San Jose restaurant owner accused of threatening to get waiter deported

A former San Jose restaurant worker has filed a lawsuit accusing his previous boss of forcing him to house two fellow employees in his small one-bedroom apartment, threatening to get him deported and saying he would “destroy him and his family” for disobedience.

Afwan Mohammed claims his boss’s actions left him with panic attacks, dreams that someone was suffocating him, and “severe depression and anxiety” that put him in the hospital for a week under medication. He is still taking depression medication, the lawsuit alleges.

“I was just hopeless,” Mohammed, 23, said by phone, adding that while working at Karimi Restaurant he failed two courses at De Anza College, where he’s studying business while employed full time now in a bank. “I couldn’t focus on my studies, I couldn’t do anything.”

He said he quit his job as a waiter for a position as a bank teller and moved out of the apartment, but remains as the lease holder while restaurant employees are still living there and may be evicted for damaging the unit, ensnaring him him in more trouble.

Mohammed began working 12-hour days at the downtown Karimi Restaurant shortly after arriving in the U.S.from India in the summer of 2018 as an 18-year-old on a student visa, his lawsuit against the restaurant’s owner claims. The lawsuit further alleges that Mohammed was underpaid by more than $80,000 over his 3.5 years at Karimi, which serves South Asian specialties.

The lawsuit contends that if he’d been paid minimum wage, he would have received an additional $28,000 in wages, and if he’d been paid overtime, a further $55,000. He’s seeking at least $104,000 for unpaid wages, damages, penalties and interest.

Mohammed’s boss, Karimi owner Rifakat Saiyed, is accused of insisting Mohammed drive his unwanted roommates to and from work and requiring him to “affirmatively misrepresent” to the California Economic Development Department that Saiyed’s wife had worked at the restaurant, so she could get COVID-related unemployment benefits, the lawsuit filed this month in Santa Clara County Superior Court alleges.

In September, Mohammed obtained a temporary restraining order against Saiyed after accusing him of threatening and harassing him, and the two men then agreed not to contact each other, according to court records.

Saiyed could not immediately be reached for comment. In a court filing responding to Mohammed’s application for the restraining order, Saiyed denied Mohammed’s claims about threatening and harassing him, and said instead that he had looked after him “like his own son.” Mohammed’s “baseless allegations” were “shocking and heartbreaking” for Saiyed, according to the response. The lawyer who represented Saiyed in the restraining order matter said he had not seen Mohammed’s lawsuit and could not comment on it.

Mohammed alleges that Saiyed also frequently made him run errands that took up his lunch hour, and compelled him to wake up every Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m. to take one of the employees living with him to the bus station. On some days off, Mohammed had to drive one of his roommates to work and pick him up, he claims.

Saiyed gave him cash to cover the rent for the workers living in Mohammed’s unit, but nothing for utilities, and refused to give Mohammed pay stubs so he could obtain the working-student tuition rate at De Anza, the lawsuit alleges.

Mohammed said he moved in January 2022 to a friend’s apartment in the same building, but then had to pay rent for both units until he moved to Campbell seven months later. He said he quit Karimi in May 2022 after getting hired at a bank on the Peninsula.

Mohammed said Saiyed left a voicemail demanding he come to the restaurant, and when the two met, Saiyed “belittled and demeaned (Mohammed) for purportedly being disrespectful and not appreciating that he purportedly was treated like a son,” the lawsuit alleges.

“Saiyed made various threats, including that in the event (Mohammed) would disobey him then he would have (him) deported,” the lawsuit alleges. When Mohammed indicated that he did not wish to pay for the apartment utilities going forward, Saiyed “became enraged” and demanded that he leave the United States within 30 days or Saiyed would “make a hell for (him) and destroy him and his family,” the lawsuit claims.

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