Thousands of Oregon workers won a major court battle yesterday, as a Circuit Court jury found that Taco Bell willfully violated the state's wage and hour laws.

Attorneys from the Seattle law firm Schroeter Goldmark & Bender representing the workers say that as a result of the verdict, Taco Bell will be required to pay back wages for violations that include working off the clock and failure to provide breaks as required by law.

According to court documents, more than 60 witnesses gave first-hand testimony during the seven-week trial about illegal practices conducted at corporate owned Taco Bells located throughout Oregon. Former managers testified about company practices they were instructed to carry out, including requiring employees to work without pay, shaving time off of employees' timecards, shifting hours worked to the next week's card to avoid paying overtime, and inserting break periods that were not taken into the time cards. One manager-witness told of routinely shaving 5 to 10 minutes off of employees' time card, an amount of time not likely to be noticed by employees, yet saving Taco Bell several hours in payroll each pay period. Others testified of routinely erasing overtime from employee time records without the knowledge of the employee.

Portland attorney Paul Breed was one of the attorneys that represented the workers. According to Breed, "Taco Bell was found guilty of systematically engaging in the illegal alteration of pay records. I'm not talking about accounting errors here. Taco Bell took time and wages from their workers without their knowledge."

Breed continued, "We are gratified that the jury recognized how unfairly Taco Bell has treated thousands of their employees. All workers deserve to be paid every dollar that they earn. This verdict sends a clear message that workers in Oregon will be protected when they are denied their basic legal rights."

A similar verdict was reached in Seattle in 1997 on behalf of Taco Bell workers in the State of Washington. Seattle attorneys Rebecca Roe and William Rutzick (from the Seattle firm Schroeter Goldmark & Bender) represented plaintiffs in the Seattle trial, as well as this (Portland) trial. According to attorney Rebecca Roe, "Alteration of pay records was blatant in Oregon for many years. Taco Bell ignored the practices, because they were profitable. Many employees who were cheated out of time may not know that it happened to them."

Roe continued, "These workers took on a powerful corporation in order to vindicate the rights of their fellow Taco Bell employees, and for that matter for all of those working in minimum wage jobs in the fast food industry. We are talking about hard-working people, who often work at more than one job at a time to make ends meet, and support their families without government assistance."

Brandi Bravo, one of the class representatives, is elated with the jury's verdict. She is also gratified that bringing the Oregon lawsuit in 1997 drew attention to the problems, and caused substantial progress in Taco Bell's compliance with the law.

The amount of damages, and how the damages will be awarded, is yet to be determined. The verdict applies only to corporate-owned Taco Bells. (Most corporate-owned Taco Bells are located in the Portland metropolitan area and the southern Oregon towns of Medford, Grants Pass and Ashland). Employees who worked at a corporate-owned Taco Bell during and after 1993 could be eligible for monetary damages. Any current or former employees of Taco Bell who have questions about their eligibility to receive an award should call 800/422-4604.

For further information, contact Seattle attorney Rebecca Roe at 206/622-8000, Portland Attorney Paul Breed at 503/226-3669, or India Simmons at PR Ink, 425/742-6926.