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Taco Bell Workers Win Suit Over Pay Violations

March 13, 2001|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Thousands of current and former Taco Bell Corp. workers in Oregon have won a lawsuit that contended their time cards were doctored so managers could meet productivity deadlines and get bonuses.

The verdict by a Multnomah County Circuit Court jury was announced Monday by an attorney for workers who had filed the class-action lawsuit against the Irvine-based chain.

Damages and penalties could be in the millions of dollars, said Paul Breed, an attorney for the workers.

About 1,300 current and former workers who have filed claims seeking unpaid wages will share in any damages. The rest of the 13,739 workers in the class action will have to pursue individual claims, Breed said.

The jury found Taco Bell liable in a verdict handed down Friday. Damages and penalties will be determined in a separate trial this spring or summer, Breed said.

Former Taco Bell supervisors said at a news conference that they had been pressured by Taco Bell senior managers to shave hours off employees' time cards.

"I was a single mother," said Brandi Bravo, who worked her way up from the food production crew to shift manager or supervisor and reported to salaried managers. "I knew if I didn't keep labor where it had to be, then somebody else would have my job and I wouldn't have one."

Taco Bell attorney Bob Weaver said the company has a strict labor policy and said any wage violations were isolated incidents. He said he would seek judicial review of the verdict before deciding whether to appeal.

When made aware of complaints, Taco Bell responded quickly, firing some managers, he said.

Weaver said the jury rejected several claims in the class-action lawsuit, including allegations that Taco Bell systematically failed to pay overtime, pressured workers to make bank deposits after their day ended and forced them to wait past their scheduled start times to clock in.

A lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court contended Taco Bell failed to pay overtime to 2,000 assistant managers and 1,000 managers throughout California. After a month of trial, the company agreed Feb. 26 to settle the lawsuit for $9 million--a deal that must be approved by the judge and the workers, said plaintiffs attorney Steve Crandall of San Luis Obispo.

Taco Bell settled another lawsuit in Washington state in 1997, resulting in nearly $3 million in payments to more than 2,100 current and former Taco Bell workers.

At the news conference Monday, Judi Christensen, also a former shift supervisor, said managers made it clear they needed supervisors to keep payroll to a minimum so managers could meet productivity guidelines that would gain them bonuses of $30,000 to $50,000 at year-end.

More than 13,000 Taco Bell workers and former employees in Oregon were eligible to file claims before the end of March 2000.

The class-action lawsuit covered alleged incidents at company-owned Taco Bell restaurants in that state from 1993 through 1996. Restaurants managed by franchise owners were not included.

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Times staff writer E. Scott Reckard contributed to this report. Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

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