Hubby, Filipina owner of Beverly Hills bakery no strangers to lawsuits
SAN FRANCISCO — When the daughter of a wealthy and powerful Filipino official was sued last month by 11 of her Filipino employees, she was no stranger to lawsuits in California’s Superior Court.
Court records show Analiza (Ana) Moitinho de Almeida, the daughter of Juan B. Santos, the former Nestle chair, and the current head of Social Security System in the Philippines, appears to be the litigious type.
On the week Ana Moitinho de Almeida was slapped with a civil suit worth at least $1 million naming her, her husband Goncalo, and their corporate entities, L’Amande French Bakery and French Concepts in a complaint for human trafficking, racketeering, discrimination, and labor issues, a second case was already on their plate.
In addition to the big civil suit, Ana and her husband were in mediation talks over a second multimillion dollar suit they filed against a Filipino American couple, who are their relatives.
In December 2012, the Moitinho de Almeidas filed a libel suit worth upwards of $8 million dollars in damages against undetermined “John Doe and Does 1-100,” who may have used fictitious screen names to post defamatory statements on Yelp against the Moitinho de Almeidas bakery.
The suit cites posts under various names. One by an “Alan B.” said the bakery was “not a French Bakery,” and that “any French baker worth his salt will always have in their shops chocolate or coffee eclairs filled with ganache or mousse inside.”
Another example was from a poster identified as “Claire,” who complained that the owners were “plain cheats and liars” and that “knowing the shady background of the owner and bakers,” they found a “hair… a big, black curly hair inside the bread.”
Such John Doe suits are often seen as as “SLAPP” suits. SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation.” And while it seems like a way for a business to protect its rights, they’re actually intended to put a chill in the air and take away First Amendment rights from the public.
Indeed, anti-SLAPP legislation has been the answer to curb the frivolous use of such suits.
In the Moitinho de Almeida case, the plaintiffs named actual defendants later. But surprisingly along with the John Does, the defendants were Ana’s first cousin, Minette, and Richard Ramos, Los Angeles area residents who, up until that time, were close friends of the Moitinho de Almeidas.
I contacted Ramos who confirmed the suit and the responses filed on September 2013. Ramos said neither he nor his wife wrote the negative reviews on Yelp.
“We swore to each other on our marriages that we didn’t’ write it,” Richard Ramos told me. “ I believe my wife.”
Without admitting to any of the negative postings, the Ramoses’ response to the suit claims that any reviews are protected speech and that the Yelp contract signed by the Moitinho de Almeida’s was their consent to receive both positive and negative reviews.
Richard Ramos told me he was surprised by the suit and said that it seemed to come when he and his wife became more aware of the situation with the Moitinho de Almeida’s employees at home and at their bakeries as early as 2009.
Ramos said he was told by Goncalo Moitinho de Almeida that the workers did domestic and gardening work as well as bakery work. That is one of the key issues in the civil suit filed by the workers last month. E-2 visas obtained by the Moitinho de Almeida’s as “foreign investors” were for the purposes of bringing in “skilled workers.”
Ramos suspects the suit may have been intended to intimidate them into silence about what they knew about the Moitinho de Almeidas’ use of the “skilled workers” as domestic help.
“I know the stories,” said Ramos. “I heard it first hand from Goncalo…They just wanted to quiet us and suppress us to not come forward with the truth.”
Ramos hopes the facts in the employees’ suit will somehow impact the suit on the Yelp matter.
By phone and e-mail, I reached out to Goncalo and Ana Moitinho de Almedia about the Yelp suit against Ana’s relatives.
Goncarlo responded: “I got your voicemail. We emphatically deny the accusations and look forward to vigorously defend them in the court of law, not public opinion. Thank you.”
Two weeks ago, both had responded to my calls on the employee matter: “French Concepts, Inc. DBA L’Amande French Bakery believes that like anyone accused in our judicial system we will have our turn to present our story and supporting evidence. At that time we will allow due process to take its course.”
The Moitinho de Almeidas also have a court date set in May on yet another matter.
Last year, the California labor commissioner’s office reportedly ordered the Moitinho de Almeidas to pay nearly $250,000 in overtime wages and penalties to workers.
The Moitinho de Almedas have appealed the fine.
Award-winning journalist Emil Guillermo writes from California. He was on the editorial board of the Honolulu Advertiser, and a former host of NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media ; twitter@emilamok
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