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California Restaurant Allegedly Used "Priest" For Employees to Share Workplace Sins

During a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) investigation into Taqueria Garibaldi in Sacramento, California, one of the restaurant's owners brought in a man claiming to be a priest. Owner Eduardo Hernandez told his employees that this man would hear their confessions and "help with mental health." One ex-employee said in a written declaration that she decided to speak with the priest but found it to be unlike any other confession. Instead of her sharing the sins that concerned her, this "priest" asked work-related questions. These questions included: whether the employee drank alcohol, had been pulled over for speeding, stolen from work, had done anything to harm the employer, or whether they had bad intentions toward the employer. After the "priest" spoke with employees, he left with one of the owners. The DOL investigator reported that "multiple employees" said they participated in confession with this person but found the questions about their loyalty to the employer and business odd. The Catholic Diocese in Sacramento said the man was not a priest known to it.

Labor department officials believe the restaurant used this “priest” to intimidate the workers and possibly get information about the ongoing investigation. The employers also reportedly told the staff not to cooperate with the DOL’s investigation and encouraged the employees to share false information. Investigators found the employer destroyed payroll records and threatened some employees with deportation if they participated in the investigation. The DOL determined Taqueria Garibaldi's three restaurants violated labor laws by failing to pay overtime wages to staff and paying managers and supervisors from the servers' tip pool. Employees said their employer forced them to work extra hours without pay and denied them breaks. A federal judge ordered the two owners to pay $140,000 in back pay and damages to 35 workers.