Misclassification and Racial Discrimination Claims in Los Angeles

Ms. Jewel Gardner, a former employee of DineEquity Inc. (and formerly its predecessor, International House of Pankakes, and then IHOP), who had dedicated 22 years of work to her employer, has filed a California wage and racial bias lawsuit against the company.  As wage and misclassification lawsuits grow in number across the state, Ms. Gardner finds herself among similarly situated employees all seeking justice.  The first allegation put forth is that Dine Equity has been in constant violation of California misclassification labor laws by misclassifying Ms. Gardner, along with multiple co-workers, as overtime-exempt employees.  Further, she alleges that DineEquity Inc. engaged in racial discrimination against African Americans, by pitting her and her African American co-workers against each other and holding them to a separate standard.

Ms. Gardner’s lawsuit clearly outlines the company’s plan to label her a manager of franchise compliance in order to avoid paying overtime wages.  In theory, a manager has more authority and autonomy over the restaurant’s day to day functions, has a certain list of responsibilities and regulations to comply with, and is otherwise be free to run the business the way they see fit.  Ms. Gardner very clearly states that she was a manager in name alone, and never had the authority to hire, fire, or make any personnel decisions.  The lawsuit claims that “The title of Manager and the classification of that title as an exempt position were purely for the pretext of denying Gardner her wage and hour protections, including overtime pay and rest breaks.”

Under California Law, in order for an employee to be exempt from overtime pay, that employee must be in a position of managerial authority.  Managerial authority comes in the form of supervisory duties, setting company policies, or large amounts of discretion.  Simply labeling an employee a “manager” does not exempt an employer from California’s labor laws.

Ms. Gardner also alleged racial discrimination.  “African-American employees of DineEquity Inc. were held to a higher standard than non-African-American employees and were the subject of discrimination by those who resented having to correct the errors that were discovered by Gardner and other African-American employees,” her lawsuit claimed.

Both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of a “protected class.”  Under Title VII, it is “an unlawful employment practice for an employer… to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”  42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a).  Under California’s FEHA, an employer may not “because of the race or national origin… of any person … discharge the person in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment.”  Cal. Gov’t Code §12940(a).  Title VII applies to those who employ at least 15 individuals in a year, while FEHA applies to California employers with at least 5 employees in a year.

If you feel that you, or someone you know may have been the victim of misclassification, discrimination, retaliation, or even wrongful termination at the hands of your employer, your immediate action is vital.  Regardless of the reason you were targeted, call Stephen Danz & Associates for a free consultation to discuss your individual circumstances and options.  We have the attorneys, the experience, and the integrity to protect your rights, but time is of the essence!  Call now!