Labor Dept. accuses Huntley restaurant of intimidating workers during investigation
The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a complaint and asked a federal court to issue a temporary restraining order against a Huntley restaurant and its owners for retaliating and intimidating workers during a federal wage investigation, court records show.
Papa G's restaurant and owners Steve and Rick Tsakalios are accused of asking workers to not give investigators any information, telling one employee repeatedly he did not have to speak to investigators, continually entering the area where the interviews were taking place, and threatening to find out what employees said, according to the complaint filed in federal court Monday.
The "retaliatory conduct has created a chilling effect on their employees," the U.S. Department of Labor said in its request asking a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order.
The owners did not immediately return a message left at the restaurant seeking comment. An employee who answered the phone declined to provide an alternate number to reach the owners.
An attorney for the restaurant is not yet listed in federal court records.
The U.S. Department of Labor reviewed the restaurant's employment and pay practices from Feb. 3, 2019, through Jan. 20, 2022, and found it failed to pay its kitchen employees the required one-and-a-half overtime rate when they worked more than 40 hours in a week, according to the complaint and a memorandum submitted in support of its restraining order request.
The complaint also alleges the restaurant first provided federal investigators one set of records that "deliberately omitted overtime hours worked by employees" and then later produced a set of informal records for some of the investigated time frame that recorded actual hours worked and paid.
When asked about the informal records, the restaurant's accountant said they were for budgeting and projecting purposes and did not reflect actual hours worked by employees, according to a declaration submitted in court by the Department of Labor investigator.
Employees during interviews with the investigator said the restaurant's practice was to pay employees at a straight time rate in cash for overtime hours worked, the investigator said in the declaration.
The informal records showed the employees worked "substantially more than 40 hours in a workweek," the U.S. Department of Labor said in its court filings. The department subsequently requested those records for the entire time period being investigated and did not receive them. So obtained a search warrant to get them from the business's accountant.
The restaurant knew it was required to pay the employees the higher rate for overtime because it would pay overtime in cash at regular rates separate from the check payments for the non-overtime hours, the U.S. Department of Labor alleged in the complaint.
The department is seeking through the lawsuit to have Papa G's pay $59,904 in back wages and an equal amount of liquidated damages to employees, according to a news release.
"Threatening or intimidating employees to prevent their cooperation with U.S. Department of Labor investigators is illegal," Regional Solicitor of Labor Christine Heri said in a news release. "Doing so discourages workers from asserting their rights and interferes with effective enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act. ... Our request for a temporary restraining order in this matter shows the department will do everything in its power to protect workers' rights."