Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this



By Michelle Rains

September 29, 2023 (Ramona)-- As the owner of a bar and restaurant in Ramona, I can personally attest to how difficult California’s business environment can be. Starting a business involves balancing budgets, building customer relationships, hiring and training quality employees, creating a welcoming environment; these are the challenges I signed up for. However, in California, there is an added level of difficulty complying with the many different laws and regulations that can dictate a business’s everyday operations.

A growing sector of attorneys exploit these laws and regulations by targeting small businesses that can’t defend themselves. They exploit laws like the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), weaponizing code compliance as a means of easy monetary gain. They hunt for inconsequential infractions, even those born out of unassuming ignorance, and leverage these for disproportionate compensation. These practices undermine the well-intentioned policy behind these acts, designed to ensure accessibility and fair practice in the workplace for workers.

Take ADA compliance, for instance. This act has done tremendous work in promoting accessibility for those with disabilities. However, all small business owners can attest to the fear of "drive-by" lawsuits, where businesses are sued for minor, easily correctable oversights. Business owners are almost always willing to adjust our facilities and practices for better accessibility, yet the law doesn’t allow for corrections. It just empowers lawsuits that force businesses into expensive settlements.

It’s not just ADA. A minor labor code issue like the wrong date on a paycheck can trigger a PAGA lawsuit leading to crippling penalties for small businesses. State law empowers attorneys to seek out employees with the promise of large settlement payments, even though the workers rarely get any reasonable amount after the attorneys take their fees.

The misuse of ADA and PAGA isn’t a victimless crime. Small businesses are the backbone of our local economies. When we suffer, the ripple effects are felt throughout the community. Workers lose jobs, consumers lose services, and neighborhoods lose vital communal spaces. We saw the devastation that losing small businesses can cause during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To protect our small businesses, our communities, and the spirit of these laws, it’s imperative for lawmakers to step in and enact change. ADA and PAGA should serve their intended purpose: ensuring fair workplaces and accessibility, not as tools of extortion wielded against the unwitting. Reforms that establish clearer guidelines and afford businesses a grace period to correct unintentional violations could alleviate much of the harm these predatory lawsuits cause.

As a State, we should ensure these protective laws remain robust, but not at the cost of the small businesses that serve as the heartbeat of our communities. It’s time for our legislators to take decisive action. The survival of small businesses like mine depends on it.

A person standing in a doorwayDescription automatically generatedMichelle Rains is a elected member of the Ramona Community Planning Group and the Palomar Community College Board of Trustees. She is also the owner of Cheers of Ramona.  

The opinions in this reader’s editorial reflect the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact

Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.