U.S. Dept. of Labor sues Brasa Rotisserie for wage theft 

    brasa sign in st paul
    Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

    The U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against the owner of Brasa Rotisserie, Alex Roberts, alleging that he failed to pay his restaurant employees overtime at his two Brasa locations in the Twin Cities as well as Alma in Minneapolis.

    The complaint filed Tuesday in federal court alleges that employees often worked more than 40 hours a week across Roberts’ three restaurants but did not receive overtime pay because their hours were not aggregated from all locations. Roberts doesn’t deny the claims and says he has already taken steps to remedy situation.

    The three restaurants are registered as individual companies, but Labor Department attorneys argue they operate as one organization. The restaurants share a leadership team and coordinate staffing and scheduling, according to the complaint.

    Therefore, they argue employees who work more than 40 hours in any of Roberts’ restaurants are entitled to overtime pay at a rate of one-and-a-half times their hourly wage as required under federal law.

    In an email, Roberts wrote he didn’t know he was in violation of any labor laws and that he changed how overtime was calculated when the Department of Labor first brought it to his attention last year.

    “For twenty years, we have strived to maintain an equitable work environment where all staff can thrive,” Roberts wrote. “We pay fair wages and provide medical, retirement and meal benefits. As a small, independent business we are always seeking to learn and improve. We regret the cross-company overtime errors, and are currently following the DoL’s instructions to make things right with our staff. We truly appreciate the DoL’s ongoing efforts to educate, and help us navigate the complexity of business regulations.”

    The lawsuit also alleges the restaurants did not post minimum wage posters in an area visible to employees, in violation of federal law. Roberts wrote that they have always posted the proper notices and that federal officials must have missed them during an inspection.

    Roberts described the process with the Department of Labor as “cooperative” and said some employees have already received back pay while others will receive it as soon as Roberts receives the totals from the Department of Labor. About a dozen employees are named in the suit who are entitled to back pay.

    Last year, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor found 15 Minneapolis restaurants along “Eat Street” violated minimum wage and overtime laws and collectively owed $367,359 to more than 100 workers in back wages.

    The Department of Labor was not immediately available for comment.

    This story has been updated with the response from Alex Roberts.

    Max Nesterak
    Max Nesterak is a reporter for the Reformer focusing on labor and housing. Most recently he was associate producer for MPR’s Morning Edition after a stint at National Public Radio. He also co-founded the behavioralscientist.org and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.