Giovanni Di Palma, the rags-to-riches founder of Antico Pizza, will pay $329,445 in back wages and damages to 56 employees of his restaurants—the result of a six-month federal Department of Labor investigation that concluded that Di Palma had not paid overtime to workers and that also claimed he threatened retaliation (including deportation) against workers he suspected were talking to investigators.
In at least one case, a worker was clocking 70 hours per week but getting paid only for 40, according to Eric Williams, the director of the DOL’s Atlanta office, which conducted the investigation. “The extent of the treatment was above and beyond” typical cases, Williams said. “The threats made to employees, threatening to terminate other employees, threatening to deport employees. We don’t see that every day. In our minds that was pretty significant and pretty severe.”
Nathan Chapman, Di Palma’s attorney, called the allegations of retribution or threats “categorically false. There’s never been a scintilla of proof that any of those allegations are true.”
Chapman categorized the government’s case as coming down to a “technicality”—specifically, the claim that Di Palma hadn’t been paying time-and-a-half to workers who were entitled to it. “These folks were paid $15 an hour. [Di Palma was] paying them a healthy wage and taking good care of them.”
Nevertheless, in the interest of avoiding a protracted legal battle, Chapman said, Di Palma opted to settle the case. Individual amounts to employees vary from as little as $48.62 to as much as $29,010.50. Each amount is divided evenly between back wages and what the labor department calls “liquidated damages,” which is intended to compensate workers for the trouble caused—unpaid rent, repossessed car, for example—by not being paid what they were owed in the first place. In the case of the worker who will receive $29,010.50, the back wages represent half that amount and cover an 18-month period. According to Chapman, “most” of the affected employees are still employed under Di Palma. “The vast majority have been there a long time. Mr. Di Palma has a good relationship with these employees.”
Chapman said none of Di Palma’s workers were undocumented. “They don’t use undocumented workers. Never have, never will.”
The 56 employees represented a mix of independent contractors, “salaried” positions (which the labor department deemed were improperly designated as such), and hourly workers. In one case, according to the labor department, Di Palma misclassified an administrative assistant as an independent contractor, “thereby denying her the protections of minimum wage and overtime laws.”
The judgment, which was signed last week, comes almost exactly a year after the two parties agreed on a consent order in which Di Palma pledged to not impede or interfere with the federal investigation. Williams said that since last year’s order, Antico has been paying its workers properly and has implemented better record-keeping. Besides Antico Pizza, Di Palma’s group of businesses on Hemphill Avenue on the west side includes Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano, Bottega Luisa, Caffe Gio, and Bar Amalfi.
Through his publicist, Liz Lapidus, Di Palma declined our request for an interview, but issued the following statement:
We are happy to get this settlement behind us so we can fully focus on moving forward with our growth strategy. None of the verbal allegations from former employees were proven and we have been fully compliant and transparent throughout the labor audit and are thankful the government was reasonable in our meetings to hear our comments and arrive at a fair settlement. The owners are very pleased the audit made clear that no employee was ever paid below minimum wage as the auditors expressed in their findings. Many other successful restaurants have met the same growing pains, and like those same restaurants, we are thrilled to say we now have a solid foundation to continue our expansion and be fully compliant to our valued staff.
Williams, the labor department official, said “I’m hoping it sends a good message to other people in the restaurant industry that employees have the right to ask for their wages to be paid correctly and not be retaliated against.”