Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Owners shut down LA bakery amid lawsuit from Pinoy workers

The Los Angeles bakery accused of exploiting its Filipino workers has shut down, but it was not clear if the closure was connected with the lawsuit, reports said.

L'Amande French Bakery closed last July, five months after 11 Filipino workers sued owners Analiza Moitinho De Almeida and her husband Goncalo over alleged labor and wage violations.

report on Los Angeles Eater said the bakery's exact date of closure was unknown but noted that the Santa Monica Boulevard location had been removed from the eatery's website.

Quoting the Filipinos' legal counsel, the Daily Breeze reported that the Almeidas were closing their bakeries to "secretly and rapidly" liquidate and transfer "all of their assets, likely to the Philippines where they will be outside the jurisdiction of the court.”

According to the suit filed by the Filipinos, the couple promised them work as "skilled bakery chefs and managers" and shouldered their visa and travel fees.

However, they were ordered a reimbursement of $11,000 or a contract of three years and were forced to work for the same wages they earned in the Philippines, or $3 an hour for 14-hour workdays at L'Amande's two branches.

The workers were also brought in through E-2 visas, an oft abused visa classification meant to bring in workers with skills deemed "essential" for the growth of businesses.

The owners of the bakery had earlier questioned the motives behind the lawsuit, describing it as a "ploy to extort damages and to fast-track the employees’ permanent residency application."

"Why hadn’t the Asian Americans Advancing Justice investigated thoroughly before bringing this case to a large law firm?” they said in a statement posted on their Torrance bakery’s door.

It also questioned what could protect "small business owners" from "frivolous lawsuits, greedy employees and the muscle of Latham & Watkins?"

The Asian Americans Advancing Justice and law firm Latham & Watkins represent the 11 Filipino plaintiffs in the case. Their legal counsel is seeking a temporary restraining order against the liquidation of the Almeidas' assets. Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

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