An appeal for justice to the Cheesecake Factory
Cheesecake Factory settles $4.5 million class-action lawsuit
September 2, 2005 5:09 PM
Young Workers United, along with current and former Cheesecake Factory employees, held a press conference in Union Square on Thursday and victoriously announced a $4.5 million lawsuit settlement from the company filed by workers alleging mistreatment at the San Francisco restaurant.
According to the Young Workers United website, there were a host of allegations. Employees said they were not given meal breaks when they worked shifts over six hours (which are mandated by state law), that managers verbally harassed them, and that there were instances of racial and sexual discrimination.
The bulk of the individual claims filed by employees with the Department of Labor Standard Enforcement were wage claims for missed breaks. A California law passed in 2000 entitles workers to one hour of pay if they are not given a meal break, but many who filed said the Cheesecake Factory denied them meal breaks up to March 2003. In an effort to remedy this situation the restaurant had employees come in an hour early, do side work (such as folding napkins), then take a half-hour break but still work a six hour shift with no other rest periods.
This settlement comes as a landmark victory for employees at the Cheesecake factory and for all workers’ rights in San Francisco.
Chris Jackson, an SFSU senior and president of Associated Students Inc., sits on the board of Young Workers United and said that pressure from the employees and members of the community finally led to the company giving in. He hopes other corporations will see this as an example.
“The [settlement’s] great, but the fight is not over,” he said. “This is a great victory…but [we’ve] got to keep on fighting and get organized.”
Although the action in California started with the individual claims that workers made in San Francisco, it was actually a second movement of other organized workers in Southern California that led to the settlement. According to Tony De Vencenzi, a current employee and 2004 SFSU graduate, he and others filed their individual claims with the DLSE and no immediate action was taken by the Cheesecake factory for over a year. It was only after workers in San Francisco joined the class-action lawsuit that was started in Southern California that they began to see results.
“I think it was the harassment [that got them to settle],” said Patty Senecal, a former employee and SFSU alumni. “They knew that we weren’t going to go away and they wanted to get rid of us.”
For those involved, the lawsuit is only the beginning. They all agreed that they have to reach people on an even wider scale letting them know fair treatment in the workplace is a right.
But De Vencenzi said he feels that for now, the idea of winning is liberating.
“It was a cathartic thing,” he said. “It was great to feel a victory. It was a culmination of the events of the last two years.”
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