Employee Class Action Suit Filed Against Cumulus

I’ve felt this coming on for a long time.

Employees who feel they have been wronged by the three major radio consolidators (Clear Channel, Citadel and Cumulus) are madder than hell and are not going to take it anymore.

Then, it happened.

A Cumulus employee named Brian Mass out of San Francisco did his homework and found what he thinks will be The Dickeys’ Achilles heel – employment law violations.

And, he not only retained a big named New York and California attorney specializing in employment law but he and his attorney are looking to grow the movement in other states where Cumulus may also be in violation of employment laws.

Consolidators are used to having their way with talent, management, sales and staff ever since consolidation but the buck may stop in court.

I’ll tell you how you can become part of similar lawsuits if you’d like, but first – let’s look at what Cumulus allegedly did to Brian Mass that made him stand up and fight.

Cumulus terminated Mass who worked in sales at KSAN, San Francisco Monday November 23rd alleging poor performance and unprofessional behavior. Mass said Cumulus never cited examples.

Mass sucked it up and filed for unemployment online the same day.

He waited for the employment board’s decision only to discover that his unemployment claim was denied (I’ve heard other employees complain about Cumulus fighting their unemployment claims after they have been fired).

Mass alleges that Cumulus told the unemployment board that he performed poorly on purpose and that he had weekly coaching meetings with management (Mass said the “coach” only had five meetings with him because she went on medical leave for cancer).

Cumulus apparently poured it on some more claiming Mass had accounts taken away due to poor performance. This could turn out to be very tricky for Cumulus as Mass says these accounts were taken away because Cumulus reassigned accounts of four sales people when they created the Key Account Manager position.

It gets worse.

Cumulus claims Mass asked to be fired so he can – you guessed it – claim unemployment benefits and that he was written up for violating corporate rules and on and on. You get the drift here.

After Mass reportedly complained to Judi Ratto, GSM of sister station KNBR that his accounts were taken away she, according to Mass, ratted him out for speaking his mind and said Ratto told the local sales manager.

Then Mass went to HR. Mass was accused of spreading rumors and gossip. Received a formal write-up that smelled, tasted and looked like a death sentence.

(Can you imagine a Cumulus recruit seeing these allegations? Would they want to work for this company knowing how far they went to deprive a fired employee of his or her benefits?)

The final blow was when Mass sold a promotional event to Goosen Tutor Promotions for boxing tickets and autographed boxing gloves. Mass collected the $7,500 charged upfront via credit card, the promotion was approved and put on-the-air.

Then, Mass alleges that Sheri Nelson, Marketing Director, threatened to pull the promotion in mid-stream already having the client’s money in the station's bank account because she, according to Mass, thought that Mass sold the promotion too cheaply.

The promotion eventually ran – Cumulus was not apparently going to give back the money when clients who pay in advance are hard to find – but Mass was fired not too long afterward.

Despondent, Mass started looking into California law only to discover that employers have to indemnify all of an employee's expenses and pay overtime under certain situations.

For example, outside sales reps do not have to be paid overtime but if their employer does not reimburse them for their sales-related expenses then they do have to pay overtime. Cumulus pays neither according to Mass.

And an outside sales person is defined by California law as one who spends 50% or more of their time out of the office. But Cumulus may have screwed themselves through their CSOS system that requires sales reps to be in the office more than 50% of the time making cold calls. Mass has the work charts to prove it, he says.

So, all time spent working weekends or nights on client/station promotions should be compensated.

Driving the station van on the weekend – ditto.

Cell phones, mileage, gas, parking, meals, entertainment – all need to be compensated according to California law because the sales people were inside sales staff.

That's what this suit alleges.

It’s going to be interesting to watch Cumulus now argue that their sales force is an outside staff in light of its CSOS policies.

Apparently Mass must have come up with something because he retained The Ottinger Firm – employment lawyers based in New York and it just so happens they have a San Francisco office.

It gets more interesting because, Mass filed a class action suit on behalf of all Cumulus sales reps in California who may have been deprived of overtime pay or who have not been compensated for business expenses they incurred in connection with company business required by state law.

Robert Ottinger, a principal in the law firm, would like to speak to other Cumulus employees in states like New York, Texas, Connecticut, Alabama, Georgia, Michigan or any other major Cumulus market. Ottinger says “Federal law prohibits the failure to pay overtime in all states across the nation and each states has its own law that also prohibits the non-payment of overtime as well as the non-payment of company expenses”.

All names will be kept confidential and no fees are ever charged to clients in these cases according to Ottinger. Ottinger is looking for Cumulus people to simply supply him with information that may help the case and they will keep it confidential.

Ottinger’s toll-free number is 866-571-5010 or view their web access page here.

Ottinger was a Deputy Attorney General for the California Department of Justice and after that, an Assistant Attorney General in New York City handling civil rights cases. Ottinger claims his law firm has successfully brought employment suits against some of the largest companies in the world.

The Ottinger law firm website is available by clicking here.

Ottinger has two blogs: New York employment lawyer blog and California employment law advocate.

The class action suit against Cumulus was filed in Alameda County, California #10494862 for inquiring minds or interested participants. The Complaint is public.

So there it is.

I know of numerous people in various radio jobs who have been thinking about fighting back when they feel they have been wronged by the major radio consolidators.

Not only did Cumulus, Clear Channel and Citadel take their eyes off of local radio in favor of Wall Street, they may also have gotten loose with the law.

That is for the courts to decide although most of these cases get settled out of court and then the participants are sworn to swallow their tongues. But right now, it appears I am reading it right – 2010 is going to be a tough year for radio consolidators.

The recession, you say?

That, too.

If this Cumulus class action suit gets legs, it could put a noose around the necks of consolidators who mishandled their human resources and ran afoul of employment laws.

All of this, of course, was not necessary – as Cumulus will find out.

It’s much kinder and cheaper to help the employees you fire by not fighting unemployment benefits than to have to pay the legal bills (and potential settlement costs) for being mean.

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