Underpaying diner employees happens all too often in New York City. According to NYC Health Department records, almost 25 percent of diners or coffee shops were sued by workers alleging wage theft over the last ten years.
However, filing a lawsuit is an uphill fight for most restaurant workers. Of the 92 suits filed, only 12 have been settled or ruled on.
Romero was paid less than minimum wage
Miguel Romero Lara began working at Waverly Diner in Greenwich Village around 1991. He was hired as a dishwasher after fleeing Mexico for better job opportunities. He worked 12-hour shifts and received no holidays or sick days. In a lawsuit he filed against the diner, Romero claimed he received $280 a week, which is the equivalent of $3.89 per hour.
In 1991, the New York state minimum wage was $4.25 an hour with time and a half pay for overtime. Over the years, Romero continued to be paid under minimum wage with no overtime pay or time off.
Workers were not allowed sick days
He was not alone in his alleged treatment. Delfino Tlacopilco began working at the Waverly in 1996, and he also was paid below minimum wage. Tlacopilco alleged workers were told they could not take personal or sick days.
Diner employees forced to maintain apartment building
Nick Serafis also owned the building that housed the diner. The lawsuit also claimed Serafis would ask diner employees to clean the apartment hallways, paint and make minor repairs in the units.
The New York restaurant industry relies heavily on immigrant workers. The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey found 64 percent of all industry employees are immigrants. But this population is often taken advantage of because they may not understand their rights under the law and are often threatened with deportation.
In today’s current climate, threats of deportation are not idle.
Serafis cut worker’s hours and fired employees as retaliation
When things got particularly bad at the Waverly in 2015, some of the employees reached out to an attorney. Serafis allegedly responded by cutting worker’s hours and firing some employees.
The court ruled the Waverly engaged in wrongful termination. However, Serafis tried to sidestep the judgement by transferring the business to his daughter and filing for bankruptcy. Meanwhile, workers like Romero and Tlacopilco await justice on years of alleged wage theft.
Undocumented workers have the right to fair pay
Undocumented workers receive the same wage protections as U.S. citizens. Filing a wage theft case can be complex, so it is important to have an experienced employment law attorney by your side.