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Restaurant Faces Trial and Another Labor Suit

January 13, 1998|MARLA DICKERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A federal judge on Monday dismissed a $1.1-million judgment awarded to three former waiters at the El Pollo Inka restaurant chain who had claimed they were paid only tips and no hourly wages.

U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins set aside the judgment entered last month against the Southland chicken chain, whose owners had failed to respond to a Sept. 30 lawsuit. The decision means that the case will now go to trial.

"We have been in this country 26 years and never had any problems," said El Pollo Inka owner Salomon Jaime, who founded the chain 10 years ago with his wife and other family members. "We are honest people, hard-working people."

A jury will hear allegations that the family worked its immigrant employees up to 14 hours a day for no compensation except customer tips. No trial date has been set.

In addition, eight more current and former El Pollo Inka employees filed a similar lawsuit on Monday, claiming that they too were denied hourly wages and overtime pay as required by law.

"Today's ruling just delays the inevitable," said Christopher Nicoll, attorney for the employees. "You can run but you can't hide. They didn't pay these people. . . . Sooner or later the truth will out."

In the September lawsuit, former waiters Carlos Vargas, Monica Gonzales and Alejandro Flores claimed they were paid only tips and no hourly wages or overtime when working at El Pollo Inka locations in Lawndale, Torrance and Anaheim. The suit also claims their employers threatened the three with physical harm and deportation to their native Peru if they reported the alleged violations to authorities.

Subsequent filings allege that Jaime offered a "back door" settlement of $12,500 each to Gonzales and Flores in exchange for dropping the lawsuit. When they refused, their employers "embarked on a campaign of harassment against [the employees] and their relatives, which included death threats," according to the court filings.

Vital D'Carpio, the attorney representing El Pollo Inka, denied the allegations. He also said that the Jaimes have documents proving they paid their employees properly.

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