TULSA — After a jury found that a Mexican restaurant chain in Oklahoma, El Tequila LLC, did not violate the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in a wage suit filed by a class of hundreds of workers, a federal district court overturned the jury verdict and awarded $2.1 million in back wages and damages to the plaintiffs. The court stated that it could not find a clearer case of an employer willfully violating FLSA as the case at hand. The court found that the jury reached a verdict wholly unsupported by the evidence presented at trial, and that no reasonable jury could have decided as it did. Additionally, because the judge determined that the violations were willful, it allowed the plaintiffs to recover back wages and damages for not only two, but three years. This added about $400,000 to the amount owed by El Tequila to a class of 300 workers.
Department of Labor’s Investigation and Findings
The Department of Labor (DOL) filed its suit after conducting an investigation into the restaurant’s practices. It found workers, including kitchen staff, hosts, and bussers, were paid a fixed salary and did not receive overtime pay when they worked greater than forty hours per week. Additionally, wait staff were required to turn over their tips to management at the end of their shifts, but the restaurants did not keep the required records. Additionally, the investigation found that the restaurant’s owner knew the law required him to pay minimum wage and overtime, but instead of complying, he took steps to conceal his non-compliance. This concealment included sending fake information to his accountant, who generated pay records that made it look as if the restaurant paid the employees minimum wage and overtime. This led to the court’s conclusion that the violations were willful.
Under FLSA, if an employer willfully violates the law’s provisions as evidenced by attempts to conceal wage theft, the employer is subject to a civil money penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation. It also extends the limitations period from two to three years, thus increasing the amount of potential back pay, and allows the court discretion to award liquidated or punitive damages. Additionally, willful FLSA violations may result in criminal prosecution, fines, and imprisonment. This may occur for those who are shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, to have violated FLSA intentionally, deliberately, and voluntarily. The criminal penalties may include a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment of up to six months, or both.
Employers who take steps to conceal violations of FLSA may find themselves subjected to even harsher penalties. You should call (855) 754-2795 or complete the Free Unpaid Overtime Case Review form on the top right of this page if you believe that your employers have wilfully and intentionally violated your wage rights. Our top-rated team of wage lawyers will evaluate your situation to determine your best course of action. We will also determine if it is in your best interest to file a lawsuit against your joint employers. There are strict time limitations for filing, so it is important that you call our experienced attorneys today.