Welcome to our first class action news roundup of 2019. How are your new year’s resolutions coming along? If you resolved this year to be more of an informed consumer then welcome, you are among friends.
This edition covers a wage and hour class action filed by border protection officers, a massive settlement with au pair sponsor agencies, a Fiat Chrysler emissions settlement, and more.
And if this roundup fails to satiate your class action news cravings, head over to our newswire and database.
Vizio Privacy Settlement Gets the Go-Ahead
A $17 million settlement to resolve the privacy class action against Vizio has been granted preliminary approval. The case alleged that Vizio gathered information about its customers via smart TVs and then shared it with ad-tech companies and data brokers without obtaining consumers’ consent. If granted final approval, the settlement will allow nearly 16 million Vizio owners to claim a piece of the settlement fund. In addition to paying out the $17 million, Vizio will also be required to have an onscreen display regarding data collection that will allow its customers to choose whether or not to share their information. For more on the settlement deal, head over to TechCrunch.
Super Bowl Ticket Policy Suit Winds Down
A recent court ruling will likely end a proposed class action against the National Football League. The lawsuit claimed that the NFL violated a since-repealed New Jersey law by releasing a mere one percent of the 2014 Super Bowl tickets to the public. Reportedly, the rest of the tickets were set aside for teams, sponsors and other insiders – leaving most of the public out of luck, unless they decided to turn to the secondary market and pay more than double a ticket’s face value. The court found, however, that the NFL’s distribution practices didn’t violate state consumer fraud laws. More information on the case and the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling can be found over at the Chicago Tribune.
Canada Dry to Remove “Made from Real Ginger” Statements Following False Advertising Suit
Canada Dry has agreed to stop representing that its ginger ale is made with real ginger after being hit with several lawsuits that alleged the soft drink contains only a “microscopic” amount of the ingredient—less than two parts per million, to be exact.
One suit out of California claims that even though the label for Canada Dry’s ginger ale claims that it’s “made from real ginger,” independent lab testing showed the drink “does not contain even trace amounts” of ginger root. Further, despite the soda’s popular use as a home remedy, the case points out that due to its low ginger content, the drink doesn’t actually offer any medicinal benefits.
The proposed settlement, which is pending final approval, would reimburse U.S. customers who’ve purchased Canada Dry since 2013. According to the National Post, consumers would be able to claim up to $5.20 per household and up to $40 with proof of purchase. The Post notes that the drink will continue to be advertised as being made with real ginger in Canada.
Au Pairs Reach $65.5M Class Action Settlement to End Claims for Back Pay
Fifteen companies that recruit migrants as au pairs in American households have reached a $65.5 million tentative settlement agreement to resolve claims over back pay. The settlement comes in response to a class action filed in Colorado by nearly a dozen au pairs from Colombia, South Africa, Mexico, Australia and Germany who claim they were paid significantly less than the minimum wage, deprived of overtime, and misinformed as to their rights.
According to the Washington Post, the plaintiffs, in addition to providing childcare, allegedly performed odd labor jobs for their host families including gardening and feeding livestock. The suit claims the companies schemed to underpay the au pairs by falsely claiming the government capped their earnings at $195.75 for 45 hours worked each week, or $4.35 per hour. The difference between this rate and the proper minimum wage was supposedly given to workers’ host families to cover room and board costs.
The suit represents a class of individuals who came to the States to work for the defendants between January 1, 2009 and October 28, 2018 on J-1 visas— a “cultural exchange” employment program alleged to be “rife with abuse.”
Head over to NPR for more details.
City of Los Angeles Alleges Weather Channel App Secretly Mines, Shares User Location Data
Los Angeles city attorney Michael N. Feuer has filed a lawsuit that alleges the Weather Channel app has surreptitiously mined, shared and profited from the location data of millions of consumers nationwide.
According to a New York Times report on the suit, the Weather Channel app has been downloaded more than 100 million times and boasts 45 million active monthly users. The city’s lawsuit charges that the Weather Company, which operates the app, manipulated users into turning on their smartphones’ location tracking by implying the data would be used only to localize weather reports. What consumers didn’t know, the lawsuit alleges, is that the IBM-owned company also used their location details for commercial purposes, including for targeted marketing and analysis.
Front and center in the city’s suit is a sweeping December 2018 NYT report that found that at least 75 companies collected precise user location data without displaying proper notice informing consumers of how their data would be shared and used. In the complaint, the Times reports, Feuer slams the Weather Company for allegedly taking advantage of “the app’s popularity and the fact that consumers were likely to give their location data to get local weather alerts.”
Though the case filed by the city of Los Angeles is not a class action, it would not be surprising if consumers, understandably wary of the inundation of stories concerning companies who misuse and lie about what they do with user data, soon file their own lawsuits against the Weather Company over the same allegations. If 2018 taught us anything, it’s that companies that mishandle and obfuscate what they do with consumer data are ripe targets for potential class action litigation, and serve as a reminder of why it’s essential that users have access to a mechanism with which to seek justice.
New York Times reports Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Natasha Singer have more over at the publication’s website.
National Treasury Employees Union, Customs and Border Protection Officers Sue Trump Administration for Unpaid Wages
A collective action that may come to represent more than 400,000 federal employees has been filed against the Trump Administration over the now 32-day-long (and counting) government shutdown. Filed by the National Treasury Employees Union and two Customs and Border Protection officers, the proposed collective action, which is the second such case filed against the Trump Administration according to a Washington Post report, seeks unpaid wages stemming from work performed while the government has been closed.
While many employees have been furloughed during the shutdown, those deemed essential or “excepted” have had to report to work as normal. The two named plaintiffs are considered “essential,” the Post writes, as their jobs involve “performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”
The previous lawsuit filed over unpaid shutdown wages was brought by the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal worker union, and alleged hundreds of thousands of employees are illegally being required to work for no wages. That case was also filed by two essential employees – corrections officers under the employ of the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Washington Post reporter Deanna Paul has more.
HP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Agree on $25 Million Settlement for Salespeople Supposedly Shorted on Commissions
A nine-year legal fight has come to a close as HP and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have agreed to pay a $25 million settlement to roughly 2,000 salespeople who claimed they were shorted on commissions due to the companies’ “antiquated” computer systems.
Business Insider writes HP salespeople complained for years about issues with the company’s commission-tracking system. A meeting that took place in 2016 six months after HP was split into two companies saw the company’s former CEO, Meg Whitman, receive more than an earful from sales team leaders who informed her that thousands of salespeople were being paid improperly.
According to one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, HP and Hewlett Packard Enterprise salespeople covered by the settlement will receive checks based on the last 30 days of their average salary and other variables – meaning settlement amounts will vary from person to person.
Business Insider’s Julie Bort has full coverage.
Fiat Chrysler Reaches Settlement Over Alleged Diesel Emissions Scandal
The U.S. Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the state of California announced last week a settlement with Fiat Chrysler over allegations that the automaker equipped upwards of 100,000 of its diesel vehicles with software that allowed them to cheat emissions tests.
The settlement comes two years after the EPA’s initial notice of violation, which, as reported by Ars Technica, claimed diesel Ram 1500 trucks and Jeep Grand Cherokees model years 2014 and 2016 were equipped with “defeat devices” that could detect when the vehicles were being tested and curb their emissions to meet the required standards. Once on the road, though, the vehicles allegedly delivered unimpaired performance while secretly emitting unlawful levels of noxious chemicals.
Fiat Chrysler, apparently no stranger to litigation, will end up paying an estimated $800 million or more in the settlement. How do the costs break down?
$305 million in civil penalties; $19 million to California; $6 million to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for importing non-compliant vehicles; Approximately $185 million to recall the affected vehicles, install new software, provide extended warranties, and pay into a fund designed to mitigate excess pollution from the cars; Extra fees if less than 85 percent of the vehicles are recalled and repaired; and Approximately $300 million to vehicle owners – between $990 and $3,075 each.
Notwithstanding its agreement to pay, Fiat Chrysler apparently maintains that there was no “deliberate scheme to install defeat devices or cheat emissions tests.”
Check out Ars Technica for more of the story.
Lawsuit Filed Over Google’s Facial Recognition Technology Dismissed
A lawsuit originally filed in 2016 over Google’s facial recognition software has recently been dismissed by a Chicago judge. As reported by The Verge, the case concerns a woman who says Google scanned and saved her biometric data without her permission when a Google Photos user took pictures of her on an Android.
The lawsuit alleges violations of a state law – the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) – that prohibits companies from saving individuals’ biometric data without their consent. It’s one of a few cases, according to the Verge, that were filed under BIPA against major tech companies (the others being Facebook and Snapchat) and was the first of the three to be dismissed.
Google’s win adds to public controversy over whether BIPA, known as the strictest biometric privacy law in the country, is a “huge obstacle for tech companies working on facial recognition initiatives,” as the Verge notes, or a line of defense against what Bloomberg calls tech giants’ “mishandling of user data.”
The Verge has more details.