Tierra Colombiana and Mixto, two popular Philadelphia restaurants owned by Jorge Mosquera, have agreed to pay $414,765 in back wages to 156 workers, plus another $414,765 in damages, and a $10,000 civil penalty, to resolve U.S. Labor Department allegations that they underpaid staff. The proposed agreement awaits approval by a federal judge.
The settlement plan follows an investigation by the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division staff in Philadelphia, which found that Mixto, in Center City, and Tierra Colombiana, in the heart of the city's Latino community on North Fifth Street, had "violated the overtime and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act." A manager at Tierra Colombiana declined to comment and said Mosquera was unavailable early Tuesday afternoon.
The money Mosquera agreed to pay was "rightfully earned by hardworking employees," James Cain, Wage and Hour Division director for Philadelphia, said in a statement. Investigators "found that servers, bartenders, barbacks [bartenders' assistants], runners, hostesses, kitchen chefs, and dishwashers regularly worked more than 40 hours a week but were not paid overtime at time-and-a-half," as the law requires. "The restaurants also failed to maintain required records and made some illegal deductions from employee wages."
The government says Mixto and Tierra Colombiana agreed to comply with the law in the future. The Labor Department wants to "level the playing field" between restaurant operators who respect the law and those who illegally underpay their staff, said Oscar L. Hampton III, regional solicitor for the department.
Last month, the government won a $396,000 settlement from Talula's Garden, a joint venture by the Philadelphia restaurateurs Stephen Starr and Aimee Olexy, to settle allegations that managers there underpaid 63 workers.
The Fair Labor Standards Act sets a minimum wage for most workers of $7.25 an hour, plus time-and-a-half for hours over 40 a week. The law also requires bosses to maintain accurate work and pay records.
The Labor Department makes information on U.S. labor law available by phone at 1-866-487-2365 and at http://webapps.dol.gov/elaws/about.html.