A federal judge has ordered the owner and manager of the El Matador Inc. and El Caporal Inc. restaurants in Decatur, Illinois to pay a total of over $1.1 million in back wages and damages to 64 workers employed as servers and kitchen staff. The judgment resolves a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) following an investigation by its Wage and Hour Division (WHD) that disclosed willful violations of the minimum wage, overtime pay, and recordkeeping provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) [WHD News Release, Judge finds Decatur-Ill. Mexican restaurants liable for more than $1 million in back wages and damages after US Labor Department investigation, 5/26/11].
The WHD discovered that some employees at three restaurants did not receive any proceeds from the paychecks that they received. Wait staff, for example, took home only tips from the customers they served. Although they were given paychecks by their employer, they were then required to return those payments to the restaurants. According to the payroll records, the paychecks to the servers were cashed.
The investigation also found that employees who did not work as servers, such as kitchen staff, busboys, and dishwashers, were not paid the minimum wage rate or overtime compensation and were required to return some of the money from their paychecks to the restaurant. Additionally, employees often were directed to punch or sign in at a predetermined time, even though they actually had begun working much earlier.
WHD had conducted an investigation of one of the restaurants in 2005. At that time, the owner was provided with materials and information to ensure knowledge of and compliance with the FLSA. WHD posters reflecting workers' rights were posted at all three restaurants.