La Nopalera restaurant sued over wage violations

Dept. of Labor claims restaurant failed to pay minimum wage, falsified records

By Kent Justice - Anchor/reporter, Staff
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The co-owners of the La Nopalera Mexican Restaurant on Atlantic Boulevard are being sued in U.S. District Court over allegations they didn't pay their employees minimum wage.

This follows a 2011 case in which the U.S. Department of Labor charged two of the Mexican restaurants in Jacksonville with willfully avoiding minimum-wage laws. The owners settled that case by paying their employees nearly $1 million in back pay.

The previous labor department investigation found that the wait staff at the restaurants on Beach Boulevard and Philips Highway received checks to make up the difference between tips and minimum wage but were required by management to sign the checks over to the restaurant, according to the Department of Labor complaint.

Investigators who followed up after the original case found non-compliance at different La Nopalera restaurants between September 2010 and 2012 and filed the current case.

Named in the suit were Javier and Jose Valencia, owners and managers of the La Nopalera No. 4.  There are 10 La Nopalera restaurants in the greater Jacksonville area, but only the location at 8818 Atlantic Boulevard was involved in the lawsuit.

COURT DOCUMENT:  U.S. Deptartment of Labor vs. La Nopalera No. 4

According to the complaint, "Defendants engaged in pay practices that involved systematically failing to pay employees for the appropriate minimum wage, while requiring employees to falsify time records. Defendants failed to pay wait staff any wages."

The complaint, filed in March of this year, goes on to say pay records were falsified to indicate employees worked no more than 40 hours per week and failed to "make, keep and preserve adequate and accurate records of the persons employed and of the wages, hours and other conditions and practices of employment."

A La Nopalera restaurant in Savannah faced a similar lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor said that all back wages have been paid, but contempt charges remain pending against the owners.  Follow-up investigations may also be conducted to ensure the restaurants remain in compliance with federal wage guidelines.

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