Employers Jailed for Failure to Pay Back Wages to Cleaning Service Workers

The owners of a Southland residential cleaning service were taken into custody and later released after failing to comply with a court order directing payment of $3.5 million in back wages, plus interest, fines, and liquidated damages to at least 385 workers (Solis v. Southern California Maid Service and Carpet Cleaning Inc., Case Number: CV 06-3903 AG (MANx), U.S. District Court for the Central District of California).

"It is unconscionable that an employer would continue to disregard the obligation to pay vulnerable workers, even after being ordered to do so by a federal judge," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.

The owners of Southern California Maid Service and Carpet Cleaning Inc., Sergio Maldonado and Lorenza Rubio of Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., were taken into custody Friday, Oct. 30, and released Tuesday evening, Nov. 3, after appearing before the Hon. Andrew J. Guilford at the U.S. district court in Santa Ana, Calif. At the Nov. 3 hearing, the couple promised to pay $30,000 by Nov. 5. Maldonado and Rubio have until Nov. 12 to pay the balance of the $3.5 million.

The court sided with the Department of Labor in finding that the company had wrongly classified its home and carpet cleaners as independent contractors and failed to pay them the federally required minimum wage or overtime for hours worked more than 40 per week.

The court awarded back wages to the workers on Aug. 21, 2007, following an investigation by the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division. Guilford also ordered payment of more than $1 million in liquidated damages for violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

In September 2008, DOL filed for civil contempt charges for continued failure to comply with the order. In April 2009, the court ordered daily fines against the company of $2,000, plus an additional $200 per day each from Maldonado and Rubio. Despite repeated efforts by department attorneys, the company and its owners have failed to make any payments to the department or the workers.

The West Covina District Office of the Wage and Hour Division learned of the employer's practices through its participation in the Employment Education and Outreach (EMPLEO) partnership. EMPLEO is an alliance of organizations and government agencies that assist Spanish-speaking workers and employers with work-related concerns. Callers to a toll-free helpline, 877-55-AYUDA (552-9832) are referred to EMPLEO partner organizations for assistance. More information is available at www.wagehour.dol.gov.

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