Forever 21 is being sued yet again. But this time, it's not other fashion brands claiming copyright infringement -- it's the company's own workers, who say their employer systematically failed to pay them for hours worked.
On Wednesday in San Francisco Superior Court, five employees -- four former, one current -- filed a class action lawsuit against the company, seeking damages for the hours that Forever 21 made them work off the clock, and for the meal breaks that they were denied.
Jazzreeal Jones, Jessica Ramos, Shanelle Thompson, Alyssa Elias and Tiffinee Linthicum, represented by Norton & Melnik, APC, and Kitchin Legal, claim in court filings that they were frequently kept at stores during lunch breaks and after the ends of their shifts while they were searched for stolen merchandise. Because the employees had already clocked out, this amounts to unpaid labor. Moreover, these unpaid hours could add up to millions in damages should other employees turn out to have suffered the same treatment.
According to court filings, employee bag checks are part of Forever 21's loss prevention policy.
In an email, a Forever 21 spokesperson said the company could not comment on pending legal matters, but did note that Forever 21’s policy requires the employees to submit to bag checks before clocking out.
"We believe the practice is very widespread," attorney Patrick Kitchin said of bag checks after employees have clocked out. "We've spoken to individuals from a number of [Forever 21] stores across California and all report the same thing," he told The Huffington Post.
Kitchin wouldn't disclose exactly how many employees his team had contacted, but noted he expects the case to be even larger than the one he helped bring against Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. The Polo Ralph Lauren class action, which involved 6,700 California employees, was settled out of court for $4 million in 2010.
The Polo Ralph Lauren case also involved un-clocked hours where bag checks were performed on employees. According to Kitchin, the settlement ended up changing the loss prevention practices of many retailers around the country.
But not Forever 21, apparently. Tiffinee Linthicum, a current employee who began working at the company in 2008 when she was 16, has worked in two different Forever 21 locations -- Valencia, Calif. and Palmdale, Calif. -- both of which failed to pay her for the time it took to search her bag, according to court filings.
"Sales associates at Forever 21 stores are often still in high school and under the age of 18 when they begin their employment," Geoffrey Norton, one of the workers' lead attorneys, wrote in a statement. "These young people are vulnerable and often do not understand their employment rights. This lawsuit is meant to give these young people a voice about how they were treated while employed by Forever 21 in California."
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