The suit alleges that the owners, Ni Ni Ichi Corp., illegally took tips from their wait staff, failed to pay overtime and attempted to coerce employees into falsifying timesheets.
California Department of Industrial Relations spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said the suit follows a six-month investigation into the restaurant. Monterroza said the investigation began Jan. 22, when the California Labor Commission's Bureau of Field Enforcement staged a "Planned Enforcement Activity" at the Danville restaurant.
"Anytime they go into a business, they will not only interview the employers but also the employees," she explained. Monterroza said information gleaned from that initial contact spurred a full investigation.
The investigation found several irregularities: Some employees were being paid as salaried employees, getting a flat rate regardless of the hours worked. Others were being paid $8 per hour, with no provision for overtime pay. Any hours worked beyond 40 in a week were paid "under the table" in cash at $8 an hour.
In addition, it was found that the owners were taking 4 percent of the tips that came through on credit cards, as well as a third of the cash tips brought in by the wait staff.
"That is illegal," said Monterroza. "It is totally against labor law."
Another allegation lodged against the restaurant is that once the investigation began, the employer reportedly coerced workers to falsify their time cards for prior work shifts. Employees reported that the owners threatened that they would be fired or receive reduced shifts if they cooperated with the investigation.
Eight complaints have since been filed of retaliation against employees of the company, said Monterroza. Those claims are currently being processed and will be handled separately from the other violations already reported.
As a result of the investigation, the restaurants were cited for numerous violations and fined more than $500,000. The owners have appealed the citations and a hearing is commencing.
Monterroza said the civil action was filed Tuesday in Contra Costa County Superior Court. "We normally have 60 days to serve defendants," she explained. "Under fast-track rules the case is either resolved or the date is set within 12-18 months."
Calls to both the Lafayette and Danville restaurants were unable to locate any of the owners or defendants in the case.