Sacramento taco shop owner asks workers to confess to priest

Taqueria Garibaldi on Howe Avenue in Arden Arcade on May 5, 2022. Federal labor officials filed a complaint May 4, 2022, against the restaurant chain's owners alleging they failed to pay proper overtime, allowed managers to keep part of workers' tips and impeded investigators .

Taqueria Garibaldi on Howe Avenue in Arden Arcade on May 5, 2022. Federal labor officials filed a complaint May 4, 2022, against the restaurant chain’s owners alleging they failed to pay proper overtime, allowed managers to keep part of workers’ tips and impeded investigators .

Last November, a few weeks after the US Department of Labor had notified owners of Taqueria Garibaldi restaurants in the Sacramento area that it had evidence of overtime and record-keeping violations, one of the chain’s owners showed up at the Howe Avenue eatery with a priest , the government says.

Eduardo Hernandez and the priest walked in during the afternoon shift and asked workers if they wanted to take time out of their day to take confession, according to Labor Department officials.

“Eduardo said a priest would be there to help with mental health,” Maria Parra, a shift leader at the eatery, recalled in a sworn declaration. “I decided to talk to the priest, but 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.”

The priest wanted to know if she drank alcohol, or had ever stolen anything, Parra recounted, but also wanted to know about work at the Arden Arcade restaurant.

“The priest had mostly work-related questions, which I thought was strange,” Parra recalled. “The priest asked if I had stolen anything at work, if I was late to my employment, if I did anything to harm my employer, and if I had any bad intentions toward my employer.”

Three months later, Parra was allegedly fired in what federal officials say was retaliation for her cooperating with the investigation and as intimidation of other employees.

These are the bizarre accusations laid out in documents filed in Sacramento federal court, where the Labor Department has accused the Garibaldi chain of cheating its workers out of overtime and tips, ordering them to fill out phony time cards and telling them they would be fired if they spoke to federal investigators.

The restaurant operators also are accused in court filings of telling workers that if they cooperate with the probe “their immigration status will become an issue and that the Labor Department is looking to report workers “to the immigration authorities to deport them.”

Garibaldi officials have denied the allegations, with attorney Alden Parker filing court documents saying Garibaldi officials “adamantly deny any wrongdoing,” deny ever threatening workers with retaliation and say the restaurant chain “has not terminated a single worker.”

“Nor has defendant ever reported any employee to immigration authorities,” Parker added.

“The company denies these allegations,” Parker said in an interview. “The company enjoys its long-time customers, would love to continue to see people in the restaurant, and the court process has to play out.

“These are mere allegations at this point that are refuted, and there’s already been at least one ruling by the court that stood for the proposition that the department can’t meet its burden in showing that these things actually happened.”

Burden of proof, injunction hearing

The government requested a temporary restraining order in July that was denied by Senior US District Judge William B. Shubb, who ruled that the Labor Department “has not shown a probability of success on the merits or that injunctive relief is necessary to preserve the status quo between now and the date when a motion for preliminary injunction can be heard.”

Parker said in an interview that the government had failed to meet its burden of proof and now is seeking a preliminary injunction in a hearing set for Aug. 18.

“They get a second bite at the apple, but it has a similar standard to the one that they’ve already lost and they’re seeking to introduce additional evidence,” Parker said, adding that evidence from the July hearing refuted Parra’s claim she what fired

Parker declined to comment on the government’s allegations concerning the priest, saying he would file a response in mid-August. The restaurant’s brief opposing the Labor Department’s motion for an injunction is due Aug. 11.

But in a July 21 filing the Labor Department said the visit by the priest was a ruse sparked by his probe.

“During the investigation, defendants absurdly used a priest under the guise of performing confessions to extract information from employees,” the department wrote. “During these purported confessions, which likewise occurred in November 2021, the priest asked employees ‘if I did anything to harm my employer, and if I had any bad intentions towards my employment.’

“After the priest questioned the employees, defendant Eduardo Hernandez and the priest left the restaurant together.”

The priest is not named in court documents.

Fair Labor Standards accusation

The Labor Department’s lawsuit accuses the chain of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by paying workers by check for up to 40 hours of work, but paying cash for any overtime and failing to pay an overtime rate of 1½ times the regular salary.

The complaint also alleges supervisors and managers were allowed to keep a portion of workers’ tips and that it failed to “maintain accurate records of hours worked by and wages paid to their employees.”

The preliminary injunction the government is seeking would prevent the restaurant from engaging in retaliation, prohibit workers from being fired without seven days’ notice to the department and the employees, and require the chain to give investigators access to their record-keeping system.

To buttress its claims, the government has filed a declaration from Parra, who claims she was fired twice, the first time in February, and then again in April after she showed up at the Howe Avenue restaurant to pick up a friend and was asked to return to work on Sundays “because they needed the help.”

“However, I only worked on one day — April 24, 2022, — as a regular server,” she said in the declaration. “I did not work May 1 because of a prior commitment I had.

“I was supposed to return on May 8, 2022. After news of the lawsuit was released in early May, Eduaro called me and told me not to come in on May 8. He told me that he did not need me any longer, but that he will call me if he needed me.”

Parra added that she has not heard from the restaurant since around May 5, the day The Bee first reported allegations on the Labor Department.

Employee overtime claims

Another employee identified as Worker 2 declared that they had been hired at the Roseville Garibaldi location in 2021 as a dishwasher and later prepared food and took orders, normally working six days a week.

That worker said he usually worked 45 to 47 hours a week, but was paid by check for 40 hours and paid in cash for the extra hours at $14 an hour, the regular hourly pay rate.

He also told investigators he was warned “that if any investigators approached me I had to say that I was only getting by check and that I only worked for 40 hours a week.”

“This is not true,” the worker added in the July 19 declaration.

A waitress at the Howe Avenue restaurant identified as Worker 3 told a similar story, claiming she worked 50 to 60 hours a week but wrote on a yellow time card that she worked only 40.

“I would fold a white sheet of paper and put the yellow time card in the folded white paper,” she wrote. “On the white paper, I wrote the extra hours I worked during that week.”

After filing her hours, she was paid for 40 hours by check, and the rest in cash, according to her declaration.

She also wrote that she had not talked to Labor Department investigators because “I was afraid of losing my job” and that intimidation by restaurant managers to work hard was so intense that some co-workers hid in the walk-in refrigerator to get a break to eat

Company refutes overtime claims

Hector Manual Martinez Galindo, co-owner and chief financial officer of the company, rejected allegations that the company threatened workers, writing in a declaration that he is the only person responsible for hiring and firing and that “at no point during the DOL’s investigation did I or anyone else discourage employees from cooperating with the DOL’s investigation.”

He added that since the probe began in May 2021, “the company has not terminated a single employee.”

But apparently still employees are coming forward with claims about the workplace atmosphere.

A declaration filed July 26 from an employee identified as Worker 5 says that two days before a Labor Department investigator appeared at the Howe Avenue restaurant Eduardo Hernandez “told me that he had problems regarding the hours employees worked and that I needed to help him and tell the US Department of Labor I only worked 8 hours a day with 2 days off, with 30-minute breaks per workweek.”

“That is not true because I routinely worked for more than 8 hours a day for at least two days per week,” the declaration says. “I also only have 1 day off per workweek.

“After the Department of Labor investigation started, Eduardo gave me 30 time cards to redo to show that I only worked 40 hours per week during the past pay periods that I worked. On the original correct time cards, I regularly recorded that I worked for more than 40 hours per week.”

Worker 5 also said that his supervisor, Carlos Barba, told him in June that Parra had been fired because managers “thought Maria submitted the complaint (to the US Department of Labor) against them” and that “only a person who has papers would submit a complaint.”

“Carlos told this to me with other co-workers present to hear the information,” Worker 5 added. “Because Carlos told me that Maria was fired for submitting a complaint to the Department of Labor and because that information has been discussed among the employees, I believe (Garibaldi officials) will fire me if they knew I spoke to the Department of Labor.”

This story was originally published August 1, 2022 5:00 AM.

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Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.


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