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More than one hundred current and former employees at a popular Bay Area eatery claim they were denied wages and benefits, and they have filed suit against the restaurant.

Court papers state that Burma Superstar owner Desmond Tan held employee paychecks as a deposit rather than distributing them. According to the plaintiffs, Mr. Tan also fired a worker who complained about the policy. At two of the company’s other locations, B Star and Burma Love, the firm allegedly misclassified workers as salaried employees to avoid paying overtime. The suit names more than a dozen other labor law violations, including denial of sick leave and breaks. Currently, the three plaintiffs seek permission to turn their lawsuit into a class action.

Attorney Carole Vigne lamented that kitchen workers are often “unseen and forgotten” in many restaurants. “We hope this case brings visibility to the hardworking kitchen staff who feed thousands each week,” she said.

Wage Theft Victims Typically Earn Lower Wages

By some estimates, two-thirds of lower wage earners (like those who work for Burma Superstar) are the victims of wage theft at least once a week, with a cost that may exceed $50 billion a year. That is almost three times as much as all burglaries, robberies, motor vehicle thefts, and larcenies combined. In a nutshell, wage theft is any activity that deprives workers of their wages and redirects that money to the employer’s pocket. A few common forms of wage theft include:

  • Donning and Doffing: Employers must pay workers for the time they spend off the clock putting on protective gear and taking it off. The same principle may apply to other employer-imposed waiting periods, but the Supreme Court recently limited these kinds of actions in a case that involved Amazon warehouse workers forced to wait in security lines.
  • Interns: Some employers intentionally mislabel entry-level employees as “interns” to deny them wages and benefits.
  • Illegal Deductions: In most cases, employers cannot deduct money from paychecks without the workers’ written authorization; in all cases, employers must apply the same deductions for everyone.
  • No Pay: Some employers essentially dare their employees to file claims, because they feel that the reward, which is a lighter payroll, outweighs the possible risks.

Wage theft is particularly common in large cities, like Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, and among lower-wage workers who are not members of unions.

Retaliation and Wage Theft

Retaliation is the most common charge in employment discrimination cases. When retaliation occurs, it can be both formal, such as a demotion or termination, and informal, such as harassment, an unfavorable schedule change, or even an employer stealing money from its employees. If an employee discusses his wages or hours, it is considered a protected activity under a slew of Federal and California laws including the National Labor Relations Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The lawsuit against Burma Superstar was filed in Alameda County Superior Court. On behalf of “similarly situated” employees, William Navarette, Mong Tsai Ma and Juan Fuentes seek back wages and attorney fees, plus additional penalties.

If you feel you are a victim of wage theft in California our expert Los Angeles employment attorneys can help. Contact us for a free consultation today.