California Taqueria Chain Fined $140K For Hiring Fake Priest to Hear Workplace Confessions

'This employer’s despicable attempts to retaliate against employees were intended to silence workers,' said Regional Solicitor of Labor Marc Pilotin

A taqueria chain in California was fined after federal investigators found the owners had hired a fake priest to get their employees to admit wrongdoing.

U.S. Department of Labor fined Che Garibaldi Inc. $140,000 after launching an investigation into the business in November of 2021. The company owns three Taqueria Garibaldi locations and hired someone to pose as a priest and “get the sins” out of staff members by offering confession during work hours. The person posing as a priest asked employees various questions about their workplace conduct, including whether they had ever stolen or if they had ever been late. 

The DOL called the fake priest plot “among the most shameless” seen by federal wage and hour investigators, denouncing the scheme as an act of workplace intimidation and retribution.

“Under oath, an employee of Taqueria Garibaldi explained how the restaurant offered a supposed priest to hear their workplace ‘sins’ while other employees reported that a manager falsely claimed that immigration issues would be raised by the department’s investigation,” said Marc Pilotin, the Regional Solicitor of Labor in San Francisco, in a statement. “This employer’s despicable attempts to retaliate against employees were intended to silence workers, obstruct an investigation and prevent the recovery of unpaid wages.”

The Los Angeles Times obtained a sworn affidavit from a Taqueria Garibaldi server, Maria Parra, who described her conversations with the fake priest to be “strange and unlike normal confessions.”

“He asked if I ever got pulled over for speeding, if I drank alcohol, or if I had stolen anything. The priest mostly had work-related questions, which I thought was strange,” Parra said. “The priest asked if I had stolen anything at work, if I was late to my employment, if I did anything to harm my employer, and if I had any intention towards my employment.”

The DOL investigation also found the owner-operators  – Eduardo Hernandez, Hector Manual Martinez Galindo, and Alejandro Rodriguez – violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by denying to pay overtime. The men also “paid managers from the employee tip pool illegally, threatened employees with retaliation and adverse immigration consequences for cooperating with the department, and fired one worker who they believed had complained to the department.”

The fine includes $70,000 of back wages as well as $70,000 damages to 35 employees. The company has also been ordered to pay the DOL $5,000 in civil penalties. 

In August of 2022, the owners of Che Garibaldi agreed to a stipulated preliminary injunction to avoid the expense of a hearing. 

The Diocese of Sacramento conducted its own investigation into the taqueria confessions and concluded that there is “no evidence of any connection between the Diocese of Sacramento and the alleged priest in this matter,” according to Bryan J. Visitacion, director of media and communications for the diocese.

“While we don’t know who the person in question was, we are completely confident he was not a priest of the Diocese of Sacramento,” Visitacion told the Catholic News Agency.

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