Federal Lawsuit Alleges Wage Theft, Discrimination at Goodfellas

Abimael Perez is one of five plaintiffs who launched a federal labor lawsuit against Goodfellas Restaurant today.

Abimael Perez is one of five plaintiffs who launched a federal labor lawsuit against Goodfellas Restaurant today.

A federal lawsuit alleging wage violations, workplace discrimination, and racketeering has been filed against owners of Goodfellas Restaurant, a New Haven-based Italian eatery, on behalf of five of its former employees.

Abimael Perez, Isain Ceron, Misael Morales, Ulber Morales, and Carlos Gonzalez-all of whom worked for owners Gennaro Iannaccone and Andrea Coppola in capacities that included preparing food, washing dishes, and performing cleaning and maintenance duties-claim to have worked over 70 hours a week for under the table cash payments in violation of minimum wage and overtime laws, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut today.

Iannaccone and Coppola failed to keep payment records and paid the workers $500 in cash per week, the lawsuit alleges. Francesco Aurioso, a manager who served a supervisory role at the restaurant, was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The suit was announced at a morning press conference staged by student attorneys with the Yale Law School’s Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization-which is representing the former employees-and it marks the third time that labor violation allegations have targeted Goodfellas Restaurant.

Over the course of two federal Department of Labor investigations-one in 2009 and the other in 2010-the restaurant was found to have owed more than $30,000 in back wages.

“In the past, Good Fellas owners repeatedly violated state and federal labor laws,” said Zachary Manfredi, a Yale Law Student Intern working with the Organization.”The lawsuit alleges that Iannaccone and others continue to engage in the practice of worker exploitation that needs to be brought to a halt.”

The suit also alleges that the workers, who are Hispanic, were subjected to racial slurs and other verbal abuse while being made to work under hazardous conditions-lifting dangerously heavy objects and moving hot pans-without adequate protection.

“Accidents would happen,” said Abimael Perez.”[They] made us work to fast, and didn’t give us any protection. I have injuries all over my hands that haven’t gone away.”

Gonzalez alleges that he was subjected to homophobic harassment, and, in the suit, claims that he was terminated because of his sexual orientation.

Neither of the owners returned a phone message left at the restaurant requesting comment, but a Good Fellas representative told The New Haven Independent that the defendants deny the allegations being made in the suit.

Under federal law, plaintiffs that win wage theft suits are entitled to double damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The three defendants’ business relationship, combined with alleged forced labor, coercion-workers claim to have been given $50 in extra cash per week to discourage the filing of a wage theft against complaint of their own during an ongoing case pertaining to the restaurant Gourmet Heaven-and threats of deportation made to intimidate the former employees, constitute a violation of the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the suit alleges.

John Lugo, an organizer with the immigrant/labor advocacy group Unidad Latina en Accion, (ULA)-which has held anti-wage theft protests outside of Goodfellas in the past-called for a full boycott of the restaurant.

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