When federal labor investigators dropped by unannounced at Antico Pizza owner Giovanni Di Palma’s westside restaurant complex in July for a surprise wage inspection, he told some employees to leave while investigators were on the premises, according to employees who talked to investigators later. He also told employees to tell investigators to lie about the number of hours they worked each week, according to an affidavit by one of the investigators.
News that Di Palma, whose bizarre personal history was detailed in an Atlanta magazine profile last year, is being called before a federal judge to answer U.S. Department of Labor accusations was first reported today by the Atlanta Business Chronicle.
After the inspection, according to an affidavit by Ashley Swopes, a wage hour investigator with the U.S. DOL, employees told investigators that Di Palma began “treat[ing] some employees differently than the other employees… These employees explained that they no longer received a share of the ‘employer-generated tips’ and that they were now paid later than other employees. These employees told me that they believed Mr. Di Palma treated them differently because he believed they were cooperating in the [federal] investigation.”
In one instance that occurred on August 30, according to the affidavit by Swopes, Di Palma accused an employee of calling the DOL and challenged the worker to call the agency in front of him. “Later that day, when that employee sought to discuss that accusation, Mr. Di Palma dragged her from the premises by her arm and threatened to deport her and her family.” That same day, according to the affidavit, he fired her “and her family members.” Employees told Swopes, according to her affidavit, that Di Palma “has people” within the DOL and so knows when employees are talking to investigators.
How connected is Di Palma, who, by all accounts, has made a fortune from selling pizzas on the Westside? According to the affidavit, he told employees that “he has powerful friends such as President Obama and he will not lose.”
When Swopes asked Di Palma for the company’s overtime policy, “he explained that workers do not receive an additional halftime premium for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week.”
The Department of Labor is asking a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order against Di Palma that would prevent him from threatening or retaliating against any current or former employees. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones has set a hearing for Monday, October 6.
Since opening Antico Pizza in 2009 on Hemphill Avenue, Di Palma has transformed the block: his “Little Italia” complex now includes four additional restaurants, with a self-referential naming philosophy that rivals Tyler Perry’s: the other restaurants are Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano, Bottega Luisa, Caffe Gio, and Bar Amalfi. Antico now is known as much for the celebrities it attracts as it is for its pizza.
Through his publicist, Di Palma told the Business Chronicle that “Gio and his team put tremendous effort into staying compliant on every level.”