(CNS) – A judge has directed that a former executive assistant to the CEO of a global investment and her ex-employer arbitrate her allegations that she was wrongfully fired in 2021 for expressing concerns about the company’s coronavirus safety protocols.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Wendy Chang signed the order on Thursday, reflecting an agreement between plaintiff Olivia Villa and Atar Capital LLC to have the case stayed pending the outcome of the binding arbitration. Chang scheduled a status conference for next Aug. 14.
In her suit brought Aug. 31, Villa alleges wrongful termination, whistleblower retaliation, violations of the Fair Employment And Housing and California Family Rights Acts and various breaches of the state Labor Code. She maintains she was called a “worry wart” for expressing concerns about the pandemic.
Villa was hired in September 2020 as the personal assistant to Cyrus Nikou — Atar’s CEO and founder — and his wife, the suit states. Atar is a global private investment firm that acquires and invests in businesses across the world in a broad range of industries, including the health care industry.
Before her official October 2020 start date, Villa was asked to look for someone to be the Nikous’ personal chef, obtain credits for the Nikous’ pre- purchased season tickets to Las Vegas Raiders football games, organize folders tracking the Nikous’ status as Nevada residents, locating senior living residences for a Nikou relative and to search for a babysitter to the couple’s children, the suit states.
Nikou also instructed Villa to buy an ammunition clip for Nikou’s 9mm handgun and to coordinate registration of a new Ferrari he was buying, the suit states.
Villa alleges she was never given meal or rest breaks during her employment and was always expected to be on-call, often forcing her to eat while working or to skip meals entirely.
“Not only did Villa sacrifice her early mornings, nights, and weekends, she also dedicated her personal assets and expenses in service of Nikou and Atar,” the suit alleges.
Villa used her own car to run errands and her personal cell phone for communications with Nikou, his family and others, including their nannies, chefs, handymen and doctors, according to the suit. She was given a $5,000 bonus in March 2021 after six months of “devoted service,” the suit states.
From the start of her employment until her termination, Atar ordered Villa to be physically present at its office and other locations, even though government coronavirus orders required Atar to permit its employees to fulfill their duties remotely, the suit states. Masking requirements for visitors, quarantine protocols for infected and exposed employees and social distancing practices were not implemented, the suit alleges.
“By ignoring mandated safety protocols, Atar needlessly exposed Villa to grave risk of contracting COVID-19,” the suit states.
Villa warned her superiors in October 2020 that Atar could incur liability for violating the government coronavirus orders and suggested that Atar implement employee testing, the suit states. But throughout 2021, Villa’s bosses dismissed her as a “worry wart” for recommending compliance with legally mandated coronavirus safety rules, the suit states.
In September 2021, Villa returned to the office after reconstructive surgery and management insisted that she perform in-person personal assistant tasks even though coronavirus government regulations forbade mandatory in- office work for non-essential employees such as her, the suit states.
Early the next month, Nikou requested that Villa attend visits to various event spaces to determine the best location for Atar’s holiday party, the suit states. But when the plaintiff said she would not be able to go to the places due to her ongoing recovery from surgery, Nikou “became angry, loudly slamming the door to his office several times,” the suit alleges.
Villa was fired in October 2021 because she had asserted her legal right to work from home both in compliance with the COVID safety orders and her doctor’s instructions, the suit states. She has been unable to find comparable employment and suffers from emotional distress, according to the suit.
Despite demands from Villa’s lawyer, Atar management has failed to remove Villa’s image from the company website, allegedly to give the impression that Atar has a female employee in its predominately male ranks, the suit states.
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