Monthly Archives: May 2018

Employees Sue Chipotle, Claiming It Failed To Pay Them Overtime

Chipotle employees have sued the fast-casual restaurant chain for allegedly failing to pay overtime compensation, which they say they are entitled to under a recent Labor Department rule at the center of a separate court battle.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in a federal court in New Jersey, maintains that the Obama-era Labor Department rule ? which vastly expands overtime pay to salaried workers ? still applies, even though a federal judge in November issued a preliminary injunction to block the Labor Department from enforcing it. 

The suit seeks class-action status for employees like lead plaintiff Carmen Alvarez, one of Chipotle?s so-called ?apprentices,? or managers-in-training. Alvarez and others were not eligible for overtime under the old salary cap, but were eligible under the new one, said Joseph Sellers, a lawyer from Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll who is among the representatives for the suit.

After the Obama administration finalized the rule change last year, Sellers said, Chipotle paid Alvarez and others for a few weeks for overtime they were newly qualified to receive. The payment stopped when the federal injunction against the rule was issued in late November. 

?The [Fair Labor Standards Act] has two ways of enforcing overtime rule. One is from [the] Department of Labor, and the other is individual parties,? Sellers explained. ?The injunction stops the Department of Labor, but says nothing about private enforcement.?

?We contend the rule went into effect,? Sellers added. As the lawsuit notes:

Although [the judge?s order] preliminarily enjoined the Department of Labor from implementing and enforcing the Overtime Rule, the Eastern District of Texas did not stay the effective date of the rule or otherwise prevent the rule from going into effect.

A spokesman for Chipotle told HuffPost in an email that the company doesn?t comment on pending litigation, adding: ?All of our employment practices are compliant with applicable laws. I would also note that a lawsuit is nothing more than allegation, and is proof of absolutely nothing.? 

Under President Barack Obama?s overhaul of the Fair Labor Standards Act, hourly and some salaried workers are entitled to time-and-a-half pay for any hours over 40 they work in a week. Salaried workers qualify if their annual income is below $47,476. The previous threshold of $23,660 had not been changed since the George W. Bush administration.

Exemptions to salaried employees applied if they earned more than the threshold amount, or if their duties were considered substantively managerial, like overseeing other workers or possessing hiring and firing power. (The Labor Department?s fact sheet address the full range of exemptions.)

The rule change had an effective date of Dec. 1, 2016. The Labor Department is expected to file a response to the injunction later this month. 

Chipotle has yet to formally respond to the suit. Sellers said the company will likely argue that the new rule never really went into effect because the injunction stopped it. 

?There?s been a widespread misbelief about the overtime rule,? Sellers said. ?I think a careful read of the law ? for people who want to follow the law ? [sees] this rule as in effect.?

Sellers suggested there?s been a snowball effect thanks to the rule?s ambiguity. If a business sees that other companies aren?t complying with the rule, it won?t comply either.

?What I hope this case helps to address is [what] the actual state of the law is, rather than what people?s perceptions may be,? he said. 

Plaintiffs are seeking back overtime pay, court costs and damages.  

The lawsuit is the latest legal and public-relations headache for Chipotle. A 2015 outbreak of E. coli has been blamed for an ongoing sales decline, while just last year, the company was sued by 10,000 employees alleging wage theft. Most recently, Chipotle suffered a security breach in which hackers stole customers? payment information, including credit card data. 

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Trump’s Pick To Lead FBI Is Low-Key, But ‘Cut From The Same Cloth’ As James Comey

WASHINGTON ? In 2004, shortly after James Comey rushed to the hospital to stop Bush White House officials from trying to get a bedridden John Ashcroft to reauthorize a surveillance program Comey believed was illegal, another top Department of Justice official stopped him in the hallway.

The DOJ official had gotten wind that a group of his senior colleagues, including Comey and FBI Director Robert Mueller, were contemplating resigning. He told Comey that he would leave the department if they did.

?Look, I don?t know what?s going on, but before you guys all pull the rip cords, please give me a heads-up so I can jump with you,? Christopher Wray, the assistant attorney general who ran the department?s criminal division, told Comey, according to a 2008 report in The Washington Post.

Comey went on to become director of the FBI, but President Donald Trump fired him in May as the agency investigated possible collusion between Trump officials and Russia. On Wednesday, the president announced via Twitter that he would nominate Wray to succeed Comey.

Trump doesn?t like Comey. But former colleagues say Wray shares some of the characteristics of his predecessor.

?Chris, in so many ways, is cut from the same cloth as James Comey is,?  Bill Mateja, who worked with Wray in George W. Bush?s Justice Department, told HuffPost. ?They have terrific moral compasses, and they?re very motivated to do the right thing and will do the right thing no matter what.?

Wray is, however, ?much more introverted? than Comey, Mateja said. He said Comey and Wray had a strong relationship.

They have terrific moral compasses, and they?re very motivated to do the right thing and will do the right thing no matter what.
Bill Mateja, former colleague of Chris Wray

While Wray earned bipartisan praise after Trump?s announcement, his work on Bush-era programs and some of his work in private practice is sure to raise questions during his confirmation hearings. Wray represented New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) during the ?Bridgegate? trial, in which two of the governor?s top former aides were sent to prison for their role in closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge for political retaliation. The governor was not charged.

Another partner at Wray?s firm, King and Spalding, is an adviser to the trust that holds Trump?s business assets. The firm has done work on energy issues in Russia, and a 2016 biography of Wray on the firm?s site noted he represented ?an energy company president in a criminal investigation by Russian authorities.?

Wray was also involved in a Republican effort under Bush to crack down on voter fraud, which didn?t turn up much. (Trump has claimed there was widespread fraud in the 2016 election, but offered no evidence.) As part of a 2008 Inspector General investigation into allegations that Democrats and liberals were being unfairly blocked from the Attorney General?s Honors Program and Summer Law Intern Program, Wray told investigators ideology was only considered in hiring to make the program more diverse.

He did not donate to either presidential candidate in 2016, but has donated to Republicans in the past, including Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008. 

In 2003, he provided briefings to Ashcroft on an investigation into who unmasked Valerie Plame, a CIA agent, amid concern the attorney general was too involved in an investigation involving political allies.

?Christopher Wray?s firm?s legal work for the Trump family, his history of partisan activity, as well as his history of defending Trump?s transition director during a criminal scandal makes us question his ability to lead the FBI with the independence, even-handed judgment, and commitment to the rule of law that the agency deserves,? Faiz Shakir, the national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

?Given that Wray touts his deep involvement in the Bush administration?s response to the 9/11 attacks, which includes his connections to some of the most unlawful legal memos on Bush-era torture programs, the Senate should press Wray to come clean about his role in the programs,? Shakir added. 

Wray was just 36 when he was nominated to lead the DOJ?s criminal division in 2003, making him the youngest lawyer to lead the division in two decades at a time when there was significant emphasis on counterterrorism initiatives. He had joined the department six years earlier, as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Atlanta before becoming an associate deputy attorney general in 2001.

Some people wondered whether Wray was too young for the job, but he earned praise from department colleagues, including Comey, who told the National Law Journal at the time that Wray was a ?spectacular choice.?

He also earned a reputation for not getting tied up in office politics and being a hard worker. Trump has publicly criticized Comey as a ?showboat? and ?grandstander.?

?The hard cases would inevitably be assigned to him. The guy comes in to work. He doesn?t gossip. He stays as long as it takes. He?d be there on the weekends when the air conditioner wasn?t running,? Daniel Griffin, who worked with Wray in the U.S. attorney?s office, told the National Law Journal in 2003.

On his first day at the Department of Justice, Wray was tasked with figuring out how the FBI had misplaced boxes during the trial of Timothy McVeigh, who was sentenced to death for setting off a bomb at a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 that killed 168 people.

After graduating from Yale Law School in 1992, Wray went to clerk for J. Michael Luttig, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, where his modesty made an impression.

?He?s not flashy. He?s not showy. He?s understated,? Luttig told The New York Times.

Wray began his career as a federal prosecutor working on violent crime cases, but eventually moved more toward fraud and public corruption, according to the National Law Journal. As head of the criminal division, he pursued high-profile corruption cases against lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Reps. Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.) and William Jefferson (D-La.). He also oversaw the Enron Task Force, charged with investigating and prosecuting officials after the company?s collapse.

Mateja, the former DOJ official who served with Wray in the deputy attorney general?s office, said Wray was not traditionally partisan. 

?There?s no denying that Chris is a Republican, but there?s a difference between Republicans that serve in public offices who are deeply Republican, versus those who just happen to be Republican,? he said. ?Chris is one of those ones where he doesn?t wear politics on his sleeve.?

But Mateja said Wray was a conservative who grew up in a Justice Department run by Ashcroft. And, if confirmed, Wray could spend the next 10 years of his term shaping the bureau.

?His vision can?t help but be formed by that experience,? Mateja said. ?He?s going to approach things much more in that conservative, Republican tone than what we saw over the last eight years, that?s for sure.?

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Cuba’s First 5-Star Luxury Hotel Opens Despite Uncertainty Over Trump

HAVANA (Reuters) – Towering cranes dot the Havana skyline as communist-run Cuba races to build luxury hotels, amid indignation among some residents and concern that U.S. President Donald Trump might reverse a detente that fueled the tourist boom.

Swiss-based Kempinski Hotels SA will inaugurate its Gran Hotel Manzana in the heart of the capital on Wednesday, billing it as Cuba?s first true luxury hotel.

The five-star property, managed by Kempinski but owned by the Cuban government, occupies the top floors of a renovated Belle Epoque shopping mall filled with glitzy Gucci and Montblanc stores.

Farther down the iconic Paseo de Prado boulevard toward the Caribbean Sea, workers are developing two other sites into luxury hotels to be operated respectively by Spain?s Iberostar and France?s Accor SA, the largest hotel group in Europe. 

Tourism is the one bright spot in Cuba?s moribund economy, which is struggling with falling exports and upheaval in major trade partner Venezuela. Cuban Tourism minister Manuel Marrero said in May that more than 4.2 million tourists were expected this year, up from 4 million in 2016. He said the country was adding 2,000 hotel rooms a year to its stock of 65,000 hotel rooms and 21,000 homes renting to tourists.

Visits by Americans have soared since U.S.-operated cruises and scheduled flights were relaunched last year as part of the detente pursued by former President Barack Obama after a half-century hiatus.

However, his successor Trump is considering tightening those rules when he announces his Cuba policy as soon as this month, according to current and former U.S. officials and people familiar with the discussions. That would likely hurt tourism, at least in the short run, and might slow the pace of hotel construction.  

?We hope that trade and travel restrictions eased by the Obama administration will not be tightened again by the current U.S. government,? said Alessandro Benedetti, a marketing director at Kempinski. ?That would not be favorable for any kind of businesses connected to tourism, such as cruise ship operators, airlines or hotel chains.?

The Cuban government has courted foreign hotel operators to develop untapped markets, particularly in high-end tourism.

With its gleaming white stone facade and French bay windows, the Gran Hotel Manzana features a rooftop infinity pool overlooking Havana?s central park, as well as a spa with steam room and sauna. There is also a cigar lounge with a tobacco sommelier.

Industry experts say Cuba, which offers a plethora of low- and mid-range accommodation, is right to bet on luxury, although it will be a challenge for operators to maintain standards in a tightly controlled Soviet-style economy.

?We have travel agencies contact us saying they had never worked with Cuba because it didn?t offer anything up to their standards,? said Benedetti.

?But now that?s changed,? he said, citing strong interest from U.S. tourists seeking more luxurious destinations.

Cubans have mixed feelings

It remains unclear how far Trump will go in rolling back Obama?s changes. Any reinstatement of U.S. restrictions on Cuba travel would face criticism from American travel companies as well as a growing number of U.S. lawmakers.

The number of U.S. visitors rose 74 percent last year, but Americans are still not officially allowed to visit as tourists. Because their trips must fit certain categories, like educational travel, most descend on Havana rather than the coastal resorts.

While Cuba has been building resorts around the island, it has redoubled its focus on the capital, where hotels are fully booked year-round and demand is growing.

?With this increase, it would be appropriate to have products of high standard,? said Francisco Camps, Cuba deputy general manager for Spain?s Meliá Hotels International S.A., which wants to introduce its two main luxury brands.

Despite assurances tourism revenues will benefit all Cubans, the move has stirred mixed feelings in a country that prides itself on social equality.

?The hotels are very pretty, but they are too expensive for Cubans,? said retiree Antonio Cazamayor, who lives on a monthly pension of $10. Rooms at the Gran Hotel Manzana will range from $360 for a low-season double to $5,000 for the 1,600-square-foot presidential suite.

Cazamayor?s home in the densely populated back streets of central Havana is just a few blocks from the hotels but feels like a different world.

His building appears derelict from the outside, with the ground-floor windows boarded up, but inside it teems with families packed into tiny units.

Many neighborhood buildings, which date to the 1920s and 1930s, are missing walls or balconies. Collapses are common. An apartment block in front of Cazamayor?s was recently evacuated after its stairwell caved in.

?If that one collapsed, and this one is falling apart, why don?t they build homes?? Cazamayor asked.

Hobbled by an inefficient, centrally planned economy and a U.S. economic embargo, Cuba has struggled to maintain its infrastructure in a punishing tropical climate.

Since the country opened up to tourism in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, Havana reinvested much of its revenue in renovating historic buildings, from Art Deco hotels to colonial palaces.

?They have returned the sparkle to part of Old Havana,? said Abraham Rodriguez, 45. He attended a school in the building that now houses the Gran Hotel Manzana and recalls how the classrooms flooded when it rained.

But much of the rest of the city is still falling into ruin.

Cubans working in the private sector as restaurateurs, taxi drivers and tour guides say the arrival of Kempinski and its rivals spells good business for them.

Yet the benefits for the more than two-thirds of the government employees are less obvious.

Josefa Cespedes, 73, has been living for a quarter-century in a building that houses a unit of the Communist Party charged with keeping tabs on the neighborhood because her home collapsed.

?The poor have to wait for the state to help,? she said.

 

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Cynthia Osterman)

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Pentagon Distancing Itself From Donald Trump On Qatar

The Pentagon is distancing itself from President Donald Trump over remarks he made on the United States? relationship with Qatar.

Trump this week took credit for a recent diplomat shakeup in the Middle East. Several Arab countries, including key U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and the UAE, cut ties with Qatar over its support of the Muslim Brotherhood. Those countries consider the largely nonviolent group to be a terrorist organization, but the official U.S. policy is that it?s not. Trump?s recent tweets seemed contradict that stance, however.

Asked about the commander in chief?s comments, Department of Defense spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters that, ?I can?t help you with that… I will only tell you that we have, with regard to our bases there, continued presence in our operations.?

Davis also praised Qatar for what he called an ?enduring commitment to regional security.? State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert echoed those remarks, telling reporters on Tuesday that, ?our relationship with Qatar is one that?s strong? and U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Dana Shell Smith retweeted an earlier statement she?d made about the ?great partnership? between the two countries.

Trump?s comments came as a shock to officials in Qatar, which Trump had only weeks ago called a friend.

?We were surprised? by Trump?s comments, Ambassador Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani told the Daily Beast. ?It?s unfortunate to see these tweets. We have close coordination with the United States. They know our efforts to combat financial terrorism and terrorism.?

It?s only the latest example of Trump?s Twitter rants creating friction with a key U.S. partner. Earlier this week, he lashed out at London Mayor Sadiq Khan, calling his reaction to the city?s recent terror attack ?pathetic.? Both British Prime Minister Theresa May and the acting U.S. ambassador the U.K. Lewis Lukens praised the mayor in response. Khan then suggested the U.K., widely considered the U.S.? closest ally, cancel Trump?s upcoming visit.

Trump has also publicly squared off with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over refugees and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto over a proposed border wall. He also irritated basically the entire world by pulling out of the Paris climate agreement.

?Fundamentally, Trump in the last 4½ months has demonstrated that he doesn?t understand or doesn?t care how America has engaged the world for the last 70 years,? former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder told HuffPost.

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The Newest Photo Of The Prince Of Bhutan Is Just Too Cute

Prince George and Princess Charlotte always occupy the royal spotlight, but there?s another little royal who always makes us smile: the baby prince of Bhutan. 

Bhutan?s royal baby, Dragon Prince Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck, is absurdly adorable ? that?s just a fact. But he confirmed his royal reign of cuteness with a new photo. 

The photo was released as the country?s June calendar picture and marks the celebration of Queen Jetsun Pema?s birthday. Dragon Prince Jigme is the son of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and the queen

Earlier this year, the baby prince went viral because of an equally adorable photo of him playing with a yellow toy car: 

How cute is he? 

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8 Dumbledore Quotes That Can Help You Save For Retirement

Millennial fans who read through all 3,407 pages of the Harry Potter series know that Albus Dumbledore is among the greatest wizards ever. But they don?t, apparently, know how to save for retirement.

According to a Pew Charitable Trust analysis of 2012 Census Bureau data, more than two-thirds of millennials (ages 22 to 34) have failed to open a retirement savings account. If evil forces such as low salaries, high student loans and a lack of access to 401(k) plans are conspiring against your financial future, why not look to Dumbledore for some good advice?

?Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light,? says Dumbledore in ?The Prisoner of Azkaban.? As this June marks the 20-year anniversary of the series? release, what better time to faithfully reference Dumbledore ? in the form of eight of his classic quotes ? and start saving?

#1 ?It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.? Time is the one thing that millennials have on their side that no other working generation has. Life expectancies are only rising, and the impact this has on the exponential growth of your money due to compound interest can be quite magical. For example, if at the age of 22 you put $10,000 in an account earning 8-percent interest and never add to it again, you?ll still have over $1 million by the time you turn 82.

#2: ?It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.? Even if you don?t have the ability to save high dollar amounts now, you can still chose to save something. Even a ?riddikulus? $25 a week earning 8-percent interest will grow to give you $466,998.79 in 45 years? time.

#3 ?Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.? Millennials are facing a nearly pension-less future combined with uncertain government programs and benefits. There?s nothing to gain by putting this off. If your employer offers a matching 401(k) plan, then by all means take advantage of the free money. If you?re self-employed or one of the 35 percent who work for employers not offering 401(k)s, opt for an IRA or a SEP IRA. Yes, they offer the same tax advantages as a 401(k), you can still invest in stocks, and setting them up is simple.

#4 ?Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.? Remember why you are saving in the first place. Think about how good it will feel to spend time with your friends or kids or grandkids without rushing off to work. Think about how good it will feel not to be a burden to your family.

#5 ?We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.? Yes, there will be hard days. You will be tempted to take that extra $25 and give in, go out and throw caution to the wind. Next time you?re faced with that decision, remember what you are choosing and why.

#6 ?It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.? On the other hand, don?t make yourself crazy. Figure out how to do both ? save for retirement and live your life.

#7 ?Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth.? As millennials, you have officially become the nation?s largest demographic at 83.1 million, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau report. The financial industry is desperate to serve you. The data-heavy white paper Millennials Money generated by Facebook found that even though millennials are underinvested, 86 percent say they value saving. If lack of knowledge is stopping you, ask for help.

#8 ?People find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right.? While it might be hard to stomach the advice of all the well-meaning people imploring you to save, saving is still the right thing to do. Whether you get with a good advisor or take a more do-it-yourself approach, what matters is that you do what you can, or as Dumbledore says, ?fight and fight again, and keep fighting.?

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