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labor Get the Sins Out’: Taqueria Brought In Priest To Hear Staff Confess to Workplace Crimes

Corrupt employers try scams to shortchange, intimidate or retaliate against employees but a restaurant’s attempt to use an alleged priest to get employees to admit workplace “sins” may be among the most shameless.

photo of the hands of a priest with a rosary
Priest praying.,Shutterstock

A California taqueria chain under investigation for wage theft hired a person it identified as a priest to compel employees to confess to ‘workplace sins,’ the U.S. Department of Labor said.

A Taqueria Garibaldi employee testified during a federal court case brought by the Department of Labor that the Sacramento-area restaurant chain offered employees the “priest” to hear confessions during work hours, the agency said in a news release.

“The employee told the court the priest urged workers to ‘get the sins out,’ and asked employees if they had stolen from the employer, been late for work, had done anything to harm their employer, or if they had bad intentions toward their employer,” the agency said.

Taqueria Garibaldi eventually agreed to a consent judgment ordering the restaurant to pay $140,000 in back wages and damages to 35 employees. Che Garibaldi Inc. operates two Taqueria Garibaldi restaurants in Sacramento and one in Roseville.

The court’s May 8 action followed an investigation conducted by the agency’s Wage and Hour Division, which found that Taqueria Garibaldi denied employees overtime pay for hours over 40 in a workweek, a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

"Federal wage and hour investigators have seen corrupt employers try all kinds of scams to shortchange workers and to intimidate or retaliate against employees but a northern California restaurant’s attempt to use an alleged priest to get employees to admit workplace “sins” may be among the most shameless," the agency said.

The agency also determined that the employer illegally paid managers from the employee tip pool, threatened employees with retaliation and adverse immigration consequences for cooperating with the department, and fired one employee they suspected of complaining to the department.

“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,” Regional Solicitor of Labor Marc Pilotin said in a statement.

“This employer’s despicable attempts to retaliate against employees were intended to silence workers, obstruct an investigation and prevent the recovery of unpaid wages.”

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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 penalties, citing the willful nature of their violations.

“The U.S. Department of Labor and its Solicitor’s Office will not tolerate workplace retaliation and will act swiftly to make clear that immigration status has no bearing on workers’ rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act,” Pilotin said.

The defendants were also permanently forbidden from committing FLSA violations.

“Specifically, 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,” the agency said.