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Santa Fe restaurant owner ordered to pay back wages, damages

SANTA FE, N.M. — The owner of the Famous Wok in Santa Fe has been ordered to pay $24,168 in back wages and an equal amount of damages to his employees, according to the U.S Department of Labors’ Wage and Hour Division.

According to a news release from the agency, when two Famous Wok employees were due back wages based on the findings of a Wage and Hour Division investigation, franchise owner Lixin Zhang agreed to pay the workers.

But Zhang failed to do so, according to the release. Instead, Zhang made them sign the back of blank checks and told labor departmental investigators that he paid the employees, while the workers actually had received nothing, the news release says.

Investigators followed up and also found that Zhang continued to violate the law by failing to provide overtime pay to employees who worked 72 to 80 hours per week, the release states. The department then filed a lawsuit against Zhang to collect back wages.

Zhang, in a phone interview, denied the labor department’s allegations and said he wants to take the case to a trial. “I’m looking for an attorney,” he said.

He said no one at his restaurant in the Santa Fe Place mall works 80 hours a week and that the mall isn’t open enough hours to make that possible.

A federal judge as granted summary judgment against Zhang and ordered him to pay the more than $50,000 in pay and damages to the employees for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions.

The judge also granted an injunction to ensure Zhang complies with the law in the future. The judge found that Zhang consistently violated the FLSA for at least the past three years, even after meeting with investigators and agreeing to abide by its terms.The news release says Zhang continued to willfully ignore his agreement with federal regulators; attempted to conceal that he had not complied with the law and his agreement by urging employees to lie to the department; and sent erroneous and misleading documentation to the Wage and Hour Division.

“This employer willfully and repeatedly violated the law, manipulated his employees and lied to cheat them out of their wages,” said Cynthia Watson, administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the Southwest. “This case is an example of the effort that the division will take to ensure workers receive the wages they rightfully earn.”