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The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York has dismissed a wage and hour lawsuit brought by an alleged employee against Prima Pasta & Café, an Italian restaurant in Howard Beach. Attorney Nils C. Shillito, of the law offices of Stephen D. Han & Associates, represented Prima Pasta & Café in the litigation.
The plaintiff in Lugardo V. Prima Pasta & Café, Inc. brought a claim against Prima Pasta for unpaid wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the New York Labor Law . The plaintiff claimed that he worked full time as a dishwasher, and later as a pizza preparer, for the restaurant. However, the restaurant strongly disputed these allegations, as the plaintiff had actually only worked for the restaurant on a select few occasions, serving private parties. Although Prima Pasta did not have any records of the plaintiff’s time worked and pay received, the owners contested his claims through their own testimony, and that of the restaurant’s manager, at the federal court trial. Despite the restaurant’s lack of records, the court, finding that the plaintiff’s testimony lacked credibility, dismissed all claims and closed the case.
The Importance of the Decision
In most litigation, the general rule is that the plaintiff possesses the burden of proof at trial. However, in the context of wage and hour disputes where the employer does not maintain detailed time and payroll records, the courts have long held that an employee need not provide his/her own records to substantiate past time worked. In such situations, the courts shift the burden onto the employer to disprove the plaintiff’s testimony, which is often difficult to do in the absence of adequate records. The initial burden placed upon the employee’s testimony is not high. For these reasons, employers without good record keeping practices often find themselves in difficult positions at trial of a wage and hour dispute. Although maintaining detailed employment records remains absolutely vital, this case shows that it is nonetheless still possible for an employer to win in court without such records.
“Employers must keep detailed employee time and payroll records to be able to defend against wage and hour lawsuits and Department of Labor investigations with confidence,” noted Stephen Hans. “However, for those employers who, in the past, may not have had adequate record keeping practices, this ruling gives some hope that they can still win and achieve justice.”
The attorneys at Stephen D. Hans & Associates, P.C., have protected the rights of employers in the New York City metropolitan area since 1979. To schedule an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 718-275-6700.