Labor Department sues El Tequila for $1 million in unpaid wages
BY Staff Reports
Thursday, October 25, 2012
10/25/12 at 5:31 PM
The U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday it has filed a lawsuit against Tulsa-based El Tequila LLC and owner Carlos Aguirre concerning $1 million in unpaid wages.
The lawsuit was filed after an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Divisionfound that the defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions. The violations resulted in a total of approximately $1 million in unpaid wages owed to 221 kitchen and wait staff, hosts and bussers at four restaurant locations, the department said.
The suit was filed in the Northern District of Oklahoma in Tulsa. It seeks to recover the full amount of back wages for the employees as well as an injunction prohibiting future violations of the FLSA.
The investigation, conducted by the division’s Oklahoma City District Office, determined that FLSA-covered employees, who in some cases worked as many as 72 hours in a week, were paid a fixed salary without overtime compensation for hours beyond 40 in a week. In addition to overtime violations, the practice resulted in minimum wage violations because employees did not always receive at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, the investigators said.
Investigators also found that wait personnel were required to turn their tips over to management at the end of every shift, which caused their pay to fall below the minimum wage. Finally, the employer did not keep proper records as required, according to the probe.
Violations were found at the company’s restaurants on Memorial Drive and South Harvard Avenue in Tulsa, East 86nd Street North in Owasso and North Elm Place in Broken Arrow.
The FLSA requires that covered, nonexempt employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates for hours worked beyond 40 per week. In accordance with the FLSA, an employer of a tipped employee is required to pay no less than $2.13 an hour in direct wages provided that amount plus the tips received equals at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
If an employee’s tips combined with the employer’s direct wages do not equal the minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. Employers are required to provide employees notice of the FLSA’s tip credit provisions, to maintain accurate time and payroll records, and to comply with the act’s restrictions applying to workers under age 18.
In a response to the announcement, officials with El Tequila said in a statement they have followed or exceeded all employment standards set by the U.S. Department of Labor and that most employees make more than minimum wage.
They disputed the claims made in the report and said the investigator's findings were "based on his guess instead of actual information."
"El Tequila is demanding its day in court," the statement read. "The speculation will not hold up to the light of day."
In this May 23 file photo, employees of El Tequila watch as firefighters work on a fire at El Tequila Restaurant near 50th and Harvard. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World File