March 12, 2020 –The National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against San Francisco-based Vanguard Properties, a luxury real estate company, for terminating its Social Media Specialist because she discussed working conditions at the company with co-workers. The NLRB complaint also alleges that Vanguard told employees that they were prohibited from talking about terms and conditions of employment and threatened to terminate employees because of union and/or protected concerted activities.
Today, the employee, Melissa Ramos, filed a separate lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court alleging wrongful termination based on the California law that prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for speaking openly with each other about problems in the workplace. The complaint [Melissa Ramos v. Vanguard Properties], describes a work environment where Ms. Ramos was expected to work long hours without overtime or breaks and where she was subjected to a barrage of sexual and racial harassment.
The complaint filed by Ms. Ramos alleges that the company did not take steps to stop harassment even after it learned that a male employee showed Ms. Ramos nude pictures of himself on his phone and sent her inappropriate text messages. Ms. Ramos, who is bi-racial and wears her hair in natural curls, also alleged that another employee repeatedly asked to touch her hair and at one point grabbed it and pulled her head back. This case comes in the wake of Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signing into law a bill putting into place legal protections for people who wear natural hairstyles.
On July 17, 2019, according to the complaint, two company directors and a manager called Ms. Ramos into a meeting where they accused her of trying to lead a “mutiny,” questioned her aggressively to identify the employees with whom she had discussed working conditions, demanded she provide a copy of the memo they had been drafting, and threatened her with termination if she continued collaborating with her co-workers to address working conditions.
“Employees have an absolute right under California law and federal law to talk to each other about working conditions and to work together to try to address problems in the workplace. Good employers actually welcome feedback from their employees. We are going to court to prove that firing someone for speaking up won’t fly. Not in San Francisco.” said Sharon Vinick of Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP, the law firm representing Ms. Ramos.
Ms. Ramos was shocked by the real estate company’s decision to terminate. “When some of my co-workers told me they were afraid that management would retaliate, I worried. But, I knew nothing would change unless we spoke up. And I hoped that if we spoke with one voice, management would listen. Instead they did the worst they could to me,” said Ramos, who once worked as a union organizer. She went on to add, “I am hoping the NLRB and the courts will teach Vanguard Properties that employers have to abide by the law.”
Ms. Ramos is represented by Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP, an Oakland law firm devoted to representing employees in workplace disputes. For further information regarding the lawsuit, visit www.levyvinick.com or call Sharon Vinick at 510-318-7700.
A copy of the lawsuit is also available upon request.