The first filing happened in 2015 with claims Phoenix Warehouse of California was withholding overtime pay. But when multiple cases started to come forward, attorneys for alleged victims were able to get the case changed to a class action.
"If you want to talk about wide spread, it's pretty much everyone who worked for their company from 2009 through 2016," says Glendale-based attorney David Yeremian. "We point the finger at Phoenix."
Employees who spoke with NBC4 say their jobs were to take pallets of goods for local big box stores like Walmart, Target and Home Goods that came in from the Port of LA and to sort them for shipping to Southern California stores.
But they say often their managers would refuse to allow them to take breaks – for lunch or for the bathroom – and at least one victim claims in court documents that if she turned down sexual advances from her manager, she wouldn't get paid for the day.
"They wouldn't let me rest," says former employee Yadira Espinoza. "I would work 13 to 15 hours a day."
Yeremian says the employees were hired through three different staffing agencies, also named in the lawsuit, and that employees would clock in for 40 hours under one agency, then work additional hours under another without any overtime compensation.
"It's Phoenix managers who are in charge of these warehouses, who are dictating the terms of employment, when they clock in, when they clock out, when they take lunch breaks, when they have to continue working," Yeremian says.
In a statement from Steve Brennan, an attorney representing Phoenix, he denies the allegations and questions the motives of the plaintiffs' attorneys:
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"Phoenix Warehouse of California denies the allegations of the Espinoza class action and will continue to vigorously defend its position in Court. It should be noted that the Court denied plaintiffs' original application for class certification because they failed to provide evidence that other workers support their claims, while Phoenix all of which is a matter of public record. Ultimately, the claims of these few former workers will be weighed against testimony of a much greater number of who refute those claims. Phoenix believes that plaintiffs" current publicity campaign, occurring over four-and-a-half years into the lawsuit, is evidence they continue to lack meaningful co-worker support for their claims. Finally, Phoenix considers the representations made by plaintiffs and their counsel in their campaign to be defamatory and is investigating bringing an appropriate responsive action."
One of the named staffing agencies sent a statement as well, also denying the allegations. Justine Schmidt wrote this: "Fairway Staffing Services denies the allegations in the complaint. Fairway provides a service to the community by providing both long and short term staffing jobs to those seeking employment. Fairway has been vigorously defending this matter for years and will continue its defense up and though trial if necessary."
There is no set date for trial yet but former employees say they're ready to fight to the end, claiming their fears of deportation stopped them before – but not any more.
"People need to speak up," Espinoza says, "we cannot be quiet."