Janitorial worker sues CleanNet, claiming widespread wage and hour, labor trafficking violations

A janitor cleaning up the sidewalk

Luis Castillo, who worked as a janitor for CleanNet under a purported “franchise agreement,” filed a lawsuit today on behalf of everyone in his position across California, claiming that they were never truly “franchise” owners at all but, rather, employees of CleanNet — and entitled to basic protections under California wage and hour laws.

“I wanted to be my own boss, have my own business, but it never happened…. I lost my time, my money, my business, and my dream,” says Luis Castillo. “I am bringing this on behalf of those who cannot speak up because they fear losing everything.”

“As outlined in the complaint, Mr. Castillo and others like him believed they were buying businesses, but instead found that they were paying CleanNet thousands of dollars to work, often earning less than minimum wage, receiving none of the protections California law provides for employees, and stuck in a cycle of debt to CleanNet,” says Monique Olivier, a lawyer with Duckworth Peters Lebowitz Olivier LLP.

Mr. Castillo’s complaint alleges that CleanNet, operating through a multi-tier “franchise” scheme intentionally misclassified him and its other janitorial workers as independent contractors. The complaint further alleges: 1) CleanNet failed to pay its janitorial workers the minimum wage or overtime, 2) failed to provide them meal period or breaks, and 3) did not cover their business expenses, while it deducted significant amounts for royalty, management, and “franchise” fees in violation of state law.

On behalf of a subclass of potential plaintiffs who also signed promissory notes owing CleanNet for their so-called “franchise” purchase, the complaint also alleges that CleanNet preys on vulnerable communities by targeting advertisements to Spanish-speaking immigrants, failing to disclose or misrepresenting key information, and guaranteeing contracts — that is, income — that workers don’t actually get. Documents that Mr. Castillo relied on indicate the price of a CleanNet “franchise” is many tens of thousands of dollars, and that CleanNet offers financing for those who cannot afford such prices. The complaint further alleges that CleanNet’s false promises induced him to invest his life savings and when he complained that the terms were unfair and deceptive, he was threatened with serious financial and legal harm, which forced him to keep working to pay off his loan from CleanNet.

“The complaint lays out a scheme that turns the American Dream on its head: These janitors are trying to secure the benefits of business ownership, but CleanNet is actually charging them to work in low-wage jobs — while also denying them the protections that employees have under the law and creating a cycle of debt,” says Carole Vigne, an attorney with Legal Aid at Work, also representing Mr. Castillo. “This alleged “franchise” scheme is as dirty it gets.”

CleanNet workers serve a variety of commercial clients statewide, including offices, schools, health care facilities, banks, airports, and industrial sites. The plaintiff is seeking class action status for the lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday, Nov. 21, in San Francisco County Superior Court.

About Legal Aid at Work:
Legal Aid at Work (formerly Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center) delivers on the promise of justice for low-income people. We provide free direct services through our clinics and helplines. We offer extensive legal information for free online and in trainings, we litigate individual and class actions, and we advocate for new policies and laws. Details: www.legalaidatwork.org.

About Duckworth Peters Lebowitz Olivier LLP
Duckworth Peters Lebowitz Olivier LLP represents workers and consumers who are victims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, fraud and other injustices. Details: www.dplolaw.com

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