SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal court ordered the owners of 14 Subway locations north of San Francisco to pay employees nearly $1 million in damages and back pay — and also to sell or shut their businesses, with any sale proceeds going to the Department of Labor.
Federal investigators said franchise owners John and Jessica Meza directed children as young as 14 to operate dangerous machinery, assigned minors work hours that violated federal law, and failed to pay their employees regularly, including by issuing hundreds of bad checks and illegally keeping tips left by customers.
The Labor Department also charged that the Mezas coerced employees in an attempt to prevent them from cooperating with its investigation and that an associate, Hamza Ayesh, played a role in those efforts, including threatening an employee who complained about receiving a bad check.
The Mezas did not admit to threatening or coercing employees, according to Arkady Itkin, their lawyer, who added that they did admit to issuing bad checks and violating some labor standards. He added that Ayesh did not admit to threatening an employee, but agreed to settle what Itkin called a “he said, she said situation” to put it to rest.
Itkin added that the Mezas are people of modest means who are very unlikely to be able to pay the sum agreed to in the court order. “The settlement agreement might make it look like they’re just going to cough up a million dollars,” he said. “It’s not going to happen.”