We just ran across a wage and hour case out of Texas with a unique twist on the usual overtime claim. Bustamente, an undocumented immigrant, alleged that the El Palenque Mexican Restaurant and Cantina forced him to work under another identity to avoid overtime.
According to Bustamente, the kitchen manager realized he lacked the documentation to work legally in the country but told him it wouldn’t be a problem if he had some documents. Bustamente began working under his brother’s identity. (He actually brought the case as Jesus Bustamente, the brother– he only confessed that his real name is Cristoforo one week prior to trial). Soon after, Bustamente alleged that the restaurant had him fill out an application using his nephew’s identity in order to avoid overtime pay. He worked the early shift as his brother, the evening shift as his nephew. Bustamente testified that he received two separate paychecks.
The restaurant’s defense was straightforward – Bustamente and his nephew were both employees. The company used a fingerprint timekeeping system, making it difficult to impersonate someone. Witnesses remembered the nephew as taller than Bustamente. The company did pay overtime to other employees. Most important, the company produced payroll records showing that Bustamente and his nephew actually worked the same shift on one occasion. In light of the conflicting testimony and confusing payroll records, the court found that Bustamente could not prove his claims.
While the facts of this case are amusing and hopefully not likely to repeat themselves often, it serves as a good reminder that clear, accurate payroll records can be an employer’s best friend in a wage and hour case. Cristoforo Bustamente, a/k/a Jesus Bustamente, a/k/a Angel Bustamente, v. El Palenque Mexican Restaurant and Cantina, Inc., Case No. No. H-07-2506, (S.D. Tex, February 3, 2009).