Clemencia Castro-Woolery, partner, Ledger Square Law
“When I walk out the door of my office, I’m in my community, not a crowded elevator or parking garage.”
“I love working here,” said Castro-Woolery, a longtime Lakewood resident. “The community, especially the local Bar community, is far more collegial than in King County. It makes it much easier to negotiate deals and settle disputes.”
Being in Pierce County isn’t just about the legal stuff, she said. It’s also about having opportunities to make her community a better place. Castro-Woolery has served on boards for multiple organizations, including the YWCA Pierce County, Asia Pacific Cultural Center, and more. She was also board chair of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce amid the pandemic and in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the ensuing racial protests.
“It was momentous in terms of the changes we made,” she said. Those changes included altering the Chamber’s mission statement to emphasize it as an antiracist organization. “We helped make the South Sound the most equitable and inclusive place to do business in Washington state.”
Seeking to influence the administration of water rights for future development, a group of concerned Tacoma citizens (organized as “Save Tacoma Water” or STW) sought to place local initiatives on the ballot to amend Tacoma City Code and the Tacoma City Charter to require a public vote for any future water use application exceeding one million gallons per day (“STW Initiatives”). Because the proposed STW Initiatives were facially invalid under established state law, Ledger Square Law attorney Jason Whalen, representing member investors of the Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County, teamed with attorneys representing the City of Tacoma, the Port of Tacoma, and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce (collectively, as Plaintiffs), to score a significant legal victory which sustains the rule of law regarding appropriate, pre-ballot court review of local citizen initiatives. Today’s ruling provides certainty for the Port of Tacoma, the EDB, and the Chamber over the City’s administration of water and water rights for prudent economic development in our community. The ruling also saves the citizens of Tacoma thousands of dollars in unnecessary expense in placing unlawful measures on the ballot.
After significant briefing and lengthy oral argument, the Pierce County Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin granted Plaintiffs declaratory and permanent injunctive relief, finding that the STW Initiatives, as written, exceeded the permissible scope of local initiative power and were therefore invalid, as a matter of law. By court order, the STW Initiatives are now precluded from placement on the November 2016 ballot—or any other ballot in the future, regardless of the signature validation by the County Auditor.
Wage and overtime laws are changing once again. In May 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor announced its Final Rule updating the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Final Rule takes effect December 1, 2016, and will update the minimum salary level every three years for the executive, administrative, and professional employees exemption. Key provisions of the Final Rule are:
The minimum standard salary increased from $23,660 to $47,476 annually (from $455 to $913 per week), which is the current salary level at the 40th percentile of earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage Census Region – which is currently the South.
The minimum annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employees increased from $100,000 to $134,004, which is the annual equivalent of the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally.
The salary and compensation levels will be automatically updated every three years to maintain the levels at the above percentiles. The initial salary increases take effect on December 1, 2016, and the first update will occur on January 1, 2020.
Employers may now use non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to 10 percent of the new standard salary level. Payments must be paid on a quarterly or more frequent basis.
The Final Rule makes no changes to the duties tests for highly compensated employees or employees under the executive, administrative or professional exemption.
All employers should review their handbooks and polices to ensure they are consistent with applicable law. Changes to the foregoing wage and overtime laws take effect December 1, 2016. If you have any questions or concerns regarding employee overtime or any other employment issues, please call us at Ledger Square Law.
The Washington State Legislature is currently considering H.B. 1646, which would reaffirm many of the rights granted under State and Federal law regarding employees’ ability to discuss their wages amongst themselves and with their supervisors. Unlike other State and Federal laws, H.B. 1646 contains no exemption for certain employers regularly exempted from employment laws, such as public employers, religious employers, agricultural workers, certain overtime-exempt employees, or certain domestic workers. H.B. 1646 would also prohibit the assignment of less favorable employment based on gender, potentially requiring employers to articulate a reason for each job assignment and task given to a particular employee in the event a discrimination claim is raised. H.B. 1646 would also permit an employee to bring a private lawsuit and provides for payment of a successful plaintiff-employee’s attorney fees and damages. Please contact us with any questions or concerns regarding this bill and how it may impact your business.
On January 27, 2015, the Tacoma City Council approved an ordinance that will require employers that operate within the Tacoma City limits to offer at least three days of paid sick leave to both union and non-union employees. By the second year of employment, employees will be permitted to use up to five days of paid sick leave. The leave may also be used in a manner similar to that already provided under the State’s Domestic Violence Leave law. The ordinance will not take effect until February 1, 2016, after a period of rulemaking, to determine, among others things, whether this ordinance will apply to all employers of any size in Tacoma. Please feel free to contact us to discuss how this ordinance may impact your business and whether you should amend you handbook to reflect the changed requirements.
A settlement has been reached following the wrongful death of Ronald Hillstrom, a man who died on his way to the hospital after an altercation with Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputies on May 11, 2014.
Police were responding to a disturbance call and found Mr. Hillstrom, who has a history of mental illness, holding a screwdriver and running in circles in the parking lot of his apartment complex. Four officers arrived, and when Mr. Hillstrom failed to respond to their commands he was tased. A struggle ensued, and over the next several minutes officers attempted to subdue and handcuff him. At one point Mr. Hillstrom lost consciousness, but when he awoke he resumed struggling and yelling incoherently. Paramedics arrived to transport Mr. Hillstrom to a local hospital for treatment of a laceration to his head, but he suffered a cardiac arrest while being transported and could not be revived.
A federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the Hillstrom family alleged that Mr. Hillstrom’s death was caused by inadequate training and excessive force by the Pierce County officers. A subsequent autopsy revealed multiple blunt force injuries, a broken nose, and thirteen rib fractures due to trauma.
The Hillstrom family and Pierce County came together in late-January to discuss resolution of the lawsuit. As part of the settlement negotiations, Pierce County confirmed that it has partnered with MultiCare Mental Health to provide additional training for its Sheriff’s deputies in the wake of Mr. Hillstrom’s death. The Hillstrom family was represented by attorneys Nathan Roberts and Julie Kays of Connelly Law Offices and Jason Whalen of Ledger Square Law. The County was represented by attorneys Michelle Luna-Green and Sean Davis of the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office.