Cheesecake Factory, contractors agree to $1M settlement for underpaying 589 janitorial workers

Dive Brief:

  • The California Labor Commissioner’s Office announced that it has reached a $1 million settlement in a case against Cheesecake Factory and two janitorial contracting companies for underpaying 589 janitorial workers. 
  • In the October 2023 settlement, Cheesecake Factory agreed to pay $750,000 in back wages to the janitors, while Americlean Janitorial Services Corp. is responsible for paying $200,000. Zully Villegas, operating as Magic Touch Commercial Cleaning and contracted for the restaurant chain by Americlean, would pay $50,000. The resolution includes a formal apology to the workers from Magic Touch and continued labor education, including training on annual wages and hours, for two extra years.
  • “California has invested in building enforcement tools” because “it’s not enough to just have the law,” California Labor Commissioner Lilla Garcia-Brower said during a Jan. 23 press conference in San Diego, when the LCO announced the settlement. Garcia-Brower emphasized the need to support businesses engaged in services like janitorial, gardening, painting, lighting, electricity and plumbing. These businesses, Garcia-Brower said, must assume responsibility for ensuring that their vendors comply with the law and that workers are paid the legal wages.

Dive Insight:

Janitors who worked at Cheesecake Factory restaurants in eight locations across San Diego and Orange County between Aug. 31, 2014, and Aug. 31, 2017, may be “entitled to owed wages and damages under the settlement agreement,” the LCO said in a Jan. 24 news release. 

The LCO said it began an investigation in December 2016 in response to complaints alleging wage and hour violations of janitors who cleaned Cheesecake Factory establishments in San Diego County. The LCO cited Cheesecake Factory, Americlean and Magic Touch in June 2018 for unpaid minimum wages, unpaid overtime, waiting time penalties, liquidated damages and meal and rest period premiums, holding all three entities liable under California Labor Code Section 2810.3,  

The LCO’s investigation found that workers logged up to 10 hours of unpaid overtime each week, according to another Jan. 24 news release from the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, or MCTF, an advocacy center that investigates working conditions in the janitorial services industry. 

At the press conference hosted by MCTF on Jan. 23, Naxhili Perez, who worked at a Cheesecake Factory restaurant from 2016 to 2018, said she and her co-workers had to work long nights cleaning the restaurant’s kitchen and dining room. 

“We would begin our shifts at midnight and work until morning, all without a proper meal or rest break,” Perez said, noting that after working for eight hours, they weren’t allowed to return home until the Cheesecake Factory kitchen manager conducted a walk-through to review their work. “If the manager found anything they said was wrong, that meant we had to stay at work even longer to do another task,” Perez said.  

In an interview, MCTF Executive Director Yardenna Aaron said Cheesecake Factory and its contractors have already made their disbursements, but that the organization, which has been in contact with 60 janitor leaders, is still looking for over 589 workers who have not received their back pay. 

“Many of them are no longer with Cheesecake Factory [and] we’re trying to find them,” Aaron said, noting that MCTF is leveraging social media postings, informal networks, and liaisons with its area offices in San Diego and Orange County that can reach out to other agencies, employers and community sounding boards. 

In its news release, the MCTF requested that individuals who may be eligible for the settlement call (619) 213-5260 if they worked as a janitor at a Cheesecake Factory restaurant in San Diego or Orange County between Aug. 31, 2014, and Aug. 31, 2017.

“Many of our workers are immigrant workers and female janitors. And oftentimes, we find that irresponsible contractors take advantage of the system [and exploit workers] in order to drive down costs,” Aaron told Facilities Dive. “Undercutting makes it difficult for responsible contractors who are following the law and paying overtime and minimum wages. When undercutting happens, it brings down the floor and leads to more exploitation.” 

Cheesecake Factory did not respond to inquiries about what procedures and due diligence the restaurant had adopted prior to engaging the contracting services.