For the second time since 2011, the federal government filed suit against the owners of two La Nopalera restaurants, claiming the owners didn't pay its workers minimum wage, according to a report from The Florida Times-Union.
The U.S. Department of Labor filed two suits this year against La Nopalera. In 2011, the department also sued and settled lawsuits against two of the Mexican restaurants, charging its owners took part in a scheme to skirt minimum-wage laws. The owners paid nearly a million dollars to settle that suit.
The earlier investigation found the restaurant improperly made kitchen employees exempt from overtime pay. Wait staff weren't paid minimum wage. Though the staff received checks for the difference between the tips and minimum wage, management required them to sign the checks over to the restaurant. The scheme was set up to give the appearance the workers were paid legally when they were not, the labor department said.
The labor department then checked to make sure the owners complied with the law. They didn't, according to the most recent lawsuits.
From Sept. 11, 2010, to Sept. 1, 2012, eight employees at the 8818 Atlantic Boulevard restaurant were not paid minimum wage, according to court documents. The investigation determined they are owed $168,823.
From March 1, 2010, to February 17, 2013, 18 employees at a Savannah restaurant were not paid minimum wage, according to court documents. It's not clear how much the investigation determined they are due.
Owner Javier Valencia now faces potential contempt charges and two lawsuits. Co-owner Jose Valdivia faces a lawsuit for the Jacksonville restaurant, and Francisco Espinoza faces a lawsuit for the Savannah restaurant.
Joann Bricker, an attorney for Valencia and Valdivia, said she will not talk about the case, and she said she will advise her clients not to talk to reporters either.
Bricker asked that the case either be dismissed or go to jury trial.
According to court documents, Valencia intends to argue that he was only the partial owner and that he didn't decide how employees would be paid. His primary responsibility, the court documents say he will argue, is providing recipes.
Contempt charges against Valencia are pending, based on the result of the other two lawsuits.
The defendants and plaintiff in the Georgia case have until Dec. 1 to gather evidence.