June 16, 2015

ABQ minimum wage dispute headed to trial

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Minimum WageThe Albuquerque Journal reported Tuesday that a drawn out argument between a former employee and a restaurant owner over minimum wage is headed to trial.

What originated as a fight by Kevin O’Leary, a former employee of the Route 66 Malt Shop in the Nob Hill neighborhood of Albuquerque, to be paid Albuquerque’s minimum wage is now shaping up to be suit about retaliation.

O’Leary originally brought attention to the restaurant when he said he was forced to agree to work for a lower wage than Albuquerque’s mandated minimum wage. Albuquerque’s minimum wage was increased in 2013 after a vote in late 2012.

O’Leary told news media he was asked to sign an agreement to accept $2.13 an hour as opposed to $3.83, the minimum wage at the time for tipped employees.

According to the Journal, O’Leary told the restaurant’s owner three years ago that many customers left because of order delays and management later retaliated against him.

From the Albuquerque Journal on Tuesday:

O’Leary alleged in a February 2013 lawsuit that the day the customers walked out, he was told to take a week off without pay, and that when he returned, his hours were cut from 35 a week to four. A week later, Szeman, the general manager, presented a document to employees they were required to sign saying they would accept less than the legally required wage, the lawsuit claims.

Originally, when O’Leary brought his concerns to the City of Albuquerque, the city attorney and the Mayor said it was up to individuals to take legal action.

From the Albuquerque Journal in 2013:

In a written statement released to the Journal, Berry said the law specifically “gave discretion to the City Attorney, not the Mayor, to enforce the ordinance.”

Berry added, in an interview, that the city attorney is concerned about stepping “into unprecedented territory involving employer-employee disputes” that could involve tens of thousands of businesses.

“I have to stand by what my city attorney is saying,” Berry said Tuesday.

Later, after protests and public outcry, the city agreed to take action against the restaurant owners.

From New Mexico Telegram:

After public outcry after the mayor Richard Berry administration said they would not enforce the minimum wage law in the case of a restaurant owner who admitted to having his employees sign illegal contracts.

City Attorney David Tourek made the announcement on Tuesday.

The case involves Route 66 Malt Shop, where owner Eric Szeman had his employees sign illegal contracts to say he would continue paying the old minimum wage. Such illegal contracts have no legal weight.

Szeman will now faces civil penalties for refusing to follow the law.

Besides an assistant city attorney, O’Leary is also being represented by a private firm, while restaurant has retained its own representation. It’s still unclear exactly when a trial will start.

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