Today, the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC) and Chavez & Gertler LLP filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of current and former employees of Burlington Coat Factory in the California Superior Court for the County of San Mateo. The complaint alleges that Burlington has a policy and practice of intimidating employees into paying the company for common on-the-job mistakes, which the law prohibits.
The named plaintiff filed the lawsuit anonymously, as “Jane Roe,” given the nature of the conduct alleged in the complaint, and Roe’s fear that if her identity were known, it will make it extremely difficult for her to obtain future employment.
As alleged in the complaint, Roe began working at a Burlington store in Daly City as a cashier and customer service representative in May 2013. This was Roe’s very first job. Roe alleges that in March 2014, she was called into a small room in the back of the store where she was interrogated for over an hour about supposed mistakes she had made. The interrogation ended only after she signed a so-called “confession” dictated by Burlington. The complaint further alleges that Roe was intimidated into signing the statement for fear of losing her job or – even worse – being arrested as Burlington’s loss prevention manager suggested. Yet, Roe asserts she was coerced into “confessing” only to small, routine mistakes; the law prohibits employers from requiring employees pay for routine mistakes like those alleged in the suit.
The complaint further alleges that Burlington also gave Roe a promissory note, which Burlington contends requires Roe pay Burlington $880 – nearly three weeks of Roe’s take-home pay while at Burlington. Roe also contends that Burlington told her it would be wise for her to resign and pay the $880 because Burlington could sue her or put her “behind bars.” According to Roe, Burlington’s loss prevention manager dictated a resignation letter, which Roe thought she had no choice but to sign.
Roe’s case could be considered another stain on the retail industry’s push toward increased “store security” measures. For example, just last month Target Corp. was named in a lawsuit after one of its employees, Graham Gentles, committed suicide after being “perp walked” through a Target store. The lawsuit further alleges that Target has a policy called the “Walk of Shame” to “purposefully cause shame, embarrassment and emotional distress to any Target employee who is suspected of stealing from Target.”
With respect to her suit against Burlington Roe explains, “I always tried my best at Burlington, and I thought I was doing a good job. So I was confused and very scared when they told me I might go to jail if I didn’t agree to pay. But I recovered my confidence and decided I needed to do something to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. It is just not right.”
“Employer hardball tactics are becoming all the more common and seem to demonstrate a breakdown of trust on the part of the employer as well as an attempt to boost the bottom line at the expense of low-wage workers,” said Diane Webb, one of LAS-ELC’s attorneys for Roe and the proposed class.
“It appears that Burlington is attempting to re-characterize its ordinary business losses into a debt that must be paid by employees,” said Roe’s attorney Christian Schreiber of Chavez & Gertler LLP. “Burlington’s conduct would set a dangerous precedent. No company should be able to take money from the pockets of its workers by intimidating them into ‘admitting’ to false debts.”
Roe seeks damages and injunctive relief for herself and on behalf of a class of all current and former Burlington employees subject to the same alleged conduct by Burlington.
About the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center
LAS-ELC, founded in 1916, protects the rights and economic self-sufficiency of working poor people by providing a wide range of free legal services and by engaging in policy advocacy, public education and technical assistance on behalf of low-income workers and their communities. LAS-ELC addresses the full spectrum of employment-related issues for our clients, such as unpaid wages; denial of family and medical leave; denial of disability accommodations; and discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, immigration status, language, gender, sexual orientation or disability.
About Chavez & Gertler LLP
Chavez & Gertler LLP has been a leading national presence in the protection of consumer and individual rights. The firm has won significant settlements and trial verdicts on behalf of classes of workers and consumers. In addition to its class action cases, the firm has won major recoveries for injured individuals and victims of discrimination.