Just Sue It: Nike Worker Safety, Wage Case Moves to State Court

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By Fatima Hussein

A proposed class action alleging wage and worker safety violations against Nike is being transferred to California state court—at the plaintiff’s request.

Omran Hamid, a former employee at Nike’s retail store in San Clemente, alleged in a February 2017 class action against Oregon-based Nike Retail Services that the company fails “to furnish safe and healthful employment and place of employment” under California state law.

Hamid worked as a sales associate who alleges that workers were not provided seating on the job and were forced to share headsets, which he called an “unhealthful and unsanitary practice.”

The practice “exposes plaintiffs to the risk of various infections, illnesses, and diseases which are transmitted based on close contact with the skin, ear wax, and body fluids (sweat), causing bacteria, and virus to easily spread among the employees,” the original complaint states.

A federal judge in California remanded the lawsuit to California Superior Court in Orange County after an attempt to do so last year was denied. Judge David O. Carter of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted the motion, April 6.

Other defendants include Nike’s district directors R.J. Hill, and Rianna Marie Lopez, in their individual capacity.

Unsafe Employment Allegations

The lawsuit also claims Nike engages in wage theft and fails to reimburse workers for required uniforms.

At issue in the latest filing was whether the lawsuit qualified to be in state court. The plaintiffs proved that 20.62 percent of the prospective class of 10,031 workers were actually employed in the company’s district overseen by Lopez.

After Hamid identified 2,068 potential class members, Carter, the federal judge, wrote that his finding “falls well within the 15-20% of total claims which the Ninth Circuit held in Benko to form a ‘significant basis’ for purposes of the local controversy exception.”

Benko v. Quality Loan Serv. Corp. refers to a 2015 opinion where U.S. District Judge Miranda Du ruled that a foreclosure company was a significant enough defendant for the purposes of the state’s local controversy exception.

Matt Staub, of Pasha Law PC in San Diego, said plaintiffs could have many reasons for preferring to have their case in state court—the judges, the potential jury pool, and differences in laws and procedure.

“What it likely boils down to is that plaintiff’s attorneys think their case has a better chance of success being heard in state court,” Staub told Bloomberg Environment.

Another Case Could Expand Liability

Another case, now in federal court, could affect Hamid’s lawsuit, Staub said. Bowman v. Burnt Ends, LLC recently opened the door to expanding upon when individual defendants could be considered “employers” and thus subject to some of the claims under the California Labor Code.

Staub said it “could subject defendant Rianna Lopez to liability for certain Labor Code claims, even though she otherwise wouldn’t be considered to be acting on behalf of her employer.”

Lopez’s attorneys at Seyfarth Shaw LLP in Los Angeles did not return Bloomberg Environment’s calls and emails.

Nike Retail Services has faced 11 personal injury cases from 2015 to 2018, according to Bloomberg data, and as of 2014, the company had 1,140 employees.

Representing Hamid is Natalie Mirzayan, of Law Offices of Natalie Mirzayan, Foothill Ranch, Calif.

Representing Nike Retail Services Inc., R.J. Hill, and Rianna Marie Lopez are Michael Afar, Jonathan D. Meer, Sheryl L. Skibbe, Seyfarth Shaw LLP, Los Angeles.

This case is Hamid v. Nike Retail Servs., Inc., C.D. Cal., SA CV 17-0600-DOC 8:17-CV-00600, 4/6/18.

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