Request Legal Help Now - Free


Operators of 14 Subway Restaurants: Sell or Shutdown

. By

A California court has ordered owners of 14 Subway restaurants to sell or shut down after the court found several violations of the California Labor Code and the Fair Labor Standards Act, including illegal child labor.

San Francisco, CAOn the heels of a federal investigation into illegal child labor, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has issued the owners of 14 Subway franchises an ultimatum: Sell or Shut Down. Once the public and communities at those 14 locations know how John Michael Meza, his wife, Jessica L. Meza and their associate Hamza “Mike” Ayesh endangered the safety and well-being of children, perhaps they would be wise to shut down and leave town…

After allegations of illegal child labor, dangerous working conditions, wage violations, and threats against whistleblowers, federal investigators found that the Mezas had young employees -- some just 14 years old—using dangerous equipment (such as electric industrial meat slicers, ovens and cardboard balers) and working excessive hours not permitted by California labor law. That’s not all: they failed to pay employees their wages regularly; they issued them hundreds of bad checks; and they stole tips for the kids left by customers. The U.S. Department of Labor said that John Michael Meza called at least one worker and told them not to speak with investigators, and that Ayesh threatened to file a false police report against two 15-year-old employees who requested their unpaid wages. One employee was threatened after complaining about receiving a bounced paycheck.

The DOL also said workers younger than 16 suffered severe burns while operating Subway ovens and toasters, and a 15-year-old employee injured his foot after falling from a ladder while fetching a bucket on the ceiling that was catching rainwater. The DOL sued the Mezas in April.

In a September 29 news release, a federal judge ordered the Subway operators to pay $1.12 million in back wages and damages to current and former workers at their sandwich shops. "Thanks to some very brave young people who stood up to their employers’ exploitation and attempts to intimidate them, the Department of Labor and a federal court are holding these business owners accountable,” said Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Ruben Rosalez in San Francisco. “With the combined efforts of Wage and Hour Division investigators and the department’s Office of the Solicitor, these employers are facing the consequences for endangering the safety and well-being of children and violating federal law.” 

Child Labor Laws

According to the Order for Preliminary Injunction:

If you are 16 or 17 years old, the law prohibits your employer from requiring or permitting you to:
  •  Operate, set up, adjust, clean or repair any power-driven machinery including meat slicers;
  •  Unload or operate machines that crush cardboard boxes (“balers”) or crush trash (“trash compactors”);
  •  Load balers or trash compactors, unless the equipment has certain safety features.

If you are 14 or 15 years old, the law prohibits your employer from requiring or permitting you to:
  •  Operate, set up, adjust, clean or repair any power-driven machinery including meat slicers;
  •  Load, unload, or operate machines that crush cardboard boxes (“balers”) or crush trash (“trash compactors”) at all;
  •  Perform any baking or cooking activities such as using a high-speed oven or rapid toaster;
  •  Use a ladder, scaffold, or similar device.

If you are 14 or 15 years old, the law limits the hours you can work. The law prohibits your employer from requiring or permitting you to work:
  •  During school hours when school is in session;
  •  More than 40 hours in any 1 week when school is not in session;
  •  More than 18 hours in any 1 week when school is in session;
  •  More than 8 hours in any 1 day when school is not in session;
  •  More than 3 hours in any 1 day when school is in session, including Fridays;
  •  Outside of the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. time window in any 1 day, except during the summer (June 1 through Labor Day) when the evening hours of work can be up to 9 p.m.

John and Jessica Meza

According to their attorney, the Mezas are “people of modest means” who will likely not come up with the cash as per the court order. “The settlement agreement might make it look like they're just going to cough up a million dollars…It's not going to happen,” said their attorney and reported by the Nappa Valley Register. However, John and Jessica Meza have been in trouble with the law before this child labor complaint.

They were convicted in 2011 of income tax evasion for not reporting $800,000 of income and using faked Social Security numbers to hide earnings, reported the San Jose Mercury News. John received a 120-day jail term and Jessica was sentenced to probation.

The DOL also said that Subway (Doctor’s Associates) notified the Mezas in June that it knew of the litigation and that the operator continued to violate federal law yet let them continue to operate restaurants. Doctor's Associates owns the Subway chain of sandwich shops, which is the world's largest quick-service restaurant chain by number of locations, even surpassing burger giant McDonald's. Subway began in 1965 when 17-year-old Fred DeLuca asked his family friend, Dr. Peter Buck, a nuclear physicist, for advice on how to pay his college tuition.

Wonder what they would think about Subway and illegal child labor today?

The Mezas, who had franchise agreements with franchisor and operator Doctor’s Associates LLC, have until sunset to get outta Dodge. Joking aside, the defendants have until November 27th to either sell or close all of their businesses.


California Labor Law Legal Help

If you or a loved one have suffered losses in this case, please click the link below and your complaint will be sent to an employment law lawyer who may evaluate your California Labor Law claim at no cost or obligation.


Please read our comment guidelines before posting.

Note: Your name will be published with your comment.

Your email will only be used if a response is needed.

Are you the defendant or a subject matter expert on this topic with an opposing viewpoint? We'd love to hear your comments here as well, or if you'd like to contact us for an interview please submit your details here.

Click to learn more about

Request Legal Help Now! - Free