Cuban chain restaurant Las Culebrinas is the latest Miami eatery to face charges of withholding employee salaries. According to a lawsuit filed on September 17 in District Court, the franchise's Coconut Grove outlet didn't pay one employee for close to five years, and also kept other workers in the dark about what they were legally owed according to the state's minimum wage laws.
The lawsuit names Luis Aguirre as the principal plaintiff but also claims to represent several other current and former employees. It states that Enia Rodriguez, the owner of Las Culebrinas in the Grove and one of the defendants, went 247 weeks between September 2007 and June 2012 without paying Aguirre at least minimum wage and also stiffed him overtime wages.
"In addition, (the restaurant) failed to post the required posting regarding minimum wage requirements," the lawsuit reads. "At all times material hereto, Defendants failed, and continue to fail, to maintain proper time records as mandated by the [Fair Labor Standards Act]."
Aguirre's lawyers did not respond to a request for comment. An employee at Las Culebrinas in the Grove, meanwhile, said that the restaurant would likely settle the case, but that any accusations of failing to tell employees about their rights were baseless.
"I think there'll be a settlement," says Christina Rodriguez, says she works in the office at Las Culebrinas. When asked whether the restaurant didn't tell workers about minimum wage requirements or if hours had been properly taken, she said, "Not that I know of."
The lawsuit isn't the only recent mark against Las Culebrinas, however. A September 2012 inspection by the Florida Division of Hotels and Restaurants noted 21 violations of health code, including expired food in the kitchen and a lack of proof of employee or manager training. Both of those are issues that have come up before in previous inspections.
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For Miami restaurants, lawsuits over missing money and lack of compensation are sadly common. Last month, former employees of the recently shuttered David's Cafe II accused the restaurant's owners of withholding five months of pay. Back in September 2010, a New Times investigation showed five restaurants in the county had been sued over not paying employees in a two-year span.
Rodriguez, the Las Culebrinas employee, told Riptide that the restaurant had hired a lawyer to deal with the lawsuit, but declined to name the attorney. Aguirre and the other employees are seeking the lost wages, as well as damages.