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Ohio restaurant ordered to pay back wages, damages to ‘volunteers’
CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio – A federal judge has ordered Cathedral Buffet and its owner to pay $388,507 in back wages and damages to 235 “volunteers” who worked at the Cuyahoga Falls restaurant. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping and other provisions.
U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio Benita Pearson wrote that testimony at a trial in late 2016 supported the department’s findings that the owner of Cathedral Buffet, televangelist Ernest Angley, and managers encouraged members of Angley’s church – Grace Cathedral – to work at the restaurant without pay. The for-profit restaurant used volunteers to save money, and the volunteers felt pressured to provide free labor, meaning they should have been paid for their work, Pearson wrote in her findings entered on March 29, 2017.
George Victory, district director for the Wage and Hour Division in Columbus, said that “the buffet’s constant solicitation of volunteer labor, the company’s admission that the use of volunteer labor was intended to save money, and the volunteers’ feelings of pressure to work at the restaurant shows they were actually employees. That is unacceptable under the law. There are many instances, however, in which the use of volunteers is acceptable. Organizations with questions about compliance should contact us.”
The investigation found FLSA violations that included:
- Improperly treating certain workers as volunteers and paying them no wages. These unpaid volunteers cooked, cleaned, waited tables, stocked and maintained the buffet line, and served as cashiers.
- Classifying 235 employees as unpaid volunteers, denying them the $7.25 hourly minimum wage.
- Paying four managers weekly salaries that failed to meet the $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage, and failing to pay overtime after 40 hours. The employer incorrectly categorized these managers as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirement.
The overtime and other FLSA violations were resolved in a partial consent judgment entered by the court on Oct. 26, 2016.
Cathedral Buffet and Angley have 60 days to appeal the court’s decision.
In 1999, the division investigated the buffet restaurant and it later paid more than $37,000 in back wages to employees improperly classified as volunteers. In 2012, Angley decided to again use volunteer labor, the Wage and Hour Division found.
Workers and employers can get more information about federal wage laws administered by the division by calling the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Workers can also file complaints confidentially. More information is available online at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.