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Upper Crust suit gets class-action status

By Jenn Abelson
Globe Staff / July 14, 2012
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A judge has granted class-action status to a lawsuit filed on behalf of former Upper Crust pizza chain workers who claim they were cheated out of wages.

The case, filed in July 2010, accuses company founder Jordan Tobins and other executives of rescinding overtime checks that were ordered by the Department of Labor. Upper Crust was supposed to pay nearly $350,000 to more than 100 workers, but employees — mostly low-paid Brazilian immigrants — have alleged that the Boston chain forced them to pay back the money to keep their jobs.

In the Suffolk Superior Court case, Judge D. Lloyd Macdonald granted class-action status — which allows the claims to be considered together — on Thursday and also ordered Tobins and the company’s co-owners to provide the court with full financial disclosures. The order also prohibits them from transferring any assets outside the usual course of business.

“We believe these orders will bring us closer to obtaining full recovery for all of these workers who were taken advantage of by Upper Crust,” said Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney representing five former workers who are suing the restaurant chain.

Fifty-two people are covered under the class-action designation. The court order said most of them are “immigrants from Brazil who have limited resources and limited English skills and who, as a group, are allegedly at risk for retaliation and are vulnerable to adverse leverage on account of their immigration status.”

Franklin Levy, a lawyer representing Upper Crust, said the change in status has no bearing on the merits of the lawsuit.

“It is of no concern,” he said. “Whether individually or as a class, the plaintiffs have no case.”

Last month, David Marcus, Upper Crust’s former chief financial officer, said in sworn testimony that company executives, after being ordered to provide overtime compensation, devised a scheme to wrest the money back, including cashing forged checks and slashing workers’ wages. His statements contradict testimony that Marcus gave when he still worked for the pizza chain last summer.

The federal Labor Department launched a second investigation — which is ongoing — into Upper Crust after the employee lawsuit was filed in 2010.

Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jennabelson.

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