The state of California Monday found Cheesecake Factory and its janitorial subcontractors liable in a $4.57 million wage theft case related to hundreds of underpaid employees at eight locations in Orange and San Diego counties.
The Labor Commissioner's Office found that 559 janitorial workers are due $3.94 million in minimum wages, overtime, liquidated damages, waiting time penalties, and meal and rest period premiums.
Affected Orange County restaurants include those on Brea Mall Way in Brea, Spectrum Center Drive in Irvine, Edinger Avenue in Huntington Beach, Newport Center Drive in Newport Beach and The Shops at Mission Viejo in Mission Viejo.
State investigators found that janitors frequently began shifts around midnight and worked until morning without proper meal or rest breaks. After working for eight hours, janitors couldn't leave until Cheesecake Factory kitchen managers conducted walk-thoughs that frequently led to additional tasks. That resulted in each worker logging up to 10 hours of unpaid overtime each week, according to investigators.
Americlean Janitorial Services Corp., the Cheesecake Factory's janitorial contractor, had subcontracted work to Magic Touch Commercial Cleaning. All entities were held liable for wage theft.
Cheesecake Factory janitorial contractors were also accused of wage violations in 2007 and 2010. Stolen wages are "business as usual" for the restaurant chain's contracted workers, said Lilia Garcia-Brower, executive director of the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, a janitorial industry watchdog based in Los Angeles.
"This marks the third time the Cheesecake Factory has stood by as the people who clean their restaurants had thousands of dollars in wages stolen from their paychecks. This time is different. Because of new laws in the state, the Cheesecake Factory will also be held accountable for the stolen wages of the people who clean their restaurants," she said.
Friday's fines were handed down under a 2015 state law that holds client employers accountable for workplace violations conducted by contractors.
Businesses contracting and subcontracting to avoid responsibility for ensuring proper worker wages is a common janitorial wage theft practice, according to Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su, though the 2015 law allows officials more recourse in penalizing employers.
"Client businesses can no longer shield themselves from liability for wage theft through multiple layers of contracts. Our enforcement benefits not only the workers who deserve to be paid, but also legitimate janitorial businesses that are underbid by wage thieves," she said.
The investigation was initiated after the Labor Commissioner's Office received a report of wage theft from the Employee Rights Center in San Diego, a nonprofit that assists low-wage workers without union representation.
Investigations typically include three years of payroll audits.