Suits Challenge Hooters On Wage-and-Hour Issues

Dina Partridge, left, and Danielle Sitnyakovsky, who are former Hooter Girls, are part of a law suit against the restaurant chain.

By MALIA WOLLAN
Published: April 9, 2010
When Dina Partridge of Pleasanton first put on her Hooter Girl uniform in 2004, she was the single mother of a toddler daughter, she said, and she felt lucky.

“There were 1,200 applicants, and I was one out of 80 that got hired,” she said. “I thought I was going to make a lot of money and meet celebrities.”

Instead, Ms. Partridge was shocked not by the randy customers, the short-shorts and the plunging necklines, but because she says she spent her own money for her uniforms, worked long shifts without breaks and did not get her share of tips.

Now, Ms. Partridge, 30, is the lead plaintiff in what is perhaps the least salacious lawsuit imaginable against a restaurant chain that capitalizes on female sexuality. The Bay Area has become the epicenter for a cascade of similar lawsuits against Hooters franchises across the state alleging that the restaurants failed to follow state law about its obligations to its workers.

“These are wage-and-hour class-action lawsuits,” said Burton F. Boltuch, the plaintiffs’ lawyer. “That’s it.”

There is a reason for this geographic concentration of suits.

“California is the most stringent and most expansive when it comes to pro-employee laws,” said William B. Gould IV, a law professor at Stanford University and the former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.

Employment-related class-action lawsuits increased more than 300 percent in the state from 2000 to 2005, according to a 2009 report by the Judicial Council of California’s Administrative Office of the Courts. California leads the nation in the number of wage-and-hour class-action lawsuits, though Florida leads in per-capita filings, according to a report by Littler Mendelson, a national law firm.

The first Hooters restaurant in Northern California opened in San Francisco on Fisherman’s Wharf in 2003. It was owned by Nick and Shirley Trani and their son John.

The Tranis’ company, Hott Wings Inc., later opened Hooters restaurants in Campbell, Fremont, Dublin and San Bruno. In addition, the senior Tranis own other fast-food franchises in the Central Valley.

The Tranis’ lawyer, Matthew J. Ruggles, called the claims against the family, its franchises and its company “vastly overstated.” All three Tranis declined to be interviewed for this article.

The workers’ lawyers filed the case in May in Alameda County Court on behalf of 19 former Hooter Girls against four Bay Area Hooters franchises and their owners. Last month, Mr. Boltuch filed similar suits in Sacramento and Los Angeles Counties.

The common claim is that Hooter Girls had to buy their uniforms — the low-cut tank tops emblazoned with the Hooters owl, orange short-shorts, “Cal-Sun” footless pantyhose, white slouchy socks and high-top Skechers sneakers. State law requires businesses that mandate distinctive uniforms to pay for them.

“Not all states say, as California does, that a uniform that is distinctive must be paid for by an employer,” Mr. Gould said.

The suits also claim that Hooters employees were not given their adequate share of tips, were not granted legally mandated breaks for rest and meals, were not paid, or were paid insufficiently, for special events like bikini car washes and contests, golf tournaments, car shows and “winging” — when Hooters Girls went out to local businesses and gave out free chicken wings.

The three class-action lawsuits do not dwell on lasciviousness or push-up bras. In challenging labor practices at Hooters franchises, they highlight how stringent California’s wage and hour laws are, and how these minimum-wage and overtime standards make it easier to file large class-action suits against companies like Hooters in California than anywhere else.

Unlike federal law, California law requires employees to get rest periods, lunch breaks and compensation for any time worked over eight hours a day.

Federal wage and hour laws mandate that employees choose to be part of a class-action lawsuit, which means that labor lawyers must track down employees and convince them to join a case. But in California, current and former employees are presumed to be part of a class-action lawsuit, which means more plaintiffs and bigger settlements, Mr. Gould said.

Mr. Boltuch’s filing three class-action lawsuits against Hooters franchises means that he will be representing all the Hooter Girls, dishwashers and busboys in the state — more than 6,000 people.

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Central Valley Hooters Case

CENTRAL VALLEY LAWSUIT BACKGROUND

The Central Valley Hooters case – Galakhova, et al v. Hooters of America, Inc., et al was just filed on March 16, 2010, as a class action against Hooters of America, against the five Central Valley Hooters (Sacramento, Natomas, Rancho Cordova, Fresno and Bakersfield) and against the operators and owners. The Plaintiffs are one current and four former employees of the franchises. Similar to the Bay Area and Southern California lawsuits, the Central Valley case attacks the illegal wage and hour practices of Hooters. Unlike the Bay Area case, the Central Valley case alleges that Hooters of America is liable for some of the unfair practices.

The Claims

  • failure to provide the required ten minute paid rest break every four hours
  • failure to provide the 30 minute meal break as required
  • requirement that employees pay for uniforms
  • requirement that employees pay for customer walkouts and cash shortages
  • failure to pay employees reporting time pay when they report to work as scheduled
  • failure to pay for all time worked
  • failure to pay employees for off-site promotions

failure to pay for time spent getting ready for work (donning and doffing)

The Complaint

Read the whole Complaint.
Exhibit One to Complaint
Exhibit Two to Complaint

Class Action Lawsuit To Be Brought Against Local Hooters Restaurants

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Another Hooters Uniform Employment Practices Suit

By Tanya Roth on March 18, 2010 8:45 AM
Hooters has just been sued for the third time in the state of California for illegal employment practices. The restaurant, best known for its pneumatic wait staff and hot wings, is under fire for its treatment of employees as relates to the Hooters uniform and whether or not employees are allowed breaks. Former employee Maya Galakhova is one of the plaintiffs in the suit filed by attorney Burton Boltuch. Boltuch has also filed suits against Hooters restaurants in Southern California as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area.

According to the report by local Sacramento News KCRA, Galakhova joined Hooters believing it to be a “fun, positive, outgoing place to work,” but instead found a workplace with “a lot of negativity.” Specifically regarding the workplace issues that are legally actionable, Galahova alleges that the wait staff was never allowed to take breaks and was made to purchase their own staff uniforms. According to the California Department of Industrial Relations, “If an employer requires that an employee wear a uniform, the employer must pay the cost of the uniform. (Labor Code Section 2802, Industrial Welfare Commission Orders, Section 9.) The term ‘uniform’ includes wearing apparel and accessories of distinctive design and color.” It is virtually certain the court would agree the Hooters uniform is “distinctive.”

KCRA was unable to elicit a response from the Sacramento Hooters regarding the specific suit, however the company did issue a statement regarding the earlier Bay Area suit. The company said, “If there have been any violations of company policies that have harmed employees, we will act promptly and aggressively to correct any mistakes and to make whole any employee who has been harmed.” The Bay Area suit will begin mediation this spring.

A similar suit against the company was brought in New York in 2009. The New York Hooters plaintiffs sued for being required to purchase those luxurious tank top, shorts and suntan hose uniforms, as well as for being forced to share their pooled tips with the kitchen staff.

Related Resources:

* Suit Claims Poor Practices At Hooters (KCRA)
* Hooters Waitresses Sue Over Having to Buy Uniforms (FindLaw’s Law and Daily Life)
* Uniform Deductions, Ca. Department of Industrial Relations
* Employment Law News (provided by Holman Schiavone, LLC)

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Bay Area Lawsuit

BAY AREA LAWSUIT BACKGROUND

The Bay Area Hooters case – Partridge, et al v. HOTT Wings, et al – is moving forward. The Court has rejected various attacks of Hooters to dismiss portions of the case. After many depositions and after Hooters has provided us with thousands of pages of documents, we are going to a mediation on May 3. Mediation is a procedure where the parties, with the assistance of a neutral, try to resolve the case.

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Hooters Litigation Expands: Three Lawsuits Filed

We now have three class actions pending against Hooters franchises in California:

Hooters of America, Inc., the Atlanta, GA based operator and franchisor of over 450 Hooters franchises, is a defendant in two of the cases.  All three class actions attack the illegal practices of Hooters not paying for uniforms, not providing ten minute rest and thirty minute meal periods, not paying for promotions and required work off the clock and other violations of California wage and hour laws.

BAY AREA CASE – The Partridge case, filed on May 28, 2009, is against four Bay Area Hooters franchises, (Campbell, Dublin, Fremont and San Francisco), HOTT Wings, Inc. and various owners and managers.  We are proceeding to mediation on May 3 in hopes of settling the case.  You can still help by contacting us and filling out the survey.

How can you help?Fill out the survey NOW →

What’s next? – We will be serving discovery on the franchises and others seeking documents to support the claims and seeking other evidence.

See the Three Lawsuits :
Bay Area (Partridge)
Southern California (Estrada)
Central Valley (Galakhova)

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Hooters Sued…

Are you currently an employee, or an ex-employee, of  Hooters? Do you think you have been the victim of wage and hour violations? If so, maybe we can help. Please complete the Hooters Employee Survey.

Watch the Channel 2 Special Report on the case.

Ch2 video thumbnail
More Media Coverage →

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