Owner also prosecuted for making false statements related to kickback scheme following initial DOL investigation
GUAYNABO, PR – A federal judge has ordered two San Juan restaurants and their owners to pay a total of $31,630 to 19 workers after the owners withheld back wages they assured the U.S. Department of Labor they would pay the employees after an investigation found their pay practices violated federal law.
The consent judgment – entered in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico – follows litigation by the department’s Office of the Solicitor and an investigation by its Wage and Hour Division that began after investigators identified Fair Labor Standards Act violations by Patricio’s Restaurant Inc., doing business as Jose Jose Restaurant, and El Catador D’Abreu Inc., doing business as El Catador D’Abreu Restaurant, and owners Jose Abreu Ramirez and Milagros De Los Santos Gomez.
During the investigation, the division found the employers paid some of their cooks and waiters a set salary each week regardless of how many hours they worked and required some employees to buy and maintain their uniforms, which caused minimum wage and overtime violations. In addition, the employers failed to maintain records of their employees’ wages and work hours, as the law requires. At the close of the investigation, Abreu signed back wage compliance and payment agreements on behalf of both restaurants in which the corporations agreed to comply with the FLSA and pay back wages the division found due in its investigation.
Despite such agreements, several employees later reported to the division that Abreu and De Los Santos directed them to endorse the back wage checks and sign documents representing they had received the back wages due to them when, in fact, they had never received any back wages. Instead, the employers kept the checks, in violation of the FLSA. As a result of this conduct, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Puerto Rico filed criminal charges in the matter. Abreu plead guilty to eight counts of falsifying, concealing, or covering up a material fact by trick, scheme or device, and was ordered to pay $13,137 in restitution to six employees.
“Workers have the right to request payment of their hard-earned wages without fear of retaliation and discrimination for cooperating fully with a U.S. Department of Labor investigation,” explained Wage and Hour District Director Jose R. Vazquez-Fernandez in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. “The Fair Labor Standards Act provides essential worker protections to ensure they are paid their rightful wages. Workers who believe their rights have been violated should contact the Wage and Hour Division with their concerns.”
In addition to back wages and liquidated damages, the consent judgment obtained by the department permanently enjoins the defendants from future FLSA minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping and retaliation violations, including discharging or retaliating against any employee who exercises their rights under the FLSA. It also prohibits them from discouraging workers from cooperating with federal investigators and requires the defendants to provide employees with written notice of their FLSA rights.
“Employers and workers alike should know that the U.S. Department of Labor will take appropriate legal action when employers shortchange employees of their wages, threaten or discriminate against employees, or otherwise disregard the Fair Labor Standards Act’s requirements,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Jeffrey S. Rogoff in New York.
The Wage and Hour Division’s Caribbean District Office conducted the original investigation. Senior Trial Attorney Allison L. Bowles from the New York Regional Solicitor’s Office litigated the case.
Workers can call the Wage and Hour Division confidentially with questions – regardless of their immigration status – and the department can speak with callers in more than 200 languages.
For more information about the FLSA and other laws enforced by the division, contact the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.