A restaurant allegedly had employees confess their work-related sins to a fake priest
"The priest mostly had work-related questions, which I thought was strange," said a former employee of Taqueria Garibaldi
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If you worked for the Sacramento-based restaurant Taqueria Garibaldi in mid-2021, then you might have arched an eyebrow at the new guy in the building.
He was a priest. Or at least that’s what you were told. And you were supposed to confess your sins to him. Especially work-related sins. The priest directly asked employees if they were loyal to one of the restaurant’s owners, Eduardo Hernandez, and if they’d ever stolen anything from him.
“As soon as the confession started, I found the conversation to be strange and unlike normal confessions, where I would tell a priest about the sins I wanted to confess,” former employee Maria Parra said in her sworn declaration. “The priest mostly had work-related questions, which I thought was strange.”
All of that, it now seems, was a way for the owners to get out of paying overtime wages to their employees. Or at least frighten employees from ever reporting them to authorities.
The attempt to gain leverage over staffers by collecting their secrets through a “priest” is just one of the schemes outlined in a recent judgment ordering the restaurant’s owners (Hernandez, Alejandro Rodriguez, and Hector Manual Martinez Galindo) to pay a total of $140,000 in back wages and damages to 35 employees.
If that strikes you as very little money, all things considered, keep in mind the Department of Labor has very limited authority in these kinds of cases. If criminal charges are pursued, the penalties could be much harsher.
That said, whoever writes press releases for the U.S. Department of Labor must have had a field day with this one:
“Under oath, an employee of Taqueria Garibaldi explained how the restaurant offered a supposed priest to hear their workplace ‘sins’ while other employees reported that a manager falsely claimed that immigration issues would be raised by the department’s investigation,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Marc Pilotin in San Francisco. “This employer’s despicable attempts to retaliate against employees were intended to silence workers, obstruct an investigation and prevent the recovery of unpaid wages.”
In addition to aiding the recovery of $70,000 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages, the judge ordered the restaurant and its owners to pay the department $5,000 in civil money penalties due to the willful nature of their violations.
It’s not just the priest and greedy managers. Hernandez apparently told an employee to manipulate his timecard in order to make it look like he worked fewer hours than he actually did. The managers also used pooled tips to pay themselves. And they told employees to hide in the refrigerator during meal breaks instead of sitting down and eating elsewhere.
But the priest is really what seals the deal here because it’s just so comically evil and inept. No one even knows who the guy was, though he’s assumed to be a friend of Hernandez. (The Diocese of Sacramento has said the priest didn’t work for them, giving the Catholic Church a rare win.)
It’s hardly surprising, though, that when restaurant managers wanted to cheat their employees, they turned to religion. After all, what better way is there to manipulate people out of their hard-earned money?
The good news is that the judgment should put an end to the shenanigans:
… the court ordered Taqueria Garibaldi not to take any action to stop employees from asserting their rights, interfere with any department investigation, or terminate, threaten or discriminate against any employee perceived to have spoken with investigators.
Whether any of the owners will confess their sins to an actual priest remains to be seen.
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