A jury empaneled in a federal district court has returned a verdict of over $1.2 million in an employment lawsuit brought by a former employee against Telecom Italia Sparkle of North America, Inc. (TISNA).

Plaintiff Kevin Monaghan of Carpinteria, California, who worked as an outside salesperson, alleged that TISNA intentionally misclassified him as an independent contractor.  He further alleged that TISNA terminated his employment in retaliation for his complaints about the misclassification and TISNA’s failure to pay him wages owed.  Monaghan also sought pre- and post-termination wages and commissions he had earned, but which TISNA had not paid.

The jury agreed with Monaghan, awarding him $1,233,193.35 against TISNA, plus his attorney’s fees and costs.

The verdict included $252,729 for Monaghan’s back pay and $609,153 for future economic loss on the retaliation claim and $335,000 in unpaid wages and benefits.  TISNA must also display a notice in a prominent portion of its website with an admission that it has violated the law by misclassifying employees as independent contractors.

California law forbids the willful misclassification of employees as independent contractors.  California law also prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who say they intend to make a claim with any government or law enforcement agency about their employer’s illegal employment actions.

“The verdict sends an important message that employers cannot skirt California employment laws by classifying would-be employees as independent contractors,” said Brian D. Hefelfinger, attorney for Strauss & Strauss, APC, attorneys for Monaghan.  “Nor can they simply fire an employee who exercises his right to complain about unlawful practices.”

TISNA, headquartered in New York, is a subsidiary of Telecom Italia, an Italian telecommunications company with a worldwide network of data- and voice-transmission cables.  TISNA caters to North American customers seeking bandwidth on that network.  

During the three-day trial, Monaghan presented evidence that TISNA terminated his employment one week after he voiced his complaints of illegal activities to TISNA’s Human Resource Manager.  In that email, Monaghan said he intended to file a claim with the California Labor Commissioner regarding TISNA’s failure to pay him a bonus he had earned.  The bonus was available to TISNA employees, but Monaghan, classified as an independent contractor, was ineligible.  TISNA swiftly terminated Monaghan’s employment and denied him the bonus and ongoing commissions from sales he had made prior to his termination.

“We tried to expose what we saw as inconsistencies in their story,” said Hefelfinger.  “Any time a party’s story changes, it puts their credibility at issue.  When the employer’s stated reason for a termination changes, it suggests that the real reason was illegal.  We must have done our job, because the jury found in our favor on almost every issue.”

Monaghan may now move for his attorney’s fees and costs, which are available under California law.

The case is Monaghan v. Telecom Italia Sparkle of North America, Inc., United States District Court for the Central District of California case number 2:13-cv-00646 ABC (PLA).  Copies of the documents from the case are available at www.pacer.gov.