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Hometown Buffet Workers Sue Over Layoffs, Wage Violations (1)

May 21, 2020, 5:10 PMUpdated: May 21, 2020, 7:54 PM

Two Los Angeles-area Hometown Buffet Inc. employees filed a proposed class action Thursday, accusing the restaurant and its corporate affiliates of abruptly laying off all employees in California and failing to provide overtime, breaks, and sick leave.

Hometown Buffet instituted a “massive layoff” on March 21, without providing 60-days’ notice, when it furloughed workers due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The restaurant’s website indicates it temporarily closed all locations on March 22.

The lawsuit represents one of the few filed to date accusing a company of not providing the legally required notice prior to coronavirus-related mass layoffs, despite tens of millions of workers losing their jobs because of the pandemic.

Workers have brought just four federal lawsuits alleging violations of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, for not giving notice related to virus-driven layoffs. One reason for so few WARN Act lawsuits is the statute’s requirement that temporary layoffs must last six months to trigger the notice requirement, while the wave of business closures started two months ago, attorneys said.

State Law Utilized

But the Hometown Buffet workers sued under California’s WARN Act, which doesn’t impose a six-month threshold for the notice obligation to kick in.

Stephanie De La Cruz and Mireya Rivas Virgen collectively sued Hometown Buffet, Food Management Partners Inc., and several affiliated companies and individuals as joint employers. In addition to the California WARN Act claim, they allege the defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage and hour law.

The defendants regularly required employees to work off-the-clock to complete job duties, but intentionally manipulated their wage statements so they didn’t reflect any overtime hours worked and paid them in cash at their regular wage rate instead of time-and-a-half, the employees claim.

Additionally, employees were often interrupted during or forced to work through their meal and rest breaks, and didn’t receive any paid sick days, they say.

The defendants are jointly and severally liable for these violations because they exercise “sufficient control over the wages, hours, working conditions, and employment status,” the employees allege.

Hometown Buffet has more than 40 locations nationwide, including 24 restaurants in California.

Causes of Action: The FLSA; California Labor Code §§201-204, §226.7, §246, §510, §512, §1182, §1194, §1197, §1400, and §§2698-2699; and California Business and Professions Code §17200.

Potential Class Size: “Over one thousand employees in California and nationwide.”

Response: The defendants didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Attorneys: Derek Smith Law Group PLLC represents the employees.

For additional legal resources, visit Bloomberg Law In Focus: Coronavirus (Bloomberg Law Subscription).

The case is De La Cruz v. Hometown Buffet, C.D. Cal., No. 2:20-cv-04558, 5/21/20.

(Updated to add context about WARN Act litigation.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Kathleen Dailey at kdailey@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com