Can you smell it? If you close your eyes, you can almost smell the savory aromas of barbeque, light beers, and sunscreen; you can hear the echo of millions of air conditioners and HVAC units kicking on, and of late-afternoon naps being taken nationwide as America collectively recharges before the official unofficial beginning of summer.
Memorial Day Weekend is upon us, so for you there’s hopefully a restful three-day respite from the punch clock, the traffic and the workday ritual. As an appetizer, we have some news on the recent Google Pixel settlement, a big Sea World settlement, a labor ruling for Uber drivers, a class action filed against New York Sports Club, and more.
And of course, a huge thank you to all who served to protect our country, both past and present. Now let’s get into it.
Google Pixel Owners Can Receive $500 from Defective Microphone Settlement
Some Google Pixel and Pixel XL owners whose devices were manufactured before January 4, 2017, may be eligible to receive up to $500 as part of a class action settlement.
The Verge writes that Google has agreed to settle a proposed class action filed by consumers who claimed the company knowingly sold Pixel handsets with defective microphones—including after it publicly copped to the problem. The lawsuit was filed less than a year after Google, in March 2017, acknowledged that a number of its early Pixel devices had “a hairline crack in the solder connection on the audio codec” that caused problems with the phone’s calling and voice assistant capabilities. For some Pixel owners, even the replacement phones they received from Google came equipped with faulty microphones, the suit claimed.
Pixel and Pixel XL owners covered by the settlement are divided into four groups. Those who returned a Pixel with a defective microphone and in exchange received another device with a defective microphone could be slated to receive up to $500, according to the settlement. Pixel owners who possessed just a single defective device may be able to receive up to $350, and those who paid out an insurance deductible could get reimbursed. The Verge adds that even those who experienced no problems at all with their Pixel device may be entitled to up to $20 from the settlement.
Neither an official settlement website nor claims submission process has been established yet as the $7.25 million deal still awaits final approval from a judge. When a site and claims form are up and running, we’ll let you know. Those with questions about the settlement can submit them over on the plaintiffs’ law firm’s website here.
A preliminary approval hearing is scheduled for June 5, 2019.
House Democratic Lawmakers Hope to End Forced Class Waivers for Workers, Strengthen Unions with ‘PRO Act’
On May 2, Democratic lawmakers introduced the Protecting the Right to Organize Act—the PRO Act—a bill that would, among other changes, end the practice of companies forcing workers to sign away their right to pursue class action claims against their employers. The PRO Act, according to a fact sheet issued by Committee on Education & Labor (CEL) Chairman Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), would also afford workers the right to sue their employer directly for alleged violations of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the federal law that protects workers’ right to negotiate with employers.
According to House and Senate Democrats behind the PRO Act, “inequity, stagnation, and instability” in middle class wages is due in large part to policy choices that “have stripped workers of the power to stand together” and negotiate for better wages and conditions. Unions, the lawmakers stress, play a critical role in restoring fairness to economic inequities. According to the fact sheet, even though union members “earn over 13 percent more than those with similar education, occupation, and experience” in a non-union workplace, union membership is at a drastic low.
The PRO Act, which was introduced before Congress with 100 House and 40 Senate cosponsors, is seen by many as a response to Republican-supported right-to-work laws in some states that allow employees to skip on paying union dues, which can kick off a domino effect that can ultimately harm a union’s membership and therefore its negotiating power. Given the Republican-controlled Senate’s historical stance on worker protections, it appears unlikely that the proposed labor reform legislation would gain much headway.
Among its sweeping pro-labor aims, the PRO Act would:
- Set up “meaningful” penalties for corporations that violate workers’ rights;
- Combat worker misclassification as supervisors and/or independent contractors;
- Bolster workers’ right to strike for higher wages and better working conditions;
- Establish a mediation and arbitration process to aid in hammering out a first contract between employers and newly formed unions;
- Authorize unions and employers to negotiate agreements to allow unions to collect fair-share fees to cover representation costs;
- Streamline National Labor Relation Board procedures for securing worker freedoms and preventing violations; and
- Protecting the integrity of union elections against “coercive captive audience meetings.”
Viking Cruises Sued After Engine Failure Off Norway Coast
In March of this year, a ship operated by Viking Cruises was stranded off the coast of Norway, leaving its passengers stuck in rough seas – and now a class action lawsuit has been filed on their behalf.
According to the complaint, the ship “negligently sailed through notoriously perilous waters into the path of a bomb cyclone,” even though the cruise line knew about the severe weather conditions. While the ship attempted to navigate the storm, the engine failed and left more than 1,300 passengers with no option but to endure the “hurricane-force” winds and “30-, 40-, 50-foot waves” – which were reportedly tilting the ship hard enough to send furniture siding across the floor.
The passengers are seeking $10 million in damages for being forced into the harrowing experience. Viking Cruises has yet to comment on the lawsuit.
Head over to ABC News for more information.
SeaWorld Annual Pass Renewal Settlement Given Final Approval
Final approval has been granted to an $11.5 million settlement that resolves a case against SeaWorld over its annual pass renewal policy.
According to the lawsuit, SeaWorld automatically renewed customers’ annual passes without ever getting their permission. For instance, one of the plaintiffs in the case says he bought an annual pass in March 2013 and paid for it with monthly installments. After his pass was paid off in February the following year, however, his credit card continued to be charged, according to the case.
The settlement will grant those who purchased one-year E-Z Pay annual passes at SeaWorld at least $31.75 per pass. Those who used their debit cards for payment after December 2013 are also expected to get an additional $13. The checks are expected to go out automatically, so if you’ve been affected, you probably won’t need to do anything to receive your money.
SeaWorld denied any wrongdoing but agreed to settle the litigation to avoid going to trial. You can find the rest of the story over at the Orlando Sentinel.
Lawsuit Seeks to Repay Illinois State Employees for ‘Unconstitutional’ Union Fees
A lawsuit filed May 1 in Illinois federal court is seeking to compensate public-sector employees who were required to pay union “fair share” fees even though they were not members of the union. The nine plaintiffs in the suit, state employees represented by the Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, say they opted out of joining Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) yet were forced to pay fees to the union as a condition of their employment – a practice the Supreme Court later declared to be unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court case was filed by Mark Janus, an Illinois state government employee who was not a member of AFSCME but was required to pay agency fees. In a landmark June 2018 decision, as covered by CNBC, the high court overturned a 40-year-old precedent and ruled that public sector unions cannot collect certain fees, sometimes called “fair share fees,” from non-union workers.
The May 2019 case is looking to apply the Supreme Court’s ruling retroactively and repay public employees for the fees they paid before the decision was made, dating back to May 1, 2017, which is as far back as a state statute of limitations will allow, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The case’s argument, the Tribune points out, echoes a similar lawsuit that was dismissed earlier this year by a district judge who ruled that the AFSCME hadn’t broken the law in collecting fair share fees and “couldn’t have reasonably anticipated those fees becoming illegal.”
Head over to the Chicago Tribune’s write-up for more information.
National Labor Relations Board Says Uber Drivers Are Contractors, Not Employees
In the latest blow dealt to Uber drivers suing the ride-sharing company, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued an opinion that states the drivers are contractors and not employees.
According to The Verge, the May 14 opinion will make it more difficult for Uber drivers to unionize, file labor complaints, and fight for labor protections under federal law, such as minimum and overtime wages.
Whether workers are considered employees (who are subject to minimum and overtime wage protections) or independent contractors (who are considered exempt from such protections) is generally determined by how much control the employer exercises over its workers. Since Uber, according to the opinion, essentially allows drivers to make their own hours, accept whichever jobs they like, and work for competitors, the NLRB determined that the company correctly classifies them as contractors. From the opinion:
The drivers had significant entrepreneurial opportunity by virtue of their near complete control of their cars and work schedules, together with freedom to choose log-in locations and to work for competitors of Uber. On any given day, at any free moment, drivers could decide how best to serve their economic objectives: by fulfilling ride requests through the App, working for a competing ride-share service, or pursuing a different venture altogether.”
Head over to The Verge for more details.
Class Action: New York Sports Club Charges Ex-Customers for Canceled Memberships
The operators of New York Sports Club (NYSC) have been named as defendants in a class action lawsuit that claims the gym refuses to accept cancellation requests and keeps charging former customers membership fees without permission to do so.
According to the complaint, which was filed in New York, the gym illegally copies and pastes customer signatures onto a number of electronic contracts that the individuals never really agree to, including forms that outline difficult cancellation terms. The lawsuit’s 10 named plaintiffs claim they continued to be charged for memberships they tried to cancel and were even harassed by collection agencies for payments they never authorized. One plaintiff went so far as to cancel her credit card to dodge the never-ending charges, the suit claims.
The case points out that NYSC has received hundreds of Yelp reviews making similar claims, along with Better Business Bureau complaints from customers who say the gym routinely ignores cancellation requests and keeps billing people for canceled memberships. In addition, the suit notes that NYSC has faced similar class actions filed in multiple states over these issues yet has made no changes to its allegedly fraudulent operations.
New York Daily News has more on the story.
Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T Improperly Sold Customers’ Location Data, Lawsuits Say
Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T have each been hit with their own respective class action lawsuits claiming they violated federal law and their own privacy policies by selling customers’ geolocation data to unauthorized third parties.
As reported by Vice, the private information sold by the defendants made its way to a variety of industries, “ranging from car salesmen and property managers to bail bondsmen and bounty hunters.” Among the third parties that had access to customer data was prison tech company Securus, which apparently used the information to help law enforcement officials illegally track people down without a warrant.
The cases allege the telecommunications giants failed in their duty to protect the personal information of customers, as required by the Federal Communications Act. The defendants also acted in violation of their privacy policies, which assured customers they would not disclose their data to other companies without permission to do so, the suits claim.
Vice writes that the proposed class in each lawsuit seeks to cover “an approximation of the telcos’ individual customers between April 30, 2015 and February 15, 2019: 100 million for Verizon, 100 million for AT&T, 50 million for T-Mobile, and 50 million for Sprint.”