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WB&S Files Lawsuit Against Berkeley School District, John Winer Quoted in The Daily Californian

“It is my understanding that there was a looseness of enforcement of appropriate standards of behavior,” alleged John Winer, senior partner of the plaintiff’s representing firm Winer, Burritt & Scott, LLP. “Teachers were able to get away with things they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to with a structured environment.”

Read Full Article HERE

Former Berkeley school district student alleges sexual abuse, files lawsuit against district, former teacher

“New Law Helps Sexual Harassment, Assault Victims Seek Justice” – Read John Winer’s Article Published by Daily Journal

Most companies nationwide have implemented mandatory arbitration agreements, requiring all employment-related claims to be arbitrated rather than go to a jury trial. Mandatory arbitration agreements are constitutional and enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). However, these secret deals have been criticized in light of the #MeToo movement. A new federal law that was recently signed is now changing how sexual harassment and sexual assault cases are handled in the workplace and employment law, helping victims get their day in court.

H.R. 4445, also known as the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021,” will allow people whose arbitration clauses have bound to take their harassers to court. H.R. 4445 amends the FAA to permit an employee alleging sexual harassment or assault to ban a “pre-dispute arbitration agreement” or “class-action waiver.”

According to the legislation, if an employee signs an agreement to arbitrate employment-related claims and later experiences sexual assault or harassment, they can now throw out that arbitration agreement and pursue their claims in court. It is important to note that the bill only applies to “pre-dispute” arbitration provisions and waivers and doesn’t affect agreements entered after a dispute has arisen. The legislation is also limited to sexual harassment and assault claims and doesn’t affect other employment-related claims.

Before passing H.R 4445, employers and companies could enforce pre-dispute arbitration agreements with employees concerning sexual assault and sexual harassment claims regardless of whether employees preferred to litigate their claims in court. Victims who had signed an arbitration agreement with their employers were left with no other option but to bring their claims to a private arbitrator, who decided what action would be taken. Advocacy groups stressed that this would be a considerable disadvantage since most arbitrators are picked and paid for by the defendant.

Victims’ rights advocates have long claimed that arbitration of harassment and assault claims helps companies cover up employee misconduct, discourages other people from coming forward with sexual harassment-related claims, and keeps them in the shadows. It also does nothing to stop the issue of workplace harassment from occurring again, as reported by former employees who have experienced such crimes. Last year, the New York Times reported on the case of four former employees of the medical-device technology company Afiniti. The employees shared their sexual harassment and abuse claims before the House Judiciary Committee, arguing they couldn’t talk because they had signed contracts with “forced arbitration” clauses. The testimony came as the Committee debated enforcing legislation that would eliminate forced arbitration related to these types of claims.

The legislation brought a significant change to employment law in how it helped victims of sexual harassment and assault have their voices heard. It also forced companies to improve how they handle sexual harassment and assault claims. Our firm has seen how these employers are the only ones that benefit from forced arbitration clauses and when it comes to matters of sexual harassment and assault, employees should not be the ones paying the price by being silenced.

The idea that arbitrations are more time and cost-effective than jury trials has turned out to be false. It regularly takes more time to complete an arbitration than a civil jury trial, and it takes longer from the date of filing for arbitration to begin rather than a trial. Most attorneys have had cases where the arbitration can drag out for over a year, and arbitrators delay making awards. We may see an influx of sexual harassment-related lawsuits in the coming months, and we look forward to seeing what other changes this legislation will bring to employment law.

Winer Burritt + Scott (DJ 3-16-22)

How the Department of VA Is Failing our Veterans

Life in the military can take its toll on the mental health and well-being of many veterans and active-duty members due to the trauma they may experience on and off duty. The significant challenges they encounter are described as the “invisible wounds of war.”

It’s not surprising that many service members experience mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and substance use disorders because of the pressures of war and can have devastating effects if left untreated. While many will seek out help for their issues, some will, unfortunately, fall into the hands of people who will create new scars.

A 2014 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that the rate of depression among military service members was five times as high as civilians, and the rate of PTSD was nearly 15 times higher. According to another study by Very Well Mind, those with PTSD are five times more likely than those without to develop a major depressive disorder. The RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research estimates that approximately 20% of military members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan reported having had a TBI. With so many veterans dealing with mental and health issues, they look for assistance through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which offers many services and programs for Veterans with specific needs, including those suffering from mental health problems.

According to the American Psychological Association, the role of health service psychologists, such as those offered by the VA, is to provide appropriate mental and behavioral health care services, including screening, psychotherapy, counseling, diagnosis, treatment, prevention, remediation, consultation, and supervision. The healthcare professionals should be skilled in collaboration with other health professionals and trained to conduct scientific research, especially practice-based outcomes research and program evaluation. According to the VA website, health service psychologists are to engage in evidence-based practice that is patient-centered, culturally competent, effective, and informed by population-based data across a variety of settings, including primary care, mental health, VA medical centers, community health centers, hospitals, and schools. We trust that these medical professionals are treating those that have fought for our country with dignity and respect, but unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Our firm currently represents three Bay Area military veterans who are struggling with severe mental health issues and are accusing their former Veterans Affairs (VA) psychiatrist of serious ethical and legal lapses. While seeking treatment, they fell into the hands of Dr. Ferda Sakman, whose job is to help the veterans overcome their serious mental health struggles and any trauma they suffered. Two of the plaintiffs had the opportunity to discuss how these events impacted their life with NBC News. “I was desperately seeking help,” said one of the plaintiffs, a former Army medic who suffers from alcoholism and says he often drinks from the time he wakes up until blacking out at night. “Biologically, I’m alive. But I’m not, you understand? It’s like a walking zombie is pretty much the way I can describe it.” But instead of helping them, the psychiatrist subjected them to sexual abuse, the use of potent psychedelic drugs, and astrology to make therapeutic decisions. A former Navy Master-at-Arms, the second plaintiff, described Dr. Sakman’s treatment practices as ‘bizarre.’ “She really pushed her feelings and thoughts onto me to where I learned not to trust myself anymore.” Not only did the doctor let them down, but the entire administration also turned a blind eye to the abuse.

Our clients’ case is not an isolated incident of therapist abuse involving the VA. In 2018, a veteran filed a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs after he alleged his therapist was allowed to make sexual advances towards him and punished him when he refused to marry her. Last year, Bloomberg Law reported on a former Marine Corps reservist who alleged his therapist at the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center pressured him into a sexual relationship. While he was able to sue the government for negligent supervision, the Fourth Circuit ruled the U.S. could not be held responsible for the therapist’s actions.

At Winer, Burritt & Scott, LLP we give a voice to people who have been disempowered, and we fight for their rights. Our attorneys aggressively pursue maximum compensation for damages our clients have suffered, and we build cases that are prepared to be successful in both trials and settlement negotiations. Our proven results and strategies strike fear into our opponents, and we capitalize on that fear to achieve the best possible results in our clients’ best interests.

by John Winer

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Bay Area’s Investigative Unit Profiles WB&S Lawsuit Against VA Psychiatrist

Our firm currently represents three Bay Area military veterans who are struggling with severe mental health issues and are accusing their former Veterans Affairs (VA) psychiatrist of serious ethical and legal lapses. Unfortunately, therapist abuse is not rare and our clients’ case is not an isolated incident at the VA.

“You need to vet the doctors for the vets,” Attorney John Winer said to NBC Bay Area. The investigative unit profiled our firm’s federal lawsuit that accuses a former Veterans Affairs (VA) psychiatrist of sexual abuse, dosing an unwitting patient with a potent psychedelic drug, and using astrology in her treatment of three Bay Area military veterans. https://www.nbcbayarea.com/investigations/vets-accuse-va-therapist-of-abuse-involving-sex-astrology-psychedelic-drugs/2838359/

 

 

 

Read related article by John Winer: How the Department of VA Is Failing our Veterans

 

Update: Teacher in Sexual Assault Suits Will Have License Revoked

Effective March 20, former Berkeley High School teacher Matthew Bissell’s teaching credential will be revoked by the California Commission on Teaching Credentialing after facing allegations of sexual assault and harassment.

Berkeley High School alumna Rachel Phillips filed the lawsuit in June 2021 alleging Bissell inappropriately touched and sexualized her from 1999 to 2003 when she was a minor. Bissell resigned from his position last year.

Phillips was unable to comment on the decision but John Winer, Phillips’s attorney, said in an email that the survivors of Bissell’s alleged behavior are thrilled that Bissell will lose his teaching credentials.

“This is a long time coming,” Winer said in the email. “However, there is still work to be done.”

Read full article below

Former Berkeley High School teacher to lose teaching credentials

 

More updates on this case:

Update: Teacher in sexual assault suits has license revoked

 

 

 

WB&S Files Sexual Assault Lawsuit Against Chiropractor – John Winer Quoted in Merced Publication

Attorney John Winer told the Merced Sun-Star “what makes him even more dangerous is that he’s devious,” Winer said. “He managed to sexually abuse (her) under the guise of treatment to the point where she was initially confused about what he was doing. It’s very, very devious behavior.”

Click here to read the full article here:  Woman allegedly assaulted by Merced CA chiropractor speaks _ Merced Sun-Star

WB&S Sues Marin County Rehab Center for Sexual Harassment of Vulnerable Patient

WB&S filed a lawsuit on behalf of a former patient of a prestigious Marin County rehab center who accuses a staff member of sexual harassment and abuse. Our client shared her harrowing experience with the Marin Independent Journal.

Marin drug rehab faces sexual abuse lawsuit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Winer Quoted in Press Democrat on Lawsuit Against Auberge Solage Resort and Spa

The Press Democrat talked to WBS’s John Winer about our firm’s workplace sexual harassment lawsuit against Napa Valley’s Auberge Solage Resort & Spa. “If you let somebody get away with this, if you don’t fire somebody who has multiple accusations with credible proof, the problem is going to spread.” We represent three former employees who are speaking out about allegations that a supervisor habitually harassed and intimidated them at work. https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/lawsuit-alleges-renowned-napa-valley-resort-solage-failed-to-stop-sexual/

California Business Journal Profiles WB&S Clients Suing Napa Valley Resort for Sexual Harassment

Another Former Employee of a Luxury Napa Valley Resort Breaks Silence About Workplace Sexual Harassment at Auberge Solage Resort & Spa in Calistoga

A third woman has shared her story with the California Business Journal detailing allegations that a supervisor in charge of training other employees on policies and procedures for Auberge habitually harassed and intimidated her at work.

The attorneys at Winer Burritt & Scott now represent three former employees who accuse senior massage therapist Eliot Ferrer of grooming, stalking and harassing them. They’ve filed a civil lawsuit to hold Solage management accountable for fostering a toxic work environment that threatens the safety of their workers.

“Auberge failed in its responsibility to separate the employees and failed to protect these women from a senior staff member who preyed on younger, vulnerable colleagues,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney John Winer.

Brenna Gruby, the third woman to join the suit, worked in the reservations department for the high-end spa from the summer of 2018 until winter 2019, when she left her job because Ferrer’s behavior had made her work environment unbearable.

“I felt completely alone,” says Gruby, who only learned that other women had endured similar treatment when she read an article about two massage therapists at Auberge Solage filing a lawsuit in December 2021.

The first plaintiff to come forward, Leila Muller has been a massage therapist for nearly a decade. She was thrilled to begin working at Solage while pregnant with her daughter. “I thought of Elliot kind of like a ‘work dad’ because he’s significantly older than me. And he was just really nice to me.”

According to Muller, it was after Ferrer found out she was pregnant that things “just got out of control.” At first, it seemed that he was trying to be helpful, carrying items for her and bringing her treats. Then he started giving her bracelets he’d made to sell. He asked her to wear them as a way to promote his work, but it became awkward when he repeatedly inquired whether her boyfriend was mad about her wearing Ferrer’s jewelry. He started sending her overly familiar emails and a bathing suit picture.

He began trying to embrace her at work, which she describes as an “uncomfortable hug…he would put his hand on my low back.”

When Ferrer emailed Muller pictures from her hometown, where he had traveled on his day off, things got more worrisome. He had photographed personal landmarks such as her high school and aunt’s store. “It creeped me out,” she says.

The second plaintiff, who asked to be identified as “Amy,” initially joined the Solage team at Muller’s suggestion, working as an on-call massage therapist at the sister spa, Auberge. When she began at Solage, Amy was immediately alarmed by Ferrer’s behavior.

“The first day, I realized he was flirty, that he wouldn’t leave me alone. He was following me around. He was overly friendly. It made me so uncomfortable.”

“I was extremely disappointed with the company. They didn’t listen or take our concerns seriously. My anxiety was so high that I had panic attacks all the time. I started to lose sleep. I got very depressed during that time,” says Amy.

Winer hopes that a successful outcome in the lawsuit will result in effective changes at the resort. Until then, Auberge Solage remains an unsafe environment, especially for young women.

“As far as we can tell, Auberge Solage has done nothing to solve its sexual harassment problem. Instead, they have developed a bunker mentality where they are choosing to litigate rather than fix their broken Spa and HR Department, leaving employees and ultimately patrons at risk”, said Winer.

WB&S Files Sexual Assault and Harassment Lawsuit Against Berkeley Unified School District

WB&S Partner John Winer quoted in The Daily Californian:Our goal is to change policies so that complaints are taken more seriously,” Winer said.

Read the full article below

Former Berkeley High School teacher accused of sexual assault, harassment

by Gabe Classon

Berkeley High School alumna Rachel Phillips has filed a lawsuit against her former teacher and Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, alleging she was sexually assaulted and harassed two decades ago.

In a complaint filed in June, obtained by Berkeleyside, Phillips alleged former BUSD teacher Matthew Bissell inappropriately touched and sexualized her from 1999 to 2003. At the time, Phillips was a minor, the lawsuit notes.

According to Berkeleyside, Bissell resigned from his BUSD position earlier this year amid an investigation that substantiated the claims Phillips had made against him.

Bissell declined to comment on the specifics of the case through his attorney Alison Crane. Crane said in an email Bissell denies any allegations of inappropriate conduct and “looks forward” to addressing the allegations in court.

Phillips alleged that Bissell abused his authority to exploit her “physically and emotionally,” her attorney John Winer said in an email.

Winer further alleged BUSD either had poor record-keeping or had covered up allegations of Bissell’s sexual misconduct. The district, Winer alleged, had failed to fulfill its duty to protect Phillips.

“She complained to her coach, and she complained to a teacher, and she complained to the head of the athletic department,” Winer alleged. “Nothing was done to protect her.”

Winer also alleged Bissell’s inappropriate conduct went beyond any one student or time frame, saying he spoke to students and parents who repeatedly complained about Bissell’s “creepy” conduct. However, Winer said the district said it could only find records of two complaints.

Winer added approximately 30 people have contacted his firm about filing cases against Bissell and BUSD. In January, Winer expects to file another suit with seven plaintiffs who allege abuse from Bissell over an 18 year period. Most plaintiffs were 14 or 15 at the time of the alleged abuse, he noted.

Citing the privacy rights of students and employees, BUSD spokesperson Trish McDermott declined to comment on the lawsuit, although she emphasized generally the district investigates alleged wrongdoing and makes its decisions based on fact.

“The emotional and physical safety of every student is a top priority for the district,” McDermott added in an email.

Winer, however, alleged Bissell’s protection was prioritized above that of students and that Bissell has not been adequately punished. Bissell allegedly continued to earn a living by substitute teaching at other schools after he resigned from BUSD, while Phillips has suffered greatly from his alleged abuse, Winer added.

Damages to Phillips relating to future therapy costs, emotional distress, lost wages due to stunted career prospects and other claims could be worth over $1 million, Winer said. In addition to personal restitution, Winer said they are seeking changes to how BUSD handles sexual misconduct allegations.

“Our goal is to change policies so that complaints are taken more seriously,” Winer said.

Contact Gabe Classon at gclasson@dailycal.org, and follow him on Twitter at @GabeClasson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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