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Former pub owners to pay $1.4M settlement

Kellys Brew Pub in Nob Hill pictured in 2014. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The former owners of Kellys Brew Pub and Restaurant have been ordered to pay $1.4 million as part of a class action settlement agreement reached Tuesday in 2nd Judicial District Court.

Former owners Dennis and Janice Bonfantine will pay $1,375,000 in legal costs and payments to servers who worked at the restaurant between 2013 and 2016, according to the agreement. In 2016, Kellys Brew Pub was sold to Santa Fe Dining, which is not named in the suit.

The deal comes just over a year after the Bonfantines were found to have violated an Albuquerque voter-approved minimum wage ordinance, according to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which represented the plaintiffs in the case alongside Youtz & Valdez, P.C.

Last July, District Court Judge Benjamin Chavez ruled that the owners had violated a 2012 city ordinance that raised the minimum wage for tipped employees from $2.13 to $5.25, plus tips, by 2015.

The suit, brought by 16 servers at the popular Nob Hill eatery, claimed that, between 2013 and 2016, they were forced to illegally pay the owners $3 per hour from their tips to cover the wage increase, in addition to 2% of their daily sales. This meant that, occasionally, some servers owed more than they earned and were then required to make up the difference through their paychecks.

The settlement notes the Bonfantines have not admitted wrongdoing in the case, despite agreeing to the payout.

Reached Tuesday by phone, Dennis Bonfantine declined to comment.

Stephanie Welch, supervising attorney and director for workers’ rights for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said the tip deductions amounted to the owners illegally taking tips from workers since all tips legally belong to the employee.

Under the settlement, 113 workers will receive $902,000, which works out to an average of $8,000 per worker, though the amount paid to each server will vary based on the hours they worked, Welch said.

She said the settlement is on par for the ordinance violation and could have been much larger had it gone to trial.

“This is money that should have been in our hands in the first place. It was ours. We earned it,” said Bianca Garcia, a former Kellys staff member and plaintiff in the lawsuit, in a statement. “If that money had never been taken from us, it could have made differences in where some of us are today.”

Payment of the settlement will be divided, with $1 million of the settlement to be paid within 30 days and the remaining $375,000 to be paid at a later date following an investigation of the owners’ assets, according to a release from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

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