Ohio Restaurant Ordered to Pay Back Wages, Damages to "Volunteers"

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A federal judge has ordered Cathedral Buffet and its owner to pay $388,507 in back wages and damages to 235 “volunteers” who worked at the Cuyahoga Falls restaurant. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage, overtime, recordkeeping and other provisions.

U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio Benita Pearson wrote that testimony at a trial in late 2016 supported the department’s findings that the owner of Cathedral Buffet, televangelist Ernest Angley, and managers encouraged members of Angley’s church – Grace Cathedral – to work at the restaurant without pay. The for-profit restaurant used volunteers to save money, and the volunteers felt pressured to provide free labor, meaning they should have been paid for their work, Pearson wrote in her findings entered on March 29, 2017.

George Victory, district director for the Wage and Hour Division in Columbus, said that “the buffet’s constant solicitation of volunteer labor, the company’s admission that the use of volunteer labor was intended to save money, and the volunteers’ feelings of pressure to work at the restaurant shows they were actually employees. That is unacceptable under the law. There are many instances, however, in which the use of volunteers is acceptable. Organizations with questions about compliance should contact us.”

Cathedral Buffet and Angley have 60 days to appeal the court’s decision.

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