Tara Zoumer worked as a community manager for WeWork in San Francisco for a year before she was terminated. Zoumer says WeWork fired her because she’d been open with other employees about her belief that the company was in violation of California Labor Law, and she refused to sign an arbitration agreement passed out to employees after she already had pending claims in court, according to BuzzFeed.
If Zoumer was fired because she refused to sign an arbitration agreement, she may have been wrongfully terminated. Arbitration to settle disputes and avoid possible class-action lawsuits is frequently in the news, particularly involving tech companies and start-ups such as Uber, Lyft, and home-cleaning company Handy. The New York Times said arbitration clauses were at the center of “a far-reaching power play orchestrated by American corporations.”
For instance, when District Court Judge Edward Chen granted class-action status last September to Uber plaintiffs in their California labor lawsuit, he also ruled that Uber’s arbitration clause was not enforceable. (Uber said it will appeal Judge Chen’s ruling on arbitration, according to the Los Angeles Times [12/9/15].) The case is expected to go to court in June 2016.
In her lawsuit, Zoumer claims that WeWork fired her because she spoke to other members of WeWork’s community team about alleged violations of California’s Labor Code. She did discuss amongst coworkers last October about the possibility that they were misclassified and entitled to overtime wages, as well as reimbursement for cell phone expenses. The lawsuit claims that Zoumer’s West Coast manager told her to stop talking to other employees about alleged labor violations three weeks before she was fired. Zoumer was fired last November.
The California Labor Code states the following:
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Retaliation is illegal, however. In fact, employers who retaliate against you because you complained about their unlawful working conditions are breaking the law a second time The risk of retaliation is one faced by all employees, documented and undocumented, who raise a legal complaint against their employer. Depending on the law your complaint falls under, you can file a retaliation claim with the Federal or California agency that administers the law, or bring a lawsuit against that retaliation in court.
Under California law, workplace retaliation is unlawful if you assist other employees in filing a lawsuit or complaint of illegal activity in the workplace.
Under California law, unlawful retaliation includes such things as an employee being subjected to negative treatment in the workplace because he or she engaged in a “protected activity.” Retaliatory treatment ranges from disciplinary action, negative performance reviews, denial of training, denial of promotions, denial of raises and termination.