Former HomeTown Buffet workers ready complaints

Posted at 6:01 PM, Feb 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-10 21:43:09-05

HomeTown Buffet employees didn't find out they were out of a job until they showed up to a shuttered restaurant.

Now, they're fighting back, taking their case to the state.

RELATED: State to investigate HomeTown Buffet layoffs

They say they feel cast aside after years of hard work.

Now, they're wondering how the company could get away with so many layoffs without a moment's notice.

”They didn’t care about us,” said Elaina Juarez, a former manager of the Mira Mesa location.

She’s still acting like a manager, even though HomeTown Buffet stopped paying her to be one.

"It was just like, here's your money, see ya," she said.

 So much for her 22 years.

HomeTown Buffet workers at six locations across the county abruptly lost their jobs last week, getting only a final paycheck.

RELATED: Six HomeTown Buffet restaurants in San Diego abruptly close

"Their biggest excuse was, sorry there was nothing we could do," Juarez said.

But there is something the employees can do.

Juarez organized workers from the Mira Mesa location about a mile from the now shuttered restaurant.

They saw a 10News story on Monday questioning whether the layoffs were legal - a story that launched a state investigation.

Now, they're readying their own complaints.

"They just came in and closed the doors, for nothing,” said Carmen Gonzalez, a former server at the Mira Mesa restaurant.

Generally, state law says employers with 75 or more employees at one location have to give 60 days notice in the event of a mass layoff.

HomeTown Buffet let go more than 75 workers countywide, but their lawyer, Laura Worsinger, says the law doesn't apply in this case because no single restaurant had that many workers.

A spokeswoman for the state’s Labor Commissioner says Worsinger is misinterpreting the law. 

Plus, Juarez says the Mira Mesa employees got shifts all over the county.      

Workplace attorney Dan Eaton said he couldn’t find any relevant case law to the situation.

"The question here though, is whether the fact that some sites shared employees with other sites means that they have to be combined,” said Eaton, of downtown firm Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek.

Worsinger said the fact that employees moved around still doesn’t mean the law applies to HomeTown Buffet.

“I would imagine that every chain operation for purposes of economy and efficiency has employees who spend time at various locations,” she said. “If the legislature had intended to include those employees in the 75 employee count, I believe that would have been an essential part of the description.”

If the state finds HomeTown Buffet didn't give proper notice, it could have to pay employees back wages, medical reimbursements, and also pay a $500 daily fine.

Juarez said it’s worth making the case to the state.

"They didn't care about us,” Juarez said. “So I say we just do it, we have nothing to lose."