Scoundrel Spotlight - George Thomas Dave (“GT Dave”)
This week’s Scoundrel in the Spotlight is George Thomas Dave (“GT Dave”), the billionaire king of kombucha. His company GT’s Living Foods has saturated the fermented tea and beverage market with its Synergy branded drinks to the tune of $275 million per year. GT Dave professes to have a higher purpose. The company mission statement, according to its website, is to “share the gift of Kombucha in its purest, most potent form to help people everywhere live healthier, happier lives.” Apparently, GT Dave is referring to his customers’ lives, not his employees.
Employees of GT’s Living Foods, formerly known as Millenium Products, Inc., have filed a lawsuit alleging abuse, exploitation and other violations of California labor laws dating back years. A new ruling last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court found workers were subject to “deplorable and abusive and disturbing working conditions” in the GT’s Living Foods factory in California. According to the LA Times, these abusive work conditions included exploiting the labor of undocumented workers who were easily “intimidated and abused,” forcing employees to work “12-to-14 hour shifts without adequate breaks or overtime pay” and then making them sign documentation releasing any future claims, and working in overheated rooms in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. The Times describes employees sweating profusely directly into buckets of brewing tea. One worker reported to the Times that he was retaliated against when he complained by being forced repeatedly to work in an overheated environment, immediately followed by a refrigerated room where his “sweaty clothes would turn ice cold.”
GT Dave, who started selling kombucha as a teenager to fancy Bel-Air health food markets, brought kombucha mainstream, in part, by perpetuating positive energy vibes. Behind the scenes though the picture was not so rosy. GT Dave apparently was prone to hyperbole and lies, some quite bizarre. The Times explained that GT Dave liked to tell an anecdote of an employee whose negative energy damaged his kombucha. GT Dave would tell of an employee who had died of a heart attack after confiding in GT Dave about a personal issue. GT Dave claimed the employee’s negative energy caused every batch of kombucha the employee touched to “tur[n] to mold.”
Although GT Dave denied the allegations, he was not successful in convincing the judge as reflected in the court’s ruling and statements at trial. Judge Highberger stated in his ruling that GT Dave “lacked any credibility and did not provide truthful testimony on the witness stand.” The Times quotes Judge Highberger at trial stating “I, frankly, found that Mr. Dave lied through his teeth and is not in any way, shape, or form credible … And if he appears in front of a jury, I’ll tell them not to believe him.” Ultimately Judge Highberger awarded the plaintiffs more than $450,00 in restitution, and the case isn’t over yet. The next phase of the trial will cover alleged labor violations affecting 3,600 other workers, according to the Times.
Simon Rojas, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, stated “I want all of this to come out into the light because I know other companies are doing similar things. I want people to know that you don’t have to keep silent – if you are exploited, you can speak up.” Spoken like a true whistleblower. Shining a light on abhorrent conduct wherever it may occur and no matter the risks of coming forward.
It is on behalf of employees who boldly speak truth to power to combat exploitative behavior in the workplace or otherwise report on fraud or misconduct — particularly if it relates to our health or well-being — that we name GT Dave as this week’s Scoundrel in the Spotlight. If you have any information on potential fraud or misconduct and would like to speak to a member of the Constantine Cannon whistleblower lawyer team, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free and confidential consultation.
Tagged in: Criminal Proceedings,