Prestigious Horse Training Facilities’ Owner Ordered to Pay $1.3M in Back Wages

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Thirty migrant workers were awarded close to $1.3 million in back wages after allegations were made against two prestigious horse training facilities in the Bay Area and their owner. Kevin Chambers, owner of the Portola Valley Training Center in Menlo Park and Gilroy Gaits in Hollister under EWC & Associates Inc., faced claims of violating work visa program regulations and California labor law through his failure provide workers with federally mandated minimum wage and overtime wages. In addition, he allegedly housed his workers in substandard living conditions for years.

In this case, the 30 migrant workers who were provided with substandard living conditions were housed in converted horse stables that did not even have running water. The workers were H-2B guest workers that were brought into the country under temporary visas in order to fill non-agricultural jobs. According to court documents, employers are owed back wages for various lengths of time during 2015-2018.

The lawsuit was filed against Chambers in the Northern California District of the U.S. District Court in January and alleged that he did not pay his workers when their wages were due, did not pay them required industry standard wages, and other violation allegations. According to court documents, the case was settled shortly after the suit was filed.

Other issues of interest in the case include Chambers’ failure to keep records of overtime worked, deductions made from workers’ pay, and that he required workers to pay back visa processing fees and the costs of transportation to and from their home countries. On the Portola Valley Training Center in Menlo Park website, the facility is described as a 60-acre facility that is a “home to world class trainers and horses.” The facility includes multiple arenas (both jumping and flat), a 5/8 racetrack, an on-site veterinary clinic and 40 acres of land for off-training day rides.

According to the settlement agreement, Chambers will provide $1.27 million in back wages to the 30 migrant workers, as well as $100,000 in civil penalties. Chambers is also barred from applying for any labor certifications (including the previously accessed H-2B guest worker program) for a period of one year.

If you have questions about how to file a California overtime suit or if you are not being provided with minimum or overtime wages as required by law, please get in touch with one of the experienced employment law attorneys at California’s Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Strengthened Protections for California Workers have Bay Area Restaurant Workers Collecting Lost Wages

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In response to a recent class action lawsuit alleging wage violations, a popular Bay Area restaurant, Gordo Taqueria, agreed to pay workers $690,000. The case is the latest in a string of similar labor cases that involve well known Bay Area restaurants. The new legal trend is due at least in part to the results of a years-long effort by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office to strengthen protections for workers and improve their ability to collect lost wages.

In January 2019, another Bay Area restaurant, Rangoon Ruby, agreed to pay a settlement to over 300 workers that totaled $4 million in wages plus penalties. In 2018, La Taqueria settled with workers in a similar case for $500,000. Additional recent cases based on similar allegations include cases against: Burma Superstar, Mango Garden, Kome Buffet, and Mission Beach Café.

Jose Martinez, former Gordo dishwasher, worked at the Gordo Taqueria on College Avenue in Berkeley from 2013 to 2015. He brought complaints to the attention of Legal Aid at Work in San Francisco and with their help, he filed a class action lawsuit in December 2016 against the restaurant chain. In the class action lawsuit representing 240 workers, Martinez alleged that workers for the Bay Area restaurant received tips only as a lump sum annually instead of daily or at the end of each pay period as required by California state employment law. He also claimed that workers were not receiving all the overtime pay they were due for hours worked beyond 8 in one day and/or 40 in one work week.

Gordo owners responded to the allegations through their attorney by saying that the restaurant has served the Bay Area since the 1970s, always provided great food and a been a great place of employment. They also stated that they quickly responded to the lawsuit in December of 2016 by engaging in negotiations with the plaintiff’s counsel and instituting early alternative dispute resolution measures to negotiate a deal that the restaurant believes is fair to all parties. They also denied all allegations listed in the complaint.

An Alameda Superior Court Judge approved the settlement agreement in December on a preliminary basis. The settlement agreement would resolve the class action suit. The claims included in the suit filed by Martinez are similar to others filed against many other area restaurants in recent cases: inadequate rest breaks, unpaid overtime, improper distribution of tips, minimum wage violations, and instances of retaliation against workers who speak up for their rights.

If you have concerns that you are not being provided fair overtime pay or if you are not being compensated as required by California state labor law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.