OAKLAND -- Pleasanton-based Ross Dress for Less is being sued for allegedly creating a layered contracting scheme that purposely works to undercut the wages of janitors who clean the company's more than 1,000 discount-clothing stores.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three Oakland residents who were either paid late, cheated on their paychecks or not paid overtime for work they conducted inside Ross Dress for Less stores. The three residents worked for two firms who were contracted by USM Inc., a company that was hired by Ross Dress for Less.

According to the lawsuit, Ross Dress of Less knowingly pays USM less money than needed for that Pennsylvania-based company to hire janitors. USM then hires "fly-by-night" janitorial services companies at lower costs, the lawsuit alleges. Those smaller janitorial service companies then routinely use immigrant labor and cheats that labor of proper pay, the lawsuit says.

"Ross knows or should know that the funds provided to USM under their agreement(s) are not sufficient to allow USM to comply with all applicable local, state and federal laws," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit was filed this week in Alameda County Superior Court and is being pursued by Oakland-based law firm Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho. Also assisting in the lawsuit are Chavez & Gertier, Legal Aid of Marin and the Stanford Community Law Clinic.

While the lawsuit currently names three plaintiffs, lawyers are asking a judge to make the suit a class action claim that would represent all janitors who have been cheated pay while working to clean Ross Dress for Less stores.

Representatives from Ross Dress for Less and USM could not be reached for comment.