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Employees of Luxury California Resort Launch California Labor Lawsuit

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Los Angeles, CALabor industry watchers in the State of California opine that even as California observes what are described as very protective labor laws, and in some cases more protective of workers than corresponding federal labor laws, there are nonetheless employers who will risk litigation in exchange for saving money by shortchanging their workers, regardless of the resources of the employer. To that end, a California labor lawsuit has been filed against the operators of a high-end resort in Rancho Palos Verdes.

The Los Angeles Times (10/19/17) reports that two employees of the Terranea Resort have launched litigation alleging violations of California labor code on the part of their employer. Named plaintiffs Galen Landsberg and Marvin Ivarenga are reportedly hoping to see their lawsuit certified as a class action, thus representing about 600 other employees who also work at the resort.

The California labor employment law complaint, filed in September, asserts employees are working off the clock and thus, are missing out on wages due. Plaintiffs assert they are made to report to a remote parking lot well away from the resort grounds in order to catch a shuttle bus upon which they are transported to the facility for the day. In so doing, they are made to report to the rendezvous point upwards of 30 minutes prior to the start of their shift, and are not compensated for that time.

The resort offers no other alternative to accessing the resort for employees. “We can’t park on public streets in the neighborhoods surrounding the hotel,” said plaintiff Landsberg, in comments published in the Los Angeles Times, “because Terranea security patrols these areas and the hotel will give you a write-up if they find your car parked there,” he said.

The plaintiffs also assert they have to allow for additional time both prior to, and following the scheduled start and end time of their shifts for donning, and doffing of uniforms. Plaintiffs contend they are not compensated for this time either, nor are kitchen staff reimbursed for cooking equipment they are required to bring with them to the resort. Landsberg, it has been reported, is employed as a resort cook. Co-plaintiff Ivarenga works as a server.

The Los Angeles Times notes a possible disconnect between precedent under federal laws, and California State statutes. To that end the US Supreme Court ruled on a federal lawsuit brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that employees of Amazon were not entitled to compensation for time spent in line waiting to undergo a security check following their shift, and prior to leaving the premises. The high court ruled that security screenings fell under an exception entrenched in FLSA.

In contrast, according to the LA Times, a ruling in 2000 by the California Supreme Court determined that agriculture workers commuting to the fields on buses provided by their employer were to be duly compensated for their commute time.

The ruling by the high court in California speaks to the more protective stance provided by State laws when compared against federal statutes such as the FLSA. And yet, said Catherine Fisk, a law professor at UC Berkeley, “there are a lot of times where employers conclude that it's worth running the risk of being sued in order to save quite a bit of money,” she said, in comments published in the Los Angeles Times.

Overall, the issue is and has been at what point does an employee’s true responsibility begins with the employer? In other words, is an employee on duty when their shift starts, or when they arrive at a remote parking lot for a commute to the workplace in a fashion mandated by the employer?

This is not the first time Terranea and its operators have been made to face the courts. Six years ago, in 2011 a class action California labor lawsuit alleged nonpayment of minimum wages and overtime wages as required under California and labor law. That lawsuit was duly settled when the defendant agreed to pay $1.1 million to plaintiffs and class participants, and to cover attorneys’ fees.

As for the current dispute, Terranea would not comment on the pending litigation, but did say in a statement to the Los Angeles Times that Terranea “strictly adheres to and abides by all labor laws. We value each of our associates and are committed to ensuring fair treatment and compensation for their time and dedication.”

The Los Angeles Times disclosed that co-plaintiff Landsberg is the son of an editor employed by the paper. The lawsuit was filed October 19 of this year at Los Angeles County Superior Court. There was no case information available at press time.


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