be moved out of the toxic environments were not acknowledged by their supervisors.

The federal lawsuit alleges that black employees were exposed to asbestors and black mold more often than their white co-workers.DAVID PAUL MORRIS/BLOOMBERG

The federal lawsuit alleges that black employees were exposed to asbestors and black mold more often than their white co-workers.

“Sara Lee’s management staff would either ignore the questions entirely or deny that the environment was hazardous,” according to the lawsuit.
Sara Lee, which was absorbed by Hillshire Brands and is a subsidiary of Tyson Foods, did not claim liability for the claims in the settlement.
“While we don’t agree with all of the allegations in this case, we oppose any unlawful discrimination in the workplace and believe it makes sense to resolve this matter,” said Tyson Foods spokesman Worth Sparkman in a statement.“We’re committed to treating our team members with dignity and respect and have a policy against harassment and discrimination.”
Hillshire Brands agreed to report future complaints of racial discrimination to the EEOC and and will take “preventative approaches” to workplace harassment under the terms of the settlement in addition to the prompt removal of offensive graffiti in their facilities.
– Staff Writer Laura Bult, New York Daily News
 Read original article from New York Daily News