Milwaukee – A complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin on behalf of servers working at La Fuente’s Milwaukee and Waukesha locations. The class action complaint alleges that the servers were not paid the server minimum wage rate of $2.33 per-hour for all hours the servers actually worked at La Fuente.
“La Fuente followed the somewhat common practice in the restaurant industry of not allowing its servers to punchin for the day until each individual servers first customer arrived for the day” explained attorney Larry Johnson of Hawks Quindel, S.C. – one of the attorneys representing the servers. The complaint alleges that La Fuente servers arrive in the morning, prior to the restaurant opening to place and set tables, roll silverware, and get the restaurant ready for the public – all without pay. “Restaurants can legally pay a sub-minimum wage rate of $2.33 per hour and use the tips the servers receive as a credit toward paying the full $7.25 minimum wage” explained Johnson. “But, because of the unpaid pre-shift work which La Fuente did not pay its servers for, the servers were not paid the full $2.33 for every hour worked” Johnson continued.
The complaint also claims that other deductions from the servers pay further ate away at the server’s wages dropping them below the minimum wage. The complaint alleges the servers were required to pay for food and drink orders customers claimed were incorrect and pay for the full bill of customers who walked out of the restaurant without paying. Additionally, La Fuente required its servers to pay for uniforms, order pads, hot pads and nametags. “Each of these instances of La Fuente pushing its operating expenses onto its servers amounts to a deduction that is illegal when the servers’ wages fall below the minimum wage” explained Johnson.
“The Fair Labor Standards Act does not exist solely to protectemployees from substandard wages” explained Attorney Summer Murshid who also represents the servers in this matter. “The Fair Labor Standards Act evens the playing field for competing businesses – when an employer violates the law by failing to pay minimum wages, the employer gains an unfair advantage over those law abiding businesses” explains Murshid. “The restaurants who steal from their employees by not paying them minimum wages are also stealing business from other restaurants who are following the law by artificially lowering labor expenses.”
Ms. Cristal Hernandez, a former server of La Fuente filed this complaint in federal court on behalf of herself and other similar employees as a class action. She seeks unpaid wages for all servers who worked at La Fuente’s Waukesha and Milwaukee locations. The class is expected to be about sixty current and former servers.
Violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act in the restaurant industry are not isolated incidents. In December 2012, Ginza Japanese Restaurant in Wauwatosa paid $69,967 to settle allegations by two servers that the restaurant failed to pay these servers minimum wage. In February, the Meyer’s Family Restaurant in Greenfield agreed to pay its employees $116,102 in response to a US Department of Labor investigation for failing to pay overtime wages.
There is a growing movement across the country to strengthenemployees’ rights to their fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work through wage theft ordinances which have passed in major metropolitan areas like the city of Chicago and Miami-Dade County. These ordinances operate to provide stronger protection to employees by increasing damages and revoking business licenses where there are findings of wage theft. “Doing so” explains Murshid “not only makes the employees whole, but it protects law abiding businesses from those businesses which arewilling to violate the law at the expense of their employees.”