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Former Gino’s employees allege wage violations, race-based harassment

08.17.11 TOWON, MD. A long line of customers wait to grab lunch at the recently opened Gino's in Towson, Md. Wednesday Aug. 17, 2011. The Daily Record/Rich Dennison)

Patrons line up at Gino’s Burgers & Chicken in Towson during its grand opening in August 2011. A federal lawsuit filed last week by former Latino employees claims the restaurant chain’s owners did not pay all wages owed and harassed and intimidated workers until they feared speaking up again on the subject. (File photo)

Several former Latino employees of Gino’s Burgers & Chicken have filed a lawsuit against the local restaurant chain and its owners, alleging they were not paid for all the hours they worked and were subjected to “severe, pervasive, and unwelcome harassment” based on their race.

Despite regularly working more than 40 hours per week at the chain’s Towson branch and its now-closed Aberdeen location, the four named plaintiffs — Iris Pineda Leiva, Gladis Brenes Casazola, Carla Pinto and Geidi Oromon Ramos — were not paid the legally required overtime rate of 1.5 times their set hourly wages, according to the complaint, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

When the plaintiffs and other Latino workers complained about not receiving the wages they had earned, Gino’s owners and managers harassed and intimidated them until they feared speaking up again, according to the complaint, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

“Defendants … on a regular basis made derogatory, grossly insulting and abusive remarks concerning Latinos which were directed at and could be heard by Plaintiffs and their Latino workers,” the suit states. “They made these remarks in particular when Plaintiffs and other Latino workers asked about being paid.”

The plaintiffs are seeking class certification for their lawsuit to include all Latino hourly workers who were employed by Gino’s during the three years before the lawsuit was filed and did not receive all the wages they earned.

“We’re happy to get an opportunity to work with the Public Justice Center to try to right what seems to have been a very terrible grievance against a particular group of people,” said Louis J. Ebert, a partner with Rosenberg Martin Greenberg LLP in Baltimore, which is handling the case along with attorneys from the nonprofit legal advocacy organization. “As best we’ve been able to determine, this is just something that seems to have been targeted at Latino workers.”

Unlawful deductions

The named plaintiffs were hired to wash dishes, prepare food, bus tables and clean and were paid between $8 an hour and $9.50 an hour, according to the lawsuit.

In addition to failing to pay overtime wages, Gino’s owners and managers also made unlawful deductions from the plaintiffs’ paychecks, such as withholding $140 from Pineda Leiva’s first paycheck without her written consent to cover the cost of uniforms, the complaint states.

Gino’s often failed to pay its Latino employees for their first few weeks of work or longer, the suit alleges. When Oromon Ramos complained that she had not yet received any pay after her first two months of work, Scott Autry, who was then an owner of both the Towson and Aberdeen restaurants, demanded she work another month before receiving wages, the suit states. She quit instead in January 2015, the complaint states.

The policies continued at Gino’s in Towson after Autry closed the chain’s Aberdeen restaurant and transferred sole ownership of the Towson location to Jared Miller earlier this year, the complaint states. Miller helped launch the Towson location in 2011 and had served as a manager at both the Aberdeen and Towson restaurants. (There is one other Gino’s location currently open, in Glen Burnie.)

Miller and Autry are both named defendants in the suit. Autry said Monday that he had not yet seen the lawsuit and declined to comment further.

According to the lawsuit, abuse of Latino workers was an “essential element” of the chain’s business model, which involved recruiting them for “back of the house” jobs, paying them less than promised and subjecting them to insults and harassment if they complained.

Gino’s owners and managers occasionally gave race-based explanations for their failure to pay Latino workers fairly, telling them in Spanish, for example, that Latinos are “worth nothing” and that they are “only good for cooking and cleaning,” the suit alleges.

The lawsuit, which alleges violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Maryland Wage and Hour Law and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Act, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as an order requiring the defendants to post a notice in their restaurants regarding any judicial finding of liability in the case.

The case is Iris Pineda Leiva et al. v. GBC Towson East LLC d/b/a Gino’s Burgers and Chicken et al., 1:16-cv-03765-JFM.

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