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US federal judge: Care facility in contempt for continuing to retaliate against employees

/ 06:50 AM October 17, 2014
Lake Alhambra Assisted Living Center

Lake Alhambra Assisted Living Center

SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge in San Francisco ruled that an assisted living facility in Antioch and its owners and operators are in contempt of a temporary restraining order the court had issued earlier this year for retaliating against their employees.

The court found that Fatima/Zahra Inc., who does business as Lake Alhambra Assisted Living Center and its owners and operators, Mehrangiz Sarkeshik and Abolfazl Sarkeshik, continued to retaliate against its employees during an investigation by the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

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Judge Claudia Wilken of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California also ordered the Sarkeshiks to halt current efforts to sell the business unless they obtained a new agreement without a clause requiring termination of all employees. They are also required to post a bond or arrange for a $553,000 escrow, to satisfy a potential judgment for back wages and damages in this case.

“The court reinforced our position that we will not tolerate the vicious cycle of worker exploitation through fear, coercion and intimidation,” said Ruben Rosalez, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the West.

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“These workers have a tough enough job every day, taking care of elders in failing health. The last thing they deserve is withheld pay and harassment because they questioned their treatment in the workplace,” Rosalez added.

The rulings are the latest development in an ongoing Wage and Hour Division investigation of the company. Findings to date indicate that the Sarkeshiks are in violation of the minimum wage, overtime, record-keeping and anti-retaliation provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Many of the workers are first-generation immigrant workers earning subminimum wages for long, weekly hours.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision and are confident that this order sends a signal to employers that they cannot retaliate, threaten and intimidate workers from securing the most basic protection due to them under federal law: the right to the minimum wage for all hours worked,” said regional solicitor for the department Janet Herold.

“We are committed to ensuring that workers can talk freely and openly to the department. The solicitor’s office will seek relief from the District Courts immediately whenever intimidation, interference or retaliation against workers for asserting these basic rights occurs,” Herold added.

In the ruling, the District Court referred to its earlier order issued in June 2014 after the department sought relief from the owners’ effort to interfere with its investigation by trying to block the entry of federal investigators to the facility. The owners also threatened their low-wage immigrant workforce with deportation, discharge and further reduced wages and work hours.

The court’s earlier order required the owners to schedule a meeting with its workforce, at which the court’s injunction prohibiting retaliation by the owners was announced and explained to the workers.

Just after that first injunction was issued, the owners immediately continued their retaliation campaign by requiring each worker to take a week off without pay, and then reached a deal to sell the business to a buyer who was contractually obliged to terminate the entire workforce.

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As the court’s order explains, such retaliation against workers is prohibited by the FLSA, regardless of whether the retaliation is cloaked in the pretext of the sale of the business.

The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates of pay, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers are required to maintain accurate time and payroll records.

For more information about the FLSA and other federal wage laws, call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243), or its San Francisco District Office at 415-625-7720. Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd.

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TAGS: Abolfazl Sarkeshik, Fair Labor Standards Act FLSA, Fatima/Zahra Inc., Janet Herold, Judge Claudia Wilken, labor grievances, Lake Alhambra Assisted Living Center, Mehrangiz Sarkeshik, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the West, Ruben Rosalez, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, unfair labor practices, US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division
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