The advertisements of the Los Angeles patisserie L’Amande beckon guests with luxuriant indulgences: “You can see through the glass windows when you walk into our bakery that our busy artisans are hard at work hand-preparing our specialties.”
Many of those busy artisans were another kind of guest—guest workers from the Philippines whom the owners had brought with them as part of their “capital investment” in the United States. They’re now taking their boss to court for turning a coveted job at a self-proclaimed “Bakery of your Dreams” into a nightmare of abuse.
According to the lawsuit brought by eleven Filipino workers, the bakery owners Analiza Moitinho de Almeida and Goncalo Moitinho de Almeida had recruited the guest workers mostly from the staff of the bakery they ran in the Philippines. Analiza offered them positions as pastry chefs or managers at a new bakery location in the United States, earning about $2,000 a month—several times what they would make in the Philippines.
But the plans started to go sour once they landed in the US. According to the complaint, immediately they were pressed into jobs that they had never agreed to do. While living in Analiza’s home, they earned meager wages while initially preparing the bakery site for the opening and doing housework. One defendant, Gina, testified that she had been hired as a nanny but was saddled with “extra domestic chores and manual labor,” earning only $300 to $400 a month and working as many as sixteen hours a day.
At the bakery, three workers testified that from the time they arrived in September, 2011, they toiled both at the site of the business to prepare for the opening and at the owners’ apartment complex earning between $370 and $500 each month for the next several months. Their monthly pay rose to $1,000 after the opening in early 2012 but they had to work thirteen to seventeen hours a day—not just as managers and top chefs, but also as basic kitchen laborers. Even though their payments eventually rose to the promised monthly amount, the intensity of their work sometimes resulted in “14-hour work days and wages of less than $3 per hour.” Throughout this period, they allegedly were denied the legally required overtime pay and breaks for meals and rest time.
Workers say Ana routinely hurled verbal abuse at them and “discouraged them from socializing”—even admonishing against speaking their native Tagalog at work. L’Amande, they were warned, “was not a Filipino restaurant, it’s for white people.”