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2 SF Burger King owners fined by the state of California

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The state of California Labor Commissioner’s Office has fined two San Francisco Burger King franchise owners $2.2 million in wage theft citations, which is to be paid out to 230 former employees.

This decision comes after Golden Gate Restaurant Group’s Monu Singh and Harkiran Randhawa lost an appeal of the $1.9 million fine issued in June of 2020 by the Labor Commissioner’s Office. The citation is now set at $2.2 million, which includes accrued interest.

The case originally started in 2019 when a group of Burger King employees at the infamous 1200 Market St. location, in downtown San Francisco, “basically walked off the job,” according to Alexx Campbell, a senior staff attorney at nonprofit law office Legal Aid at Work. Campbell has worked on this case since the beginning.

Through their lawyer, Colin Calvert of law firm Fisher Phillips, Singh and Randhawa denied any wrongdoing in an email to SFGATE.

“We intend to appeal and believe the ruling is unsupported by the testimony and evidence secured,” Calvert wrote.

Former employees allege Singh and Randhawa knowingly understaffed at least six San Francisco Burger King restaurants under Golden Gate Restaurant Group ownership in an effort to cut costs. The practices allegedly created unsustainable working conditions for employees, according to the labor commissioner’s investigation, which was reviewed by SFGATE.

This type of cost-cutting maneuver was not unique to the 1200 Market St. location, the investigation found.

“The violations at issue were not isolated instances that were the fault of rogue supervisors, but, based on the evidence, part and parcel of a way of operations initiated and/or known by both [owners],” read the decision by the Labor Commissioner’s Office.

Employees working at Burger King locations owned by Golden Gate Restaurant Group said they worked unpaid overtime and worked through mandatory breaks as governed by California law. They also alleged that they often doubled as cashiers, cleaners and other positions that were not their own, according to the investigation’s report.

One cook said that she worked overtime because there was no one on staff qualified to make food safely. Other employees, such as Sonia Crisostomo, were reportedly asked to arrive early and perform duties such as depositing money at the bank even after clocking out.

Managers also stated they were under intense pressure from the restaurant owners to deliver high sales numbers while keeping labor costs low, according to the Labor Commissioner’s Office. Former manager Sandra Gutierrez told investigators that she had a regular shift from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but often showed up earlier and worked later “because there were not enough people to run the store,” the investigation report said.

She reportedly did not clock those extra hours, though, due to pressures to keep labor costs low.

The investigation also concluded that employees were often paid “10 days after the end of the biweekly pay period.”

The California Labor Commissioner’s Office alleged that Singh and Randhawa were aware of several complaints about labor shortages stemming from employees and management, but wouldn’t increase the staffing levels “unless sales were higher.”

The investigation found that the owners would consistently alter employee time cards after the fact and attributed the changes to computer “system errors” or would label it “forgot to clock in.”

Other changes by Golden Gate Restaurant Group included falsifying meal break forms to show that staff had taken a break when they hadn’t, and that the time recording software was set up in a way so that it would not allow “too many” employees to work at the same time.

Campbell, the senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work, said there have been two investigations by government agencies looking into Singh and Randhawa. Along with the investigation by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, the city of San Francisco is reportedly investigating Golden Gate Restaurant Group, though any conclusions from that investigation have yet to be made public, Campbell said.

For now, the former Burger King employees will not receive any of the citation money. Because Singh and Randhawa plan to appeal this current decision, the next step in the process involves a higher court determining a final outcome. Singh and Randhawa can appeal each decision until it reaches the California Supreme Court, potentially.

“This could take a while before it gets totally resolved,” Campbell said.



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