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California Labor Commissioner Reaches $1.47 Million Wage Theft Settlement with Poultry Businesses Affecting more than 300 Workers

The Labor Commissioner’s Office has reached a $1.47 million settlement over wage theft citations issued against three client employers and their owner based on violations committed by five Los Angeles-area poultry processors who underpaid more than 300 workers.

The settlement resolves litigation following a 2021 hearing officer decision for $1.5 million which upheld citations against the three client employer companies (The Exclusive Poultry, Inc., J.T. Foods Specialty, Inc., and D8 Poultry, LLC) and owner Tony Bran. California law holds client employers—businesses that obtain labor from a labor contractor—responsible for their contractors’ workplace violations. A client employer may be liable for owed wages, damages and penalties, as well as workers’ compensation violations.

“The law is clear: Employers must pay no less than the minimum wage for each hour worked, and compensate for rest periods and other non-productive time under the control of the employer,” said Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower. “This result also upholds the liability of client employers, who in this case built a business around low-paid processing workers and tried to hide behind undercapitalized labor contractors.”

The affected workers were paid by the piece to debone chicken legs at facilities in East Los Angeles and La Puente. They were not provided paid rest breaks as required by law, were not paid properly for overtime, and were not compensated for time required to wait for shipments of chicken to arrive and for deboned chicken to be removed from their work area. Some workers also made less than minimum wage. In addition, the poultry processors failed to maintain workers’ compensation coverage.

The Labor Commissioner’s Bureau of Field Enforcement (BOFE) began its investigation after a worker filed a complaint alleging wage violations in the summer of 2017. The investigation found that the poultry processors, operating in two facilities leased by client employer Tony Bran, paid workers a flat rate of $2.35 per 40-pound box of deboned chicken and failed to pay for rest breaks or other nonproductive time or overtime pay. Bran and his companies leased the processing facilities, supplied the chicken to be deboned, and sold the deboned chicken to their customers.

The poultry processors who directly employed the workers were Sullon Poultry, Inc. and Camacho Poultry, LLC, both in La Puente, and D-8 Foods, Inc., Best Poultry, Inc. and M.G Poultry, Inc., all in East Los Angeles. BOFE issued citations to the client employers in 2018 for the poultry processors’ labor law violations occurring between 2015 and 2018.

Bran and the three client employer companies he owns, The Exclusive Poultry, Inc., J.T. Foods Specialty, Inc., and D8 Poultry, LLC, appealed the citations. After a 10-day hearing, the hearing officer upheld the unpaid wages and penalties citations, with minor modifications, against Bran and his client employer companies. The hearing officer also determined that Bran and his companies were client employers to the five poultry processor labor contractors.

The October 2021 hearing officer decision found Bran and his companies responsible for the amounts due to workers and penalties for wage violations and for the failure to have workers’ compensation pursuant to California’s client-employer liability law.

The hearing officer found a total of $901,032 payable to workers in unpaid wages, damages and interest as follows:

  • $68,400 for minimum wage violations
  • $213,118 in liquidated damages and interest
  • $236,370 in rest period violations
  • $5,864 for overtime violations
  • $377,280 for waiting time penalties

Bran and his companies were also found responsible for an additional $397,150 in civil penalties that were assessed for minimum wage, overtime, rest period and waiting time violations. The citations affirmed also include an additional $203,102 for workers’ compensation violations against Exclusive Poultry and Tony Bran. When workers are paid less than minimum wage, they are entitled to liquidated damages that equal the amount of underpaid minimum wages plus interest.

Following the hearing officer’s October 2021 decision, Bran and his client employer companies filed a request that the Los Angeles Superior Court review the decision. After the Labor Commissioner’s Office filed two lawsuits against Bran and four of his relatives alleging that Bran had transferred real estate to them to avoid paying for his legal liabilities, Bran and his client employer subsequently agreed to settle with the Labor Commissioner’s Office.

The Labor Commissioner’s Office has already received the $1.47 million settlement amount, and is in the process of locating affected workers to pay them the money they are owed.

Workers who believe they have not been paid properly, or who have questions about other labor laws, such as those that prohibit retaliation for making a wage claim, can get in touch with the Labor Commissioner’s Office. Call 833-LCO-INFO (833-526-4636) or contact the office closest to your workplace.

The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (the California Labor Commissioner’s Office) combats wage theft and unfair competition by investigating allegations of illegal and unfair business practices.

In 2020, the Labor Commissioner’s Office launched an interdisciplinary outreach campaign, “Reaching Every Californian.” The campaign amplifies basic protections and builds pathways to impacted populations so workers and employers understand legal protections and obligations, and the Labor Commissioner’s enforcement procedures.

Source : ca.gov

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