Michigan’s Taco Bell Employees Join Class Action Against Sundance
Hundreds of Taco Bell employees in Michigan have joined a class action lawsuit filed in District Court in Detroit against their employer, franchise owner Sundance Inc. of Brighton. Sundance operates 176 Yum! Brands restaurants – mostly Taco Bells – in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, including 75 Taco Bell restaurants in the state. The lawsuit alleges the corporation systemically practiced wage theft against its workers and violated Michigan’s Fair Labor Standards Act.
“Sundance engages in a practice in which it ‘shifts’ hours that an employee works during one week over to the following week so that an employee’s time records do not demonstrate that the employee worked over 40 hours in a given work week,” according to the complaint. “Sundance maintains a white board in its office on which it keeps track of its employees’ ‘shifted hours’ from week to week.” Some plaintiffs also alleged they “simply were not paid at all for their ‘shifted over’ hours” or were “instructed to clock out, and continue working after doing so, in order for each store to maintain its Sundance-imposed labor metrics.”
“There’s a whole slew of things that we believe Sundance has been engaging in in order to avoid paying overtime wages,” said attorney Jennifer McManus of Fagan McManus in Royal Oak, who represents the more than 500 current and former employees involved in the case. “One is clocking its employees out and requiring them to continue working. Another is manipulating their clock in and clock out times after they leave the store. They came forward very randomly, as people who were saying what’s happening to me on the job isn’t right. It was as simple as that.”
Attorney Megan Bonanni, who is also representing the employees, stated of the franchise owner, “This was an intentional violation to maximize their profit margin. To say that it’s an isolated practice from a few rogue stores is just not what we’re observing.” Of her clients, she said, “In addition to money – which would be the wages owed, perhaps a doubling of the wages owed, depending on certain court rulings – we’re also seeking an order from the courts called equitable relief, that these practices have to end. And that these employees be paid in compliance with the various state and federal wage and hour laws that we have.”
Taco Bell Corp. stated in response to the litigation: “Our franchisees are independent owners and operators. Because they are responsible for the operations of their restaurants, we cannot comment on this specific litigation, but we do expect that all of our franchisees comply with all applicable laws, including wage and hour requirements.”
Attorneys for the franchise owner have denied all claims about unpaid overtime in their court filings, noting that employees were instructed to notify a manager or Sundance’s human resources department if they had concerns or spotted discrepancies between hours worked and their pay stubs.
Depositions have started in the case and a 2019 trial is likely to follow, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. The lawsuit seeks all unpaid wages, damages, and payment of attorneys’ fees.