A former employee of the Coco’s Bakery and Carrows restaurants that were closed suddenly this month has filed a lawsuit charging new owner Food Management Partners Inc. with failing to give fair notice for mass layoffs.
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed April 8 in the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California on behalf of plaintiff Ronald Ross, a team leader who worked primarily at Coco’s units in Torrance and Compton, Calif., as well as a Carrows location in Gardena, Calif. Both brands are operated and franchised by Carlsbad, Calif.-based Catalina Restaurant Group Inc.
Catalina was acquired by San Antonio-based Food Management Partners, or FMP, last month. On April 1, the first day of ownership for FMP, 75 of Catalina’s 149 restaurants were closed, according to former employees.
FMP officials declined to comment on the number of units impacted, but said in a statement that the restaurants were not performing at a competitive financial level and that difficult decisions, including restaurant closures, might be necessary to make the two family-dining brands stronger.
Ross’s attorneys with the law firm Girard Gibbs LLP filed the case as a class action to potentially include others impacted by the restaurant closures, including anyone terminated by Catalina Restaurant Group within 30 days of April 3, the day employees were notified.
In the complaint, Ross charges that Food Management Partners violated state and federal labor codes known as the Worker Readjustment and Retraining, or WARN, Act. The federal WARN Act requires employers of 100 or more workers to give 60 days advance written notice of a plant or facility closing that impacts at least 50 full-time employees.
The WARN Act may also apply in cases of mass layoffs when it impacts between 50 and 499 full-time workers at a single site and that number is 33 percent of employees at the site, or if 500 or more full-time workers at a single site are laid off.
The lawsuit estimates that 3,000 Catalina employees lost their jobs as a result of the restaurant closures, which were mostly in California. An unknown number of employees at Catalina’s Carlsbad headquarters were also laid off.
Some workers said they learned of the closures when they showed up for work and found a sign on the door saying the restaurant had closed.
Ross said in the complaint that he was called by a supervisor the morning of April 1, when he was scheduled to report to work in Torrance. He was scheduled to work in Compton the following day.
The supervisor told him not to show up at either restaurant because they were “taking inventory.” He was asked to attend a meeting April 3, when he learned that he and his co-workers were terminated, effective immediately, according to the lawsuit.
Ross had been with the company for almost 25 years. The lawsuit alleges that it was common for employees to work at more than one restaurant during a pay period.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified compensatory damages for back pay and associated benefits, alleges that workers were offered no severance pay, and they were told medical benefits would be cut off after one week.
At least 50 full-time workers were terminated from both the Torrance unit and the restaurant in Compton, according to the complaint.
FMP officials did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit at press time, and court documents did not indicate a response.