[COLUMN] $3 million jury award for caregiver misclassified as independent contractor  

Camile Almada worked as a caregiver for elderly clients assigned to her by her  employer, Heaven Heights. However, Ms. Almada was treated and paid as an  independent contractor, which meant that she was not paid overtime or given the other  benefits and protections guaranteed to employees under California law. When she  complained to Heaven Heights, she was berated and fired. Recently, a Riverside County  jury awarded Ms. Almada $3 million in damages for the retaliatory firing.

After 2 years of working as a caregiver for Heaven Heights, Ms. Almada began to  suspect that she was misclassified as an independent contractor. When she complained to  Heaven Heights’ owner, Ms. Almada was told that she could not return to work for her  elderly client. In a series of very aggressive text messages, Heaven Heights then  terminated Ms. Almada’s employment.

The circumstances of her firing strongly suggested that the decision to terminate  was made in direct retaliation for her complaining about being misclassified as an  independent contractor. She filed a lawsuit alleging unlawful retaliation, wrongful  termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Employment laws applicable in California make it illegal for employers to retaliate  against employees who complain of violations of the wage-and-hour laws. For example,  under California Labor Code Section 1102.5(b), it is unlawful for “an employer, or any  person acting on behalf of the employer,” to “retaliate against an employee” for  complaining to a person with authority over the employee about “violation[s] of [a] state  or federal statute,” including wage-and-hour statutes defining who may or may not be  properly classified as an independent contractor. Under Section 15(a)(3) of the Fair Labor  Standards Act, employers are expressly prohibited from retaliating against employees for  filing any complaint, or instituting or causing to be instituted any proceeding under or  related to wage-and-hour rights.

If an employee prevails on a claim for unlawful retaliation, he or she may be  awarded monetary compensation for lost wages and benefits, as well as for any emotional  distress you suffered as a result of the unlawful retaliation. In addition, the court is  authorized to award attorneys’ fees and litigation costs the employee may have incurred in  successfully bringing the claim, so that the employer is ordered to pay those fees.

In the case of caregiver Camile Almada, a Riverside County jury awarded $3  million in damages for the unlawful retaliation she suffered, including $2 million for her  emotional distress damages alone. The award provides a stark warning to employers who  unlawfully retaliate against employees who are simply seeking a fair enforcement of the  rights guaranteed to them, and all employees, by California law.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential  and at no cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [For more than  25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and  consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal,  consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is a past Presidential Awardee for  Outstanding Filipino Overseas.] 

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