It could be you!

I just had a very disturbing visit from an immigrant couple who recently had to close their restaurant in Santa Fe. It appears they were sued by three employees for not paying the “living wage” in Santa Fe.

The City attorney audited the restaurant for each case and found that in one case the employee was owed nothing, the second employee was owed $5.94 and in the third case the employee was owed $590. The restaurant immediately made checks to pay the employees the amounts owed. Those checks were never cashed by the employees.

The employees instead are suing the restaurant for $180,000.

The restaurant tried to pay everything it owed the employees and even agreed to a settlement to keep the legal costs from continuing to escalate. Did I mention this court case started in May of 2016 and is still continuing as of February 9, 2018? This wonderful couple, who came to the US for a better life, has had to close their once vibrant restaurant where they had 6 people working for them. Their lawyer recently quit because they have no money to pay him and they can’t get legal help because they are not criminals.

What is happening to our country when we treat people this way? 

This couple came to me for two reasons. First they wanted to warn other restaurants that this is happening.

Please I beg you, pay your people correctly and treat them well. I believe this restaurant did that to the best of their ability but they have been swept up in a situation that is beyond comprehension.

I urge every restaurant to use a payroll company! Restaurant payroll is complicated by tipped wages, overtime and 7 different minimum wage rates that change annually in New Mexico.

Be warned there are “Workers Centers” attempting to use complaints to the city attorney as fodder for civil lawsuits. They are holding meetings and using this case as an example of how workers can get more out of employers.

The second reason this couple came to us was to seek help for their legal situation and fees. Because they are members of NMRA, we have a legal center where we can send these folks for a free 30 minute consultation with Roybal Mack & Cordova PC Law and they will get a reduced price for their hourly rate but I’m not sure they can pay anything at this point.

I want to thank them for being brave and telling their story so you would be forewarned.

I told them I would write this BLOG post, and this is what I heard from them after our meeting: 

Dear Carol,

We thank you for your understanding of our situation and for your blog post. Even from such a short meeting, we are incredibly grateful that you took the time to sympathize with our circumstances.

Our restaurant was pretty small, around 1,600 sq. ft. in size, and we had a total of 6 employees during when the restaurant shut down. One employee (out of the total of 3 that filed a lawsuit against us) worked with us until the very last day of our restaurant business.

In May 2016, the employees filed the suit without a specific amount of money to request in mind initially, probably because of the city attorney’s audit from 2015. However, in June 2017, one year after the filing of the lawsuit, the employees proposed an offer of settlement for $208,000 plus attorney fees. It has been 7 months since the first settlement offer, and the plaintiff’s counsel proposed another offer for $130,000 plus $70,000 in attorney fees, amounting to a total of $200,000. We just cannot understand how anyone would expect a small restaurant business to have this much to give.

During the 2 years of this lawsuit, we have already lost the restaurant business we had for 11 years, and our current house even has a lien in place. Our hope is that we can at least keep our only asset, our house, at the end of the trials so that we will not end up without a home.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We hope to keep in touch with you in the coming days.


Names removed for fear of reprisal.