The California Labor Commissioner’s Office cited five Wingstop locations in Kern County — and their owner, Clinton Lewis — for wage theft affecting 551 workers, the agency announced Sept. 28. The citations amount to more than $3 million.
The violations relate to minimum wage, overtime, contract wages, meal premiums, liquidated damages and waiting time. Lewis and the entities are also liable for civil penalties, according to the state.
The Wingstop owner categorized each location as a separate corporate entity, creating the impression that each restaurant was a different employer and depriving workers “of a higher minimum wage, overtime pay, and missed meal break premiums when they worked at more than one Wingstop location owned by Lewis,” according to LCO.
The citations are the result of an investigation that was opened in November 2020, the LCO said, after the agency received a complaint about one of the owner’s locations. It found that between 2019 and 2022, despite Lewis owning five Wingstop locations and sharing employees between them, he operated them as separate entities and took advantage of the lower minimum wage available to small business operators with 25 or fewer employees.
In addition, LCO said, Lewis denied overtime and meal break premiums to workers scheduled at more than one location. He also didn’t compensate them for their time traveling from one worksite to another.
In 2019, California minimum wage law allowed employers with 25 or fewer employees to pay them $11 per hour, while those with 26 or more employees were required to pay at least $12 per hour. Those rates rose annually per a phase-in schedule until Jan. 1, 2023, when minimum wage for all employees was set to $15.50 per hour.
In guidance, the LCO says employees who work for a group of related businesses — as defined by state revenue and tax code — must be treated as performing work for one employer, according to an analysis by law firm Jones Day.
Such employers should “aggregate the number of employees from the applicable corporate entities” to determine their minimum wage obligations, LCO specifies.
HR Dive attempted to reach Lewis for comment through his financial consulting business but did not receive a response by press time.