For those unfamiliar with the human trafficking lawsuit, see article published n the Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/local/westside/la-me-guest-workers-lawsuit-20150320-story.html
It is indeed true that the saddest thing about betrayal is that t never comes from your enemies. The 11 employees that were brought to the United States from the Philippines were long time loyal and trusted employees. They came to have a part of the American dream.
The Almeidas established Le Coeur de France, a café and pastry chain in the Philippines in 1994. Through the years, workers have come and gone and the cream of the crop were rewarded with promotions and fringe benefits. These workers sought help for medical, dental, educational needs and even sought help with assistance during emergencies like, typhoons, floods and earthquakes. Those were freely and willingly given.
Le Coeur grew enough that it was offered a buy-out having become an attractive acquisition for a well-known Filipino food chain. Presented with a chance for an early retirement, the Almeidas took the offer in 2008 on the condition that their staff be allowed to retain their employment; something they clearly did not have to do. After the sale, the Almeidas migrated to Southern California in 2009, one of the workers, a nanny followed shortly. Retirement did not agree with the couple so plans were made for a new venture. In 2010, they shifted visas and became business investors.
The first priority was to offer the specialized positions to their long time employees. They of course were willing, able and could hardly contain themselves on this opportunity. Three of the most senior, tenured and trusted employees from the Le Coeur days were flown in from the Philippines on September 2011. On April 2012, three years after settling in the U.S., L’Amande Bakery was born and a second expansion later opened on July 2014 in Beverly Hills. This called for additional staffing and this was achieved by inviting the relatives of the workers already here. Again, these people had to be petitioned and flown here at the Almeida’s expense.
The Filipino employees had no place to live and had little starting out, so the Almeidas not only set up the group in apartments but furnished them as well as paid for deposits and several months rent. Goncalo and Ana also provided winter clothing and indulged requests for laptops, tablets and other non-necessities. This was on top of employee perks of free food from L’Amande when they were on duty. Built on past history, there was a comfort level between the Almeidas and their staff. The lines of employer-employee decorum were often blurred by the camaraderie even evidenced by them being friends on their Facebook accounts. Goncalo and Ana often socialized with their extended families. They drove them around and organized trips to New York, the Philippine Consulate and took them on road trips. When invited to stay at the Almeida home, their guest felt so at home that they helped themselves to wine without the knowledge of their host. They took liberties with free food at L’Amande dropping by to eat on their days off. While generally frowned upon by local health codes and insurance liabilities, they took home restaurant leftovers.
The work environment was so relaxed that protocol and rules were being bent. One saying comes to mind: “Give them an inch and they will take a foot”. In late 2014, the Almeidas noticed a Facebook picture of the employees drinking on the job. It was posted online, indisputable and clear as day: Five of the staff in uniform, each holding up a bottle of beer or cocktail while a wall clock in the bakery showed the time of 3:10 p.m. See picture above. Though none of them cooperated during a workplace investigation, the five were terminated on January 2015 – legally, on the strength of self-incriminating documentary evidence.
Two months later, the five of them filed a civil lawsuit against the Almeidas alleging abuses and human trafficking. Their case had been taken on by Latham and Watkins LLP on a pro bono basis, in the hopes of landing a big score from a settlement. Two others who had been laid off in June 2015 when the Beverly Hills store closed, jumped on the band wagon. Remember the nanny who worked for them 13 years, since their youngest son was born and had been away from the Almeidas, that had asked Goncalo to walk her down the aisle when she got married….she too saw the opportunity to get a piece of the action and joined the lawsuit. The other 3 employees are still currently working at the Torrance bakery and am told still continue to bring home leftover restaurant food to the seven now unemployed. Talk about insult to injury!
It gets worse; an advocacy group called Asian Americans Advancing Justice has taken up their cause and making the aggrievement a rallying point. I heard the NGO (non-government organization with a a social objective) has plans to present the 11 as heroes fighting for a noble cause. The main character witness is a young woman (non–Filipino) who was rumored for having a habit of suing former employers on trumped up charges, also a former Torrance branch employee terminated on May 2013 for chronic tardiness, giving away L’Amande products to friends and getting caught changing clothes inside the freezer.
The real victims here are the Almeidas. It is their American dream that has been shattered. Their biggest fault was they allowed themselves to be taken advantage of over and over. Their friendship and generosity were mistaken for weakness. I am appalled and still in shock on how these people have so far gotten away with an infinity of lies!
While the lawsuit will be drawn out on the chance that the Almeidas will eventually succumb, they can only hope they get a big settlement or win the case but first prove they were “slaves” so they can stay in the country for good ( for those still working at L’Amande, their E-2 visas will be expiring next year and the visas of the ones no longer employed are not valid anymore) and they can work happily ever after and sue the next unfortunate employers!
These are elementary questions that should have common sense answers.
1. If the Almeidas had been such despicable employers, why did they practically beg them to come work for them again in the United States
2. If they had been abused, why did they recommend their relatives to come work for the Almeidas.
3. Given the pervasiveness of Facebook, why didn’t they post complaints and photos of the wretched living arrangements.
4. Why didn’t they flee? They had their own apartments, they were in possession of their passports at all times. They were free to go anywhere.
5. If the Almeidas had been abusive, why invite them numerous times for their get-together at their apartments.
6. Why didn’t they report the abuse to officials during their trips to the Philippine Consulate.
7. The one employee who was manager according to the L.A. Times, all of a sudden demoted herself to dishwasher even if she introduced herself as manager and said so in her facebook page. Did anyone ask the many other non-Filipino workers who was their manager?
8. How can they claim overworked and under-paid when in fact the manager/dishwasher was in charge of payroll, hiring and firing. If this were true, shouldn’t she be solely responsible
9. Why did the nanny invite the Almeidas to her wedding even if she was no longer employed by them and ask Goncalo to walk her down the aisle.
10. Finally, why did all the allegations only come out now. Just before visas will be expiring.
My opinion is these employees have had a taste of the American dream. The living conditions they are accustomed to now, cannot be compared to the living conditions in the Philippines. They make enough to send money, etc. to their poor relatives back home which is great. That will all cease when the visas expire. What on earth could they do to stay in the United States permanently?
I rest my case!