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John Winer talked to the Mercury News about our lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland

Our firm sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland on behalf of a young man sexually abused by a convicted, pedophile priest. WBT’s John Winer talked to the Mercury News about the lawsuit and why it’s important to shine a light on the Catholic Church’s ongoing failure to resolve the clergy abuse crisis.

 

Catholic priest sexual abuse survivor suing Oakland Diocese and East Bay churches

 

 

Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Rampant for LGBT Service Members

A newly released study found that sexual harassment, assault, and stalking remain a persistent problem in the U.S. military. Service members identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) may face enhanced risk compared to heterosexual service members. According to the CUNY Grad School of Public Health & Health Policy, despite the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, there are still concerns over the persistence of military sexual harassment and sexual orientation discrimination against LGBT service members.

The study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress by Oregon State University and the University of Southern California revealed that LGBT service members face an elevated risk of sexual harassment, assault, and stalking while in the military than their non-LGBT counterparts. It also found that although women of all sexual orientations experienced sexual harassment to some degree, queer men faced more harassment than straight men. Participants reported stalking as an issue, reporting twice as many incidents compared to straight participants. Lead author Ashley Schuyler claimed that although the study indicated that more research is needed to understand the issue of stalking in the military, being confined in close quarters with others for months could increase the risk. “We’re trying to understand where stalking fits into that spectrum of experiences, so we can intervene to help people who we know experience harassment or stalking and prevent a potential assault in the future.”

In 1993, President Bill Clinton announced that he intended to eliminate military discrimination based on sexual orientation by implementing the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy. Under its terms, military service members who identified as LGBT and wanted to join the armed forces would no longer be forced to lie about their sexual orientation. In 2010, the House and Senate voted in favor to repeal and over-turn the policy, and in 2011, the nation decided that LGBT military personnel should no longer fear discharge due to admitting to their sexual preference.

Unfortunately, three years after the Obama administration told transgender individuals they could serve openly and have access to personal medical care, the Trump administration reversed its course. According to an NBC news report, many service members say they’ve been forced to choose between continued service and their dignity and basic health care needs.

While the U.S. has made great efforts towards achieving equality in the military, there is still work to be done for the members of the LGBT community. The findings demonstrate the prevalence of sexual orientation discrimination among LGBT service members in the military and point to the need for strong accountability and oversight to protect service members while they are serving their country. A study conducted on LGBT military veterans who experienced sexual harassment or assault during military service found that they were linked with negative health outcomes such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depressive symptoms, substance use, and suicidal behavior. It’s clear that the U.S. military still has work to do in providing effective support for openly gay service members by changing military culture and implementing prevention programs to teach against discrimination in order for LGBT service members to feel fully accepted.

US Women’s Soccer: Is the Fight for Equal Pay Over?

Written by John Winer:

Despite their tremendous achievements including four World Cup wins and four gold medals, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) continues their fight for gender pay equity. According to Salary.com, the nation’s finest female soccer athletes lag behind their male counterparts in terms of earnings, and last year, the team decided to fight back by filing a lawsuit for gender discrimination. The lawsuit accused the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) of pervasive discriminatory treatment that affected everything from the players’ paychecks to the fields where they played and the accommodations they were given during competitions. A recent ruling on that lawsuit may have people wondering if the fight for equal pay may be over for them.

In March 2019,  28 players from the USWNT took a stand against gender pay discrimination by filing a class-action lawsuit against the USSF, claiming they were being paid less than the men’s national team and were met with less support, despite their enormous success. The team was seeking $66 million in damages under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to Business Insider, the USSF asked the judge to dismiss the case entirely, claiming, “the men’s and women’s players perform such different jobs that there’s no basis for a direct comparison between the two and thus no grounds for a discrimination lawsuit.”

Earlier this month, a federal judge dealt a heavy blow for the USWNT by ruling in favor of the U.S. Soccer Federation, claiming he would not allow the equal pay allegations to go forward because the women’s national team had previously rejected an offer to be paid under the same pay-to-play structure that the USMNT has and accepted greater base salaries and benefits. According to Forbes, players from the USWNT argued that although they were paid more, they would have been compensated more had they had the same contract the men’s team had. Although some initial reports claimed their legal battle may be over, the team players dismissed that assumption by filing two motions a week after the ruling, allowing them to appeal and postpone the trial which was scheduled for June.

As the Women’s Sports Foundation reports, the USWNT has been long associated with leading the way in the fight for gender equality in soccer and although they may have suffered a major setback, their fight is not over. Since 2015, the women’s national team has been more popular and has generated more revenue for the soccer federation than the men’s national team, yet still make less than them in the larger scale, revealing the unfairness the players are subjected to. The fight between the USWNT and the Federation exposes how little has changed in the fight for equal rights and against gender discrimination. If organizations such as the USSF continue to remain ignorant of this issue and fail to address it, the issue of gender pay inequity will never be resolved. They need to take action, and that means acknowledging the issue and allowing women to speak about it as well as implementing real policy change.

How COVID-19 Closures Impact Clergy Abuse Lawsuits

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, courts across the country are taking precautions for public health and safety by closing courthouses and restricting courthouse services. In mid-March, the Mercury News reported that California’s chief justice had suspended all superior court jury trials for 60 days due to the outbreak, with local courts being allowed to conduct some business except for jury trials. Due to the closures and delays, victims of clergy sex abuse are having a harder time reaching justice. Advocates have pressed on judiciary leaders to layout rules for how courts will operate during these unprecedented times.

As the spread of the virus forces churches nationwide to shut their doors, the high cost of maintaining the buildings and the legal costs related to the clergy sex abuse scandal for the Catholic Church has caused financial stress, preventing them from compensating survivors. Last month, NPR reported that the Catholic Diocese of Erie was suspending payments from its special fund for victims of clergy sexual abuse after they claimed the pandemic had affected their finances. The diocese is noted to be one of the first where clergy abuse was quite prominent. The diocese had launched an Independent Survivors’ Reparation Program for victims of child sexual abuse by priests to receive settlement payments from the church in lieu of going through the courts. In response, the organization Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) condemned the diocese actions saying, “This is a hurtful and deceitful move that clearly shows that the best pathway for survivors to get justice is through the court system and not church-run programs.”

The pandemic has also delayed those accused of child sex abuse to be tried in court. The retrial for Monsignor William Lynn, the secretary for clergy in the Philadelphia archdiocese and the only church official to ever go to prison in the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal was delayed amid court shutdowns due to the outbreak. In 2012, Lynn was convicted in a trial for endangering children by concealing the crimes of priests who had been accused of child sexual abuse and putting them in positions of power where they would be able to continue harming more children. An appellate court overturned the conviction, ruling the jury may have been prejudiced, and a retrial was ordered. The retrial was set for March 2020, but because of the coronavirus, it was delayed until January 2021.

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times reported that California judicial leaders had approved new emergency rules to keep essential court services running while still protecting the people from the coronavirus. With the current health crisis going on, the legal system decided to experiment with virtual and remote technology to keep cases moving forward, including conducting arraignments, depositions, and guilty pleas using video and telephone conferencing. With California having the nation’s largest court system, this is an important step for those that have trials pending, and will hopefully slow down the delays for survivors of clergy sex abuse to achieve justice.

by John Winer

As More #MeToo Cases Come to Court, What Evidence Is “Relevant” to Prove the Plaintiffs’ Claims?

WBS’s John Winer talked to CEB about how the rules of evidence in California and most states, are set up in a way that gives alleged perpetrators an enormous advantage over accusers in terms of attacking credibility.  Read More

 

 

#MeToo in the Age of Coronavirus

Written by John Winer

The COVID-19 global crisis has completely changed the way we live our daily lives. As the number of confirmed cases continues to rise and businesses, schools, and public gathering spaces across the country remain closed, Americans continue to live life in quarantine indefinitely. Daily life as we know it has changed and life has become all about the coronavirus. As the coverage continues, certain topics are put on the back burner, such as the #MeToo movement, but it’s important to remember that many out there are still struggling, and are finding it hard to cope during this difficult time.

The same month the nation took unprecedented actions to combat the coronavirus, #MeToo activists claimed victory after Harvey Weinstein received a 23-year prison sentence, in a case that fueled the global #MeToo movement and encouraged women to speak out against sexual abuse. More than 100 women, including famous actresses, accused the former movie mogul of sexual misconduct dating back decades, fueling the movement against sexual abuse and harassment. Weeks after his conviction, Weinstein tested positive for the coronavirus at a state prison in New York while serving his sentence. After recovering, Reuters reported that he was charged with a third sexual assault case in Los Angeles.

Coverage of the coronavirus pandemic has also overshadowed the 2020 presidential campaign, which might be good news for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who was recently accused of sexual assault by a former staffer. In interviews with The Associated Press, the staffer alleged the assault occurred in 1993 in a Capitol Hill office building. A recent New York Times article detailed the commitment the Democratic party expressed in believing and supporting women who come forward as sexual assault survivors after the #MeToo movement gained momentum and questioned if Democrats should regard the presidential nominee as a sexual predator for the sake of consistency.

The pandemic is also presenting barriers to conduct investigations of sexual misconduct on college campuses. A report by the HuffPost states that Title IX processes are being delayed across the country, leaving many survivors wondering if they can achieve justice during the pandemic. Some colleges are finding it impossible to hold in-person hearings with campus closures and shelter-in-place orders issued by state governments. While these are unprecedented times, schools need to be transparent and need to prioritize giving survivors as much autonomy in the Title IX process as possible.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has also caused a spike in domestic violence due to the current stay at home orders issued. According to a recent report released by NBC News, law enforcement agencies across the U.S. saw domestic violence cases rise by 35% in recent weeks. Experts claim that as city and state leaders ordered people to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19, domestic abuse became more prevalent. Many victims’ rights advocates warned that there would be a spike in abuse as schools shut down and people lost their jobs.

Although our main focus should be on keeping ourselves safe and healthy during these unprecedented times, it’s important to remember that survivors of sexual assault are also experiencing the deep impact of it all. Those who were seeking support are now facing challenges getting the therapy they need, and advocates are fighting to hold federal and state policymakers accountable to make sure everything is being done to help survivors during this time.

The Challenges of a Remote Workplace

As the number of COVID-19 infections hits the million mark worldwide, people are being told to stay home, and companies and employers around the world are facing unique challenges and issues. CNN reports that more than 700,000 jobs were lost in the last month alone. Those lucky enough to still have employment have been asked to work remotely as businesses shut their doors to comply with the stay-at-home order issued by governor Gavin Newson. A large percentage of companies have come up with a strategy to move their employees to online companies such as Zoom, Microsoft and Google, which offer free programs that can be used for video conferencing meetings, audio conferencing and webinars. But there are concerns that these programs have security, privacy and harassment issues that could leave its growing audience at risk.

With schools closed and people across the country working from home, the use of video-chatting has skyrocketed during the pandemic. Teachers, executives, government officials and families have flocked to programs like Zoom, which have become vital for work and life during the pandemic. Although helpful, Zoom has also been met with controversy as trolls have also taken advantage of the program, sneaking their way into meetings, online gatherings and lectures, exposing security and privacy issues. According to NBC News, as teachers and professors move their lectures and other educational activities move to video-chatting tools, “Zoom-bombing” has become another form of harassment. A 14-year-old girl from a Modern Orthodox high school was attending online class when some boys “zoom-bombed” the system and began yelling anti-Semitic slurs. After receiving several reports, the FBI issued a warning that some users reported some of their calls have been hijacked by trolls who bombard them with racist attacks and pornographic images. After receiving multiple complaints, the founder of Zoom apologized to its user and promised to devote all of its engineering resources to fixing the privacy and security issues.

According to the Business Insider, companies have turned to surveillance software to make sure they can see that employees are getting work done while working from home. Digital surveillance software provides screen monitoring and productivity metrics, such as the number of emails sent, keeps track of how much time you’re spending browsing online and what websites you visit. Critics claim it’s susceptible to privacy concerns, especially if the software remains active after work hours. Some companies are turning to programs like Sneek, which stays on throughout the workday and features constantly-updating photos of workers taken through their laptop camera every one to five minutes. There have been concerns over employers being able to essentially spy on employees while they’re at home, but the company states the program is meant to create a connected office dynamic.

After the pandemic is over the workplace may never go back to being the same. Businesses may change policies and implement a remote workforce, and employees will have to develop new habits, such as keeping documentation of their work, tracking their emails and learning how to communicate via webcam with coworkers. Managers will have to normalize video-conferencing and video-chats, and companies such as Zoom will have to continue improving their technology and cybersecurity for the safety of its users.

Written by John Winer

WBS Legal Team Files LGBT Workplace Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against San Francisco Maintenance Company

SAN FRANCISCO, CA. (March 2020) – A man who alleges he suffered workplace sexual harassment by coworkers due to his sexual orientation and managers ignored his complaints filed a civil lawsuit in San Francisco County Superior Court.

“The harassment and retaliation that our client faced at his place of employment is unconscionable,” says attorney John Winer. “All employees, no matter their sexual orientation, should have a safe and inclusive workplace.”

In May 2011, the plaintiff Oscar Martinez Ibarra, an openly gay man, began working as a janitor for Able, a building maintenance company in San Francisco. He worked as a janitor for the company for nearly nine years. As soon as he started working for the company, Ibarra began experiencing sexually harassing comments from his coworkers.

Mr. Ibarra alleges that the coworkers named in the suit engaged in inappropriate, severe and pervasive unwanted comments and conduct based on his sexual orientation. The harassment continued as the years went on, with the comments becoming more sexual. On two occasions, a male employee slapped Mr. Ibarra on his buttocks, and after he asked him to stop, he said it was just a joke.

In 2015, Mr. Ibarra complained to his union president about the harassment he was experiencing, and after their meeting, his overtime hours were reduced and he never heard back from Able about the harassment complaints he filed. In 2018, Oscar complained to a supervisor, who then reported the harassment to an HR manager. After the complaint was filed, Oscar started being assigned more work, making him work through his lunch breaks. In 2020, he complained to his supervisor that he was being assigned too much work and didn’t have time to take his breaks, and the following month, he was let go from his job.

The plaintiff’s legal team includes attorneys John Winer, Mythily Sivarajah and Elana Jacobs with the law firm Winer, Burritt & Scott, LLP. WB&S is one of the premier law firms in California specializing in workplace sexual harassment, employment discrimination and sexual abuse.

If you or a loved one has been injured in California because of someone else’s negligence, you deserve legal advocacy that champions your best interests. You deserve legal counsel and representation from a law firm that has won record-breaking verdicts and settlements in California.

Coronavirus Triggers Workplace Discrimination

By John D. Winer

Coronavirus Triggers Workplace Discrimination

The coronavirus, COVID-19 has changed the dynamics of our workplaces and has increased the potential for discrimination based on xenophobic fears and social stigma towards certain people.

As the deadly virus spreads across the globe, coronavirus is causing widespread panic in every facet of life, including our jobs. People of Asian descent, especially Chinese-Americans are reporting an increase in racism as they find themselves subjected to suspicion and fear.

The behavior is being reported around the world but is especially harmful and damaging for American employees who experience occurrences of discrimination in the workplace. It’s critical that managers and HR professionals quickly address these issues and discourage this type of behavior from creating a toxic work environment. Part of that includes dispelling myths and factually incorrect information that people of Asian descent are not more likely to be infected or are the cause of spreading COVID-19.

It doesn’t help that some of the messaging out of Washington appear to blame China for the spread of coronavirus. According to the Washington Post, President Trump refused to denounce a White House staffer’s reported use of the phrase “Kung flu” to describe the coronavirus in a conversation with a Chinese-American reporter for CBS.

If you are experiencing discrimination by co-workers or supervisors are steps you can take to protect your rights.

Focus on facts not emotions: While experiencing discrimination is extremely painful, it’s important to remove the emotional elements and concentrate on the facts. Feelings and hunches don’t make a case. You’ll need concrete facts and details to prove a pattern of behavior.

Document the behavior: Make a record of the discriminatory behavior by keeping a detailed journal of the offensive actions. Make sure to include the time, date, location and names of the people who witnessed the behavior. Your notes should include a description of what happened and how you responded to the incident.

Report the discrimination: If the offensive behavior is repeated, report it to your HR manager. Your employer is required by law to investigate the incidents promptly. If you don’t receive any response from your employer, you may consider contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which is a federal agency responsible for overseeing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws. Getting the government involved in your case will likely get the attention of your HR department.

Prepare for retaliation: According to the EEOC, most retaliation cases involve a worker who made a complaint. If you experience continued harassment, demotions or are terminated you should contact the EEOC.

Workplace discrimination happens to people of all races and genders and is more common than most people think. Inappropriate behavior frequently happens at work but not all inappropriate behavior warrants legal action.

Workplace Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Filed Against State Appeals Court Justice

WBS’s Kelli Burritt talked to Law.com about a new workplace sexual harassment lawsuit filed against LA-based State Appeals Court Justice Jeffrey Johnson who is accused of engaging in a widespread pattern of misconduct that demeaned, harassed and sexualized at least 17 women. Read More.

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