Blog : CERG

Lisa Mak Receives Legal Advocate Award from the Center for Workers’ Rights

Lisa Mak Receives Legal Advocate Award from the Center for Workers’ Rights

On June 28, 2017, Associate Lisa P. Mak in our Consumer and Employee Rights Group was honored with the Legal Advocate Award from the Center for Workers’ Rights in Sacramento.

Lisa received the award for her successful representation of four female officers of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, which resulted in a $3.5 million verdict after a five-week jury trial last year.

The Center also commended Lisa for being a vanguard in advocacy on behalf of plaintiffs, for her commitment to workplace justice, and for her efforts to advance diversity in the plaintiffs’ bar.

In her acceptance remarks, Lisa emphasized the importance of courageous advocacy to empower employees to stand up for their rights, and to hold employers accountable for their treatment of workers.

“…[W]e need advocates who have the courage and conviction to stand with workers and fight for them in our legislature, in our court system, and in the court of public opinion,” Lisa said.

“Especially for lawyers – I think that we are in a special position to advocate and to litigate cases that empower not just our clients, but the larger community.  And that’s a gift that we have, and that’s what drives my work everyday.”

The Center for Workers’ Rights strives to improve working conditions, reduce barriers to securing employment, and remedy workplace injustices for low-wage workers and their families in the greater Sacramento area.

Congratulations, Lisa!

Trade Secret Litigation: Waymo V. Uber and Lessons on Departing Employees

Trade Secret Litigation: Waymo V. Uber and Lessons on Departing Employees

Minami Tamaki’s Consumer and Employee Rights Group specializes in trade secret litigation, a growing area of technology law in Silicon Valley and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.  Our attorneys represent both employees in defense of their development of skills and talent, and employers seeking to protect their proprietary and confidential information.

The ongoing Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies litigation has highlighted the complex legal issues involved in trade secret cases. Waymo (a self-driving car project owned by Google parent company Alphabet) filed suit in February 2017 accusing Uber of committing legal violations related to theft of trade secrets.  Waymo alleges that its former senior employee Anthony Levandowski took Waymo proprietary information when he left the company to co-found his own self-driving vehicle company, Otto.

Uber purchased Otto in 2016 for a reported $680 million and made Levandowski the head of Uber’s self-driving technology division.  Waymo alleges that Levandowski then began using Waymo’s proprietary information at Uber in violation of trade secret law and agreements that he entered into while employed at Waymo.

After filing suit in February 2017, Waymo sought provisional relief to stop Uber from using the technology it claimed Levandowski had stolen.  In ruling on Waymo’s motion, Northern District of California Judge William Alsup stated that Waymo presented compelling evidence that Levandowski “downloaded over 14,000 confidential files from Waymo immediately before leaving his employment there.”

Levandowski allegedly spent eight hours downloading data from his work laptop onto a personal data storage device, and then reformatted his work laptop with a new operating system, wiping it clean.  The Order stated that the evidence indicated that Uber likely knew or should have known that Levandowski had taken Waymo’s confidential files, as Uber engaged a digital forensics firm to perform “due diligence” on the data.

Judge Alsup ordered the Defendants to return the downloaded materials to Waymo and provide detailed accountings of meetings and messages in which the self-driving car technology Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) was discussed.  A trial in the case is set for October 2017.

Trade Secret Law in California

Under California law, everything that an employee acquires by virtue of his or her employment (other than compensation for services) belongs to the employer.  Labor Code § 2860.  This includes the employer’s trade secrets.  A trade secret is defined as information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, device, method, technique, or process that (1) derives independent economic value from not being generally known to the public, and (2) is the subject of reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy.

Misappropriation of the employer’s trade secrets is an intentional tort under both the common law and the Uniform Trade Secrets Act.  Civil Code § 3426.1.  Trade secret cases commonly deal with a former employer’s customer lists, but other employer property, such as plans and designs for the former employer’s products, may be considered trade secrets.

Companies bringing trade secrets allegations argue that they have spent substantial time and money developing proprietary technology and information, and that the departing employee absconding with this information must be immediately enjoined.  Employees counter that they have taken only their general knowledge and talent to their new employers, not their former employers’ trade secrets.

An employee may point to California law that supports the contention that an employee cannot be expected to wipe his or her memory clean in joining a new employer.  Morlife Inc. v. Perry, 56 Cal.App.4th 1514 (1997).  Trade secret cases are hard fought and the issue of what constitutes a trade secret is often heavily litigated.

Non-Compete and Non-Solicitation Agreements

“Non-compete clauses” (also known as “covenants not to compete”) provide that an employee agrees not to enter into a similar profession or trade in competition against his or her employer.  While most people have heard of non-compete clauses, they may not know that non-compete clauses are generally void and unenforceable in California.  Business & Professions Code § 16600.

Under California law, individuals have the right to compete with former employers, provided that such competition is fairly and legally conducted.  Reeves v. Hanlon, 33 Cal.4th 1140 (2004).  California courts have consistently declared that the public policy of the state is to ensure that citizens retain the right to pursue any lawful employment and enterprise of their choice.  Edwards v. Arthur Anderson LLP, 44 Cal.4th 937 (2008). The sentiment behind this public policy is that technology and progress flourish where individuals are free to leave a company with all of their knowledge and skills, and to pursue any vocation that they wish.

The California policy against non-compete agreements extends to agreements not to solicit a former employer’s customers.  Such agreements are also generally invalid under Business & Professions Code § 16600.  Restrictions on soliciting customers are allowable only when they protect trade secrets or confidential proprietary information.  Thompson v. Impaxx, Inc., 113 Cal.App.4th 1425 (2003).

While it is well-established that non-compete agreements and customer non-solicitation agreements are unenforceable in California, the law takes a different view when it comes to employee non-solicitation agreements.  A former employer may generally enforce an agreement prohibiting a former employee from actively soliciting the former employer’s other workers to join a new employer.  Loral Corp. v. Moyes, 174 Cal.App.3d 268 (1985).

However, while the employee may be restricted from soliciting his or her former co-workers, this does not prevent these former co-workers from voluntarily seeking out new employment.  California public policy deems the mobility and betterment of employees as paramount to the competitive business interests of the employer.  Metro Traffic Control, Inc. v. Shadow Traffic Network, 22 Cal.pp.4th 853 (1994).  Thus, an agreement that an individual (and his or her new employer) refrain from hiring a former employer’s workers may be deemed unenforceable, and could give rise to liability under antitrust laws.

Protecting Your Rights

Minami Tamaki defends employees against accusations of misappropriation of trade secrets, and also advises employees in fighting overbroad agreements that improperly restrict competition. Our attorneys also counsel employers on protecting their trade secrets and preventing unfair business practices by departing employees.

Best practices for employers may include drafting agreements that require employees to return company property upon separation of employment, drafting personnel policies regarding assignment of inventions and confidentiality, imaging and forensic analysis of employee computers and storage devices, and pursuing injunctive relief in the event of misappropriation of trade secrets.

Whether you are an employee or an employer, the attorneys at Minami Tamaki are available to discuss with you at (415) 788-9000 or through our online form.  We look forward to the opportunity to review your trade secret or unfair competition matter with you.

Lisa P. Mak Honored at Asian/Pacific Bar of Sacramento Foundation Event

On May 25, 2017, Associate Lisa P. Mak received a legislative resolution presented by the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus and the Asian Bar Association of Sacramento Law Foundation for her success in the Hagadorn v. Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department case.

In May 2016, a jury awarded our clients a collective total of over $3.5 million in economic and non-economic damages for their claims of employment retaliation.  Earlier this year, the County dropped its appeal of the successful verdict.

Presented by Assemblymember Phil Ting, the congratulatory resolution praised the case as “a stunning victory not only for the plaintiffs, but also for the four Asian American lawyers who had so ably and steadfastly represented them.”

The resolution also commended Minami Tamaki for its “successful legal representation in practice areas inclusive of civil rights and employment discrimination and its leadership role as a preeminent Asian American law firm in California.”

At the same event, Partner Dale Minami presented a keynote address titled “Empowering the Community and Educating the Public through Law.”

Dale spoke about his legal career working on cases with significant national impact, including: the reversal of the convictions of Fred Korematsu, Min Yasui, and Gordon Hirabayashi for challenging the internment order of Japanese Americans during World War II; the unfair denial of tenure to Professor Don Nakanishi at UCLA that highlighted discrimination in academia; and the first employment class action lawsuit in the country brought by Asian Pacific Americans, challenging employment practices at Blue Shield.

Dale emphasized the importance of using legal cases to empower our communities and educate the public, and the need to increase diversity in our leadership and judiciary.  Dale is a founding member of ABAS, the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area, and the Asian Law Caucus.

 

Lisa P. Mak to Receive Legal Advocate Award from Center for Workers’ Rights

Associate Lisa P. Mak in our Consumer and Employee Rights Group will be recognized with a Legal Advocate Award from the Center for Workers’ Rights on June 28, 2017, in Sacramento.

In a letter to Lisa, the Center wrote: “Your victory against the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department on behalf of four sheriff’s deputies demonstrates your tireless commitment to workplace justice. In addition, your commitment to pro bono legal services sets you apart from others in our field.”

The Center for Workers’ Rights strives to improve working conditions, reduce barriers to securing employment, and remedy workplace injustices for low-wage workers and their families in the greater Sacramento area.

Lisa will receive the award on Wednesday, June 28, 2017, at 5:30 p.m. at the Citizen Hotel in Sacramento.

Congratulations, Lisa!

Sacramento County abandons appeal of successful retaliation verdict to our clients, concluding contentious lawsuit

Sacramento County abandons appeal of successful retaliation verdict to our clients, concluding contentious lawsuit

The County of Sacramento recently abandoned its appeal of the jury verdict award from last May 2016 to four Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department officers represented by Minami Tamaki LLP and The Law Offices of Jerry L. Chong and Alice W. Wong. The County’s abandonment of the appeal brings a conclusion to this hard-fought lawsuit filed over six years ago.

Plaintiffs were four female law enforcement officers who complained about race and gender discrimination and sexual favoritism in the Sheriff’s Department. After their complaints, the Department retaliated against the female officers and derailed their careers. They were removed from their job positions, unfairly disciplined, subjected to punitive investigations, and passed over for promotions and specialty assignments.

The case was jointly litigated by both firms for over six years, culminating in a five-week trial in Sacramento Superior Court. At trial, these four women told their stories of how they were targeted and suffered retaliation after their complaints. The jury also heard testimony from former and current top brass in the Department. Ultimately, a jury awarded the Plaintiffs a collective total of over $3.5 million in economic and non-economic damages. The County appealed the verdict to the Third District Court of Appeals, but recently abandoned its appeal.

“In bringing this case, our clients wanted to open up a dialogue and advocate for a better, more fair place to work not just for themselves, but for all officers in the department,” said Lisa Mak of Minami Tamaki LLP. “We hope cases like this encourage all employees to speak up against injustice.”

The Consumer and Employee Rights Group at Minami Tamaki LLP is committed to advocating on behalf of all employees for a fair workplace. Our group has extensive experience litigating against public and private employers in areas such as discrimination, retaliation, harassment, family and medical leave, and wage and hour violations.

“Tech Leavers” Study Cites Unfair Treatment as Major Reason for Turnover in Tech Industry

“Tech Leavers” Study Cites Unfair Treatment as Major Reason for Turnover in Tech Industry

Minami Tamaki LLP helps employees in the technology industry navigate workplace issues and ensure that their legal rights are protected.  We work to address issues of discrimination in the tech industry, including inequities in hiring and promotion, pay discrimination, pregnancy and child care discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, and sexual harassment.

Last Friday, the Kapor Center for Social Impact released its “Tech Leavers” study, a first-of-its-kind study examining why employees voluntarily left their jobs in the tech industry.  The Kapor Center is dedicated to improving diversity in the tech industry by conducting research, educating companies on best practices, and increasing access to STEM education.  Its Tech Leavers study surveyed a nationally-representative sample of U.S. adults who had left a tech job within the last three years.

The Tech Leavers study revealed that “unfair treatment is the single largest driver of turnover affecting all groups, and most acutely affects underrepresented professionals.”  Unfair treatment was the most frequently cited reason for leaving a tech job, with nearly 40% of surveyed people indicating that unfair treatment was a major factor in their decision to leave the company.  Also, 78% of employees reported experiencing unfair behavior at their prior company, while 85% reported witnessing or observing such behavior.

According to the study, women of all backgrounds experienced and observed significantly more unfairness than men.  Almost one-third of underrepresented women of color reported being passed over for promotion.  1 in 10 women surveyed reported experiencing unwanted sexual attention in their tech job.

The study also found that LGBTQ employees in tech were most likely to be bullied and experience public humiliation, at significantly higher rates than non-LGBTQ employees.

Based on the survey results, the study concluded that unfair behavior – such as harassment, bullying, and stereotyping – negatively impacts underrepresented groups and also drives talent out the door.  This exacerbates the challenges to eliminating disparities and biases in the tech industry workforce.

The Tech Leavers study estimated that unfair treatment alone will cost tech companies $16 billion per year in employee replacement costs.  Over 50% of surveyed employees said they would have likely stayed at their prior job if the company had taken steps to make the workplace culture more fair and inclusive.  The study recommended implementing comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategies, which could reduce unfair experiences at tech companies, improve workplace culture, and increase retention of diverse employees.

Minami Tamaki LLP has vast experience representing tech workers in combating unfair treatment in the workplace and helping them achieve their goals in difficult legal situations.  We recognize the importance of protecting the rights of all workers, of ensuring that the diversity of our community is reflected in the tech industry, and of holding employers accountable under our employment laws.  Such laws include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Pregnancy Disability Leave Law, and the Equal Pay Act.

The Consumer and Employee Rights Group attorneys at Minami Tamaki welcome the opportunity to discuss your workplace issues with you.  You may contact us at 415.788.9000 or via this form.

Minami Tamaki LLP Representing Former NFL Players in Class Action Settlement

Minami Tamaki LLP Representing Former NFL Players in Class Action Settlement

Minami Tamaki LLP is representing former National Football League (“NFL”) players in the matter In Re: National Football League Players’ Concussion Injury Litigation, MDL No. 2323.

The case was brought as a class action on behalf of former players who claimed that they suffered head trauma during their NFL careers that resulted in brain injuries and long-term neurological problems. The former players claimed that the NFL was aware of the risks associated with repetitive traumatic brain injuries, but ignored and concealed this information from players.

The settlement between the NFL and the former players was finalized on January 7, 2017. The NFL agreed to an uncapped settlement program offering monetary awards to eligible former players.

Class members or their families must demonstrate that they have been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, moderate to severe dementia (known as Level 2 Neurocognitive Impairment); early stage dementia (known as Level 1.5 Neurocognitive Impairment), or Death with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) if the athlete’s death occurred before July 7, 2014.

Minami Tamaki is retaining independent physicians to provide assessments, filing claims with the settlement administrator, and monitoring the claims review process.

The assessment and diagnosis required to submit a claim must be made by physicians and neuropsychologists who satisfy specific qualifications. The settlement details the types of tests that must be administered to prove injury and the qualifications of the doctors who may make assessments. A class member’s level of neurocognitive impairment is to be established in part with evidence of decline in performance in two or more cognitive domains, provided that one of the areas is executive function, learning and memory, or complex attention.

Class members may recover up to $5 million with a qualifying diagnosis of ALS, $4 million for death with CTE, $3.5 million for Parkinson’s Disease or Alzheimer’s Disease, $3 million for moderate dementia, and $1.5 million with a qualifying diagnosis of early stage dementia.

Eligible Class members must have at least one-half of an eligible season to obtain a recovery under the settlement. To obtain the maximum recovery, a retired player must have played for at least five “eligible seasons” and have been diagnosed when younger than 45 years old. Class members’ eligible seasons are based on time spent on team active lists, injured reserve lists, or inactive lists, as well as practice, developmental, and taxi squads. .

Individuals seeking information on the settlement in the In Re: National Football League Players’ Concussion Injury Litigation matter can learn more at https://www.nflconcussionteam.com or can set up a free consultation with Minami Tamaki by contacting us at (415) 788-9000 or through our online form.

Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board Issue Notice of Violation to Fiat Chrysler Over Illegal Diesel Emissions

Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board Issue Notice of Violation to Fiat Chrysler Over Illegal Diesel Emissions

Minami Tamaki is investigating allegations that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (“Fiat Chrysler”) installed and failed to disclose the presence of engine control software that alters emissions and contributes to air pollution in model year 2014, 2015, and 2016 diesel Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks.

If you own or lease a Jeep Grand Cherokee or Dodge Ram 1500, you are encouraged to contact the lawyers at Minami Tamaki at (415) 788-9000 for more information. There is no charge for reviewing your potential claim and no obligation on your part.

On January 12, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) issued notices to Fiat Chrysler that the company was in violation of the Clean Air Act and California’s Health & Safety Code.

The EPA and CARB allege that Fiat Chrysler installed software in vehicles that causes them to emit lower levels of nitrogen oxides during emissions testing than when driven under normal road conditions. Nitrogen oxides form smog when combined with other compounds, and have been linked to respiratory issues and other harmful health effects.

The EPA has accused Fiat Chrysler of installing emissions control software in an estimated 104,000 model year 2014-2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3.0 liter diesel engines. The EPA stated that it has identified at least eight undisclosed auxiliary emission control devices in these vehicles that can alter how a vehicle emits air pollution.

In a news release, EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles, stated, “[f]ailing to disclose software that affects emissions in a vehicle’s engine is a serious violation of the law, which can result in harmful pollution in the air we breathe.”

Owners and lessees of Fiat Chrysler vehicles may have been misled by the company’s representations that these vehicles were environmentally friendly and complied with applicable emissions requirements. Repairs may be needed to bring vehicle emission levels within legal requirements.

The allegations against Fiat Chrysler come on the heels of the Volkswagen “clean-diesel” emissions scandal. The EPA alleged that Volkswagen installed “defeat devices” in diesel vehicles that made it appear that the vehicles were in compliance with emissions standards during testing.

However, when the vehicles sensed that they were no longer being tested, the software disengaged and the vehicles emitted pollutants greatly exceeding legal limits. Minami Tamaki filed several lawsuits against Volkswagen alleging that the company misled consumers. Consumer claims were consolidated in federal court in the Northern District of California in 2016. Minami Tamaki has continued to prosecute this matter with attorneys around the country, which has resulted in settlements of over $15 billion to date.

Sean Tamura-Sato Named Partner

Sean Tamura-Sato Named Partner

The Minami Tamaki LLP law firm has named Sean Tamura-Sato as Partner, effective January 1, 2017. He has been an attorney in the firm’s Consumer and Employee Rights Group since August 2007.

“Sean has helped lead or been an integral part of every major case in our consumer and employee rights practice in the past decade,” said Partner Jack W. Lee. “He has played a critical role in our success representing tens of thousands of individuals in class action and individual cases. We look forward to Sean’s continued leadership in our firm.”

Minami Tamaki’s Consumer & Employee Rights Group litigates class actions and individual cases on behalf of consumers, investors, and employees who have been harmed by illegal or unfair business or employment practices. The group has recovered tens of millions of dollars for its clients.

Sean represents clients in complex business disputes, with an emphasis on employment law, business torts, breach of contract, and class actions. He has successfully tried employment discrimination and wrongful termination cases in federal court and before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

He has been involved in some of the largest class action cases on behalf of consumers in the history of antitrust law, including the In re TFT-LCD (flat panel) Antitrust Litigation. Sean also has substantial experience representing low-wage and immigrant workers in actions combating wage theft and worker exploitation.

Sean also advises entrepreneurs, executives, startup founders, and investors in matters involving employment contracts, executive compensation, shareholder & partnership disputes, trade secrets, media and technology, severance agreements, and strategic business decisions.

Sean has been recognized as a Northern California Super Lawyer Rising Star from 2013 through 2016. He is a member of the California and Hawai’i bars. Sean received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University and his Juris Doctor from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.Congratulations, Sean!