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Jax Heights restaurant shorted workers: Feds

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Federal Labor Department officials are suing a Jackson Heights restaurant for underpaying its employees, court records show.

Investigators found that Tierras Colombianas, at 82-18 Roosevelt Ave., kept inadequate records and failed to pay employees overtime, violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, Labor officials said.

The Labor Department filed a suit in Brooklyn federal court last month against the restaurant company and its managers, Kathryn and Sofia Antonakos, asking for overtime back wages and an equal amount in damages.

The restaurant was listed as a critics' pick by New York magazine, which hailed its hearty meat dishes and "peach-and-aqua hued, Florida diner ambience."

Calls to the managers were not returned by press time Tuesday. The restaurant is still open for business.

"This legal action... demonstrates that we will not hesitate to file suit against employers who violate the law by failing to pay employees for all the hours they work," said Philip Jacobson, district director for the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division office in the city, in a prepared statement.

Because the restaurant did not keep complete time card records, Jacobson said, the Labor Department is asking employees to call its Brooklyn office at 718-254-9410 to verify addresses and phone numbers.

Officials did not discount the possibility that the workers in question could be undocumented immigrants.

"Certainly it's very possible that such workers might be involved in this or any other case where a lot of the workers might be Spanish-speaking," said Labor Department spokesman John Chavez.

"But Wage and Hour Division doesn't ask people their immigration status because it's irrelevant to the case," he said. "If someone is working and has worked at the job, if they put in the time and were not paid properly, they are owed the back wages."

Amy Carroll, an attorney with the immigrant advocacy group Make the Road New York, said overtime and record-keeping violations are common in the restaurant business and not necessarily related to undocumented immigrants.

"It's typical for restaurants to pay a daily or weekly wage with no overtime premium," she said. "They'll pay maybe $300, $400 for a 60-hour work week. It's kind of an industrywide problem."

Chavez was not sure when the case would be heard. These cases are often settled out of court, he said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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