While filing a private lawsuit is one way for employees to collect unpaid wages, another is enforcement by the United States Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division. The Wage and Hour Division is responsible for enforcing provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), as well as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and other federal employment laws. As many as 35,000 employees contact the Wage and Hour Division every year with reports of violations, which the Division then investigates. If a violation occurred in Illinois, for instance, the Wage and Hour Division might tell the employee he or she has a case and then refer the employee to a dedicated Illinois wage and hour attorney; other times, the Department of Labor might enforce the claim itself.
Such is the case here in Solis v. El Matador, Inc. et al. The Department of Labor, representing service employees, filed a lawsuit against El Matador, Inc. and El Caporal, Inc. to recover unpaid minimum and overtime wages, liquidated damages, and to prevent them from allegedly further violating the FLSA. The two corporations owned three Mexican restaurants in the Illinois area, each of which generated $500,000 a year between 2006 and 2008. In 2007, the Wage and Hour Division began investigating complaints about restaurant management. Investigators found that some of the servers at the restaurants were not allowed to keep the wages they earned, just the customer-provided tips. The wages were returned to the restaurant. Other employees — 64 total — who were not servers did not receive a minimum wage or overtime. Finally, one employer insisted that employees clock in at 9 am every day even if they began their work before then. The Wage and Hour Division had previously investigated the employers in 2005, and Wage and Hour FMLA posters still hung on the restaurant walls even as the employers continued to violate wage and hour laws.
Throughout the litigation, the defendants had an extremely troubled history. Their attorneys withdrew in 2010, leaving the defendants to represent themselves. They were found to be in default in September 2010, and required to pay a combined total of $1,149,702.56 in wages owed and liquidated damages.
Finally in February 2011, the Department of Labor moved for a judgment against the defendants. Chief District Judge Michael McCusky agreed that based on the evidence, the defendants’ actions were governed by the FLSA and that the defendants had willfully violated FLSA provisions. He therefore found in favor of the plaintiffs. Judge McCusky also granted an injunction against the defendants, which would prevent them from committing any more actions that allegedly violated the FLSA.
Our attorneys have decades of experience litigating wage and hour cases, including overtime, meal breaks, vacation pay, and tips. We have offices in Oakbrook Terrace and Chicago, Illinois. Contact a Berwyn overtime lawyer at the Chicago Overtime Law Center today at 312-869-4095.