Antico Pizza owner Di Palma fires back in labor case

Attorney: Government trying to make a “public spectacle out of a very successful businessman.”
Giovanni Di Palma, antico pizza
Giovanni Di Palma

Cat Max Photography

A lawyer for Giovanni Di Palma, the Antico Pizza owner who’s accused of retaliating against employees he suspected of talking to federal Department of Labor investigators looking into his wage practices, has fired back at the government, condemning the department’s “outrageous tactics” and blasting the investigators’ “unsubstantiated” accusations.

On Tuesday, labor officials asked a federal judge to formally enjoin Di Palma from retaliating against any employees he thinks might be cooperating with labor investigators. Indeed, the DOL wants to keep Di Palma from talking with his employees at all about the ongoing investigation. The department even wants the judge to allow one of its officials to come in to Antico during working hours and read aloud a statement (in English and Spanish) that, among other things, reassures workers that they won’t be retaliated against if they speak with investigators.

“Gross overreaching” is how Di Palma’s lawyers characterized the DOL request, which would prevent even Di Palma’s attorneys from speaking with employees. How can Di Palma run his business if he can’t discuss things like overtime? asks Nathan Chapman, Di Palma’s attorney. (Among the DOL allegations is a supposed admission by Di Palma that he did not pay his workers time-and-a-half after they’d reached forty hours in a week.) The owner of Antico “must be able to have those conversations to stay in business.” Chapman argues that he DOL “cannot meet the high standard for the relief sought at all, much less with rank hearsay from undisclosed witnesses.”

The government’s motion was backed by affidavits from two of its investigators who claimed that Antico employees told them that Di Palma had ordered some of them to leave during the inspection, and threatened some with deportation if they talked with investigators. Some of the employees he suspected of talking were cut out of a share of tips, while one woman “and her family members” were fired for being suspected of ratting to the DOL, according to the affidavits. None of the workers is identified by name in the DOL affidavits, but the affidavits do include some intriguing details, including that Di Palma appeared to believe he was above the law, citing Barack Obama as a “powerful friend,” according to a DOL affidavit.

Chapman says that Di Palma and his accountant, Jeffrey Lao, were deposed on Wednesday, but weren’t told until the end of the deposition that the government had filed court papers against Antico and Di Palma the day before. Di Palma was “ambushed,” Chapman argues. “This was a foregone conclusion to [the DOL] and they didn’t even care about his side of the story,” Chapman said in a phone conversation with Atlanta magazine. “They wanted to make a public spectacle out of a very successful businessman.”  Chapman told us that the government is trying to deny Di Palma his due process “There really is no basis for any judgment, let alone a public judgment, against my client. We believe that what has been reported and alleged by the Department of Labor will ultimately be proven to be inaccurate.”

In the court papers, Di Palma and Antico “categorically deny the allegations of wrongdoing in these hearsay affidavits.” Not addressed specifically is whether Di Palma, subject of an Atlanta magazine profile last year, truly counts Obama as one of his “powerful friends.”

A federal court hearing on the matter is set for Monday at 2 p.m.

Di Palma Attorney Document