Attorney General Racine sues local cafe for underpaying employees

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced Sunday that his office is suing local cafe Turning Natural, Inc. and Jerri Evans, the cafe’s owner, for underpaying employees and failing to provide them with legally-required paid sick leave.

Turning Natural is a chain of cafes in the District that sells fruit and vegetable juices and prepared health foods. It has locations in Capitol Hill and Anacostia, with plans to extend to the Shaw neighborhood as well, according to its website. It also has locations in Maryland.

“Turning Natural cheated their employees and violated the basic wage, overtime, and sick leave rules that all District employers are required to follow,” said Racine. “Wage theft is illegal and will not be tolerated.”

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) says it is seeking monetary and injunctive relief for harmed employees and to recover penalties to the District.

The action comes after the District’s Department of Employment Services received an anonymous complaint about Turning Natural, commenced an investigation and issued an administrative order against Evans for failing to pay the minimum wage to three employees. OAG was called for enforcement after hearing no response from Evans, who ignored the OAG’s attempts at contact as well in the later half of 2016, according to the OAG’s complaint.

The official complaint filed by OAG lists the grievances of three employees at varying Turning Natural locations within D.C. — only one of which was part of the investigation from the District’s Department of Employment Services.

Not only did the cafe violate the District’s Minimum Wage Revision Act, it also violated the Sick and Safe Leave Act, OAG says.

The Minimum Wage Revision Act specifies that employees must be paid at least the minimum wage — now $13.25 per hour in D.C. and steadily increasing each year until 2020 to $15 an hour. The complaint says that employees confronted Evans about their wages and she refused to comply.

Onesha Barnes worked at Turning Natural from March to October 2017 as a “Shift Leader,” the complaint says. During her time at Turning Natural, Barnes was paid $11.50 an hour, despite the minimum wage increasing to $12.50 on July 1, 2017.

In August, Barnes confronted Evans in person, who “rebuffed the request, and declined to raise Ms. Barnes’s wages,” the complaint says.

Evans and Turning Natural have also been accused in the OAG’s complaint of refusing to pay overtime wages, despite employees “routinely” working shifts totaling more than 40 hours per week.

Shavon Jackson was paid under the District’s minimum wage from July 1, 2016, to Aug. 24, 2016, before she was terminated following a confrontation with Evans about her wages, according to the complaint.

Her pay stubs between Feb. 25, 2016 to July 15, 2016 show she was not paid for overtime rates as well, though she worked “at least 24.43 hours in excess of a forty-hour workweek” during that time, the complaint states.

The Sick and Safe Leave Act requires employers to provide employees with paid sick leave. Turning Natural “failed to provide any sick leave whatsoever to multiple employees,” the complaint says.

Brandi Jackson — no relation to Shavon Jackson, the complaint says — worked at Turning Natural from July 2016 to September 2016 at one of the D.C. locations, during which time she was paid $10.50 an hour, though the District’s minimum wage was $11.50 an hour, according to the OAG. She also did not receive paid sick leave or an overtime wage for overtime labor.

Jackson confronted Evans two separate times about her pay, but the complaint says that in respect to overtime, Evans said she did not pay an overtime wage “due to a ‘small business loophole.'”

OAG also accuses Evans’ partner, a manager at Turning Natural stores, for verbally “berating” employees in front of other employees and customers.

“We’re suing to get hard-working District workers the pay and benefits they earned, and to send a message to employers that steal wages from their employees,” Racine said.

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