Feds take pizzeria to court over wage violations

In a rare action, the U.S. Department of Labor has filed suit in federal court against Ramunto’s Brick Oven Pizza Restaurant in Claremont over what the agency charges are wage and hour violations.The department says the restaurant has shortchanged workers by paying less than the minimum wage and not giving them time and a half for overtime, although the lawsuit did not cite specifics or a proposed fine.It also alleges that company did not keep the required paperwork on file.The owner of the restaurant (which is independent from the restaurant chain of the same name) said the federal government singling them out because disputed that DOL amount and he was “not willing to back down.””They are trying to bully us into paying this huge fine,” said Desmond Willey, who with his wife Kelly owns Legacy Holdings LLC, which has owned the restaurant for the last six years, and employs about 40 people.The department issued about 100 wage and hour violations in New Hampshire in 2011, according to its enforcement database. The Ramunto’s case was not among them, perhaps because it is still in dispute. But it is the only wage and hour dispute in the state that made it to federal court in either 2011 or so far in 2012.Willey would not disclose the amount of his proposed fine, but he said he did challenge it with a forensic audit which found a number of errors, including workers allegedly there at 3 a.m. when nobody was working, and counting a worker twice because of a name change due to marriage.”We owe them something, but we feel we owe less,” Willey said. “They haven’t given us how they arrived with the numbers, and said we would have to go to court to get it out of them. That’s not right. Maybe it’s legal, but it’s a method to go about bullying us. That’s less than acceptable to the American people.”The Labor Department “seeks to settle cases administratively, but when that cannot be accomplished, the department can and will — as it did in this case — file suit in U.S. District Court,” said Ted Fitzgerald, a regional spokesman for the agency.Fitzgerald added that fines collected would go to workers, not the department, but he would not disclose the amount asked for “because it could be adjusted up or down during the litigation.” — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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