Woodstock's Pizza located in Downtown San Luis Obispo. Credit: Ashley Spinoglio | Mustang News

Several current and former San Luis Obispo Woodstock’s employees cited personal experiences of break violations and other infractions.

Woodstock’s Pizza has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit and will pay $1.5 million to former employees if a court approves the lawsuit next month.

The lawsuit, filed by former employee Shelby Lowry of Woodstock’s Davis location, claimed the company violated 21 different labor codes, including failing to “properly and timely” pay all wages, provide meal breaks, pay for paid sick leave and provide accurate wage statements.

Woodstock’s denied all charges and any wrongdoing, highlighting in an email to Mustang News that the lawsuit was made into a class action suit “based on the allegations of one employee that we deny.”

“We were faced with a lawsuit that could have resulted in more cost for attorney’s fees than we would pay through this mediation,” Woodstock’s owner Jeff Ambrose said in an email to Mustang News. “That was the only reason for this settlement.”

The San Diego County Superior Court will hold a hearing to review and approve the final settlement on Friday, Feb. 10.

Shelby Lowry claimed in the April 2021 lawsuit that in addition to not timely reporting “time pay, minimum wages, regular wages, overtime and double pay,” Woodstock’s failed to provide legally compliant meal breaks and rest breaks. Lowry declined an interview with Mustang News. 

Meal breaks are 30-minute unpaid breaks during a shift of five hours or more, while rest breaks are 10-minute paid breaks for every four hours worked, according to California state law.

If approved, the settlement will divide more than $900,000 after legal fees among all hourly Woodstock’s employees from April 2017 to June 2022 who do not opt out of the lawsuit. Employees will receive approximately $10 for each week they worked at the company.

Former Woodstock’s San Luis Obispo shift manager Cory Tanner said employees learned of the lawsuit through settlement documents that were mailed to them in late 2022 when Tanner still worked there. Tanner said he was surprised Lowry was able to settle for money.

“A lot of us joked, ‘Holy crap, that was an option? We can do that?’ Because we’ve all seen our fair share of labor stuff,” Tanner said. “I’ve been given paychecks that, when I went to take them to the bank, they were voided.”

Tanner also said that every shift at Woodstock’s is scheduled to “business decline,” meaning no employee has a scheduled time off and must trust their manager to “work in their best interest to keep labor low.”

“Labor laws dictate that if they aren’t given a break before that six-hour mark, then their shift has to end, otherwise it’s a meal break violation,” Tanner said, adding that he estimated each shift manager would record two to three violations per week while he worked there.

If they do get a break, though, Woodstock’s can keep them for another six hours before letting them leave. 

“So a lot of people end up working for five hours, taking a break and working another two to four hours afterward,” Tanner said. “If we put you on break after five [hours], I can keep you for like 10 hours now.”

He said upper management “barely” kept the store staffed sometimes, leading to “five to six people working for 10-plus hours on any given day.” A typical shift start time is 4 p.m., meaning if no employees were scheduled to start later (which Tanner said was typical), those 4 p.m. employees would have to work until after the store closed at 1 a.m.

Mustang News spoke to eight former and current employees at the San Luis Obispo location about their experiences of rest and meal break violations with the chain.

Lexi Ackell, a Cuesta College sophomore who worked at Woodstock’s from 2021 to 2022, said she watched shift managers manipulate timesheets to reflect that she received 30-minute meal breaks that never occurred so she could work more than six hours at a time.

“I physically watched that at least on two occasions. [The shift managers] could log onto the system and change our time clocks, including our break times.”

Lexi Ackell, former Woodstock’s employee

Woodstock’s was ranked the No. 1 independent pizzeria in the U.S. in 2019 by Pizza Today, averaging more than $22 million in yearly sales.

The pizza company has touted its “employee camaraderie and loyalty” for years, with several former workers praising the store’s work environment and Tanner even referring to it as a “utopia.” 

Many employees said it was common for all the employees to stay after closing, drinking beers in the back office and hanging out, and other employees even have tattoos of pizza icons.

“You’re almost led to do certain things that you might not do if you didn’t care about the people involved,” said Michelle Mede, a San Luis Obispo Woodstock’s employee from 2021 to 2022. saying that “camaraderie” among co-workers could make things like break violations seem inconsequential.

A shift manager currently on a leave of absence recalled working long shifts during Summer 2022, specifically one week when Woodstock’s had no managers in town. He declined to be named out of fear of facing retaliation from Woodstock’s. 

“I worked 11 hours straight with no breaks. That was just such a common thing at the time, but I kind of forgot that it was illegal.”

Woodstock’s shift manager

The manager would have been entitled to two 30-minute breaks, per California law. He also commented that upper Woodstock’s management did not verbally inform him of his rights to take a 10-minute break in the nearly two years he worked there.

Five former employees also said that taking 10-minute paid rest breaks — which are permitted by law for every four hours worked — was “frowned upon” and if they did, their coworkers would view them as “lazy.”

“I don’t see the point in sitting around for 10 minutes,” said another current San Luis Obispo Woodstock’s manager. “But that’s me personally. If someone asked me for a 10, you know, I’ll put them on a 10.”

But according to two more current San Luis Obispo Woodstock’s employees, both declining to be named out of fear of retaliation from the restaurant, there have been visible changes in Woodstock’s workplace environment since the lawsuit was filed. 

“More recently, people have been asking for 10 minutes,” the first employee recalled.

Other changes included managers “cracking down” on meal break violations and being more intentional about reminding employees to take their breaks for the last few months.

“It hasn’t been as much of an issue because of the lawsuit,” the second employee said. “The company is actually starting to take action about it.”