WORKING FOR A TRUMP COMPANY?
By Don C. Reed
What would it be like to be a worker at a company owned by Donald Trump?
Lucy Messerschmidt and Dave Perry know from personal experience.
On December 2, 2008, Messerschmidt and Perry filed a class action lawsuit (representing 933 workers) against Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Their battle is detailed in a transcript of the proceedings, from which much of this article is drawn..
Why did they sue?
They allege they were denied 30 minute lunch breaks and 10 minute rest periods-- rights guaranteed under California law.
"...Dave Perry was employed as a valet from 2006 to 2008...Lucy Messerschmidt was employed as a hostess from 2006 to 2008.
"...Each worked shifts over five hours without being provided with uninterrupted 30 minute meal periods...Neither was provided with paid ten minute rest breaks per four hours of work or major fraction thereof. Rather, Plaintiffs were subjected to the same unlawful policies and practices as every other Class Member."
Assuming the allegations are true, is this legal? Here is relevant California law:
"Labor Code 512 (a) 'An employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of not less than 30 minutes... uninterrupted half-hour periods in which they are relieved of any duty or employer control and are free to come and go as they please..."
What do the plaintiffs say about why the Trump company felt that it did not have to provide full lunch periods?
"...Trump's human resources department...had--at best--a flawed misunderstanding of the law. They thought that because Trump (company) kept its workers on the clock (paid) from their shifts' start to finish, and provided free food (of varying quality and limited quantities) Trump had no duty to give its employees 30 minutes for meal breaks or 10 minutes for rest breaks...
"... there existed at Trump a relentless pressure to provide a "world class" atmosphere that lived up to the brand that Donald Trump tries to attach to his name. And like many businesses, Trump (company) obsessed about keeping its expenses as low as possible. This meant, among other things, not scheduling enough employees in the restaurants and kitchen...so that employees could have a co-worker cover for them when it was time for a break...
"The result was a culture in which employees who worked at Trump were either prohibited or discouraged/intimidated from taking meal or rest breaks..."
One manager (Sue K.) stated:
"I...never received any training or education about meal or rest breaks after I became senior restaurant manager--at least until January 2009 which was shortly after Lucy Messerschmidt's lawsuit was filed. Had I been taught what the law requires, I would have made sure that the employees were educated that they had the right to take their breaks..."
Hostess T. K. Declaration:
"Before Lucy Messerschmidt filed her lawsuit, no one ever told me that I had the right to a full 30 minute meal break on days when I worked 5 or 6 hours or more. Although Trump would provide me and the other employees with leftover food (usually 1-2 days old) to eat, the managers always pressured us to eat as quickly as possible and return to work. On multiple occasions, managers approached me while I was eating (with food on my plate) and asked "are you done?"...
Chef Cynthia R:
"I was employed...in 2008 as a flouter sous chef for the restaurant and banquet...Trump never scheduled meal or rest breaks, staggered shifts, or instructed us how to stagger shifts ourselves. No one ever relieved employees to take meal or rest breaks...Even when it was slower, my supervisor would continually give us tasks to perform that made taking meal or rest breaks difficult...I heard managers talking how Trump (Donald) wouldn't like it if he saw employees sitting around...I never received the (legally required) meal break premium of one hour's pay for each meal or rest break I missed..."
"I never received a 30 minute meal break or a 10 minute rest break while working at Trump."
Dave Perry (plaintiff).
"I was given no instruction of any kind about meal or rest breaks.... And I soon discovered why the subject was considered taboo: you were expected to keep working.
"...On...my second day of (employment) I had worked about seven hours without a break. I asked Mr. K. if I could take my lunch break and eat because I was hungry. Mr. K looked at me and said in an incredulous tone, "What do you mean?" He (then) ridiculed me in front of the other employees... on other days, he was not so "kind" and refused to let me take a meal break... on days when there was a major event and I worked 14-16 hours, this "no break" policy was especially physically challenging."
Employees who challenged the system were allegedly punished by being given less desirable work, as when Dave Perry was scheduled for "two weeks working on the range...an assignment requiring considerable physical labor and...no opportunity to earn tips."
When Dave Perry left "the property during a 'food run', i.e. a make-shift meal period whereby one employee would pick up food from a local restaurant and bring it back for everyone else, who would ... bolt it down when they were out of the view of customers... Mr. C. fired Mr. Perry...
"...Trump essentially fired me for taking a break." (Dave Perry, testimony.)
Also, according to the complaint, women were given prime work locations based on their physical beauty, and Donald Trump allegedly told managers to fire older women, or those not up to his standards of beauty.
Lucy Messerschmidt, Plaintiff:
"I worked at the golf course as a hostess for several years... I was fired after I complained about age discrimination (i.e., not being scheduled to work when Donald Trump was on the premises because of my age and Mr. Trump's known preference for young, pretty women in the hostess position) and not being allowed to take meal or rest breaks."
The outcome of the trial? A settlement of $475,000 went to the plaintiffs.
That is not much, considering 933 employees were involved.
Was anything gained?
The aforementioned T. K. gave a positive affirmation:
"After Lucy Messerschmidt filed her lawsuit, there was a change in how Trump (company) treated us regarding meal and rest breaks. The employee schedule started including a designated time to eat a meal. And all of a sudden our managers started approaching us and asking if we had taken our ten minute (rest) break yet. If we said "No," we were told to take it. Nothing like this ever happened before Ms. Messerschmidt's lawsuit."
Lucy Messerschmidt and Dave Perry made life better for hundreds of their fellow workers, apparently at the cost of losing their own jobs.
We owe them honor.
And Donald J. Trump?
It is conceivable he had no knowledge of the alleged short-changing of employee lunch/rest breaks. Certainly he has numerous companies and enterprises to follow.
It is also possible he may have simply ignored what appears to be A systematic denial of rights to hundreds of his workers.
Of one thing, however, we can be sure. The job application of Donald J. Trump for President of the United States-- is under evaluation.
* "CASE NO. BC 403 087...SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA (,) COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES...November 13, 2012." (They were represented by Jeffrey W. Cowan of the Cowan Law Firm, and Anthony Orshansky of Orshansky and Yeremian LLP.)