HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A federal court has issued a preliminary ruling in response to the U.S. Department of Labor’s request to restrain a Harrisburg-area Popeyes franchise owner and district manager after allegedly threatening workers, harassing investigators, and obstructing an investigation.
According to the Department of Labor, the action was taken by US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania while investigating possible violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act against Jonestown Rd Chicken LLC, the franchise owner of the Popeyes Lousiana Kitchen located on Jonestown Road.
The complaint alleges that on Wednesday, April 5, the restaurant’s general manager contacted the company’s district manager, Tom Rudzenski, to come to the restaurant right after investigators arrived. While waiting for Rudzenski’s arrival, the general manager allegedly kept employees in the back of the restaurant to prevent them from having the chance to speak to the investigators.
The complaint goes on to say that once Rudzenski arrived, he allegedly cursed loudly at investigators, acted aggressively, and slammed a kitchen door many times with such force it could be felt throughout the building.
The complaint then states after a closed-door meeting in the kitchen area with employees, Rudzenski allegedly stood in the doorway between employees in the kitchen and the investigators in the public area.
According to the complaint, Rudzenski allegedly made it clear that he did not want the employees to speak to the investigators.
“The demeanor and actions of the district manager for this Popeyes franchisee in Harrisburg raised concerns among our investigators about their physical safety, and the workers there must have felt threatened and were likely afraid to lose their jobs if they spoke to our investigators,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Alfonso Gristina in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. “Despite the prohibited conduct of the restaurant’s general manager and the franchise’s district manager, the Wage and Hour Division will not be stopped from completing its investigation.”
According to the Department of Labor, this incident was not the first time the restaurant’s managers tried to stop the department from speaking to employees. The department states that a few weeks earlier on March 14, investigators saw employees working at the restaurant and asked to conduct interviews, but the general manager allegedly claimed the employees had gone home sick.
The court’s order temporarily forbids Jonestown Rd Chicken LLC and Rudzenski “from violating the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provisions, and from further harassing and threatening their workers and division investigators.”
The order also requires that the employer notifies employees of their rights to freely speak with investigators or otherwise cooperate with the division’s investigation.
“The Fair Labor Standards Act protects employees’ rights to participate in and cooperate with Wage and Hour Division investigations without fear of employer retaliation and intimidation. The U.S. Department of Labor will take effective and expeditious legal action on behalf of workers when their employers violate their rights or attempt to obstruct an investigation,” said Deputy Regional Solicitor Samantha Thomas in Philadelphia.
The Department of Labor did not disclose the full nature of its initial Fair Labor Standards Act investigation.