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.
That's 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, according to the Department of Labor.
In a rare action, the court’s order requires the owners to sell or shut down their businesses by Nov. 27.
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, according to the federal government.
"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," Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Ruben Rosalez in San Francisco said in a statement.