Brasa, Alma restaurants sued for 'unpaid overtime' labor violations

The chef/owner of Brasa and Alma says he didn't know their scheduling practice violated federal labor law.

The chef/owner of Brasa and Alma says he didn't know their scheduling practice violated federal labor law. Steve Rice, Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Labor filed a civil complaint against the owner and restaurant group behind Brasa Premium Rotisserie and Alma last week, alleging the businesses had relied on "unpaid overtime" work from employees.

The suit alleges the restaurants "repeatedly violated" federal labor law by having employees work more than 40 hours per week, combined, through shifts at Brasa's two locations (one in Minneapolis, one in St. Paul) and at Alma. 

According to the complaint, Brasa and Alma "coordinate staffing and scheduling and set the employees’ hours and rates. Employees work interchangeably at more than one location."

Opened as a fine-dining concept in 1999, Alma added a cafe and boutique hotel operation in 2016. Brasa opened its first spot on East Hennepin in Minneapolis in 2007, and added a second on Grand Avenue in St. Paul in 2009. (A third is slated to open in south Minneapolis this spring, the Star Tribune reports.) 

Seven employees were shuttling back and forth between the Minneapolis and St. Paul Brasas, the lawsuit says, four were working at the Minneapolis Brasa and Alma, and two worked shifts at Alma and the St. Paul Brasa. 

Another count against the restaurant group found that neither Brasa had a mandatory poster about the federal minimum wage law "in a conspicuous place where employees could readily observe a copy." 

The overtime allegations are similar to ones made against Black Sheep Pizza last year, which was accused of not paying overtime to employees whose cumulative shifts at its four outlets added up to more than 40 hours. 

Like Black Sheep, Brasa and Alma chef/owner Alex Roberts claims ignorance, telling Minnesota Reformer in a statement he was unaware hours at different restaurants within the same group all counted toward a weekly overtime threshold. Roberts says the U.S. Department of Labor informed the restaurants they were in violation last year, and the  system of accounting for hours worked has since been changed.

"We pay fair wages and provide medical, retirement and meal benefits," Roberts told the Reformer. "As a small, independent business we are always seeking to learn and improve. We regret the cross-company overtime errors, and are currently following the [Department of Labor's] instructions to make things right with our staff."

The owner said some employees had already received back pay for overtime hours worked; he also denied lacking a minimum wage poster, and said inspectors must simply have missed those during their visits to Brasa.