News Release/U.S. DOL/September 29, 2023
Labor Department finds employers endangered children, bounced paychecks, stole tips
SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has ordered the owners and operators of 14 Bay Area Subway restaurants to pay employees nearly $1 million in back wages and damages after federal investigators found they directed children as young as 14 and 15 to use dangerous equipment and assigned minors to work hours not permitted by law; failed to pay employees their wages regularly, including by issuing them hundreds of bad checks; and illegally kept tips left by customers.
In a rare action, the court’s order requires the owners to sell or shut down their businesses by Nov. 27, 2023, a term the department insisted on to resolve the case.
The action comes after the department’s Wage and Hour Division found these and other violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act by John Michael Meza and his wife, Jessica L. Meza, who had franchise agreements with franchisor and operator Doctor’s Associates LLC to operate the restaurants in Antioch, Clayton, Concord, Cotati, Napa, Petaluma, San Pablo, Santa Rosa, Vallejo and Windsor.
Investigators also found the employers interfered with the division’s review by coercing employees not to cooperate and threatening children who raised concerns or tried to exercise their legal rights. The department’s investigation also found that the Mezas’ associate, Hamza “Mike” Ayesh, played a role in these violations, including threatening an employee who complained about receiving a bounced payroll check.
The department obtained a preliminary court injunction on May 19, 2023, forbidding the employers from violating child labor laws, threatening and retaliating against workers and obstructing a federal investigation.
On Sept. 27, 2023, the department obtained a consent judgment and permanent injunction that orders the Mezas to pay 184 workers $475,000 in minimum wage, overtime and tips and an equal amount in liquidated damages. The court also ordered them to pay $150,000 in penalties. The Mezas and Ayesh will also have to pay $12,000 in punitive damages for their retaliatory conduct.
“Thanks to some very brave young people who stood up to their employers’ exploitation and attempts to intimidate them, the Department of Labor and a federal court are holding these business owners accountable,” said Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Ruben Rosalez in San Francisco. “With the combined efforts of Wage and Hour Division investigators and the department’s Office of the Solicitor, these employers are facing the consequences for endangering the safety and well-being of children and violating federal law.”