Cheesecake Factory is usually Found Partly Liable in $4.6 Million Janitor Wage Theft Case

The Cheesecake Factory as well as a janitorial contractor have been found liable in a $4.57 million wage theft case involving hundreds of underpaid janitorial workers at eight California locations, the state’s Department of Industrial Relations said on Monday, sending a strong message to businesses in which they are accountable for workplace violations — even if their workers are hired by contractors.

The janitors, who worked at Cheesecake Factory restaurants in Orange as well as San Diego Counties, started out their shifts around midnight, worked until morning without proper periods for meals or rest breaks, as well as were not allowed to leave until kitchen managers conducted walk-throughs to review their work, the investigation found.

The walk-throughs, which led to additional tasks, resulted in each worker logging up to 10 hours of unpaid overtime each week, the Department of Industrial Relations said.

“We take matters of This specific nature very seriously,” Sidney M. Greathouse, the vice president of legal services at The Cheesecake Factory Inc., said in a statement. “We are continuing to review the allegations as well as will respond to the wage citation within the time provided.”

Lilia Garcia-Brower, executive director of the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, the nonprofit in which represented the Cheesecake Factory janitors, said “This specific type of corporate behavior reinforces the need” for laws in which protect workers.

“Decision-makers,” she said, need to “respond to the fact in which workers are being robbed every day in their facilities as well as responsible employers are being undercut.”

Workers within the janitorial industry are especially vulnerable to wage theft because they often work within the middle of the night in isolated settings, Julie A. Su, the California labor commissioner, said on Tuesday.

“There is usually This specific perception — in which is usually sometimes real — in which they don’t know their rights, they don’t have access to learn their rights as well as will be afraid to speak up,” Ms. Su said.

The Cheesecake Factory had used the janitorial contractor Americlean Janitorial Services Corporation, which subcontracted the work to Magic Touch Commercial Cleaning, the company in which managed the 559 underpaid workers.

Magic Touch is usually based in San Diego, according to Erika Monterroza, a spokeswoman for the Department of Industrial Relations. the idea was later renamed as Z’s Commercial Quality Cleaning.

“Basically the idea was an attempt by the owner to evade enforcement,” Ms. Monterroza said.

Companies in which use wage theft as a business practice “will try to get rid of the business in which is usually under investigation as well as open a brand new business,” she said. “Perhaps they will use another colleague or relative. In This specific case, the idea was the business owner herself who opened up a brand new business entity.”

The owner of Magic Touch, Zulma Villegas, must pay the workers $3.94 million in unpaid wages, overtime as well as damages, the Department of Industrial Relations said, as well as $632,750 in penalties, including the failure to provide properly itemized pay stubs.

Ms. Villegas could not be reached for comment.

If Magic Touch does not pay, then the Cheesecake Factory as well as Americlean Janitorial Services are responsible for paying $4.2 million, Ms. Monterroza said.

Americlean Janitorial Services, which does business as Allied National Services, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The California labor commissioner’s investigation began in 2016, after the Employee Rights Center, a nonprofit group in San Diego, reported wage theft at a couple of Cheesecake Factory locations in which used workers hired by Magic Touch, Ms. Su said.

“Instead of just ending our work there, we expanded to all of the Cheesecake Factory locations in which This specific company was cleaning for,” she added.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 2,384,0 janitors as well as building cleaners within the United States, as well as they earn a median hourly wage of $12.02.

although many janitorial workers are paid “way less” than minimum wage, said Victor Narro, project director at the U.C.L.A. Labor Center. In California, the state minimum wage is usually $11.00 an hour for businesses with 26 or more employees.

“These industries are for the most part cash industries,” he added, which makes the idea hard to document wages.

Wage theft is usually especially problematic in California, experts say. A 2010 study found in which violation rates of basic laws mandating a minimum wage as well as overtime pay were higher in Los Angeles than in brand new York City or Chicago.

Subcontracting is usually part of the problem.

“When you’re subcontracting the work force, the idea’s very hard to find the chain of liability,” Mr. Narro said. “These janitors sometimes don’t even know who their employers are.”

although two recent laws make the idea more difficult for California employers to avoid responsibility for the contractors they hire.