Barry Coleman was hired as HR director at Netflix in early 2016. The streaming giant offered Coleman the job after seeing his presentation on doing business in China, in 2015. Shortly after receiving the offer, Coleman learned that his son had been murdered. Distraught over the tragic loss of his son, Coleman suffered from severe depression. But Netflix maintained their offer of a $500,000 annual salary to be the director of employee services.

Coleman alleges that his recruiter, Barbie Graver, former VP of talent at Netflix, said that Netflix would accommodate his situation: “If you work at half your normal speed for the first six months, I’m okay with that.” However, Coleman says that this special treatment was quickly replaced with harassment. He claims to have been ostracized for not working the “Netflix Way,” and for being disengaged. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

Coleman claims that a male superior began making inappropriate advances in April 2016. He initially asked Coleman to join him for a rendezvous with another male business exec. Coleman politely declined the offer, but the invitations didn’t stop. As stated in the complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court: “Being heterosexual, [Coleman] was uncomfortable with [the superior’s] advances and attempted to keep some distance so as not to offend his superior. However, the invitations to go out continued.”

Not “Netflix Enough”

Then came the gossiping. According to Coleman, the superior began talking about him with other employees, saying that Coleman wasn’t “Netflix enough,” and calling him arrogant. When he brought the issue to Graver’s attention, not only did she not initiate an investigation, she claimed to be “cool” with this type of behavior. A MA employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of workplace sexual harassment.

The complaint went on to say that: “During [Coleman’s] employment, Ms. Graver discussed her handling of a prior sexual harassment claim at Netflix. She told [Coleman] that the accused employee had a history of making inappropriate comments and had been warned on numerous occasions. Ms. Graver also told [Coleman] that many Netflix executives would make inappropriate sexual comments and that [she] was ‘cool’ with it, but understood that others may not be. Ms. Graver, in communicating these and other examples of Netflix unwritten policy of tolerating harassment and discrimination, made it clear to [Coleman] that he should not be ‘over-sensitive’ even when he was being harassed by his superior.”

Apparently the situation only continued to get worse until Graver took a new job. According to Coleman, Graver’s replacement did not wish to accommodate his continued psychological needs from the death of his son. As such, his employment was terminated in May 2016. Netflix holds that Coleman’s termination was based on poor performance. The company claims that he was rarely in the office, and that he was often condescending to his subordinates. Continue reading

When admission to a skilled nursing facility is medically necessary, Medicare covers at least a portion of the services, as long as certain requirements are met. For starters, admission to the facility must come on the heels of a covered inpatient hospital stay of at least three days. When a skilled nursing facility bills Medicare for medically unnecessary services, the facility may be guilty of Medicare fraud.

RUG Upcoding

Fraud in skilled nursing facilities most commonly involves something called a Resource Utilization Group (RUG) code. Every patient is assigned a code, which is used to evaluate the patient’s needs. These codes are weighted, and directly impact the per diem paid to the facility by Medicare. When the wrong code is purposely used to obtain higher payment, this is known as RUG upcoding, and it occurs with shocking frequency. Patients are categorized into seven main categories. These are:

  • Behavior problems
  • Clinically complex
  • Extensive services
  • Impaired cognition
  • Reduced physical function
  • Rehabilitation
  • Special care

Each of the above categories is further divided into specific RUG codes. A MA whistleblower attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you have information about RUG upcoding at a skilled nursing facility.

Skilled Care vs. Custodial Care

Care that occurs in a skilled nursing facility “requires the involvement of skilled nursing or rehabilitative staff in order to be given safely and effectively.” Custodial care, on the other hand, is non-medical care, such as assistance with bathing and eating. Skilled care involves physical therapy, intravenous injections, and the like. If the facility bills for skilled care when the patient only needs custodial care, this is Medicare fraud. It can also be fraud if a patient who previously needed skilled care gets better, but the facility continues to provide unnecessary skilled services. If a whistleblower provides information about this type of fraud to the government, the skilled nursing facility may be required to pay back every cent obtained in this manner.

What is a Whistleblower?

A whistleblower is someone who reports illegal or fraudulent activities committed against the U.S. government. To incentivize people to report such activity, whistleblower rewards are often substantial. Take the following scenario, for example. Gretchen works for a skilled nursing facility. She notices that patients are being given RUG codes that are inconsistent with their actual needs. Gretchen reports this activity, and the resulting investigation uncovers millions in Medicare payments received based on fraudulent charges. When those funds are repaid by the facility, Gretchen may receive a reward of up to 25 percent of the total recovered.

The reality is, blowing the whistle can be extremely lucrative. Rewards may be in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. In addition to helping the government agency in question, whistleblowers often protect innocent people. In many cases, fraudulent or illegal activity uses tax payer dollars, and can even harm the safety, health, or well-being of the general public. Whistleblowers are often reticent to report fraud and illegal activity for fear of retaliation. Fortunately, multiple legal protections exist to prevent this type of backlash.

In order to report skilled nursing facility fraud, you must hire an attorney. That attorney will file something known as a False Claims Act qui tam action against the facility. You will then be asked to identify specific examples of Medicare fraud that you witnessed. A Boston whistleblower attorney can help you determine if the information you have warrants a qui tam lawsuit. Continue reading

Film producer Harvey Weinstein was fired from the company he co-founded, the Weinstein Company, following accusations of sexual harassment by at least 30 women. Among them are several well-known actresses including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Rosanna Arquette.

Their stories are all quite similar. Mr. Weinstein met them in his hotel room or a similarly private location to discuss business. In many cases, he was in a bathrobe when they arrived, asking if they wanted a massage, or even to watch him shower. For most of these women, the unwanted advances came early in their acting careers, before they were household names. Harvey Weinstein was a highly-respected film director who used his power to take advantage of women.

But sexual harassment doesn’t just happen in show business. It is an unfortunate reality for millions of women every year. And it’s been a problem since women have entered the work force. In fact, up until more recently, “sexual harassment of women at work” didn’t even have a name; it was just work. Fortunately, that’s all changing. We live in a time when sexual harassment is more than frowned upon, it’s illegal. A MA employment law attorney can help you protect your rights if you are being sexually harassed at work.

Despite the laws protecting women, and men, from sexual harassment in the workplace, it still happens with shocking frequency. Generally speaking, sexual harassment includes unwelcome advances of a sexual nature, requests for sexual favors, and other offensive sexual behaviors or comments. For behavior to be considered harassment, it must create a hostile, intimidating, or offensive work environment, or interfere with the victim’s job. For example, if a male superior threatens to fire a female employee if she doesn’t go on a date with him, this is sexual harassment.

Common Types of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment comes in many forms, from subtle to blatant. Examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Unwanted jokes or innuendoes of a sexual nature
  • Flirting
  • Requests for sexual favors, especially if in connection to employment
  • Unwelcome touching
  • Displaying of pornographic or sexually-suggestive objects or photos
  • Blocking or impeding the victim’s ability to walk away
  • Sexual assault

Keep in mind, however, that sexual attraction and sexual harassment are two entirely different things. Consider Bob. Bob works with Anna; he’s had a crush on her for months. Bob thinks Anna might feel the same way, so he engages in some mild flirting, complimenting her dress one day, and telling her he can’t believe she’s single a few days later. Then he asks her out on a date. Anna declines. Bob’s heart is broken but he understands. Anna, however, is bothered by the request for a date. Bob is definitely not her type. The more she thinks about it, the creepier it seems. Why would Bob ask her out on a date?  Anna starts to feel uncomfortable around Bob at work. After a conversation with her boss about the situation, Anna decides to file a complaint.

In the scenario above, the flirtation may have been unwelcome, but it wasn’t particularly repetitive or severe. Unwelcome flirting or comments can be sexual harassment, but only if they are pervasive or offensive. If, for example, Bob had continued to flirt with Anna and ask her out on dates after she told him to leave her alone, a sexual harassment complaint may have been warranted. In any case, a Boston employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been a victim of workplace sexual harassment. Continue reading

Despite the significant advancements and legal protections of recent years, gender discrimination is still a major problem in the workplace. Laws such as Title VII and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 were enacted to prevent gender bias, but issues including unequal pay and sexual harassment continue to harm women in industries across the country.

The issue is especially prevalent, and easy to overlook, in male-dominated industries, such as IT. Gender bias is a form of discrimination, and is therefore a prohibited practice in the workplace. Some forms of bias are obvious, while others may be harder to recognize. So how do you determine whether you’ve been a victim of gender bias in the workplace? In addition to protecting yourself from further discrimination, calling attention to gender bias helps other employees who may also be suffering.

Common Types of Gender Bias

If you hate your job and decide to stop showing up for work, chances are you’ll get fired. And you aren’t likely to be surprised by that termination. But what if your termination is unjust? Sometimes a worker is terminated for the wrong reasons, and sometimes these reasons are illegal. If you think you’ve been wrongfully terminated from a job, what do you do?

An at-will employee is a worker who can be fired at any time for any reason, with few exceptions. Although most employment is at will, you may have an employment contract that states otherwise. If you have a written contract or statement promising you a certain level of job security, these promises may be legally enforceable.

Implied Promise

Sometimes these promises are made in writing, and sometimes they are verbal. A written promise is significantly easier to prove, but an experienced MA employment law attorney may be able to help you prove that an implied promise existed. In making this determination, courts will look at the following factors:

  • How long were you employed?
  • Did you receive positive reviews and job promotions, and how often?
  • Did your employer violate its usual employment practices in your termination?
  • Were you promised long-term employment when hired?

Your claim of an implied promise may be supported, for example, if you have been employed at company A for years, have received frequent promotions, and company A failed to provide its standard written warning prior to your termination.

Why Would an Employer Wrongfully Terminate Someone?

Wrongful terminations can occur for many reasons. Some of the most common reasons include

  • preventing an employee from collecting sales commissions.
  • replacing a long-term employee with an entry-level employee willing to work for less pay.
  • discrimination, such as when an employee refuses a supervisor’s sexual advances, or when a supervisor discovers that an employee is gay.

In some cases, an employer will try to avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit by getting the employee to quit on his or her own. To do so, the employer might subject the employee to unpleasant or difficult tasks, such as multiple transfers, dangerous assignments, and unpopular shifts. This is also illegal.

Illegitimate Grounds for Termination

Even at-will employees are protected from termination in certain situations. The following reasons are recognized as illegal grounds for termination:

  • Missing work for jury duty
  • Missing work to vote
  • Missing work to serve in the National Guard or military
  • Whistleblowing (providing information about harmful or illegal activity)

Continue reading

Do you dread going to work in the morning? Are you constantly afraid of being yelled at or otherwise victimized by a superior or a coworker? Are you being singled out due to things you cannot change, such as your race, ethnicity, gender or age? Have you been targeted because of your religion, or a disability? Any one of these situations can amount to a hostile work environment, which is unacceptable in the modern workplace.

If you have documented proof of a hostile work environment that is causing you undue stress, pain or suffering, and attempts to resolve the issue through human resources or other means has made no difference, you may wish to consult with an experienced attorney from Altman & Altman LLP. We are well versed in cases involving hostile work conditions in and around the Greater Boston Area.

What makes a hostile work condition?

Work can be downright unpleasant for many different reasons. However not all of these reasons constitute a hostile work environment. The difference between an unpleasant workplace and a hostile workplace is whether or not you (or even somebody else) is being personally harassed, and whether or not this activity affects your ability to perform your work duties.

Harassment includes a long list of discriminatory behavior. Harassment can be physical – in the form of sexual harassment involving touching, cornering or assaulting – it can be verbal in the form of unrelenting, personal insults and it can even be psychological, such as a superior threatening to fire you if you don’t perform tasks not outlined in your job description or expected of other employees.

Any time harassment targets certain aspects of your person – such as anything to do with your race, age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability – this is a federal crime and, if it significantly impacts your ability to perform your work duties, is a textbook example of hostile work conditions.

The harassment may not even necessarily have to happen to you in order for a workplace to become hostile. Hostile practices can make the workplace uncomfortable to work in and make any employee feel unsafe or dreadful of showing up to work – even if the hostile actions are occurring to somebody else.

Harassment can be overt and it can be subtle. Regardless of the type of behavior that is causing you undue stress, our lawyers are well-versed in hostile work environment statutes and have advocated on behalf of our clients for over 40 years. Continue reading

When your boss is a jerk, your job might be extremely unpleasant. But if your boss is a jerk to everyone, her behavior isn’t likely to create a hostile work environment, at least not in legal terms. A hostile work environment involves harassment, and harassment is defined by the EEOC as:

Unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

When harassment becomes a condition of employment, and it’s severe enough that a reasonable person would find the environment abusive, intimidating, or hostile, you may be working in a hostile work environment. A Boston employment law attorney can help you determine if the bad behavior of a supervisor or co-worker constitutes unlawful harassment.

For workplace harassment to be unlawful, the following elements must be present:

  • The victim belongs to a protected class.
  • The victim was subjected to unwanted verbal or physical conduct.
  • The harassment was based on the victim’s protected class.
  • The harassment was a condition of continued employment, or the harassment created an offensive, intimidating, or hostile work environment.

If all of the above elements are present, you probably have a harassment case on your hands. If your employer knew about the harassment, but did nothing to stop it, the employer may also be liable.

Consider the following two scenarios:

Scenario A: Tyler just moved to Boston from Alabama. His new co-workers find his southern accent amusing. They give Tyler the nickname Billy Bob and constantly mock his accent. Tyler complains to his supervisor. She laughs and says that everyone loves his accent…that’s why they imitate him. After a few more weeks of the unwelcome jokes and name calling, Tyler gets really angry. He storms into his supervisor’s office and demands that everyone stop calling him Billy Bob and mocking his accent. Tyler’s supervisor asks Tyler to calm down and says that his “aggressive tone” may be cause for termination.

Scenario B: Brenda is gay. When she arrives to work each morning, an anonymous co-worker has put a magazine cutout of a scantily-clad woman on Brenda’s desk. After several days, Brenda reports the incidents to her supervisor. The supervisor laughs it off and tells Brenda that her co-workers are just having fun. After enduring another week of the unwelcome attention, Brenda is beyond angry. She storms into her supervisor’s office and demands that the supervisor do something. This time the supervisor gets angry and tells Brenda that if she can’t handle a little joke, maybe she should find another place to work.

Unlawful or Just Unkind?

In the above scenarios, both Tyler and Brenda are victims of unwelcome behavior. However, Tyler’s “harassment” is based on his southern roots. Unfortunately, being from the south is not a protected class. Therefore, Tyler’s harassment, however frustrating and cruel, is not unlawful. Brenda, on the other hand, is being targeted for her sexual orientation, which is a protected class. If Brenda files a harassment claim against her employer, she will likely win.

In addition to being based on a protected class, harassment must also be consistent and pervasive. What does that mean? Basically, in order for a work environment to be considered hostile, the alleged harassment cannot be based on a single incident. For example, if a co-worker utters a racial or ethnic epithet on one occasion, the incident is unlikely to create a hostile work environment. While one or more employees may be offended by the racial slur, if it’s an isolated remark made by one employee, it isn’t likely to seriously affect the conditions of employment. But it really all depends on the unique circumstances of the case. If, for example, an employee utters something particularly egregious, and the employer refuses to reprimand him, it may be enough to justify a claim of harassment.

Preventing a Hostile Work Environment

Employers must take necessary steps to prevent unlawful harassment in the workplace. A complaint and grievance process should be in place so that employees know how to report unwanted behaviors, and every employee should receive anti-harassment training. Employers should take immediate action when an employee complains of harassment, and should create an environment in which employees feel comfortable about addressing their concerns.

If you are being harassed at work, inform the harasser that you want the conduct to stop immediately. Also report the harassment to management as soon as possible to prevent the problem from escalating. If your efforts to stop the harassment are unsuccessful, contact a MA employment law attorney today. Continue reading

Innovative, highly-lucrative and controversy-riddled ride sharing tech company, Uber, has appeared in headlines this year for their predatory and misogynistic business practices that led one female engineer to author a comprehensive blog post about her experience, which ultimately led to the resigning of Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick in June of 2017.

“When I joined Uber, the organization I was part of was over 25% women. By the time I was trying to transfer to another [engineering] organization, this number had dropped down to less than 6%,” wrote Susan J. Fowler in February of 2017, following her departure from Uber. “There were two major reasons for this: there was the organizational chaos, and there was also the sexism within the organization.”

Among Fowler’s jaw-dropping account of Uber’s organizational sexism, which is well worth a read, was multiple instances of sexual harassment faced by herself and her female coworkers, which were followed up by ineffective human resources meetings where it was clear that cutting down on sexual harassment was not the goal of the company, but rather performance and appearance were much more important.

Larger implications of this situation

At one point in her ordeal, Fowler was told by a manager that she was on thin ice (meaning she was close to being fired), because she had reported a higher-up to HR. Since California is an at-will employment state, he threatened that she could be fired if she ever did such a thing again.

Fowler had already been previously told by an HR rep that, were she punished for such actions, “it wouldn’t be retaliation if I received a negative review later because I had been ‘given an option’” to leave her group, or Uber entirely.

Even throughout all this, and the investigation launched with the help of then-Attorney General Eric Holder which led to the eventual resigning of Kalanick, Fowler never joined with her fellow female employees to file a class action suit against the company.

Why was this? Simply, because joining Uber as an employee included agreeing to a contractual clause that they would not be allowed to organize for such an action.

The legality of such a clause is now the subject matter of three cases scheduled to appear and present arguments before the United States Supreme Court this October. The potential weight of those rulings could have major consequences for companies that utilize similar contract language to Uber, which attempt to prevent employees from organizing class action suits after being wronged and, instead, insist that the employees hash out agreements to mitigate their concerns in closed-door, one-on-one meetings. Continue reading

When all the money and legitimate influence in the world can’t get what you want, some of the world’s less scrupulous – and wealthier – individuals will resort to one tried and true, illegal method that has been ongoing as long as humans have had money: bribery.

Foreign bribery schemes can involve any different type of organization – from construction firms bribing real estate companies to earn building rights to a new development, to medical device companies bribing pharmaceutical companies to sell their products and not their competitors. When these illicit money exchanges change hands across international borders, it becomes a much more serious matter.

These bribery schemes can become massive, such as a global construction bribery network that involved shuffling around $788 million in illegal bribes to executives and foreign diplomats around the world in order to illegally gain an advantage and win business deals. The companies involved are on the hook for about $3.5 billion in penalties.

All acts of foreign bribery are illegal under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), enforced by the United States Department of Justice.

“Specifically, the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA prohibit the willful use of the mails or any means of instrumentality of interstate commerce corruptly in furtherance of any offer, payment, promise to pay, or authorization of the payment of money or anything of value to any person, while knowing that all or a portion of such money or thing of value will be offered, given or promised, directly or indirectly, to a foreign official to influence the foreign official in his or her official capacity, induce the foreign official to do or omit to do an act in violation of his or her lawful duty, or to secure any improper advantage in order to assist in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person.”

The Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) may also become involved when any United States business or individual engages in an illegal payment to a foreign official, foreign political party or candidate for political office for the purpose of gaining influence or securing some type of advantage they wouldn’t have without the bribe.

As with other acts of illegal misconduct, foreign bribery whistleblowing programs exist to facilitate the identification and prosecution of criminals who attempt to utilize bribery, and reward the individuals who take the risk to shine a spotlight on their illegal activity.

The SEC may offer as much as a 30 percent award to a whistleblower, through its Whistleblower Act, for actions that lead to the unveiling of a foreign bribery scheme. In the case of a large bribery scandal, like the one mentioned above, this reward could be astronomical for a whistleblower or team of whistleblowers. Continue reading

The workplace is where Americans spend close to 10,000 hours of their lives, on average. Needless to say, if your place of employment makes you unhappy, you won’t exactly be able to simply endure the negative way it makes you feel, day in and day out.

But how can you be sure if your Massachusetts workplace is simply an unpleasant place to be, or if it has turned into something that is simply not acceptable anymore? How can you tell if work conditions have gone from slightly unbearable, to downright hostile? Use the following information to ascertain whether or not you work in a hostile work environment, and whether or not you have legal recourse to remedy this.

Are you being harassed?

Harassment is a large umbrella that encompasses a wide range of discriminatory behavior. It boils down to this: if you are being singled out or otherwise targeted due to something completely unrelated to your work performance – such as your race, gender, age, sexual orientation or a disability – then you are being unlawfully harassed.

If you are subjected to conditions, work expectations or other behaviors that are not endured by other employees, then you are most likely the victim of harassment. It is not acceptable for a supervisor to force one employee to clean their office, or get them lunch every day, if this is not a task laid out clearly in a job description.

Harassment can take many forms, from threats of firing for not performing tasks unrelated to your job to being mocked openly in front of your coworkers by a supervisor. If the conduct of a coworker, supervisor or anybody else in the workplace makes you uncomfortable, scared or emotionally affected in a way that it negatively impacts your ability to perform your job, then that is textbook harassment, which is illegal.

Is someone else being harassed?

You can righteously make the claim that you are working in a hostile work environment even if you aren’t the subject of any harassment.

The workplace needs to be a safe, accepting space for all of its workers. If there is somebody else who is consistently victimized, in plain view of other employees, then this can create a hostile work environment for others even if they aren’t directly being harassed. Seeing somebody else be harassed can be equally alarming and traumatizing for the person who is actively being treated poorly.

Sexual harassment

Perhaps the most egregious condition that causes a hostile work environment is sexual harassment. If you are ever subjected to uncomfortable, unwanted sexual advances by an employee, supervisor or other person in the workplace, this is unacceptable and highly illegal. Sexual harassment can be physical or verbal in nature, and can also take the form of various threats, which may be carried out if sexual favors are not performed.

What can be done?

Instances of harassment, when possible, should first be discussed with the offending person. Calmly tell them that their behavior is causing you undue harm and stress, and ask them to stop the behavior immediately. Keep a written, dated record of any instances of harassment that occur.

If you are too scared or uncomfortable to bring up your concerns to the offender personally, or if you have told them to stop and the behavior has not stopped, bring the issue forward to your human resources representative. From there, any number of actions may be taken. Likely, a workplace investigation will take place, ideally from an independent, outside investigator with no stake in the company.

If this course of action doesn’t cause the behavior to stop, then you may wish to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws in the workplace. The EEOC can investigate complaints regarding harassment, as well as instances where an employee was unlawfully retaliated against for formally filing a complaint to stop harassing behavior. Continue reading

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