Restaurant's Fake Priest Just Cost It $140K

California eatery had workers confess their 'sins' in 'most shameless' plot to intimidate them, per DOL
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 20, 2023 9:30 AM CDT
Updated Jun 24, 2023 4:15 PM CDT
Restaurant's Fake Priest Just Cost It $140K
Pro tip: Priests don't usually come to places of employment to hear confessions.   (Getty Images/KatarzynaBialasiewicz)

It may have seemed a bit unconventional for a priest to show up at their place of employment to offer confession, but workers at the Taqueria Garibaldi restaurant in Sacramento took the holy man up on the chance to admit their "sins." Now, the owners of the Northern California chain have been ordered to pay $140,000 to nearly three dozen employees after it turns out the priest was a phony, in what the US Department of Labor is calling "among the most shameless" schemes to intimidate or retaliate against workers.

The New York Times reports that at the end of 2021, Taqueria Garibaldi co-owner Eduardo Hernandez brought who he claimed was a priest into the workplace, telling employees the man was available to hear confessions in the name of helping their "mental health," per one worker's account, as told to government regulators. However, that worker, Maria Parra, says the man bombarded her with mostly work-related questions, which she found odd. "[He] 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 bad intentions toward my employment," she noted in a sworn affidavit. She added, "I found the conversation to be strange and unlike normal confessions," per the Catholic News Agency.

A DOL investigator says Parra was just one of multiple workers with such a story, and who'd gone to "confession" with Hernandez's supposed priest—"supposed" being the operative word, because there doesn't seem to be any evidence that the man was a real priest. "While we don't know who the person in question was, we are completely confident he was not a priest of the Diocese of Sacramento," a diocese spokesman tells CNA. After an investigation into wage theft, the DOL now says that the restaurant didn't pay employees overtime and illegally took money from tip pools to give to managers, and that it had brought in the phony priest as a form of intimidation against its workers.

story continues below

The agency says the eatery also threatened employees over their immigration status if they cooperated with the probe. Marc Pilotin, a regional solicitor for the DOL, calls the company's machinations "despicable" and notes the department "will not tolerate workplace retaliation," per Law & Crime. Meanwhile, a judge last month ordered Hernandez and his fellow co-owners at parent company Che Garibaldi to pay 35 workers $70,000 in back wages and $70,000 in damages, as well as $5,000 to the DOL in civil penalties. (More strange stuff stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.