PG&E Hit With New Allegations of Worker Misclassification

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By Jacklyn Wille

Nov. 2 — Three more Pacific Gas & Electric Co. workers have accused the company of shorting their pension benefits by misclassifying them as independent contractors ( Cooper v. Pac. Gas & Elec. Retirement Plan , N.D. Cal., No. 3:16-cv-06355, complaint filed 11/1/16 ).

The new lawsuit, filed Nov. 1 in a federal court in California, claims that PG&E has kept up its practice of denying pension benefits to workers it wrongly classifies as independent contractors, despite contrary advice from its attorneys at Seyfarth Shaw LLP. The lawsuit is premised partly on internal PG&E communications and legal advice from Seyfarth that came to light during another lawsuit by a PG&E worker that the company settled in 2013 after losing a motion to dismiss and being ordered to turn over documents.

According to the new lawsuit, PG&E adopted a variety of different and conflicting interpretations of its pension plan and ceased asking outside counsel for advice “when it did not like the results” of such queries. PG&E’s “true intention” in handling these pension requests, the lawsuit alleges, was to “come up with any justification possible to deny the claims, regardless of their merits.”

The new lawsuit attaches several e-mails and memoranda as exhibits that allegedly show PG&E’s desire to avoid approving several workers’ pension claims, despite an analysis from Seyfarth that the firm said “weighs toward” awarding benefits in one worker’s case.

The lawsuit also quotes from internal PG&E e-mails voicing concerns that if the company lost the 2013 lawsuit, it would be targeted by future lawsuits by similarly situated workers.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by Daniel Feinberg of Feinberg Jackson Worthman & Wasow LLP in Oakland, Calif. Daniel Feinberg also represented the worker who brought the 2013 lawsuit against PG&E.

PG&E is based in San Francisco and employs about 23,000 workers, most of whom are union-represented.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacklyn Wille in Washington at jwille@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

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