"$500,000 Settles Teen Tour Leaders' Wage Case" (online)
The San Francisco Chronicle, January 24, 2014
By Bob Egelko
A Mill Valley company that takes teenagers on hiking, rock climbing and rafting trips in the United States and abroad has settled a lawsuit by its tour guides and agreed to pay them minimum wages and overtime for their work in the U.S.
The $500,000 settlement, approved Thursday by U.S. District Judge Edward Chen of San Francisco, covers about 350 past and present employees of Adventures Rolling Cross Country. The settlement includes $180,000 in fees and court costs for their lawyers.
The company sponsors about 50 two- to three-week tours each year, mostly between June and August. The lawsuit, filed by two "trip leaders" in February 2012, said the company paid them about $3 an hour, plus free food and housing, while charging more than $5,000 to the teens to take the trips.
California's minimum wage is $8 an hour and will increase to $9 in July.
Adventures Rolling Cross Country claimed it was operating an "organized camp," a category that is exempted from federal and state minimum-wage laws. Chen disagreed in a ruling in April, saying the exemption applies only to organizations that provide their own campgrounds for an outdoor group living experience, while the Mill Valley firm uses others' campsites.
The settlement requires that employees receive minimum wages during tours in the United States and in workweeks that include any time in the U.S., said Bryan Schwartz, the employees' lawyer. He said it should be a model for the teen tour and travel industry.
Company President Scott von Eschen said it has already changed its wage policies to comply with Chen's ruling.