This blog is not intended to provide legal advice, legal services or legal anything else. Don't sue me. All I have is debt anyway.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Licensing and practice

I'm partially licensed this semester to (mal?)practice under the supervision of the prosecutor's office. It's fun times. I've got my first suppression hearing tomorrow. I'm laying some totality-of-the-circumstances smack down. I'm so excited, I'm such a nerd.

However, I really wish I were completely licensed, because I'm having to impose on a friend to do some legal work for my mom. Her shitty employer (a discount retail store that makes Wal-Mart seem like a fabulous place to work) is trying to screw her over. Our crappy state isn't exactly pro-worker when it comes to employment law, but she's still got a cause of action for wrongful termination. Essentially, they fired her because she filed for partial unemployment benefits when they cut her hours from 40 to 25. Of course, that's not what they've said. They're saying they're firing her because she made a copy of her own personnel file so she could verify that her benefits would stay intact with the reduction from full time to part time hours (the store manager said they would, but we all know you can't take their word for it), and that getting the file was not only against store policy, but it was theft and they could press criminal charges. (Uh, yeah, go ahead and try that one, Douchebag Retail Manager.)

The catch? First, there is no written policy accessible to the employees. Employees were never given a copy of the policy, even when they've asked for one, it wasn't provided. There apparently used to be one in their break room, but a large section of the pages were missing. The policy isn't even there anymore. Second... and this one's real good... they can't argue she violated store policy, because management had not only given her permission to be in her personnel file, but actually instructed her to do so. Why? Because they were making her go into the file and change her timecards to reflect fewer hours than she actually worked so they wouldn't have to pay her overtime.

That's right. These douchebags were forcing her to work hours for which she wasn't compensated. Since that shitty store opened, she has almost always worked seven days a week in their cash office. Up until the past year, there were months where she had not had a single day off of work. Also, she lives about 20 miles away from Shitty Retail Store, and gas was $4/gallon here for quite awhile and she was only making $11/hr. Whenever they'd finally hire a part time person to give her days off, they would still call her on her days off and either make her walk the person through the problem or actually come in when that person called in sick. There was one day here recently when we all got daycare funk, that my mom was really sick. It was actually her day off which she usually spends watching Cora, but she was too sick to watch her that day. Well, the part time person had called in and so they called her on her day off and made her come in.

Why did she put up with this? Well, they'd threaten her job, say she had to do it or else they'd fire her. She isn't qualified for much else. She's worked in the cash office at a few retail stores now, but that's about it. She was a stay-at-home mom until I was 18 and my parents divorced. She has no education and no real job skills, and honestly, she isn't going to be able to get either one. (She has undiagnosed learning disabilities, among a myriad of other issues. She is good with numbers though, so the cash office stuff was good for her.) So she was afraid to stand up to them, afraid to report them to the labor board. Then the newest batch of douchebag managers apparently decided they wanted her gone (if you've ever worked in retail, retail managers are passed around from company to company like bad relations... they work for a company, make the employees miserable, screw up a bunch, then end up fired and hired at some other company soon thereafter. It's the Revolving Door of Stupid.). Either because they didn't like her personally, or because she was making too much money for her position (which she is, by about $3/hr), or because they have a problem with her religion which one of the douchebag managers made disparaging comments about (hell, I have a problem with her religion, but that's another issue entirely). Or because she filed for unemployment benefits, because they were super pissed she did that, and there are a few other employees in the store whose hours have been cut and they're afraid to file now for fear of retaliation.

Anyway, she had to refile for unemployment benefits today since apparently they fired her and didn't tell her (they were supposedly "investigating" the "incident" and suspended her until they made a decision... they decided to notify unemployment of that decision and not her). Their argument is going to be that they fired her with cause, so she should be denied benefits. We'll win on appeal, they don't have cause, but what a royal pain in the ass. She'll go almost two months without money, we're scrambling to figure out how we're going to pay her bills and ours especially when I'm already running on a deficit, and now she also doesn't have health insurance.

I've told her for years they'd eventually screw her over. Shitty retail stores show no loyalty to their employees, in fact, often times they actively try to screw them over. They don't care that she's worked herself to death for them over the past three years. I told her to keep careful records of every hour she worked that she wasn't paid for, but of course she never listens to me, so she didn't do it. Egregious violations of state labor law not only concerning her, but other employees too. The only thing we have is her word, and we have at least one former manager willing to sign an affidavit stating that these things happened, particularly that she had always had permission to access her personnel file. That's enough to win the appeal with unemployment, but whether that's enough to survive summary judgment in a wrongful termination suit, I don't know. (In our state, the only thing you can sue for wrongful termination is when they violate you for exercising your legal rights, i.e. filing for unemployment.) I'm sure they're scrambling to cover their asses now, probably in there fudging her personnel records. Oh! That's the other brilliant thing. They refuse to give the employees copies of any documents they sign, because they say it's store property. Uh, if I sign a contract, I'm entitled to a copy of it, Douchebags.

But I'm furious. They're screwing with my family. Not just in the "back home" sense, like "you don't screw with my family, I go all redneck on your ass and beat you down" kinda thing. But they're screwing with my livelihood, not just hers. If she doesn't get another job and somehow they're successful in screwing her out of the unemployment, if she gets sick and she doesn't have health insurance, that falls on us. We've got enough problems in this shitty economy without them purposely trying to destroy the lives of their employees. And it's particularly frustrating being 8 months away from being able to march into that store myself and calmly tell them exactly what part of their asses I'll be kicking in court. I wanted that douchebag to look *me* in the eye and tell me how they could press criminal charges against my mother for accessing her own personnel file, which she had prior permission to do, rather than intimidate my poor mother who doesn't understand the law, doesn't understand her rights and all she knows is she's done something wrong and that it's all her fault.

It's really the whole damn reason I went to law school. I'm tired of being a doormat for other people trying to screw me (and people I care about). Knowing the law and being able to form legal arguments is great and all, but it's a different story when you can march in there, and say, "I'm a LAWYER, and here's how it's gonna be..."


Shelley said...

That completely sucks. I'm not surprised retail would pull that sort of thing (would you mind emailing me the name of the company in case there's one near me so I can stop shopping there?) and I'm not surprised your mom would put up with it...but what a total PITA. Hopefully a few letters on letterhead will be enough to sort things out.

Rachel said...

Totally a lurker (found my way over from Lag Liv) but I had to de-lurk to comment on how outrageous the situation is. I read something today in the WaPo after reading your post about the rise in employers fighting unemployment claims. [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/11/AR2009021104311.html] I'm a 3L in Ohio and if the store is a chain we have up here in this awful state I want to know- I will join the boycott bandwagon.

I hope this is resolved quickly with as little loss to your mother and your family as possible.

PT-LawMom said...

Get 'em. That is so wrong, but not surprising. I detest employers who take advantage of hard-working employees like her. It just makes people bitter, doesn't it?

Allison said...

I did unemployment hearings during my 1L summer at my school's employment law clinic. Are you sure that your state won't let you represent your mom just in the administrative hearing? At least in Mass, it's nothing like court.

Proto Attorney said...

The retail company is:


I don't think I can represent her in the hearing, but I should ask the PR professor. Of course, I probably shouldn't represent her anyway since it's personal, and I might be overwhelmed by the need to shout "DOUCHEBAGS!!!" during the hearing. :)