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Starline Tours Faces New Allegations of Shortchanging Low-Wage Employees

Variety logo Variety 12/28/2016 Gene Maddaus
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Starline Tours of Hollywood is facing new allegations that it has systematically shortchanged its employees.

The celebrity tour company is already facing a class action lawsuit on behalf of its bus drivers. That case alleges that drivers were not paid for the hours they worked, were not paid overtime, and had wages deducted for violations of company policies, among other labor law violations.

The new lawsuit — filed last week in L.A. Superior Court — alleges that Starline is also failing to properly compensate its bus washers, tree cutters, mechanics and maintenance workers. The suit names two Starline employees, Nezhdik Keshishyan and Delon Moore, as plaintiffs. The suit claims that they were not paid minimum wage, were forced to work off the clock, and had wages deducted for meal breaks that they were not allowed to take.

The earlier wage-and-hour lawsuit contributed to the split between Starline and TMZ, which had partnered with the tour company to offer its Hollywood tours. TMZ alleged that Starline failed to live up to its obligation to cover the costs of defending TMZ in the suit. After winning a $201,000 judgment, TMZ called in sheriff’s deputies to raid the tour companies’ offices. Starline has alleged that TMZ is now offering a competing tour without permission from the state Public Utilities Commission.

Reached by phone, Starline owner Kami Farhadi said he had not received the new lawsuit yet. Louis Benowitz, the plaintiffs’ attorney, declined to comment.

Starline is the largest operator of Hollywood tour buses, with 120 buses and nearly 200 employees. At least 20 companies offer similar tours along Hollywood Boulevard. The industry has generated complaints from residents and calls for stricter regulation.

In August, NBC4 investigated the industry, raising concerns about customer safety and bad information dispensed by some tour operators. Earlier this month, a jury awarded $26 million to the family of Mason Zisette, a Manhattan Beach teenager who was struck in the head and killed while riding on the second deck of a Starline bus in 2014. Starline provided the double-decker bus for a private party, and the plaintiffs alleged the company failed to take adequate security precautions.

Update: Mohammed Ghods, an attorney for Starline, said the suit is a “garden variety” wage-and-hour claim.

“They use a legitimate payroll service. They keep track of benefits and hours properly,” Ghods said. “They’re not running a sweatshop or some underground operation.”

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