Home care company sued for allegedly underpaying mostly Filipino caregivers
As a way to tighten up on citywide wage theft, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office has filed a lawsuit against a home care provider for underpaying caregivers and failing to provide overtime pay.
The suit goes against Canoga Park-based home care provider Emelyn Nishi, who owns Health Alliance Nurses Corp. and Hand Homecare Provider, Inc. Nishi’s companies have “systematically denied” fair wages to about 200 caregivers, most of whom are Filipino, according to LA City Attorney Mike Feuer.
“Stealing wages from hardworking people just trying to make ends meet is reprehensible,” Feuer said at a press conference at City Hall on Wednesday, May 11. “No worker should be forced into poverty because their employer denies them a wage to which the law entitles them.”
According to the suit, the caregivers were allegedly only paid about $100 to $125 a shift — $5.50 an hour or less. However, Nishi and her companies charged far more to patients and families, between $170 and $250 a day for 24-hour in-home care services.
“Even if every nickel of that money went to the home care health care provider in those instances, that would be insufficient to pay what they were entitled, pursuant to California’s minimum wage and overtime laws,” Feuer remarked. “But that money did not go all to those workers; not by a long shot.”
The health care employers also allegedly encouraged caregivers to falsify their time cards and records to avoid paying them for overtime as well as consider them “independent contractors” to avoid payroll taxes and investigations.
Moreover, they also threatened to fire them or “blacklist” them within the home care industry, according to the suit.
The Pilipino Workers Center (PWC), a Los Angeles-based organization that advocates for Filipino workers and immigrants’ rights, commended the city for its effort in combatting unfair treatment of caregivers, for seeking restitution for workers who were affected and for upholding state wage laws meant to protect workers.
“[In 2016] the overtime provision of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was made permanent in Sacramento, ending finally and for good, over 75 years of exclusion from overtime protections for nannies and caregivers,” PWC Executive Director Aquilina Versoza said at the press conference on Wednesday. “Today, with this case, we are seeing our rights becoming a reality. Today we see the dignity of home care workers being upheld and uplifted.”
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs seek an injunction against unlawful business operations as well as restitution for all employees, formerly or currently employed, who were victims of wage theft. The defendants may have to pay up $2,500 for every wage violation.
“We felt vindicated that the city attorney found that there were lots of violations in terms of our wages,” Rufina Tubo, a former caregiver at Health Alliance and member of PWC, said in a statement. “We were not paid overtime. We hope that the case will be decided in favor of the caregivers who are fighting for dignity and the right to be paid what they are owed.”
Both the city attorney’s office and PWC encourage all victims of wage thef—regardless if they worked with Nishi’s companies—to come forward with their stories.
“I want to emphasize how vulnerable these employees are,” Feuer reiterated. “These are people who are desperate to make even a meager wage to pay for the food on the table for their families and provide basic shelter for them.”
Nishi and representatives from her companies were reached for comment but, as of press time, did not return any inquiries.
To report experiences of wage theft, workers may email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at (213) 978-1868. Victims may also reach out to PWC EMPLEO Pinoy workers rights hotline at +1 (877) 885-6641. (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)