City Sightseeing refused to pay health care costs for 215 employees and thumbed its nose at the law
SAN FRANCISCO (Oct. 10, 2019) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced today that he has sued the operators of the City Sightseeing tour bus service for failing to fund adequate health care for its employees, something San Francisco has required of employers for over a decade.
The lawsuit filed today in San Francisco Superior Court seeks $640,000 in restitution for 215 affected City Sightseeing employees, plus nearly $249,000 in related fines, with more than $153,000 of that for 10 separate violations that the company and its affiliates have refused to pay. The lawsuit additionally seeks civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation against the companies and their CEO and managing partner, Christian Watts, personally.
“For years City Sightseeing has refused to pay its fair share toward its employees’ health care,” Herrera said. “This company cheated not only its workers, but also its law-abiding competitors in the marketplace. City Sightseeing has been given every chance to do the right thing. Instead, Mr. Watts has thumbed his nose at the law. Now it’s time to hold him accountable and send a clear message: Following the law isn’t optional. We are going to make sure that cheating employees out of their health care isn’t worth it for a company’s bottom line, or for executives who try to hide behind their corporations. I want to thank my staff and the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement for their relentless work on this.”
The City Attorney’s Office worked closely with the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement to bring the case after City Sightseeing repeatedly stonewalled OLSE’s administrative enforcement.
“Employers have a responsibility to provide their workers with access to meaningful health care,” said Patrick Mulligan, Director of the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. “It’s better for productivity, it’s better for the workers, and it’s better for public health. City Sightseeing used cheap tactics to illegally deny its employees adequate health care options. When caught, they tried to stonewall us. That’s never going to be a recipe for success. Our office has worked diligently to ensure that these workers get what they’re owed. We will not be deterred. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that — no matter how long it takes — nobody is above the law. I want to thank the City Attorney’s Office for their dedication to this issue.”
The lawsuit names the affiliated companies that have operated City Sightseeing: CS Global SF, LLC; SFTS, LLC; and Guest Service Solutions, LLC. It also names Watts, who controlled those companies. Watts is also the founder and CEO of Magpie Travel.
The lawsuit is the result of an investigation started by the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, which found City Sightseeing and its operating companies had not been providing adequate health care to employees from 2014 to 2017. The City’s Health Care Security Ordinance requires medium and large business to make minimum health care expenditures, based on each hour worked per employee, on behalf of San Francisco employees. Businesses can spend that money in one of three ways: paying for insurance for their staff, contributing to programs that reimburse employees for out-of-pocket health care costs, or paying that money to the City, which uses it to provide medical coverage.
Throughout the OLSE’s investigation, City Sightseeing routinely refused to cooperate, triggering 10 different notices of violations and fines. On Oct. 26, 2018, City officials determined that the companies operating City Sightseeing had violated the health care ordinance and ordered them to pay the missing health care costs to their employees and fines.
To date, the defendants have refused to make any of the payments the OLSE ordered them to pay to their current and former employees, and have refused to pay any fines.
“City Sightseeing does not get to act with impunity,” said Herrera. “They have broken the law and failed their employees. The company shifted health care costs onto hundreds of workers and defied the City agency that exposed their bad actions. It’s unacceptable and illegal behavior that we won’t tolerate.”
The case is: City and County of San Francisco and People of the State of California v. CS Global SF, LLC, et al., San Francisco Superior Court, CGC-19-579905, filed Oct. 10, 2019. More information can be found on the City Attorney’s website: www.sfcityattorney.org.
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