An Albuquerque district judge rejected challenges to the city’s minimum wage ordinance this week, saying it was simply too late to reverse something voters decided on and approved nearly five years ago. “Each and every exercise of voters’ rights and expression of voters’ choice involves our inherent and cherished rights and is entitled to the same degree of deference and protection whatever its source,” Judge Alan Malott wrote in his Wednesday decision. His decision came in a wage-theft lawsuit alleging that the former owners of Kellys Brew Pub, including Dennis Bonafontine, violated the city’s minimum wage ordinance by making workers pay $3 per hour from tips to the owners. The current owners of Kellys Brew Pub did not challenge the minimum wage and have not been named in the suit. The allegations date back to when the city’s tipped minimum wage had just spiked from $2.13 per hour to $5.16 per hour as a result of a 2012 city ballot initiative.
The ex-owners of an Albuquerque restaurant and bar want a state district court judge to throw out a wage theft lawsuit against them and argue the ordinance that raised the city’s minimum wage is invalid. If a judge were to rule the ordinance was not validly enacted, it would lower the minimum wage to the state’s rate of $7.50 per hour. Currently, the Albuquerque minimum wage is $8.80 per hour. The current owners are not part of the lawsuit. “Santa Fe Dining purchased Kelly’s in August of 2016 and since that time all Kelly employees are paid by the rate required by law, including the Albuquerque ordinance at issue in the lawsuit between the former owner of Kelly’s and some of its employees,” Jim Hargrove, president of Santa Fe Dining, wrote in an email to NM Political Report Tuesday.
A group of current and former employees from a well-known Albuquerque brewery and restaurant filed a lawsuit against their employers on Friday alleging violations of the city’s minimum wage ordinance. The employees alleged that the business failed to pay them the legal minimum wage and required employees to submit a portion of their tips to the brewery’s owners. The seven employees, represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and a private law firm, said the owners of Kelly’s Brew Pub and Restaurant required employees to submit a portion of their tips, sometimes, up to 6 percent, every night to make up for the increased minimum wage. The lawsuit claims that after the City of Albuquerque increased its minimum wage in 2012, Kelly’s owners reflected the pay increase on paychecks but required tipped staff to pay the company at the end of every shift. Tipped employees were required to pay six percent of their tips starting in 2013, which was eventually lowered to two percent, according to the suit.