Employer fined for hiring priest to make workers confess 'workplace sins'

California company must pay $140,000 in back wages and damages to 35 employees

Employer fined for hiring priest to make workers confess 'workplace sins'

The owners and operators of Che Garibaldi – operator of Taqueria Garibaldi – have been ordered to pay $140,000 in back wages and damages to 35 restaurant employees after they allegedly tapped the services of a person identified as a priest to force workers to confess “workplace sins”.

During litigation by the U.S. Department of Labor in federal court, an employee of Che Garibaldi told the court the priest urged workers to “get the sins out”. The priest also asked employees of the northern California restaurant if they had stolen from the employer, been late for work, had done anything to harm their employer or if they had bad intentions toward their employer.

This “may be among the most shameless” ways to intimidate or retaliate against employees, the department said in a press release.

Violations of labor standards

The court’s decision follows an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division that found Taqueria Garibaldi denied employees overtime pay for hours over 40 in a workweek, a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The division also found that the employer paid managers from the employee tip pool illegally, threatened employees with retaliation and adverse immigration consequences for cooperating with the department, and fired one worker who they believed had complained to the department.

“Under oath, an employee of Taqueria Garibaldi explained how the restaurant offered a supposed priest to hear their workplace ‘sins’ while other employees reported that a manager falsely claimed that immigration issues would be raised by the department’s investigation,” said Marc Pilotin, regional solicitor of labor in San Francisco.

“This employer’s despicable attempts to retaliate against employees were intended to silence workers, obstruct an investigation and prevent the recovery of unpaid wages.”

Previously, one company – 811 Autoworks LLC, operating as AOK Walker Luxury Autoworks – and its owner – Miles Walker – were tasked to pay $39,934, representing back wages owed and an equal amount in liquidated damages, to nine workers.

Back wages, liquidated damages

The employer agreed to a consent judgment, and Judge William B. Shubb in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California ordered Che Garibaldi and owners and operators Eduardo Hernandez, Hector Manual Martinez Galindo and Alejandro Rodriguez to pay the $140,000 – made up of the recovery of $70,000 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages.

The judge also ordered the restaurant and its owners to pay the department $5,000 in civil money penalties due to the willful nature of their violations.

“The U.S. Department of Labor and its Solicitor’s Office will not tolerate workplace retaliation and will act swiftly to make clear that immigration status has no bearing on workers’ rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act,” Pilotin said.

California’s law on strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) does not automatically protect statements an employer makes when terminating an employee just because the employer asks the employee to sign a release of claims, a California court previously said.

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