Drug Rep Overtime Case Headed to Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court will take a case brought by two GlaxoSmithKline employees on behalf of a nationwide class of sales reps who pressure doctors to prescribe drugs made by the pharmaceutical company. The employees say the Fair Labor Standards Act guarantees overtime pay to pharmaceutical reps.

The pharmaceutical industry trade group The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has warned that reclassifying pharmaceutical sales reps as hourly employees entitled to overtime pay would cost drug companies billions of dollars, even as dozens of lawsuits fighting for the reclassification have been filed in court. One lawsuit involves 2,500 sales reps and damages as high as $100 million. Continue reading Drug Rep Overtime Case Headed to Supreme Court

H&R Block accused of targeting minority, poor communities with risky tax return loans

Two California residents have filed a class-action lawsuit against H&R Block, accusing it targeting the poor and minority communities with Refund Anticipation Loans with inflated interest rates.

According to a report at CourthouseNews.com, Anthony Johnson and Phyllis Robinson accuse the tax-preparing company of targeting these communities by offering “rapid refunds” on tax returns. They accuse the company of not fully informing consumers of the risks and full terms of these loans.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that hurried returns on federal income taxes are the actual tax refund when, in fact, it’s actually a bank loan.

The plaintiffs in this lawsuit claim the Annual Percentage Rate on this “predatory” loans is often 100 percent or more. This is not often relayed to consumers who go to H&R Block to have their taxes prepared for them.

Additionally, the lawsuit accuses H&R Block of charging too much to prepare simple tax forms and high fees for getting consumers a loan on their expected return.

If, for some reason, there is an error with a return of a customer who accepts an RAL and they are unable pay that loan amount they face these astronomical interest fees.

The argument that H&R Block is targeting minority and poor communities is backed by the plaintiffs with data showing the company makes 70 percent of its profits on RALs from just 20 percent of U.S. communities where the company operates.

Senator wants FTC to investigate Facebook privacy policies, use of tracking cookies

A leading U.S. Senator has asked a federal agency to investigate claims the social network Facebook tracks users’ Web history even after they’ve signed out of the network site.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller told L.A. Times he has asked the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee (of which he chairs) to investigate the Facebook.com claims.

“No company should track customers without their knowledge or consent, especially a company with 800 million users and a trove of unique personal data on its users” If Facebook or any other company is falsely leading people to believe that they can log out of the site and not be tracked, that is alarming.”

A spokesperson for Facebook said the site uses tracking cookies and receives browsing information of users who log off the networking site but visit other sites containing Facebook plug-ins on pages, such as Like and Share buttons. Facebook says these cookies allow the site to “personalize” and “customize” the end experience for users to its site.

Rockefeller and other leading politicians believe Facebook has not properly obtained a user’s permission to track their browsing histories, especially after they’ve logged off the site.

Facebook says its Privacy Policy explains to users why it uses tracking cookies but that policy has come under increased scrutiny in recent months. Last month, Reps. Ed Markey and Joe Barton petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the validity of Facebook’s privacy policy, according to the same L.A. Times report. Regulators have previously been asked to investigate similar claims made by consumer advocacy groups regarding Facebook’s privacy policies.

Last week, reports indicated Facebook and the federal government were in settlement talks with regulators to update and revise its privacy policies.

Treasury Dept. shuts down online mortgage relief companies, questions Google’s ethics

The federal Treasury Dept. has shut-down operations of at least 85 online mortgage relief companies, claiming they took fees from troubled homeowners but could never reduce a mortgage payment as they advertised.

According to a CNET.com report 85 mortgage relieve businesses were shut-down this week. They each purchased adverting space through GoogleAds and targeted homeowners via persistent banner ads.

As the overall economy remains stagnant or worsening, it has become more and more difficult for homeowners to maintain timely mortgage payments, pushing many to the point of foreclosure and losing their homes.

Desperate, these homeowners often seek any alternative to losing their homes and are more likely to get duped by one of these ads.

The Treasury Dept. said these 85 companies charged up-front fees from customers in exchange for lowering the homeowner’s mortgage payments. These companies were rarely able to complete their promises to consumers, drawing the ire of duped homeowners.

Facebook set to unveil new privacy settings as part of FTC settlement

Changes to Facebook are usually greeted by a bristled public but a proposed settlement over privacy settings on the social network site is intended to get a more positive response.

Facebook has faced resistance to its privacy settings from concerned users since 2009, when the site released basic private information about its millions of users to the public, giving details like names, pictures, locations and gender.

A complaint was filed with the Federal Trade Commission after that release of information through the agency’s Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Attempts on the part of Facebook to alter its privacy settings on the site have largely been underwhelming but a report from SearchEngineWatch.com suggests a new policy may allay privacy fears among millions of Facebook users.

In the proposed settlement with the FTC, Facebook will have to ask users what level of visibility they’d like any and all user-posted content, including status updates, photos and posts on current locations. In addition to the user-interactive changes, Facebook would also be required to “sumbit to privacy audits” from third-party companies for the next 20 years.

The soon-to-be defunct GoogleBuzz social network and Twitter have each reached similar settlements with the FTC over its privacy policies, according to the same report.

NY Launches Life Insurance Probe

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli last week announced a new initiative designed to ensure that New York citizens receive unpaid life insurance benefits. Schneiderman and DiNapoli joined forces after both their offices discovered that some funds had possibly been improperly withheld.

Schneiderman’s Taxpayer Protection Bureau began an investigation in early 2011 into the life insurance industry’s failure to pay death benefits and to turn over unclaimed policy proceeds to the Comptroller’s Office as required by New York State’s Abandoned Property Law. The Comptroller’s Office also began an independent review of life insurance companies using new data-matching methods. Continue reading NY Launches Life Insurance Probe

Master Food Workers Get Back Pay, Over Time in Wage Lawsuit

Thirty workers at a Master Food grocery store in Flatbush, N.Y., decided they were overworked and underpaid and they weren’t going to take it anymore. The employees banded together and sued the company, alleging it was robbing them of a fair day’s wages by making them work 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, for as little as $3.93 an hour, and absolutely no overtime pay.

The workers sued earlier this year and settled the lawsuit for $300,000 and a union contract. Their contract with RWDSU/UFCW Local 338 was ratified last week, guaranteeing hourly pay above minimum wage, regular if modest raises, overtime pay, as well as paid vacation days and sick time. Continue reading Master Food Workers Get Back Pay, Over Time in Wage Lawsuit

Investigaion Finds Seafood Often Mislabled

According to a Consumer Reports investigation, more than one-fifth of 190 pieces of seafood purchased at retail stores and restaurants in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut were not what they were advertised to be. The seafood was found to be either mislabeled as various species of fish, incompletely labeled, or misidentified by employees.

The fresh and frozen fish samples were sent to an outside lab for DNA testing, where researchers extracted genetic material from each sample and compared the genetic sequences against standardized gene fragments that identify its species. Among the revelations was that eighteen percent didn’t match the names on placards, menus, or labels. Continue reading Investigaion Finds Seafood Often Mislabled

Vanguard Healthcare Settles Medicare Fraud Whistleblower Lawsuit

Brentwood, Tennessee based Vanguard Healthcare, which owns 18 nursing homes in seven states, has agreed to settle a whistleblower lawsuit filed by former employee William B. Caldwell alleging the firm was defrauding Medicare and Medicaid by double-billing and other illegal practices. The lawsuit was filed in 2003, and the settlement has yet to be finalized. U. S. District Judge John T. Nixon unsealed details of the lawsuit in September.

According to the lawsuit, Caldwell was the director of operations at Imperial Manor in Tennessee when he repeatedly warned
Vanguard officials that they were violating the law, for which he was fired. “Vanguard terminated Caldwell in an effort to threaten, harass and discriminate against him,” the suit states, adding that he was “retaliated against and discharged by such defendants because of actions he took to uncover, expose and stop defendants’ illegal conduct,” the Tennessean reported Continue reading Vanguard Healthcare Settles Medicare Fraud Whistleblower Lawsuit