Former Staffers Sue Bloomberg Campaign Over Layoffs

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03/23/2020 | 10:08 pm
Michael Bloomberg

By Tarini Parti

Former field organizers for Michael Bloomberg's campaign have filed two proposed class-action lawsuits in federal court in New York City, making the case that the staffers were terminated after being promised jobs and benefits through November.

One of the lawsuits, which is seeking a minimum of $48 million in damages, argues that Mr. Bloomberg's campaign "fraudulently induced" staffers into working for him and failed to pay staff overtime wages, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Donna Wood, who worked in Miami for the former New York City mayor's presidential bid, is named as the plaintiff.

After launching his long-shot White House bid in late November, Mr. Bloomberg said he planned to keep his staff on the payroll and field offices open in at least six competitive general-election states, even if he wasn't the party's nominee. When the billionaire exited the race earlier this month after spending $935 million over roughly 100 days of his campaign, staffers in several states believed they would remain employed through November under a new super PAC.

Last week, the billionaire and his advisers decided against absorbing his existing infrastructure into a new outside group as he had planned and instead said he would transfer $18 million from his campaign account to the Democratic National Committee.

"Thereafter, in contravention of its promise of continued employment through November 2020 and in the face of a world-wide pandemic and likely global recession, Defendant terminated the vast majority of its (field organizers) and other campaign employees," Ms. Wood's complaint filed Monday states.

Sally Abrahamson, a lawyer for Outten & Golden who is representing Ms. Wood, said she had already received calls from dozens of former staffers saying "they want to be an active participant in this case," she said.

A representative for the campaign said in a statement that Mr. Bloomberg paid staff and offered benefits that "were much more generous than any other campaign this year." The representative also said that staff worked 39 days on average and were given weeks of severance and health care originally through March, and later through April after a separate fund was created in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

A second lawsuit brought by Alexis Sklair, Sterling Rettke and Nathaniel Brown -- staffers in Georgia, Washington and Utah -- details opportunities they gave up to accept jobs with Mr. Bloomberg's campaign that they believed would last until November. They are being represented by Peter Romer-Friedman of Gupta Wessler PLLC and Ilann Maazel and David Berman of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP.

"The statements by Mike Bloomberg 2020 that the staffers would perform both primary and general election work for the campaign were material facts that directly influenced the plaintiffs' and the other staffers' decisions to enter into an employment relationship with Mike Bloomberg 2020 and perform work for the campaign for months instead of pursuing other work opportunities," the second complaint states.

"The plaintiffs and the other putative class members did not know that the defendant's representations were false, and would not have accepted their positions with Mike Bloomberg 2020 in the absence of the campaign's false representations," it adds.

Mr. Bloomberg's campaign laid off all staffers on Friday after he decided not to launch a new outside group. Staffers were told they would be paid through the first week in April, have full benefits through the end of April and could still apply for jobs with the DNC without any guarantees of employment.

Although the campaign publicly committed to keeping staffers on payroll and used it in recruiting, employment through November wasn't included in the contracts signed by the staffers, which specified that they were "at-will" employees who could be terminated, according to both materials reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and the lawsuit. Some of the hiring materials, however, included paperwork suggesting staffers could stay on payroll through November if they were willing to relocate.

The contract also classified the positions as "exempt from the overtime provisions of federal and applicable state laws," according to Ms. Wood's complaint.

"By law, I can't see what the exemption would be here," Ms. Abrahamson said. The campaign declined to comment on the overtime allegation.

Write to Tarini Parti at Tarini.Parti@wsj.com

 

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