Charges filed against Trump’s labor secretary pick’s company over wage theft and sexual harassment

Employees just filed 33 complaints against CKE Restaurants.

Workers protest Andy Puzder’s nomination in Chicago on January 12. CREDIT: Fight for 15
Workers protest Andy Puzder’s nomination in Chicago on January 12. CREDIT: Fight for 15

On Thursday, workers at restaurants owned by CKE restaurants, the chain where Trump’s Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder is CEO, filed 33 complaints against the company.

Their suits include four allegations of sexual harassment, which were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; 22 complaints of wage and hour violations, which were filed with state departments of labor; and seven unfair labor practices charges, filed with the National Labor Relations Board. They were filed across ten states, including Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

“Several months ago my shift-manager asked me for a kiss, and when I said no he told me that unless I started giving him what he wanted, he was going to start taking it,” said Ceatana Cardona, one of the Hardee’s workers involved in the complaints from Tampa, FL, in a statement. But she said the company did nothing when she complained. Another homosexual male Carl’s Jr. worker in Oakland, CA, described being harassed by his manager, who told his coworkers and customers that he “likes boys” and used a feminized version of his name.

Workers also described being denied their full pay. “Recently the restaurant I worked at went an entire month without paying me a dime, and they only agreed to pay me after I stopped coming to work in protest,” said Angel Gallegos, a Carl’s Jr. employee in Los Angeles, CA, in a statement. “If Andy Puzder can’t be trusted to pay his workers what they’ve earned, why should we expect him to enforce laws meant to protect working Americans?” Another from Whittier, CA claims to have gone a month without a paycheck, while workers in Durham, NC say that because they were paid with debit cards that included transaction fees, their hourly pay ended up falling below the $7.25 minimum wage.

The complaints also allege that employees were threatened, intimidated, and illegally surveilled. Fight for 15 claims to have obtained an internal memo from corporate to franchisees outlining a company policy that workers are not allowed to speak to the press “or any individual asking questions about our operations,” adding, “The press is NOT our friend!” It’s unclear when the memo was sent or who it came from, other than a signature reading Julie.

A spokesperson for CKE Restaurants declined to comment on pending litigation, but noted that nearly 95 percent of restaurants are franchised and “run independently and solely responsible for their employees, management and adherence to regulations and labor practices.” The Trump administration could not be immediately reached for comment.

CKE Restaurants already has a track record of being sued over workers’ complaints about illegal practices. A review of federal and state court documents and Labor Department inspections by ThinkProgress found that employees have sued the company over discrimination, filed class action lawsuits alleging they were denied overtime pay, and claimed that they were fired for protesting. In fact, an investigation by Capital & Main found that the company was hit with more federal racial discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits than any other major hamburger chain in the country since Puzder became CEO in 2000.

CKE workers themselves frequently report experiencing abuse on the job. Among employees who responded to a recent survey, 66 percent of female employees said they had experienced sexual harassment, 1.5 times the rate found in the fast food industry as a whole. Four percent of women said they had experienced rape or attempted rape on the job. Nearly 20 percent of the respondents said they had faced age, race, gender, or sexual orientation discrimination.

Wage theft also appears common place. More than a quarter of the survey respondents reported working off the clock while almost a third said they had worked more than 40 hours a week but hadn’t gotten overtime pay as required.

Workers announced their lawsuits on Thursday at the same time as they protested in 31 cities against Puzder’s nomination. They held signs reading “I’m Not a Robot, And Yes I’ll Sue if Sexually Harassed” and “Andy Puzder: Worst of the Worst.” Last year, he mused that robots could be preferable to human employees in part because they don’t file “an age, sex, or race discrimination case.” And in 2011 he said the company hires “the best of the worst.”

This is the second time workers protested his nomination; they took to the streets in 25 cities two weeks ago.