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Dozens of Plaza Aztecas, including one in State College, found in violation of federal labor law

Plaza Azteca in State College, Pa. It's one of the locations involved in the U.S. Department of Labor's investigation.
Sydney Roach
Plaza Azteca in State College, Pa. It's one of the locations involved in the U.S. Department of Labor's investigation.

More than 40 Plaza Azteca restaurants, including one in State College, owe employees $11.4 million in back wages and damages.

A consent judgment entered by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia resolves litigation by the department’s Office of the Solicitor related to pay practices.

The U.S. Department of Labor said the Mexican chain restaurant violated overtime and minimum wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The department said several Plaza Azteca restaurants paid back-of-the-house employees predetermined amounts, and did not pay the required minimum wage or time-and-a-half for more than 40 hours worked in a work week.

“The employers failed to pay full wages to more than 1,000 employees. The court’s action in this case is an important step in our efforts to make a meaningful difference in the lives of these workers by recovering their hard-earned wages,” said Jessica Looman, a wage and hour administrator.

According to a release from the Department of Labor, because of "the repeat and willful nature of the violations," the restaurant also has to pay $625,000 in penalties.

In a statement to WPSU, a defense attorney for Plaza Azteca said: “Plaza disputes it violated the law but reached a resolution with the DOL to bring closure to this matter and allow the business to continue to focus on being a great employer and providing an excellent customer experience.”

Plaza Azteca agreed to the consent judgment after months of litigation and just before a jury trial was scheduled to begin. The lawsuit included locations in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

In addition to back wages and penalties, Plaza Azteca restaurants involved in the litigation must hire an independent consultant to make sure their payroll and record keeping practices comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Sydney Roach is a reporter and host for WPSU with a passion for radio and community stories.