Belleville restaurant failed to pay employees minimum wage and overtime, feds say

Eleven workers of the now-shuttered El Gordito restaurant in Belleville are seeking compensation after a U.S. Department of Labor investigation found their former employer did not pay minimum wage or overtime, according to a recently filed federal lawsuit.

Acting Secretary of Labor Julie A. Su filed the complaint Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois seeking $300,000 in back wages and damages for the workers.

Court records include only the 11 workers’ first initials and last names. The lawsuit leaves open the possibility that other employees the secretary hasn’t specifically named are also owed compensation.

El Gordito operated at 2630 Mascoutah Ave. in Belleville from 2010 until it closed in 2023. Its owners, Patricia and Samuel Gonzalez Lara, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. They have not yet responded to the lawsuit in federal court.

U.S. Department of Labor investigators reviewed payroll records at El Gordito over a three-year period, from May 22, 2021, to May 21, 2023.

El Gordito was a Mexican restaurant located at 2630 Mascoutah Ave. in Belleville. It closed in 2023.
El Gordito was a Mexican restaurant located at 2630 Mascoutah Ave. in Belleville. It closed in 2023.

The lawsuit alleges that the restaurant violated federal minimum wage, overtime and recordkeeping regulations by:

  • Failing to pay servers minimum wage for all hours worked.

  • Not paying servers and kitchen staff overtime.

  • Failing to keep complete and accurate records detailing employees’ hours worked.

  • Often underreporting the number of hours worked by staff.

  • Allowing full-time servers to keep their tips but failing to enact a proper tip credit.

  • Failing to pay servers the required cash wage of $2.13 per hour, and often paying no cash wage at all.

  • Making up the number of hours servers worked and how much they earned in tips so that the amount of servers’ paychecks would be close to $0.

Noah Lee, the Wage and Hour District director in St. Louis, said in a news release that employers are legally responsible for knowing and complying with federal wage laws.

“We will not tolerate employers violating federal wage laws by making up hours worked and tips received in order to make it appear that they did not owe their servers any wages,” Lee stated in the release.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division reported that it recovered over $29 million in back wages for food service industry workers in fiscal year 2023.

El Gordito back wages lawsuit by Lexi Cortes on Scribd