March 4, 2016, Oakland, CA – Today, employment and civil rights attorney Bryan Schwartz announced a jury verdict won in Orange County Superior Court, complex division (Hon. William D. Claster), on behalf of a lead class plaintiff, Amanda Quiles, in her suit alleging unpaid minimum wages. Just a few weeks after filing her class action, the company, Koji’s Japan, Inc., and its owner, Arthur J. Parent, Jr., fired Quiles.
Quiles brought her case against the small sushi restaurant chain in November 2010 as a class action alleging wage violations, which is still pending. Quiles, who was still employed there as a server, was promptly fired. Though the jury found her wage loss damages from being fired were very limited (she worked for minimum wage plus tips, and got a new job within a couple months), she asserted a retaliation claim under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 USC 215(a)(3).
“We have to protect our clients who are brave enough to step forward and assert class claims,” said Schwartz, celebrating the victory.
Years after filing suit, Quiles and her attorneys learned that the company's owner, Parent, told his subordinate managers to "get rid of her," and "leave a paper trail."
Parent closed his restaurants in 2012, hoping the suit would vanish, but it did not. The plaintiff and Schwartz’s firm redoubled their efforts to hold Parent personally responsible. He filed personal and corporate bankruptcy the first day of trial in January 2015, but Quiles’s attorneys obtained a stay from the Chapter 7 action as to the restaurants, and his Chapter 13 individual bankruptcy was dismissed. In May 2015, Parent was sanctioned over $50,000 to pay Quiles’s attorneys’ fees and costs for dealing with the bankruptcy, by the United States District Court for the Central District of California, for his frivolous, strategic bankruptcy filing.
After a bench trial over the course of several weeks last year, the court found that Parent was a joint employer under the FLSA because he had "absolute control" over the restaurant chain and had the "ability if not the inclination" to enforce the wage laws.
Plaintiff offered to settle the case for $20,000 plus her fees and costs in fall 2015, but Parent ignored the offer. In October and December 2015, Quiles and her counsel arrived to try the case, but it was delayed until February 2016. In October 2015, however, the trial court permitted the addition of a punitive damages claim, which ultimately proved very substantial.
The jury’s verdict on March 2 and 3, 2016 was for $3,000 in lost wages, plus $27,500 in compensatory damages, plus $350,000 in punitive damages - with liquidated damages (and attorneys’ fees and costs) still to be determined by the court.
During the trial, Parent was impeached as to his whereabouts when the lawsuit was served. He claimed that he had not seen the lawsuit before Quiles was fired, in early December 2010. Plaintiff’s counsel first attempted service on November 24, 2010 - the day before Thanksgiving. Parent was then shown an email which was forwarded from his account, later that same day, mentioning the lawsuit in the subject line.
Parent then invented a story that he was in Hawaii that day, and might have been "on a cruise," and did not have email access, so it must have been one of his subordinates who sent the email from his account. However, evidence of his postings on his public Facebook page showed that he did go to Hawaii, but on November 25th. The title of his picture posted on Facebook was "At the Airport, LAX, Thanksgiving Day." He was not on a cruise, but rather, sitting in first class on a plane. Another image from Facebook showed him standing on the beach at Waikiki at sunset on Thanksgiving.
In the punitive damages phase of trial, the jury heard about Parent's 103-foot yacht, and plaintiff’s counsel used a long tape measure to show how big the yacht was (more than twice the length of the courtroom) that Parent was riding around on, while Quiles was fighting to get her minimum wages paid.
“I am so grateful to the jury, and to my attorneys, for finally bringing me justice,” said Quiles, who still works as a server. “Maybe someday I will open my own restaurant with this money – but I will pay my workers properly and give back to my community!”
The case is Amanda Quiles, et al. v. Koji’s Japan, Inc., and Arthur J. Parent, Jr., case number 30-2010-00425532-CU-OE-CXC, in the Superior Court for the County of Orange.
# # #
About Bryan Schwartz Law
The firm's principal, Bryan Schwartz, opened the practice in January 2009. Bryan Schwartz Law is dedicated to continuing the struggle for civil rights and equality of employment opportunity and helping Americans from every background to achieve their highest career potential. The firm focuses on individual, class, and collective actions involving discrimination and retaliation, harassment, denied disability accommodations, whistleblower reprisal, wage and hour violations, federal employees' rights, and severance negotiations.