BAD BOSSES

Trump’s Labor Secretary Pick, Andrew Puzder, Is Swamped in His Own Workplace Lawsuits

The CEO of CKE Restaurants is still litigating various class-action lawsuits involving employee wages and treatment.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Donald Trump picked a fox to guard the American worker’s hen house.

On Thursday, the president-elect tapped Andrew Puzder, chief executive of CKE Restaurants, owner fast-food chains Carl's Jr. and Hardee’s, as his choice to be his administration’s labor secretary.

Under Puzder, CKE Restaurants has been a magnet for controversy over its treatment of employees—hardly the background for an executive who’s supposed to ensure worker safety, prevent discrimination in the workplace, and address federal disputes between employees and management.

Since Puzder became CEO in 2000, CKE has been accused of not providing required breaks for employees and a party to numerous wage disputes. The U.S. Department of Labor found that more than half of Hardee's and Carl's Jr. locations had wage violations, according to a Bloomberg BNA analysis this year.

In his time there, Puzder’s CKE has been accused of discriminating against a female applicant with a disability; having general managers “on call 24 hours a day”without overtime pay; failing to reimburse general managers for work-related expenses; allowing a work environment in which sexual harassment was permitted; and being a workplace that did not provide sufficient safety gear to prevent severe burns during cooking.

In 2013, CKE Restaurants Inc. was hit with a class-action lawsuit that claimed it violated California labor law for not paying Carl’s Jr. managers for on-call work. (The case is ongoing, according to court records.)

In a negligence lawsuit filed in September 2014, an employee alleged he suffered first- and second-degree burns while attempting to clean a hot fryer box without proper training or appropriate safety equipment. The franchisee and Hardee’s, for its role in the operation and management of the restaurant, were found to be liable.

While Hardee’s argued its wasn’t responsible because it did not directly employ the man or control daily operations at the restaurant, the court found CKE liable for the working conditions at its franchise locations.

In 2005, CKE was forced to pay $34,000 to settle a discrimination suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a Missouri woman who suffered from Treacher-Collin syndrome, a disorder that causes severe facial abnormalities. The EEOC asserted that a Hardee’s had failed to hire the woman based on her physiological deformities, violating the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Missouri Human Rights Act.

While the court documents obtained by The Daily Beast state that the settlement by Hardee’s should not be viewed as an admission of guilt, a Hardee’s vice president of human resources did issue a formal apology, expressing regret regarding “any conduct by our staff that caused [her] any distress.”

And although past cases brought against Hardee’s Food Systems Inc. and CKE Restaurants may have been resolved, in a recent disclosure to the Securities and Exchange Commission the company admitted to being the subject of “several potential class-action lawsuits,” the “most significant” of which relate to meal and rest breaks, wages, and hours disputes.

But it’s not just employees that may have reason to be concerned about Puzder’s appointment.

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The selection of Puzder has alienated everyone from pro-immigration reform Democrats, who are concerned that about his views on labor laws, to restrictionist groups who are concerned he is too friendly to foreign workers.

“I am deeply concerned by Mr. Puzder’s record of standing in the way of progress on issues that would make an immediate difference in the lives of working families, in particular raising the minimum wage and ensuring equal pay for equal work,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) , the top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an immigration restrictionist organization, had the opposite problem: He accused Puzder of being a key figure in an industry that values cheap labor.

“Puzder has served as an executive of a fast-food conglomerate—an industry that has thrived on low-wage labor, illegal workers, and which has lobbied for greater access to foreign guest workers to maximize corporate profits,” he said. “Based on Puzder’s support for increased guest workers, can struggling American workers count on him to maintain tight labor markets that promote wage increases?”

Puzder will likely be grilled during confirmation hearings about his company’s treatment of women. The labor secretary will need to enforce gender non-discrimination and sexual-harassment laws, though his company is best known for its shocking advertisements that feature bikini-clad women eating fast food. (He’s described it as “very American.”)

“I have serious questions about whether a CEO who is comfortable reinforcing harmful stereotypes about women and who is so dismissive of workplace-discrimination issues can be trusted to uphold core missions of the department,” Murray said.

CKE Restaurants did not respond to a request for comment on the labor complaints, but congratulated Puzder on his nomination, claiming that he “has distinguished himself as a tireless advocate for economic policies that create jobs and opportunities.”