Jury Finds Restaurant, Owner Intentionally Violated Minimum Wage and Overtime Laws

Court News© DRex Wholster / Getty Images / Canva

DELMONT, PA — Following a three-day trial and three years of litigation, a jury in a federal court in Pennsylvania determined Wednesday that a Delmont restaurant and its owner intentionally shortchanged 15 servers, dishwashers, bussers and cooks more than $214,000 in wages, confirming the findings of a U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division investigation and litigation by its Office of the Solicitor.

From April 2014 to July 2017, Picante LLC, its successor Picante Grille LLC and its owner Helius Mucino, paid no wages to servers solely compensated through tips. They also failed to pay dishwashers, bussers and cooks overtime when required and did not keep adequate records. After the department uncovered their illegal pay practices, the employers – who operate as Picante Mexican Grille – continued to pay less than the required amount of overtime to certain employees for two more years, until 2019.

In its Sept. 21, 2022, verdict, the jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania also concluded that during at least some of the timeframe when the violations occurred Mucino was acting as an employer at the restaurant – a point of contention during litigation – which made him liable under the Fair Labor Standards Act. It also found that the employers willfully violated the law, a finding the department sought to increase the back wages paid to employees for an additional year of violations that went back to 2014.

“Restaurant workers depend on all their rightfully earned wages and benefits, and employers are obligated by law to pay them. When an employer fails to pay the full wages as due, they harm both the workers and their families,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director John DuMont in Pittsburgh. “Wage theft is a serious issue that causes great harm to low-wage workers, and the Wage and Hour Division is determined to protect workers’ rights and hold employers accountable.”

READ:  EEOC Implements New Rule to Support Pregnant Workers, Following Senator Casey's Advocacy

Following the verdict, the department filed a proposed final judgment with the court to secure more than $429,000 in back wages and liquidated damages for the employees and to forbid the employers from future FLSA violations. The verdict comes after the department’s attorneys won a partial summary judgment in 2021 in which the court ruled the employers violated the FLSA from 2014 to 2017. The court also found, at the department’s urging, that a 2017 attempt by the employers to sell their business to another company with the same owners, employees and location did not allow the new business to avoid liability for the earlier violations. The department’s attorneys also defeated a summary judgment motion from the employers and won pretrial rulings protecting the rights of workers to testify without regard to possible immigration status.

“Before filing the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2019 complaint, the Office of the Solicitor provided support to the Wage and Hour Division when the employers resisted turning over records to investigators. Over the last three years we worked closely with employee witnesses and the division to recover wages for the affected employees,” said Regional Solicitor Oscar L. Hampton III, in Philadelphia.

The division’s Pittsburgh District Office conducted the investigation. Trial attorneys Matthew Epstein and Sharon McKenna with the department’s Regional Solicitor in Philadelphia litigated the case.

For the latest news on everything happening in Chester County and the surrounding area, be sure to follow MyChesCo on Google News and Microsoft Start.