A proposed class action lawsuit alleges roughly 450 individuals employed by Juul Labs during the company’s 2019 campaign in support of Proposition C—which would have overturned a San Francisco ordinance suspending the sale of e-cigarettes in the city—were misclassified as independent contractors and deprived of proper wages under California law.
The 23-page complaint argues that Juul Labs and its co-defendants—the Juul-run non-profit Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulation (the Coalition), San Francisco-based campaign operator Long Ying International and its CEO—classified campaign workers as independent contractors even though the individuals worked as bona fide employees under federal and state wage laws. The lawsuit claims proposed class members were not issued legally compliant wage statements nor timely paid all accrued wages after their employment with the defendants ended in early Fall 2019. Further, those who worked at phone banks and canvased neighborhoods in the same workday, referred to as “hybrid campaign workers,” were not reimbursed by the defendants for travel-related business expenses, nor provided with overtime wages or off-duty meal breaks, the plaintiffs allege.
The timeline laid out in the lawsuit starts in May 2019, when Juul filed a proposed ballot measure in an effort to overturn San Francisco’s suspension of e-cigarette sales in the city. The following month, the complaint says, Juul and the Coalition brought on Long Ying International to assist with campaign consulting and management. The Coalition was incorporated in July 2019 on the same day that Juul announced it had gathered around 20,000 signatures, enough to add to San Francisco’s ballot in November a measure to pass Prop C, the complaint says.
The plaintiffs, who were involved with phone banking and canvassing, say they were required to sign independent contractor agreements and fill out W-9 forms as part of the hiring process. According to the case, the campaign operated Monday through Thursday in two shifts, a four-hour phone banking shift followed by four hours of either more phone banking or canvassing. Weekends saw the campaign operate on only a single four-hour shift, the suit says.
As the lawsuit tells it, the plaintiffs and other hourly paid hybrid campaign workers were not compensated for the roughly 35 minutes or longer it took to travel via public transit between Juul’s phone banking headquarters on Taylor Street and the company’s canvassing headquarters on Clement Street. Further, the case claims the same workers were not provided with at least a 30-minute uninterrupted meal period during these hybrid shifts.
Shortly after opening a third office in San Francisco’s Mission District, Juul, on September 30, 2019, announced it was “no longer actively supporting the Yes on C Campaign,” the complaint continues. Hours later, according to the lawsuit, the Coalition issued a statement announcing that campaign operations would be discontinued. That evening, campaign workers were allegedly informed of the news via email, and advised that their checks would be ready by October 3 and 4. Those with reimbursement receipts were told to come to the campaign’s Taylor Street location, per the case, while workers with administrative and clerical duties were told to come to work as usual on October 1 to wrap up.
California’s Labor Code mandates that an employer who discharges an employee must pay all compensation due and owing immediately upon discharge, the suit says, adding that the failure of an employer to do so triggers waiting time penalties in the form of continued pay for up to 30 workdays. The plaintiffs claim they received their checks at varying times, later in October and even in December, without being apprised as to the number of hours they worked. The suit contests that Juul and the Coalition failed to issue campaign workers’ final paychecks until “several days after” the campaign was abruptly terminated, and never paid proposed class members rightful minimum and overtime wages and meal period premiums, the lawsuit claims.
Lastly, the plaintiffs allege they did not receive state-required itemized wage statements that included the total number of hours worked by each employee, nor reimbursement for necessary business expenses related to travel time commuting between offices during each workday.