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Northern California Employment Lawsuit Alleges Race Discrimination, Wage Claims

Via Rodeo DriveCalifornia imposes numerous responsibilities on businesses, particularly in their capacity as employers. These include requirements regarding the payment of wages and the maintenance of employment records. Employers are also prohibited from various types of discrimination under state and federal laws, including discrimination on the basis of race. A putative class action pending in a California federal court alleges race discrimination and various wage and hour violations against a designer clothing retailer. Sampino v. Versace USA, Inc., No. 3:16-cv-07198, am. complaint (N.D. Cal., Apr. 19, 2017).

In addition to general requirements that employers pay their workers for the full amount of compensation that they have earned, California sets numerous additional standards. For example, employers must maintain records of their employees, including payroll records showing the number of hours worked and the wages paid. Cal. Lab. Code § 1174. They must also provide itemized statements to their employees with each paycheck. Id. at § 226. A failure to meet these requirements may result in civil fines and liability to aggrieved employees.

California law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants on the basis of race and multiple other factors. Cal. Gov’t Code § 12940(a). It further prohibits an employer, or anyone acting on an employer’s behalf, from “aid[ing], abet[ting], incit[ing], compel[ling], or coerc[ing]” any unlawful acts of discrimination. Id. at § 12940(i). Retaliating against an employee for complaining about prohibited conduct, either internally or to state regulators, also violates state law. Id. at § 12940(h).

According to his complaint, the plaintiff, who is an African-American male, began working for the defendant as a retail salesperson in September 2016. He alleges that a manager “instructed [him] to say ‘D410’ in a casual manner when a black person entered the store” and explained that this was a code “used to alert co-workers that ‘a black person is in the store.’” Sampino, am. complaint at 5. The code “D410” reportedly appears on the tags of all black clothing items in the store. The plaintiff allegedly responded by saying “You know that I’m African American?” and claims that “the manager seemed surprised.” Id.

After this encounter, according to the plaintiff, he began to receive disparate treatment from store managers. He claims that his work performance “met or exceeded expectations,” id., but he was fired after only a few weeks. A manager allegedly told him that “he was being dismissed because he hasn’t ‘lived the luxury life.’” Id. at 6. The plaintiff claims that he was not paid for his last day, nor did he receive a final paycheck for his last pay period.

The plaintiff originally filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court, but the defendant removed the case to federal court. The amended complaint asserts multiple causes of action, including race discrimination and harassment, failure to prevent and investigate discrimination and harassment, and wrongful termination. It also alleges failure to pay compensation, to provide meal and rest periods, to maintain accurate records, to furnish wage and hour statements to employees, and to pay final wages on time. Finally, it asserts a cause of action for unfair business practices under Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 et seq.

For over 40 years, employment lawyer James G. Schwartz has advocated for the rights and interests of Bay Area businesses and business owners in both litigation and transactional matters. Contact us online or at (925) 463-1073 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced business attorney.

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California Antitrust Class Action Accuses Electronics Companies of Colluding to Lower Wages, Pleasanton Business & Commercial Law Blog, April 7, 2017

New California Statutes Aimed at Reducing Wage Disparity Go into Effect, Pleasanton Business & Commercial Law Blog, December 30, 2016

New Law Bans Forum Selection Clauses in California Employment Contracts that Apply Laws of Other States, Pleasanton Business & Commercial Law Blog, November 15, 2016

Photo credit: Prayitno [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr.