Owners of 14 Subway restaurants made teenagers use dangerous equipment, suffer burns, and work unlawful hours, says DOL

A woman with kids in a stroller walks past a Subway restaurant in London, UK. The Subway outlet pictured is not associated with the action brought by the US Department of Labor.

May James/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A Department of Labor investigation found the operators of 14 Subway restaurants violated labor laws.
Teenage employees suffered burns after operating dangerous equipment, the DOL found.
The employers also didn’t pay their employees regularly and stole tips, the DOL said.

The operators of 14 Bay Area Subway restaurants “endangered children” by making its teenage employees as young as 14 use dangerous equipment and work unlawful hours, an investigation by the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found.

The employers also didn’t pay their employees regularly, issued “hundreds” of bad wage checks, and stole tips left by customers, according to the DOL.

The US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled on Wednesday that John Meza and his wife Jessica must either sell or shut down their businesses by November 27. Such consent orders are rare, the DOL said

The Mezas and their limited liability corporations have also been ordered to pay back $475,000 in minimum wage, overtime, tips, and an equal amount in liquidated damages to 184 workers, and $150,000 in damages.

They, alongside their site manager Hamza Ayesh, must also pay back $12,000 in punitive damages, related to “retaliatory conduct,” after they threatened teenage employees who had raised concerns and coerced them not to cooperate with investigators. 

Subway did not reply to a request for comment made outside of normal business hours. The Mezas, Ayesh, and their attorney Arkady Itkin, also didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The DOL’s investigation began earlier this year after The Press Democrat newspaper published an article containing allegations from three teenagers that the Subway franchisees had stolen their wages.

“Thanks to some very brave young people who stood up to their employers’ exploitation and attempts to intimidate them, the Department of Labor and a federal court are holding these business owners accountable,” said Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Ruben Rosalez in San Francisco.

Investigators found that several Subway workers at the 14 restaurants had suffered burns and other injuries, having operated ovens, toasters, cardboard balers and other dangerous equipment, the DOL said.

“The contempt employers showed for their workers’ safety, dignity and rights cost them the businesses they hoped to build and brought significant financial consequences,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Marc Pilotin in San Francisco.

“This case sends a clear message to others who — despite ongoing litigation and a preliminary injunction — continue their wage theft that the department will use the tools at its disposal to end their illegal practices.”

Under the court order, the Mezas are forbidden from directly or indirectly opening another food franchise for three years.

The investigation and litigation included these 14 Subway restaurants:

2777 Lone Tree Way, Antioch1026 Oak St., Suite #103, Clayton301 Sun Valley Mall, Concord8500 Gravestein Highway, Unit B, Cotati2375 California Blvd., Napa3214 Jefferson St., Napa902 Enterprise Way, Unit A, Napa2620 Lakeville Highway, Unit #320221 North McDowell Blvd., Petaluma961 Lakeville Highway, Petaluma13501 San Pablo Ave., San Pablo124-B Calistoga Road, Santa Rosa199 Lincoln Road West, C, Vallejo6400 Hembree Lane, Unit #100, Windsor

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