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Restaurant Owner Fined After Hiring A Priest To Hear Servers' 'Confessions' About Breaking Rules At Work

Photo: SeventyFour, Luis Molinero / Shutterstock.com; Canva Pro
priest in confessional and disgruntled server

We've all had a bad boss or two, but California restaurateur Eduardo Hernandez's actions against his employees are on a whole other level. So much so, in fact, that even the Department of Labor was shocked at how brazen he was. Now, his stunt is costing him nearly $150,000.

A restaurant owner was fined after hiring a 'priest' and making workers confess to rule violations and other 'workplace sins'.

Hernandez is the operator of a small chain of restaurants called Taqueria Garibaldi in the Sacramento, California area. Back in 2021, he made a most unorthodox move for a boss—he hired a Catholic priest to come into the restaurants and perform confession for his employees.

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A handful of the restaurant's Catholic employees took him up on the offer. But as soon as their confession sessions got underway, things went real sideways, real fast.

One employee, Maria Parra, said in a sworn affidavit that she "found the conversation to be strange and unlike normal confessions" and quickly turned to a series of questions she was told were designed to "get the sins out of me."

The "priest" was actually an impersonator the restaurant owner hired to intimidate his employees because of an ongoing wage theft investigation.

According to the Sacramento Diocese, local Catholic officials have no record of the supposed priest who showed up to Taqueria Garibaldi actually being a priest. "Our own investigation found no evidence of any connection between the Diocese of Sacramento and the alleged priest in this matter," Diocese spokesman Bryan J. Visitacion has said.

This has sparked suspicions that the priest was actually just someone Hernandez hired to impersonate a clergyman. Several employees took Hernandez up on the offer to go to confession with the allegedly fake priest, and some have said they felt it was a very clear intimidation tactic against them by their boss.

Parra reported that she was not only asked about her driving record and drug and alcohol use but also several leading questions about her behavior at work. "The priest asked if I had stolen anything at work, if I was late to my employment, if I did anything to harm my employer, and if I had any intention towards my employment."

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The restaurant owner was under investigation for stealing employees' tips and also threatened employees with deportation if they spoke up.

Hernandez and Taqueria Garibaldi were being investigated by the US Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Department for allegedly withholding tips, paying them to management instead of service staff, and refusing to pay overtime to its employees. 

During its investigation, the Department of Labor says employees also reported that Hernandez and the company had threatened employees, saying they'd turn them in to immigration officials if they cooperated with the investigation. "This employer’s despicable attempts to retaliate against employees were intended to silence workers, obstruct an investigation and prevent the recovery of unpaid wages," said Department of Labor solicitor Marc Pilotin.

The Department's investigator Raquel Alfaro said that after speaking with employees she felt confident the priest stunt was another further intimidation tactic against employees, one of whom was fired for complaining to the Department about the situation.

If this all seems utterly insane to you, you're not alone—the story has shocked people online, many of whom have expressed disbelief at Hernandez's brazenness.

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 Photo: Twitter

Even the Department of Labor, who you'd assume has seen it all when it comes to crooked bosses, agrees with that summation. In its new release about the penalties levied against Hernandez, the Department of Labor said that even for them, this was a new low.

"Federal wage and hour investigators have seen corrupt employers try all kinds of scams to shortchange workers and to intimidate or retaliate against employees," the Department wrote, "but a northern California restaurant’s attempt to use an alleged priest to get employees to admit workplace 'sins' may be among the most shameless."

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Photo: Reddit

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Department has been unsympathetic to Hernandez and the other owners of Taqueria Garibaldi. It has ordered him and the company to pay $70,000 in withheld tips and wages to 35 employees, along with another $70,000 in damages. It has also levied a $5,000 fine payable to the Department of Labor itself due to the "willful nature of their violations."

All this to avoid properly paying your employees their tips and overtime? Hope it was worth it!

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.