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The U.S. Department of Labor is currently conducting an investigation of the Centre County-based Lupita’s Authentic Mexican Food chain. All three State College locations are involved in the investigation, which began in June.
According to the Department of Labor’s lawsuit filed Friday, Lupita’s allegedly violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by employing unjust methods of overtime pay, appropriating tips, and using tactics of intimidation to coerce employees to engage in certain activities.
The complaint’s allegations continued to say Lupita’s co-owners, Emilio Lopez Ramirez and Maria Guadalupe Rojas Orozco, transported at least three workers from outside of the United States and forced them to work off the associated costs.
Deirdre Aaron, the Department of Labor’s attorney, wrote that some employees were housed in a rural location without access to public transportation, requiring them dependent on transport from Ramirez and Orozco. When the employees in question attempted to quit because of the conditions, Lupita’s “threatened to throw [those] employees out of employer-provided housing without resources,” Aaron wrote.
Additionally, the Department of Labor alleges that Ramirez and Orozco withheld portions of an employee’s due overtime wages in order to cover rent costs. Later, they allegedly told the same employee that their debts were thousands of dollars higher than previously said.
“The Fair Labor Standards Act protects a worker’s right to complain whenever employers deny them the wages they have earned,” Labor Department regional solicitor Oscar Hampton III said in a written statement. “In this case, the defendants’ conduct targeted particularly vulnerable employees who were trafficked to the United States and who had to work for defendants to pay off their debt.”
“Attempting to coerce and dissuade vulnerable workers from asserting their FLSA rights, which the defendants have done here, is unlawful and cannot be tolerated,” Hampton continued. “We are committed to protecting workers from this retaliatory conduct and ensuring that employees are not silenced from raising complaints about their working conditions.”
As of this story’s publication, Ramirez and Orozco did not respond with a comment.
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Sam is a senior from Ashburn, Virginia, majoring in journalism and political science & minoring in German and creative writing. He is a Dallas Cowboys fan who relishes the misery of Eagles fans. All hate messages can be sent to [email protected] or @SamFremin on Twitter.
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