Wage Theft Victims From California Car Wash Still Waiting for Compensation

Toni Sutton-Deangelico

Culver City, CA (WorkersCompensation.com) It’s been nine months since the California Labor Commissioner’s Office slapped L.A. auto dealership Hooman Nissani with a massive wage theft penalty. Current and former employees of Nissani’s Playa Vista Car Wash are still awaiting compensation.

As WorkersCompensation.com previously reported, Nissani and the general manager of the car wash Keyvan Shamshoni were ordered by the state last April to pay over $1.8 million in back wages over the course of three years. The amount included both unpaid overtime and payments made below minimum wage, as well as $19,000 that had been deducted from the paychecks of workers for supplies and $516,000 in penalties.

Last month, current and former workers of the car wash picketed to demand fulfillment of back wages. Cesar Jacobo, who had worked at the car wash for 12 years, said working conditions deteriorated after Nissani took control of the facility. Still, there was some improvement after he and other workers complained to management. However, he was fired after he complained about the working conditions. “They retaliated against me and others for speaking out,” Jacobo said through an interpreter, according to a media release. “I was fired last July without any reason, and until this day, they still haven’t given me a reason why they fired me.”

Ulysses Cuellar, who worked at the car wash for eight months in 2017, said the same thing happened to him. He joined the protest because he wanted Playa Vista Car Wash’s customers to know exactly who they are patronizing.

“People need to know that there are a lot of things that are going on that the public can’t see,” Cuellar said in a news release. He added that workers typically received few if any breaks and never received overtime pay. “When I brought it to the attention of management, the harassment started. Two weeks later, I was fired for supposedly mishandling a rubber vacuum hose.” Before arriving at the car wash, demonstrators began their picketing right across the street from Nissani’s 128,000-square-foot auto mall.

WorkersCompensation.com asked a spokesperson for the Department of Industrial Relations how long it usually takes for victims of wage theft to receive compensation. “It varies, depending on the circumstances and the employer’s willingness to comply with labor laws or pay the citations for labor law violations,” a public information officer said. “Employers have the right to appeal citations and wage assessments issued by the labor commissioner’s office. As in other civil or court proceedings, the time it takes to reach resolution can vary depending on the complexity of the case and whether there are continuances or other situations that delays the appeal process. In this particular case, Mr. Nissani exercised his right to appeal the citations issued. A hearing on the appeal was scheduled for October 2019. However, Mr. Nissani’s lawyer a few days before the hearing requested it be postponed, as his client had suffered an incapacitating injury. The administrative judge hearing the case had ordered Mr. Nissani’s lawyer to provide an update on his client’s status by February 7 close of business.”

When we asked if Nissani could go to jail if these ex-employees do not receive compensation the spokesperson noted “The labor commissioner’s office is not a prosecuting authority and does not pursue criminal charges as an independent agency – it would only do so by making a referral to a prosecuting authority. However, the labor commissioner’s office can file a judgment for unpaid citations and wage assessments to seek repayment of the monies owed plus interest once the amount has been determined through the appropriate legal process.”

The spokesperson also said “The labor commissioner’s office regularly negotiates payment plans with businesses that cannot afford to pay the full monies owed in one payment. However, it will take legal action against businesses that ignore or refuse to pay a final judgment, including using bank levies to recover unpaid wages and penalties, and can issue stop orders that prohibit the use of the employee labor if the business has unpaid wage theft judgments.”

This wage theft violation affects 64 workers.

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