Workers File Suit Against Laundry Express For Wage and Hour Violations

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Employer Also Engaged in Retaliation, Unlawful Termination and Disability Discrimination
Shira Levine
Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center
(415) 864-8848
Jesse Newmark
Centro Legal de la Raza
(510) 437-1554
February 26, 2014
Oakland, CA

Today, the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC) and Centro Legal de la Raza (Centro Legal) filed a lawsuit in California superior court against Laundry Express, an industrial laundry business headquartered in Hayward, California, that supplies area hotels, for violating minimum wage and overtime laws. In addition, the complaint alleges that Laundry Express engaged in retaliation, unlawful termination, and disability-based discrimination, routinely punishing employees for asserting their rights.

The plaintiffs, four former Laundry Express employees, were regularly denied overtime pay and meal and rest breaks, and were forced to work some of their hours without pay.  In addition to ongoing wage and hour violations, the workers also faced pervasive retaliation and discrimination.  One of the plaintiffs, Isabel Soriano, was fired when she asked Laundry Express for the company’s policy related to taking time off to care for an ailing relative. Another plaintiff, Sonia Chacón, was terminated four days after requesting her employment records, in a clearly retaliatory attempt to punish her and discourage others from asserting their workplace rights. A third plaintiff, Sandra Pinto, was fired after requesting a reasonable accommodation - per her doctor’s instructions - for her disability, an injury suffered while at work.

Wage theft is rampant in industries like the laundry business that employ low-income and immigrant workers. According to “Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers,” a 2009 paper by Ruth Milkman, Annette Bernhardt et al., 26 percent of the low-wage workers they studied had been paid less than the legally required minimum wage in the previous week, and 60 percent of these were underpaid by more than $1 an hour. The study also found that: work performed outside regular shifts was typically unpaid; workers were denied meal breaks to which they were legally entitled; and illegal deductions were taken from their pay (for work-related tools, transportation, etc.).  Forty-three  percent of the workers who complained met illegal retaliation - they were fired, suspended, or threatened with pay cuts or the immigration authorities.

  “In addition to committing systemic wage theft, Laundry Express is clearly willing to punish employees who speak up – whether about violations on the job or simply to request legally-protected time off to care for seriously ill parents or ask to be excused from heavy lifting due to an injury,” said Shira Levine, LAS-ELC’s attorney for the plaintiffs.  “We hope this lawsuit will convince Laundry Express to change its exploitative and retaliatory practices while showing other employers that taking advantage of low-income and immigrant workers is not an option.”

“I did everything in my power to keep my job while following my doctor’s orders”, said Ms. Pinto, a laundry attendant who was terminated after requesting a reasonable accommodation for her disability. “But Laundry Express doesn’t want to keep anyone around who asks them to follow the law. They just want to keep paying us less than we are owed without having to deal with us as human beings.”

“There are two things that really make this case stand out,” explained Jesse Newmark, Centro Legal’s Litigation Director.  “Since the day these workers and their families first came into Centro Legal, they have shown incredible resolution and courage in sharing their stories and exercising their legal rights to a safe and fair workplace.  Through all of their hard work, these four brave women are not only protecting their own rights, but helping to make changes for their coworkers.   Laundry Express, to the contrary, stands out for its serious violations of almost every employment law in the book, from wage theft and retaliatory firings, to discrimination and family medical leave.”

About the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center

Founded in 1916, the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center protects the rights and economic self-sufficiency of working poor people by providing free legal services, education, and advocacy. LAS-ELC’s WageHELP Program educates and empowers low-wage workers who have been subjected to unlawful wage and hour practices so that they can advocate for themselves. Where necessary, WageHELP also provides direct representation to workers in their claims against employers.

About Centro Legal de la Raza

Founded in 1969 and located in Oakland,California, Centro Legal de la Raza (Centro Legal) is a comprehensive legal services agency focused on strengthening low-income and Latino individuals and families by providing free and low-cost, bilingual, and culturally competent legal representation, education, and advocacy.  The mission of Centro Legal is to protect and expand the rights of low-income people, particularly monolingual Spanish-speaking immigrants, throughout the East Bay region of Northern California.


Managing Attorney William C. McNeill receives the Kutak-Dodds Award from the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), as well as the Oberlin Alumni Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award. Senior Staff Attorney Christopher Ho receives the Alumni Public Service Award from Stanford Law School.


Senior Staff Attorney Claudia Center receives the Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights from the ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law.


Senior Staff Attorney Sharon Terman receives the Stanford Law School Miles L. Rubin Public Interest Award.


LAS-ELC launches a project to provide employment-related legal services to those who have served in the military and their families, called Jobs & Justice for Service Members, Veterans and Military Families.


Senior Staff Attorney Christopher Ho is honored by Chinese for Affirmative Action for his litigation on behalf of immigrants.


Participating in a broad coalition of civil rights leaders, LAS–ELC drafts portions of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, signed into law by President George W. Bush.


Senate Bill 400, cosponsored by LAS-ELC, is signed into law. It prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because they are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. And it requires employers to provide reasonable safety accommodations to survivors at work.


Senate Bill 770, sponsored by LAS–ELC, is signed into law. It expands Paid Family Leave to include caregiving for seriously ill siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, and parents-in-law.


LAS-ELC helps ensure passage of the San Francisco Retail Workers Bill of Rights, which gives more predictable schedules and greater opportunities for full-time work to restaurant and retail workers. 


Guo Jianmei, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Director of the Peking University Women’s Legal Aid Center asks staff attorneys Patricia Shiu and Elizabeth Kristen to partner on a pioneering legal initiative to address workplace sexual harassment in China. This effort has the potential to affect as many as 10 million low-income women in the Chinese textile and garment industry.


With the economy stagnant and unemployment high, calls to LAS–ELC’s free legal clinics spike. In 2009, the Workers Rights Clinics serve 2,800 low-wage individuals, and the work and family hotline responds to 1,000 calls.


The Workers’ Rights Clinic adds locations in Fresno and Santa Ana (Orange County).


LAS-ELC adds Workers' Rights Clinic location in Woodland to serve Davis/Sacramento area, in addition to San Francisco, Berkeley, Fresno and Santa Ana (Orange County).