A Pennsylvania law firm has filed nearly identical federal lawsuits against two central San Joaquin Valley food processors, saying they are violating wage-and-hour laws by not paying workers for on-site preparation like donning and doffing required sanitary gear.
Each lawsuit — one against Leprino Foods in Lemoore, the other against Wawona Frozen Foods in Clovis — has a lead plaintiff, but seeks class-action status. Jonathon Talavera, identified as a Lemoore resident, is the sole listed lead plaintiff in the Leprino suit. Luis Aguilar, identified as a Fresno County resident, is the plaintiff in the Wawona suit. Both suits were filed recently in U.S. District Court in Fresno.
According to the lawsuit, workers at the plants are required by both state and federal regulations, and by company policy, to wear sanitary gear such as plastic aprons, smock, arm sleeves, hairnets, earplugs and other protective equipment and coverings. The suit says it takes “substantial amounts of time” to don and doff the gear at the start and end of each work day, as well as to sanitize, get supplies and walk to the production line.
These types of lawsuits are not unusual, according to legal experts. Lawsuits covering off-the-clock work have been filed by workers in hotels, restaurants, call centers, banks and other locations. Last year, National Beef, a Kansas slaughterhouse, agreed to pay up to $350,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit with 480 employees who said the company only paid them when the production line was running.
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Both the Leprino and Wawona lawsuits have identical language saying, “As a result of the various work activities which must be performed prior to the start of paid time, employees are regularly forced to arrive at the plant well before the start of their shifts and are not credited for all time spent working on behalf of defendants.”
In addition, the suits say workers did not get a full 30-minute meal break because of the need to don or doff sanitary gear, and the Leprino suit says workers at the Lemoore plant also had to cut short their lunch period because they had to wait in line to clock back in. Both suits say workers also did not receive required 10-minute breaks and did not offer a second 30-minute meal period when a work shift exceeded 10 hours.
The Leprino suit additionally says the company deducted the cost of uniforms and equipment, including the cost of work badges and time cards, from wages without prior written authorization.
Both suits seek, among other things, money for the unpaid wages and other employee benefits, with interest, as well as an injunction prohibiting the practice to continue.
A scheduling conference has been set for April 21 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe in the Leprino suit, and a similar hearing for April 23 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary S. Austin in the Wawona suit.