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Minami Tamaki Investigating Toxic Heavy Metals Found in Plum Organics Baby Food

Minami Tamaki Investigating Toxic Heavy Metals Found in Plum Organics Baby Food

Minami Tamaki LLP is investigating Emeryville, California-based Plum Organics after a congressional subcommittee report released on February 4, 2021, found dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals, including inorganic arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury, in baby food products from Plum Organics and other companies.

The products identified in the report include rice puffs, purees, snack bars, and other foods for babies and toddlers. The Plum Organics products named in the report include Mighty Morning Bars and Little Teethers. Minami Tamaki is also investigating claims that the Bay Area-based company’s other products, including its Super Puffs, pouches, Mighty 4 Blends, Mighty Snack Bars and Teensy Snacks, also contain dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals.

Numerous studies have found that toxic heavy metals endanger neurological development and long-term brain function.  Babies and young children are at the greatest risk of harm from toxic heavy metal exposure.  The report stated that exposure to heavy metals can lead to brain damage in babies and young children, which can result in reduced intelligence or disruption in behavior.  The report went on to note that the Food and Drug Administration has declared that inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury can “lead to illness, impairment, and in high doses, death.”

The report revealed high levels of toxic heavy metals in baby food sold by other companies, such as Gerber, Hain Celestial, Beech-Nut, and Nurture. While these companies complied with the congressional request for information regarding their products, other companies (including Plum Organics) refused to cooperate with the subcommittee’s request. 

If you have purchased Plum Organics products and wish to receive more information about our investigation, you may contact Minami Tamaki Consumer and Employee Rights Group (CERG) members Sean Tamura-Sato, Lisa Mak, and Claire Choo online or call us at 415-788-9000.

*The contents of this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or medical advice.  Information in this article may not constitute the most complete or up-to-date legal or other information.  Readers should contact a licensed California attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. Use of this website does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Minami Tamaki LLP.

New COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave Law

New COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave Law

On March 19, 2021, a new COVID-19 paid sick leave law was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, which allows California employees to receive up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave, in addition to regular paid sick leave, if they need to take time off for:

  • Self-isolation or self-quarantine;
  • Dealing with COVID-19 symptoms;
  • Appointments for a COVID-19 vaccine;
  • Dealing with side effects, if any, of the COVID-19 vaccines;
  • Caring for family in self-isolation or self-quarantine; and
  • Care for a child whose place of care or school is not available due to COVID-19.

The new law—Senate Bill (SB) 95—is only applicable to those workers who work for businesses that employ 26 or more people and certain public entities. It does not cover rideshare drivers.

Under the new law, a full-time employee (or an employee who has worked on average 40 or more hours per week in the two weeks before leave is taken) is entitled to 80 hours of COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave. Part-time employees with a normal weekly schedule is entitled to the total number of hours the employee is normally scheduled to work for the employer over two weeks. Part-time employees with variable hours are entitled to 14 times the average number of hours worked day for the last six months before taking leave. The employer cannot require a covered employee to use any other paid or unpaid leave, paid time off, or vacation time before, or in lieu of, the COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave.

In 2020, the federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“Families First Act”) which provided leave protections and wage replacement benefits for workers during COVID-19.  Around the same time, California also enacted a COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave which allowed employees of companies with 500 or more employees to take approximately two weeks of paid sick leave due to COVID-19. Those supplemental paid leave programs ended on December 31, 2020, which left some employees with only three days of paid sick leave and eight weeks of paid family leave per year. 

This new COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave law covers that gap, as it is retroactive to January 1, 2021. So, if any employee has taken any unpaid leave for any of the qualifying reasons, that employee is entitled to reimbursement.  The employee should make an oral or written request to the employer and the employer must issue the reimbursement payment on or before the payday for the next pay period. The new supplemental paid sick leave law will expire on September 30, 2021.

Other Questions?

If you have questions regarding legal issues arising from the ongoing pandemic, you may contact the Minami Tamaki Coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force online or call us at 415-788-9000.

*The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.  Employers and employees should contact a licensed California attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information.  Use of this website does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Minami Tamaki LLP.  Any links contained in this article are only for the convenience of the reader, and do not constitute recommendations or endorsements of the contents of the third-party sites.

Minami Tamaki Investigating Seresto Flea and Tick Collars Linked to Death and Illness of Pets

Minami Tamaki Investigating Seresto Flea and Tick Collars Linked to Death and Illness of Pets

Minami Tamaki is investigating reports of numerous injuries and pet fatalities linked to the Seresto flea and tick collar.  According to United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) documents, Seresto collars have allegedly been linked to approximately 1,700 pet fatalities, 75,000 pet injury reports, and 1,000 reports of injuries to people.

The Seresto collar, developed by Bayer and now sold by Elanco, is a top-selling pet item used as a flea and tick repellant and for dogs and cats.  The collar works by releasing small amounts of pesticide onto the animal.  Bayers says that the pesticide is strong enough to kill fleas, tickets, and other pests, but that it is safe for dogs and cats. 

Consumers allege that the reports of death and injury linked to Serresto collars are disproportionately high when compared to similar products on the market.  Individuals have reported injuries to their pets ranging from rashes to neurological damage to, in extreme cases, death.  Consumers also report that humans can also suffer harm from close contact with pets wearing Seresto collars.  These injuries and side effects to humans include seizures, nasal and throat irritation, heart arrhythmia, and fatigue.  

EPA documents obtained through public record requests allegedly show that it has been aware of the dangers of Seresto collars, but that it has failed to take action to protect the public.

If you have purchased a Seresto flea and tick collar and would like more information on this investigation, you may contact Minami Tamaki Consumer and Employee Rights Group (CERG) members Sean Tamura-Sato, Lisa Mak, and Claire Choo online or call us at 415-788-9000.

*The contents of this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or medical advice.  Information in this article may not constitute the most complete or up-to-date legal or other information.  Readers should contact a licensed California attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. Use of this website does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Minami Tamaki LLP.

Minami Tamaki Investigating Accellion Data Breach

Minami Tamaki Investigating Accellion Data Breach

Minami Tamaki LLP is investigating reports of a data breach tied to Accellion, Inc. (“Accellion”), a Palo Alto, California-based file transfer and service company.  

Accellion’s flagship product, File Transfer Appliance (“FTA”), is a platform used for “secure” third-party transfers of computer files.  In January 2021, Accellion reported that unauthorized third parties had infiltrated the FTA platform used by numerous companies and organizations.  Accellion described FTA as “a 20-year-old product nearing end-of-life.” 

Supermarket chain Kroger announced on February 19, 2021, that an unauthorized person gained access to Kroger files by exploiting a vulnerability in Accellion’s file transfer service.  Accellion confirmed unauthorized access to the data and personal information of Kroger Health and Kroger Money Services customers.  Kroger announced that it has discontinued the use of Accellion’s services, reported the incident to federal law enforcement, and initiated its own forensic investigation to review the potential scope and impact of the incident.    

Washington State officials have announced that the data of more than one million residents was exposed through the Accellion data breach within the Office of the Washington State Auditor.  Washington State residents have alleged that the data breach revealed their personal information, including their name, social security number and/or driver’s license or state identification number, bank account number and bank routing number, and place of employment. 

Accellion previously announced a security breach at the University of Colorado.  The exposed data may include the personally identifiable information of students, prospective students, and employees.  Health and clinical data and research data may also have been exposed through the data breach.

Other entities reportedly impacted by the Accellion data breach include the law firm Jones Day, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Accellion contends that it was the target of a sophisticated cyberattack.  However, critics allege that it failed to properly secure its platform and continued to market and sell the FTA product knowing it was outdated and vulnerable. 

Companies and organizations who have suffered these data breaches are in the process of notifying affected individuals.  If you were impacted by an Accellion data breach and wish to discuss this matter, you may contact Minami Tamaki Consumer and Employee Rights Group attorneys Sean Tamura-Sato, Lisa Mak, and Claire Choo at (415) 788-9000 or through our online form.  We look forward to the opportunity to speak with you.

Guidance for Employers on COVID-19 Vaccinations

Guidance for Employers on COVID-19 Vaccinations

Widespread COVID-19 vaccination is considered essential for many employers to safely bring employees back to physical worksites.  This has raised questions about whether employers can require employees to get vaccinated as a condition of returning to the workplace.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently issued guidance on vaccination-related issues in the workplace.  Key guidance from the EEOC includes:

  • Employers can implement policies generally requiring that employees obtain COVID-10 vaccinations, but employers also must consider accommodations for employees who cannot be vaccinated due to disabilities or sincerely-held religious beliefs.
  • If the vaccination requirement screens out or tends to screen out an individual with a disability, the employer must show that an unvaccinated employee would pose a “direct threat” to the health or safety of other individuals.  A “direct threat” is defined as a “significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.”  Employers must conduct an individualized assessment in determining whether a direct threat exists.  This assessment considers:  1) the duration of the risk; 2) the nature and severity of the potential harm; 3) the likelihood that the potential harm will occur; and 4) the imminence of the potential harm. 
  • If the employer determines that the individual who cannot be vaccinated due to disability poses a direct threat at the worksite, the employer must determine whether it can provide a reasonable accommodation that would eliminate or reduce the risk so that the employee does not pose a direct threat in the workplace.  The employer must provide a reasonable accommodation if one exists, unless doing so would cause an “undue hardship” (i.e. impose significant expense or difficulty). 
  • Also, if an employer is on notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents the employee from receiving the vaccination, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation for the religious belief, practice, or observance (unless it would pose an “undue hardship”).
  • If there is no way to provide a reasonable accommodation that would eliminate the direct threat, the employer can exclude the employee from the worksite.  However, this does not necessarily mean that the employer may terminate the employee.  Employers should explore other accommodations such as work-from-home arrangements or paid/unpaid leave for employees who must be excluded from the workplace.  The employer must determine if any other rights or requirements apply under federal, state, or local law. 
  • Employers may request proof of vaccination from employees.  However, employers should exercise caution in asking follow-up questions regarding the reason an employee has not been vaccinated.  This is because doing so could elicit information about a disability, and such inquiries are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act’s job-related and business necessity requirement. 

Employers are advised to follow the EEOC’s guidance on vaccinations in the workplace in order to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination laws regarding disabilities and religion.  For more information on COVID-19 safety requirements for California businesses, you may contact Minami Tamaki Coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force members Sean Tamura-Sato, Lisa Mak, or Claire Choo online or call us at 415-788-9000.

*The contents of this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or medical advice.  Information in this article may not constitute the most complete or up-to-date legal or other information.  Readers should contact a licensed California attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. Use of this website does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Minami Tamaki LLP.

Minami Tamaki Investigating Sportmix Pet Food Linked to Death and Illness of Dogs Across the U.S.

Minami Tamaki Investigating Sportmix Pet Food Linked to Death and Illness of Dogs Across the U.S.

Minami Tamaki is investigating Midwestern Pet Foods, Inc. after numerous reports that dogs have become ill or died from eating the company’s Sportmix brand pet foods. The Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has reported that at least 70 dogs have died after consuming Sportmix products.

The FDA has issued alerts to pet owners and veterinary professionals that Sportmix products may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are toxins produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus, which can grow on corn and other grains used as ingredients in pet foods. At high levels, aflatoxins can cause illness in animals and lead to their death.

Midwestern Pet Foods announced a recall of certain lots of Sportmix products on December 30, 2020. The company then expanded the recall on January 11, 2021, to include all pet foods containing corn and manufactured in the company’s Oklahoma plant with an expiration date on or before July 9, 2022. Products made in the Oklahoma plant have a date/lot code on the back of the bag that includes an “05.” 

The FDA has advised that pet owners should stop feeding their pets the recalled products and consult their veterinarian, especially if the pets are showing signs of illness. 

For more information on this investigation, you may contact Minami Tamaki Consumer and Employee Rights Group (CERG) members Sean Tamura-Sato, Lisa Mak, and Claire Choo online or call us at 415-788-9000.

*The contents of this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or medical advice.  Information in this article may not constitute the most complete or up-to-date legal or other information.  Readers should contact a licensed California attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. Use of this website does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Minami Tamaki LLP.

Claire Y. Choo New President of San Mateo County Trial Lawyers Association

Claire Y. Choo New President of San Mateo County Trial Lawyers Association

Minami Tamaki LLP Associate Claire Y. Choo on January 1, 2021, began her one-year term as President of the San Mateo County Trial Lawyers Association (“SMCTLA”). Claire is the first attorney from Minami Tamaki LLP to serve as SMCTLA President.

Founded in 1967, SMCTLA is the leading professional organization for plaintiff’s attorneys in San Mateo County. In addition to serving as a network for members, SMCTLA provides professional advancement programs, events fostering relationships with the county’s judiciary and elected officials, and scholarships for students interested in careers in civil law or criminal justice.

As SMCTLA President, Claire sits on the Board of Directors of the Consumer Attorneys of California. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area (“AABA”) and is an active member in several bar associations, including the American Association for Justice.

She continues Minami Tamaki’s tradition of leadership in bar associations. Associate Lisa P. Mak serves as Vice President/President-Elect of AABA. Partner Sean Tamura-Sato also serves on the AABA Board. Senior Counsel Dale Minami is a co-founder of AABA and of the Asian Pacific Bar of California. Partner Suhi Koizumi is a past president of the Korean American Bar Association of Northern California. Partner Minette Kwok served as a Commissioner on the State Bar of California, Board of Legal Specialization Immigration and Nationality Law. Associate Seema Bhatt serves on the board of the South Asian Bar Association of Northern California. Other firm attorneys have served in numerous positions with various bar associations and legal organizations.

As an attorney in Minami Tamaki’s Consumer and Employee Rights Group, Claire represents clients in a wide range of cases, such as insurance bad faith, consumer fraud, catastrophic personal injuries, and aviation-related actions.

She has significant litigation experience in individual, class, and collective actions in state and federal courts across the country. Claire has also served as trial counsel in several cases. In 2016, she was second chair in an action against the State of California which resulted in a $9.5 million total verdict for a family who suffered the wrongful death of a family member.

Claire has been recognized as a Northern California Super Lawyers Rising Star from 2013 to 2019. She was also recognized as one of the Top 100 Trial Lawyers by the National Trial Lawyers in 2019.

New Coronavirus-Related Employment Laws for 2021

New Coronavirus-Related Employment Laws for 2021

As we usher in 2021, here are some new California employment laws that may impact the legal landscape as employers and workers continue facing challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). 

Enhanced Enforcement and Reporting for COVID-19 (AB 685):
The new law, effective January 1, 2021, enhances the ability of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) to enforce COVID-19 safety requirements in the workplace. Within one business day of “potential exposure” based on a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace, an employer must provide written notice of the exposure to all employees, and to employers of subcontracted employees, who were at the workplace within the infectious period. The employer must also provide notice of COVID-19-related benefits and protections, and information about the company’s disinfection and safety plan to respond to the exposure. 

In cases of a COVID-19 “outbreak” (defined as three or more confirmed COVID-19 cases within a two-week period among employees from different households), the employer must also notify local public health agencies within 48 hours of becoming aware of the outbreak.  The employer must continue to give notice to the local health department of any subsequently confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the worksite.  

From January 1, 2021, until January 1, 2023, Cal/OSHA can issue an “Order Prohibiting Use” (OPU) to shut down an entire worksite, or a specific worksite area, that exposes employees to an “imminent hazard” related to COVID-19 infection. The OPU would remove employees from the risk of harm until the employer can effectively address the hazardous situation.

From January 1, 2021, until January 1, 2023, Cal/OSHA can also issue citations to employers for “serious violations” related to COVID-19.  Prior to AB 685, Cal/OSHA would provide employers with at least 15 days of notice (the “1BY” notice) before issuing a citation for serious violations, and give employers time to respond to the notice. However, under the new law, the agency can issue citations for serious violations related to COVID-19 without giving employers the 15-day notice period or the opportunity to address the claims before the citation is issued.

PPE Supply Requirements for Acute Care Hospitals (AB 2537):
Effective January 1, 2021, acute care hospitals are required to give their employees appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) if they provide direct patient care or provide services that directly support patient care.  The hospital must ensure that employees use the PPE supplied to them.  Beginning April 1, 2021, acute care hospitals must maintain a three-month stockpile of new, unexpired, unused PPE as specified in the statute.  Upon request from Cal/OSHA, the hospital must provide an inventory of its PPE stockpile and a copy of its written procedures for periodically determining the quantity and types of PPE used in normal consumption at the hospital.  An acute care hospital that violates the requirement to maintain a three-month PPE supply could face monetary penalties of up to $25,000 per violation.   

Expansion of CFRA Coverage (SB 1383):
The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) provides up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to qualifying employees to care for themselves or certain family members due to a serious health condition. Previously, the CFRA covered employers with 50 or more employees. Effective January 1, 2021, CFRA coverage was expanded to employers with five or more employees. To be eligible for CFRA leave, an employee must have at least 12 months of service with the employer and at least 1,250 hours of service during the previous 12-month period before the start of the leave. The new law also expands the categories of family members for which leave can be taken, and now includes family leave for grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, and adult children.  

For more information on COVID-19 employment issues, you may contact the Minami Tamaki Coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force members Sean Tamura-Sato, Lisa Mak, or Claire Choo online or call us at 415-788-9000.

*The contents of this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  Information in this article may not constitute the most complete or up-to-date legal or other information.  Readers should contact a licensed California attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. Use of this website does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Minami Tamaki LLP.

Lisa Mak to Serve as 2021 Vice President/President-Elect of Asian American Bar Association

Lisa Mak to Serve as 2021 Vice President/President-Elect of Asian American Bar Association

Minami Tamaki LLP Associate Lisa P. Mak was elected Vice President/President-Elect of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area (“AABA”), one of the largest Asian American bar associations in the nation and one of the largest minority bar associations in California. Lisa’s election was recently announced to the AABA membership. She will begin her term as President in 2022.

Lisa will be the first attorney from Minami Tamaki LLP to serve as President of AABA. She served as Treasurer this year after serving as Secretary in 2019.

Lisa continues Minami Tamaki’s tradition of leadership in bar associations. Partner Sean Tamura-Sato and Associate Claire Choo also serve on the AABA Board. Senior Counsel Dale Minami is a co-founder of AABA and of the Asian Pacific Bar of California. Partner Suhi Koizumi is a past president of the Korean American Bar Association of Northern California. Partner Minette Kwok served as a Commissioner on the State Bar of California, Board of Legal Specialization Immigration and Nationality Law. Associate Seema Bhatt serves on the board of the South Asian Bar Association of Northern California. Other firm attorneys have served in numerous positions with various bar associations and legal organizations.

A deep commitment to our communities and diversity issues guides Lisa’s service. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach and for the California Asian Pacific American Bar Association. She is actively involved in the California Employment Lawyers Association (“CELA”) and serves on the Board of CELA’s foundation. Lisa is also a past board member of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Lisa is an Associate in Minami Tamaki’s Consumer and Employee Rights Group. Her practice includes employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, contract claims, and labor code violations. She is experienced in litigation, from pre-litigation negotiations to trials and appeals. She also advises employees on employment contracts and severance agreements. She writes frequently about social justice and workplace equality issues, and her work has been published in Plaintiff Magazine and on the CELA Voice blog.

Lisa has served as trial counsel in multiple trials involving a wide variety of employment disputes in state and federal court. In 2016, she was co-lead counsel on a five-week jury trial which resulted in a $3.5 million total verdict for four female officers at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. The verdict was listed in the LexisNexis “Top 10 Employment Verdicts” for 2016 and was recognized by Leaders in the Law in its “Northern California’s Leading Lawyers” 2017 publication.

She was selected as a Super Lawyers Rising Star from 2015-2020, an honor awarded to no more than 2.5 percent of attorneys in the state. In 2017, Lisa was honored with the Legal Advocate Award from the Center for Workers’ Rights and with a civil rights award from the Equal Justice Society.

Lisa graduated from UC San Diego summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa and received her law degree from UC Hastings College of the Law.

Minami Tamaki LLP Lisa Mak AABA President 2022