California restaurant had fake priest hear workers’ confessions, Labor Department says

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A California restaurant had an individual impersonate a priest to encourage employees to confess their “sins” against their employer, but the man has no links with the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, a diocese spokesman said.

“Our own investigation found no evidence of any connection between the Diocese of Sacramento and the alleged priest in this matter,” Bryan J. Visitacion, director of media and communications for the Diocese of Sacramento, told CNA on Friday. “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.”

The U.S. Department of Labor on June 12 said the use of the supposed priest was “among the most shameless” of corrupt actions employers have used against employees.

The situation concerns the company Che Garibaldi Inc., which operates two Taqueria Garibaldi restaurants in Sacramento and one in Roseville. The company and its owners and operators have agreed to a federal settlement after allegations of various labor law violations.

During the Department of Labor’s litigation in federal court, an employee testified that in November 2021 restaurant operator Eduardo Hernandez offered a person identified as a priest to hear confessions during work hours.

“I found the conversation to be strange and unlike normal confessions,” Maria Parra, a server at Taqueria Garibaldi, said in a sworn affidavit attached to the Department of Labor’s lawsuit against her employer, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“He asked if I ever got pulled over for speeding, if I drank alcohol, or if I had stolen anything,” Parra said. “The priest mostly had work-related questions, which I thought was strange.”

According to the employee, the supposed priest urged employees to “get the sins out.” He asked them if they had stolen from their employer, been late for work, or done anything to harm their employer. The purported priest also asked if they had bad intentions toward their employer, the Department of Labor said.

Numerous employees went to confession with the supposed priest. Raquel Alfaro, an investigator with the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, said the workers felt Hernandez “brought the priest to intimidate them.”

Marc Pilotin, the Department of Labor’s regional solicitor who litigated the case, said that in addition to the restaurant offering a supposed priest, “other employees reported that a manager falsely claimed that immigration issues would be raised by the department’s investigation.”

“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 in a statement.

Investigators said the restaurant denied overtime pay to employees and illegally paid managers from the employee tip pool. The employers threatened employees with retaliation and immigration-related consequences for cooperating with investigators and fired one worker they believed had complained to the Labor Department.

The employer has agreed to a consent judgment and settlement. U.S. Judge William B. Shubb on May 8 ordered Che Garibaldi LLC and its operators, Eduardo Hernandez, Hector Manual Martinez Galindo, and Alejandro Rodriguez, to pay $70,000 in back wages and $70,000 in damages to 35 employees. In addition, the restaurant and its owners must pay $5,000 in civil penalties to the Department of Labor.

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