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Portland, Texas, restaurant settles worker retaliation allegation after US Labor Department finds nine employees owed $25K in back wages
Date of Action: Oct. 3, 2016
Type of Action: Settlement reached to resolve allegations of retaliation
Name of Defendants: Maria R. Mendez Zuniga, dba as La Iguana Restaurant #4 and Jesus Zuniga in Portland, Texas
Allegation: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division investigated the October 2015 termination of a cook at La Iguana Restaurant in Portland that occurred less than a week after the division informed the company it owed $25,427 in back wages to nine employees for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act found in a previous investigation.
The division’s investigation reviewed alleged violations of the FLSA’s anti-retaliation protections. The employer mistakenly believed the worker, employed by the company for 13 years, filed a complaint with the division. Federal law prohibits an employer from firing or discriminating against any employee who files a complaint with the division. The FLSA also protects employees who complain about wage or safety issues to their employers or who cooperate with federal investigations.
Quote: “We want to send a very clear message to employers that retaliation will not be tolerated, under any circumstances,” said Betty Campbell, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the Southwest. “Without strong protections for exploited workers who find the courage to step forward, those subject to violations would remain in the shadows. Undocumented workers are particularly vulnerable to retaliation in the workplace. The law is very clear: the Wage and Hour division enforces the law regardless of a person’s immigration status.”
Resolution: The employers – Jesus Serrato Zuniga and Maria Zuniga – will pay the terminated employee $2,500 in lost wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages. The company will also prominently post the division’s Fact Sheet #77A in English and Spanish with information on the FLSA’s anti-retaliation laws.
Background: La Iguana Restaurant #4 is a full-service restaurant and bar specializing in seafood and Tex-Mex cuisine. Based in Portland, an area of Corpus Christi, where the company has operated since 2000.
Additional Information: The division continues to conduct investigations in low-wage industries where data and evidence show high rates of non-compliance, and where workers are less likely to complain. Both education and enforcement continue in the restaurant industry in which a high violation rate exists.