What is the world coming to? Apparently, a northern California restaurant owner wanted to know the sins of the restaurant’s employees.
Che Garibaldi and three other restaurant owners have been ordered to pay $140,000 in back pay and damages to its 35 employees after an investigation uncovered the group hired a fake priest to encourage workers to confess their work-related “sins.”
Garibaldi, the owner of Taqueria Garibaldi, was accused of withholding overtime pay from hourly workers and then telling them to lie to investigators about it, the New York Times reported. Authorities said Alejandro Rodriguez, a manager of the eatery, was also involved in the coercion attempts.
The hired fake priest urged workers to “get the sins out” by confessing if they’d been late for work or had stolen from their employer, the U.S. Department of Labor reported.
According to Complex, employees said in sworn declarations that they were forced to work extra hours without pay and denied breaks. Managers “would not let us sit down and eat” and “would pressure you to get up and work,” an employee said.
Another said they had worked between 50 and 60 hours per week but only received pay for 40 hours.
Employees could receive as much as $14,826 in back pay and damages for unpaid wages from 2018 to 2021. The restaurant was also fined $5,000 in civil penalties.
Employees were told that the “priest” was brought in to “help with mental health,” however, Maria Parra, another employee, said it was “more like an interrogation,” as the questions consisted mostly of work-related matters.
“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 employment,” Parra said.
“Multiple employees” spoke with the man, who was being used to extract information from workers and intimidate them, according to Labor Department officials.
“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 released statement.
The Catholic Diocese of Sacramento also confirmed that they found “no evidence of any connection” between the fake priest and their diocese. “While we don’t know who the person in question was, we are completely confident he was not a priest of the Diocese of Sacramento,” a diocese spokesman said.
Investigators also found that managers were paid bonuses from the employee tip pool, and some employees faced “adverse immigration consequences” for cooperating with investigators.
“This employer’s despicable attempts to retaliate against employees were intended to silence workers, obstruct an investigation, and prevent the recovery of unpaid wages,” Pilotin said.