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Harris v. Sca Restaurant Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 14, 2014

SETH D. HARRIS, ACTING SECRETARY OF LABOR, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Plaintiff,
v.
SCA RESTAURANT CORP. D/B/A LUIGI Q ITALIAN RESTAURANT, A CORPORATION AND LUIGI QUARTA, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS OWNER, Defendants.

Plaintiff is represented by Daniel M. Hennefeld and Elena S. Goldstein, U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Solicitor, New York, N.Y.

Defendant is represented by Raymond Nardo, Mineola, N.Y.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JOSEPH F. BIANCO, District Judge.

Plaintiff Seth D. Harris, [1] Acting Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor ("the Secretary") brings this action against SCA Restaurant Corporation, d/b/a Luigi Q Italian Restaurant ("SCA Restaurant Corp.") and Luigi Quarta ("Quarta") (collectively, "defendants"), asserting claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. ยงยง 201 et seq. A bench trial was held on April 9 and April 10, 2012, as well as on October 4, 2012, to determine defendants' liability, if any. On April 5, 2013, this Court issued a Memorandum and Order detailing its findings of fact and conclusions of law, concluding that the Secretary had met her burden of proof on all of her claims.

On May 2, 2013, the Secretary filed a motion for attorneys' fees and costs. Specifically, the Secretary argues that he is entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees for work that was performed in response to Quarta's attempted retaliatory conduct against his employees. In addition, the Secretary argues that, as the prevailing party, he is entitled to all taxable costs incurred in this matter.[2] For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the Secretary's motion and awards attorneys' fees in the amount of $5, 062.50 and costs in the amount of $8, 183.45. In particular, with respect to the attorney's fees, the Court finds that the defendants' retaliatory discrimination against trial witnesses constituted bad faith conduct in this litigation and, in its discretion pursuant to its inherent power, concludes that attorney's fees (for the work performed in response to that conduct) should be awarded as a sanction.

I. BACKGROUND

Familiarity with the facts is assumed in light of the Court's previous opinion in this matter. See Solis v. SCA Rest. Corp., 09-C2212, 2013 WL 1401396 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 5, 2013).

On April 6, 2012, just days before trial in this matter was set to begin, the Court issued a temporary restraining order preventing defendants from discharging or taking discriminatory action against two employees whom defendants threatened to fire due to their involvement in this lawsuit. ( See Temporary Restraining Order, Apr. 6, 2012, ECF No. 61.) The Court issued a preliminary injunction on April 19, 2012 barring defendants from firing or discriminating against any employees in violation of Section 15(a)(3) of the FLSA until the Court adjudicated this matter. ( See Preliminary Injunction, Apr. 19, 2012, ECF No. 67.)

During the trial, defendants' employees testified regarding Quarta's retaliatory conduct. Jose Anibal Acosta ("Acosta"), a dishwasher, testified that on April 5, 2012, Quarta asked Acosta whether he intended to testify in court. (Apr. Tr. at 142-43.) When Acosta answered in the affirmative, Quarta told him that, if he testified, "then there's no more work for you." ( Id. at 142.) Acosta also stated that an employee of the restaurant told him that Quarta said if Acosta appeared in court that "he would look for other workers." ( Id. at 145.) After being told that he would lose his job if he testified, Acosta felt afraid. ( Id. at 147.)

Juan Carlos Cantos-Chavez ("Cantos-Chavez"), who prepared the salads, also testified that, several days prior to the commencement of the trial, Quarta told the employees, using another employee as a translator, that if they came to court they "would only have work there until Saturday" ( id. at 199), and "if [they] showed up in court then [they]... would not have a job anymore" ( id. at 202). Quarta also told the employees that it was their decision whether to come to court, because they could "either come to court or [could] go to work." ( Id. at 201.) Following these conversations, Cantos-Chavez felt pressure not to testify and questioned whether he would testify in court, and was afraid and nervous ( Id. at 202, 214.)

After the initial trial, the Secretary amended her complaint on April 13, 2012 to add the retaliation claim, and defendants filed an answer on April 27, 2012. The parties undertook additional discovery regarding the retaliation claim. The Court held a bench trial on October 4, 2012 so that defendants could present any additional evidence with respect to the retaliation claim.[3] Quarta was the only witness for defendants on the remaining retaliation claim. However, as stated infra, the Court found Quarta's testimony not credible, and determined that "the evidence established that Quarta intentionally attempted to prevent two of his current employees from testifying, including threatening those employees with discharge if they testified, and that his conduct was calculated to dissuade a rwsonable worker from testifying at the proceeding." Id. at *16.

At the continuation of the bench trial on October 4, 2012, Quarta testified that, when he told Acosta and Cantos-Chavez not to come to work if they testified, he meant that they did not need to show up because he would have either closed the restaurant for the day or obtained temporary replacements. (Oct. Tr. at 2, 5-7.)

In this Court's April 5, 2013 Memorandum and Order, the Court found the testimony of Acosta and Cantos-Chavez credible, and the testimony of Quarta not credible. The Court stated:

It is clear from the evidence, including an evaluation of the credibility of the witnesses, that there was no misunderstanding by the employees of the substance of Quarta's statements. Quarta clearly intended to communicate, and did communicate, his intention to terminate these employees if they testified, in an attempt to retaliate against them and dissuade them from doing so. Therefore, the Court finds that ...

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