Architecture professor and CUNY Dean George Ranalli stands accused of sexual harassment, according to a recent report from the New York Post.

Ranalli, who taught for two decades at the Yale University School of Architecture prior to taking on the role of the Dean of the Bernard and Ann Spitzer School of Architecture for City College, allegedly harassed his office assistant, Ariella Campisi, after an office holiday party in December 2013.

According to Campisi’s story, her boss was driving her home from the party, when they got stuck in traffic on the Westside Highway, following festivities at the Smoke Jazz and Supper Club. Per the Post, the 68-year-old proceeded to rub her knee and thigh “in a sexual manner, right below where her skirt ended” and later asked his assistant: “you look so beautiful. Can I kiss you?”

Campisi allegedly went to school authorities the very next day to report what happened, but when she checked on the case’s progress a year and a half later, she discovered to her dismay that no investigation into her complaint had been launched. Apparently, the people she told reported what happened to incorrect department.

Campisi’s lawsuit against CUNY says that the school engaged in “deliberate indifference” to her complaint. Ranalli – who has been on administrative leave since April from CUNY – has, through his lawyer, denied that the harassment ever took place.

This case illustrates the complex obstacles that can arise after incidents of harassment. Fortunately, those who have suffered sexual harassment or other wrongdoing at the workplace do not have to abide by an unfair system, indifferent administrators, mean bosses or an uncaring office culture. The team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum is here to help. Please call or email us to set up an intake evaluation today at 866-348-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com.

An early July ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the case of Gortat v. Capala Bros offered mostly good news for the plaintiffs, as the Second Circuit affirmed that they were entitled to substantial attorney’s fees thanks to overly aggressive litigation tactics used by the defendants.

The plaintiffs won a trial in 2013 that concerned the fate of seven construction workers who had alleged that Capala Bros Inc., their employer, failed to pay them time and a half overtime, per Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requirements.

The workers said the company only paid them $15 to $25 an hour, even when they worked more than 40 hours in a week. The plaintiff’s attorney argued that the case was a “garden variety” FLSA matter, but the defendants “turned it into a nuclear war.” The court agreed, sanctioning the defense to the tune of $8,000 for making “ad hominem attacks on Steven Gold, a Magistrate Judge.” The summary order also noted that “delays in the case were due to defendants’ combative and extraordinary conduct that raised many unnecessary disputes regarding case management and discovery as revealed by even a cursory review of the docket sheet.”

As a result of all this finagling behind the scenes, the jury awarded the plaintiffs $293,000 and an additional $583,000 (!) in attorneys fees on top. The Second Circuit trimmed down the attorney award but noted that the excess damages were “amply supported” by the defense’s conduct.

This case highlights the fact that employment litigation in New York can be more akin to street fighting than to gentlemanly cerebral dispute. If you or someone you love needs aggressive, dependable and ethical council, please call or email the New York employment lawyers at Joseph & Kirschenbaum at 866-438-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com.

In our last blog post, we reported on New York State’s Fast Food Wage Board’s July decision to incrementally elevate the minimum wage for fast food workers in New York City to $15 an hour.

That change will nearly double the current minimum wage of $8.75 and will likely shake up New York’s restaurant industry. But how, exactly, will this paradigm shift affect things? Will the changes all be good (from the perspective of workers)? Or will there be subtle, potential dangers?

Our New York employment law firm has agitated for better treatment and fairer pay for restaurant workers for years. Our attorney, Maimon Kirschenbaum, has even won the distinction of being known in the press as the “Scourge of Restaurateurs.”

What drives us – what motivates us to work incredibly hard, take on challenging cases and confront powerful businesses and celebrities – is our deeply felt conviction that workers need and deserve fair wages.

Although it’s obviously way too early to tell, here are some potential implications of this minimum wage hike.

Potential Positives

More money in the pockets of workers who need and deserve it. Restaurant workers will need to make fewer heartbreaking choices, such as “should I pay my rent this month or my health insurance?”

A rising tide could lift all ships. The enforced minimum wage might inspire other businesses – including non-fast food restaurants – to pay fairer wages.

Good riddance to bad rubbish. The move could also drive out restaurants (and other businesses) that would never voluntarily treat workers fairly, thus creating a healthier and more ethical ecosystem of companies in NYC.

Potential Undesired Ramifications

A vicious cycle of business attrition? Some critics fear that higher minimum wages will drive fast food businesses out of the city, thus reducing employment options. This dire scenario is unlikely, but exploring the complex economic counterarguments would warrant its own blog post.

Cover for bad behavior? Some restaurant owners and managers might strive to use these new rules to subtly perpetrate other wage and hour violations. For instance – and this is a cartoonish example to illustrate the point – but a restaurant owner might say something to the effect of “now that your minimum wage has gone up, you will no longer be keeping all of your tips.” In other words, an owner might blatantly violate the Fair Labor Standards Act or New York Labor Laws in order to “recoup” some money “lost” as a result of the wage increases.

No matter what happens, the progressive New York employment lawyers at Joseph & Kirschenbaum will be here to fight for fair pay and fair rights for workers. If you or someone you love would like to speak with us about your employment situation, please email info@jhllp.com or call 866-348-7394.

In late July, the Fast Food Wage Board in New York State recommended that New York City elevate the minimum wage for restaurant workers to $15 per hour by 2018. Fast food operations in New York state will have to follow suit by 2021.

This bold move – celebrated by political figures like New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, and Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton – was approved unanimously by the three member wage board.

The recommendations would have effects on all restaurant chains that have over 30 locations, including fast food joints such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. Currently, New York’s minimum wage is $8.75 an hour. By the end of 2015, that number will bump up (a bit) to $9 an hour.

Franchise owners as well as the New York State Restaurant Association have protested, but both Governor Cuomo and New York City Mayor, Bill De Blasio, have strongly advocated this change. Waiving away fears that the wage hike would drive out food businesses from the city, Cuomo said that “[if] McDonald’s says ‘I’m closing stores and moving out of state,’… fine; then we’ll have more Burger Kings. They’re not going to leave the hamburger market in New York City alone; don’t you worry about that.”

As the New York City employment attorneys here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum have argued for years, restaurant workers in our city often have to work incredibly hard to stretch their earnings just to pay the bills and survive, thanks to New York’s relatively high cost of living.

A recent PEW Research Center analysis estimated that New York City’s prices are “22.3 percent more expensive than the national average.”

Unsurprisingly, labor leaders, such as Mario Cilento, the AFL-CIO President for New York State, are celebrating this $15 minimum wage push as progress. Cilento said “a higher wage benefits us all by providing a kick-start to New York’s economic engine, leading to job creation in both the fast food industry and other sectors as well.”

In our next post, we’ll discuss some of the implications and lessons for the restaurant industry.

If you or someone you love has been mistreated by your employer – denied fair wages or subjected to harassment, discrimination or other wrongdoing – please schedule an intake interview with our experienced New York wage and hour attorneys by emailing info@jhllp.com or calling 866-348-7394.

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed how and why the salary minimum for the “white collar” overtime exemption may soon change. In this post, we’ll examine how workers will be impacted by the Department of Labor’s (DOL) new proposed rules.

How Many Workers Will Be Affected

The DOL predicts that if the proposed change becomes final, 4.6 million more workers will become eligible for overtime pay during the first year the change goes into effect. Those millions of workers will include people who are classified as executive, professional, or administrative, and who earn more than $23,600 but less than $50,440 per year (more than $455 but less than $970 per week). Over the next 10 years, an additional 5.6 million more workers could also become eligible for overtime because of this rule change.

When the Change May Go Into Effect

The proposed change will become the law if the DOL issues what’s called a Final Ruling. That is likely to take at least several months. The exact details of the new rule, including the salary minimum, may change from the proposed rule, but the salary minimum is likely to be at least twice as high as it is now.

Employees Beware

While the change, if it goes through, will benefit millions of workers, employees should also anticipate how employers might react. Some employers may try to lower their salary costs either by decreasing the number of workers on staff or by hiring more people to reduce the need for anyone to work overtime. Overall, though, the change should be very positive for many U.S. workers, and our team believes it is long overdue.

Are you confused about your rights in the workplace? Call Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP right now at (866) 348-7394, or email the team at info@jhllp.com, to explore what you can do about an employer who has harassed you or violated other laws, like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or New York Labor Laws (NYLL).

Whether or not an employer must pay a worker overtime wages for working more than 40 hours per week depends on a complex series of rules. These rules, which determine which workers are “exempt” from overtime — that is, which workers must be paid time-and-a-half after 40 hours (“non-exempt” workers) and which workers don’t have to be paid extra (“exempt” workers) — may be about to change by the federal Department of Labor (DOL). The implications for the labor market could be quite profound.

The “White Collar” Exemption

One set of rules, aimed at white collar workers, hinges, in part, on the amount of a worker’s annual salary. Currently, federal law classifies workers as exempt (not having to be paid overtime) if these two conditions are met: (1) they receive a salary (not an hourly wage) that is at least $23,600 per year ($455 per week), and (2) their job is primarily executive, professional, or administrative. Recently, the DOL has proposed raising that minimum salary.

Why the Law May Change

The $23,600 salary minimum for the “white collar” exemption has not been adjusted for inflation; it has only been increased once since 1975; and that increase was small. As a result of inflation, a $23,600 salary buys far less now than it did 40 years ago, and many labor economists argue that this amount no longer constitutes a reasonable cut-off point for overtime exemption. The DOL’s proposal would raise the minimum to a floating amount equal to the 40th percentile of full-time salaried workers in the U.S. For 2016, that is projected to be an annual salary of $50,440 ($970 per week).

Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP has successfully represented restaurant workers and service workers in diverse industries in many nationally prominent wage and hour cases. Call us today at 1 (866) 348-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com, to schedule a free intake evaluations.

Our New York employment law firm has filed numerous lawsuits against high-profile businesses, restaurants, and organizations for wage and hour violations, tip pool violations and other instances of flouting New York Labor Laws and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

But what motivates this mission? Why bother compelling a restaurant to stop “nickel and diming” its wait staff, for instance, when the financial damage seems to be rather limited?

First off, we believe that people should be paid fairly for the work that they do. Period. An employee who loses $50 a week due to an unfair and illegal tip pool violation, for instance, will really feel that loss, particularly when he or she is struggling to get by in an expensive city, like New York.

However, “nickel and diming” has more insidious costs, too. Let’s put that lost money in context. Assume a loyal restaurant employee works for 30 years at an establishment. Thanks to his employer’s labor law violations, he is not able to collect $50 a week in tips that he legally should be entitled to get. That means, over a 50 week year (assuming two weeks’ vacation), that employee will lose $2,500 annually. Over a 30 year career, that loss adds up to $75,000. That’s a lot of money. But the cost is actually greater. Imagine if that same employee had obtained that $50 a week and invested it into a compounding interest savings account with a 5% interest rate. By the end of 30 years, he would have over $175,000, when you crunch the numbers!

Obviously, not every employee is circumspect enough to invest extra money into compounding savings accounts. But the point is that the long term damage done wage and hour and tip pool violations is anything but subtle.

If you or someone you love has been subjected to wage theft or other workplace wrongdoing, call the team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum at 866-348-7394, or e-mail us at info@jhllp.com for an intake evaluation.

Workplace sexual harassment cases in New York (and beyond) often appear pretty cut and dry to objective observers. For instance, a boss may make outrageous comments in the office or grab or grope an employee, sometimes to horrific effect.

That said, when it comes to more impersonal modes of communication, like text messaging, it can be more challenging to prove misconduct or wrongdoing. Was a weird comment or awkward picture harassment… or a glitch or typo?

Context is crucial. If your boss has a habit of ogling you at work, asking you out and making inappropriate comments about your boyfriend… and then he texts you a nasty picture or veiled sexual innuendo… such text messages could likely be considered evidence of harassing behavior.

On the other hand, maybe you’re friends with an awkward colleague who makes off-color jokes and who doesn’t read other people well; one night, he texts you a bizarre joke that could be harassment, but maybe it’s not?

No matter what strange messages you receive from colleagues or employers or clients, consider taking these steps:

1.    If you have any concerns for your safety, tell someone and get help immediately.

2.    Familiarize yourself with your workplace’s process for dealing with harassment. Report what happened sooner than later. Your anonymity should be protected, and your employer is legally not allowed to retaliate against you for reporting the harassing behavior.

3.    Keep a solid paper trail. Do not immediately erase the offending texts from your phone, and time and date stamp any conversations you have with the purported harasser as well as with your company’s HR department. Try to record this information as soon as you can after any key conversations, because human memory tends to be porous, and you want an accurate and precise record.

4.    Consider reaching out to an experienced New York employment attorney. Our team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP can provide a safe, confidential and thorough intake evaluation. Set that up now by e-mailing info@jhllp.com or calling us at 866-348-7394.

A legal decision upholding the rights of workers at Tyson Foods pork processing plants came under fire recently as Tyson filed a petition to have a $5.8 million judgment overturned. The judgment was initially awarded following a case in U.S. District Court that found workers at a plant in Iowa had not been properly compensated for the time it takes to sanitize equipment when their shifts end, nor the time involved in putting on and taking off protective gear required for working at the plant.

At the time the case was filed, Tyson paid workers an additional four to seven minutes’ pay each day for these activities, but workers said the time actually used in performing the activities was much greater – sometimes as much as 30 minutes. Tyson responded by increasing the extra pay to 20 to 22 minutes’ extra pay for each shift for its hourly employees.

The workers’ legal team countered by claiming Tyson violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as well as state laws by neglecting to pay overtime for actual time worked, and the class action suit was filed and won.

But now, Tyson is claiming the suit does not qualify as a class action suit under guidelines set forth in similar rulings by the Supreme Court because it’s based on complaints from a subset of workers and not the entire workforce included in the suit. Whether Tyson is able to prove its claim and have the ruling overturned remains to be seen. Until then, workers at the Iowa plant and in other states must continue to live with Tyson’s earlier decision to add 20 to 22 minutes of extra pay, personally assuming the loss for any additional time they spend adhering to mandatory sanitation guidelines.

Are you confused about your rights in the workplace? Call Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP right now at (866) 348-7394, or email the team at info@jhllp.com, to explore what you can do about an employer who has harassed you or violated other laws, like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or New York Labor Laws (NYLL).

A recent audit of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation revealed substantial overtime pay for workers in the traffic paint and sign division – on average, workers were paid $48,000 in overtime compared to just over $8,000 for workers in other city departments, including police and firefighters. But while the figures may sound excessive, an audit found there wasn’t enough evidence to support a legal claim against the division. And what’s more, the workers say the additional overtime was earned.

According to Los Angeles Department of Transportation General Manager Seleta Reynolds, the overtime occurred during a time during the tenure of former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. During his time in office, more than 100 miles of bike lanes were commissioned and thousands of city streets had been recently resurfaced, requiring extensive hours of striping. At that time, the division employed just three crews and had access to only two trucks, resulting in significant backlogs of work which, in turn, caused the overtime to build up.

Since the audit, the city has approved the hiring of at least 20 additional employees for the traffic paint and sign division, sending a clear signal the division has been overworked.

Even the audit noted staffing levels in the division declined 20 percent since 2010 and conceded new projects could have resulted in overtime.

“There is not evidence to show that the work was not done,” City Controller Ron Galperin said, “but then again, there is not evidence to show what was done.”

Reynolds said the division will implement improvements recommended following the audit, including keeping better records and implementing improvements in monitoring overtime.

If you need assistance with a harassment, discrimination or wage and hour case from a qualified and experienced New York employment law firm, call Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP today at 1 (866) 348-7394, or email us at info@jhllp.com.