(CN) - A French bakery in Los Angeles trafficked workers from the Philippines, promising them jobs as chefs and managers, then making them do landscaping and maintenance for 13 hours a day for less than $3 per hour, 11 former workers claim in court.
Lead plaintiff Ermita Alabado et al. sued French Concepts dba L'Amande French Bakery and its owners Analiza Moitinho de Almeida and Goncalo Moitinho de Almeida, on March 18 in Superior Court.
The 27-count lawsuit alleges human trafficking, RICO violations, fraud, discrimination, harassment, immigration violations, nine Labor Code violations, among other things.
Alabado claims she and the other workers were promised jobs at L'Amande French Bakery, of Beverly Hills and Torrance, to be "skilled bakery chefs and managers, but when they arrived what they faced was starkly different."
The Almeidas recruited 10 of the plaintiffs from their chain of French bakeries in the Philippines, secured E-2 visas for them, "and then flew them in batches of two or three from the Philippines to Southern California to begin work," according to the 52-page complaint.
To get the visas, the Almeidas misrepresented to the U.S. government the work the plaintiffs were to do: "work that in reality included a significant amount of unskilled, menial labor - and overstated the salary they would be paid," the lawsuit states.
The workers say they were "forced to work for defendants in illegal, oppressive, and discriminatory conditions as domestic servants, physical laborers engaged in landscaping and building maintenance, and retail bakery workers doing a substantial amount of menial work of defendant's French bakeries."
The workers who arrived in California before the bakery opened claim they had to perform months of manual labor at the Almeidas' home and their 17-unit rental property in Long Beach.
"For these tasks, defendants paid the workers barely more than $2 per hour," the complaint states. "During this time, the workers slept for several months on the floor of a small laundry room in the Almeidas' house."
When the bakery's first outlet opened, the workers say, they had to work at least 13-hour days every day of the week, for as little as $1,000 per month: less than $3 per hour.
"To conceal evidence of these wages and hour violations, defendants altered or destroyed the workers' timecards and told them not to accurately report their actual time worked," the workers claim. "Defendants also demeaned and verbally abused the workers, prevented them from speaking in their native Tagalog language, and tired to isolate them from other Filipinos as well as local workers in the bakery."
The workers say the Almeidas told them that if they refused to didn't work under these conditions, they would each owe the defendants more than $11,000.
The threats escalated when a state labor enforcement agency began investigating the bakery', the complaint states.
"Defendants threatened to harm the workers and families back in the Philippines where defendants bragged about their political clout," the workers claim. "Defendants instructed the workers to lie to the investigators and other government officials, and when the workers refused, they retaliated against them, including wrongfully firing five of them, leaving the workers with no livelihood and too afraid to return home to the Philippines because of defendants' threats."
Crier Communications - named on L'Amande's website as its press contact - says it no longer represents L'Amande.
The plaintiffs seek unpaid wages, liquidated damages, damages, treble damages, statutory damages and punitive damages.
They are represented by Michael Romey, with Latham & Watkins.
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