JD Home Rentals, one of the Valley’s largest property-management companies, has quietly reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit brought by former maintenance workers for $3 million.
The lawsuit, filed in May 2015, alleges that the owners of JD Homes failed to pay overtime, provide meal and rest periods, reimburse work-related expenses, provide timely and accurate wage statements, and provide timely final payment to former employees after they stopped working for the company. It also alleges unfair business practices and civil penalties for labor code violations.
More than 450 current and former employees who worked for JD Homes between May 11, 2011, and Sept. 15, 2015, could receive payment as part of the settlement, which is pending court approval next week.
The settlement follows a ruling in July by the U.S. Department of Labor, which ordered JD Homes to pay more than $259,000 in damages and overtime wages to 157 employees – mostly maintenance workers.
The company has also been sued multiple times over alleged housing violations, including an ongoing class-action case brought in 2014 by the statewide renters’ rights group Tenants Together. The company was among the landlords featured last year in The Fresno Bee’s “Living in Misery” series on substandard housing in Fresno.
The civil suit names David and Linda Hovannisian, their various companies under the umbrella of JD Home Rentals, as well as Miguel Torres and his company, who managed the employees. The defendants have denied the claims.
We came to an agreement and settled the case rather than continue it.
Bryce Hovannisian, operations manager for JD Home Rentals
Bryce Hovannisian, operation’s manager for JD Homes, said part of the agreement stipulates that attorneys for both sides cannot comment.
“We came to an agreement and settled the case rather than continue it,” he said.
Public records show attorneys for JD Homes tried to make the same stipulation apply to maintenance workers who are part of the class. Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan ruled that “payments to the class representatives cannot be hinged on their silence about the settlement” because their discussion helps ensure more people are made aware of its existence.
Four former employees are named in the lawsuit: Jesús Miranda, Jaime Magdaleno, Iriberto Meza and George Vásquez. They will get $10,000 each as an enhancement for their participation in the lawsuit if the settlement is approved.
All gave similar statements in support of the settlement, saying there were times they worked more than eight hours a day but were not paid at an overtime rate, and that they didn’t get all of their lunch and break periods. They said they were required to buy tools, such as drills, saws and screwdrivers, and use their personal cellphones for work purposes without reimbursement.
The men said they joined the class action to get justice for the other workers who experience the same violations. They said they knew from the beginning that they were filing the lawsuit not only for themselves, but also for all past and present employees “who didn’t know their rights or worried about losing their jobs if they did something.”
Miranda said he worked for JD Homes for more than 18 years, until December 2014, as a maintenance person at various apartment buildings throughout Fresno County. Some of his duties included unclogging toilets, fixing kitchen equipment and addressing flooring issues. He was paid $11 an hour.
“Because of my participation in this class action, I risked being blacklisted from future jobs,” Miranda said. “I knew that participating as a class representative could hurt me because jobs are scarce in the Central Valley and the industry is small and well connected. I decided to take the risk anyway because I knew that someone had to stand up for our rights.”
The workers were represented by two lead attorneys: Enrique Martínez of Oakland and Erandi Zamora of the nonprofit California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, which has an office in Fresno. Zamora said she cannot comment. Martínez submitted a statement in support of the settlement that is public record.
He said JD Homes leaders provided more than 30,000 pages of payroll data, reimbursement records and timecards from 2011 into 2015. Martínez said he and Zamora met with more than 75 workers and that their documents, plus the data that JD leaders provided, backed up the plaintiffs’ claims.
Martínez said economist and statistician Dwight Steward of the research firm EmployStats performed a damages analysis and determined the maximum potential recovery was $5.3 million.
Because of this litigation, the situation has improved for the workers at JD Home Rentals.
Enrique Martínez, attorney for the maintenance workers
“Because of this litigation, the situation has improved for the workers at JD Home Rentals,” he said. “Based on our conversations with current employees, they are getting reimbursed for their tools and other work expenses, and are now receiving overtime pay and required meal breaks.”