Aspen restaurant couple settles with Labor Department over back wages |

Aspen restaurant couple settles with Labor Department over back wages

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

Aspen restaurateurs Craig and Samantha Cordts-Pearce have settled a lawsuit the U.S. Department of Labor filed against them early this year over $119,306 in back wages owed to more than 100 past and present employees, a U.S. District Court consent judgment says.

In addition to the settlement to pay back wages, the Cordts-Pearces also agreed to pay $80,694 in liquidated damages to the employees, according to the judgment, which was filed by the court in June. The lawsuit was filed in February and the couple signed the agreement in May.

The Cordts-Pearces did not return telephone voice and text messages Monday. The Aspen Times located the documents last week while conducting follow-up research on the Labor Department’s lengthy investigation into violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act committed by more than three dozen local businesses.

Craig Cordts-Pearce briefly addressed the allegations in a Times story published Feb. 25, saying he had been in contact with Labor Department investigators for more than a year and hoped to resolve the issue in a timely manner. The wages represent work conducted at the couple’s five Aspen restaurants — Above the Salt, Brexi Brasserie, CP Burger, Steakhouse No. 316 and The Wild Fig — between late November 2011 and late June 2013. Above the Salt closed in fall 2013.

The department’s original complaint against the Cordts-Pearces and their restaurant companies states that they failed to pay overtime wages — commonly known as “time and a half — during the 19-month period. Instead, they paid straight wages for work hours performed past the regular 40-hour work week, the lawsuit says.

In addition, the suit states, the defendants “failed to make, keep and preserve adequate and accurate records of employees and the wage, hours and conditions and practices of employment maintained by them as prescribed by regulations” in the labor act.

The consent judgment and related court injunction lays out certain rules the Cordts-Pearces must follow. The couple agreed:

• To provide present and future employees with information concerning the labor act’s requirements on overtime pay and tips and to post them in areas of the restaurants where employees commonly congregate.

• To refrain from discharging or discriminating against any employee who has filed any complaint related to the wage and hour standards.

• To train their managers on the act’s minimum wage and overtime requirements as it applies to employees, including tipped workers “in order to ensure good faith compliance” with the standards.

• To conduct twice-annual compliance audits for a three-year period evaluating their ongoing compliance with the act and related regulations and to supply the Labor Department with corresponding statements of compliance.

The amounts owed to the workers varied widely. For example, the court documents state that one employee of Steakhouse No. 316 must be paid $10,556 in back wages, which are taxable, and $7,341 in liquidated damages, which are nontaxable. But another employee from the same East Hopkins Avenue “restaurant row” eatery was due a mere $20 in back wages and $13.90 in damages.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, a Labor Department spokesman in Dallas said it stemmed from a lengthy investigation into Aspen’s hospitality industry. The Cordts-Pearces weren’t the only local business owners who were found to have violated the labor act’s overtime provisions.

In all, 45 businesses were audited from 2011 to 2013 and 39 of them were cited for violations. The audits resulted in about $500,000 back wages for 1,000 employees.

Labor Department records obtained by The Aspen Times last week through a Freedom of Information Act request show that East Durant Avenue retailer Performance Ski, which was not named in the department’s list of violators last February, agreed to pay total overtime liability of $10,758 owed to 27 former and current employees, along with an equal amount in damages. Performance Ski has three locations in Aspen, Snowmass Village and Vail.

The investigation of Performance Ski, conducted in the spring, covered a period from April 2012 to April 2014. The stores’ owner, Tom Bowers, commented to the Times last week that he had misinterpreted a state law that gives certain companies in the ski industry partial exemptions from paying overtime. No lawsuit was filed in his case.

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