The United States Department of Labor says it has recovered more than $51,000 in restored tips and back wages owed to 25 workers, as well as $51,000 in damages, from the operator of three restaurants in Cumberland County.

The department says the restaurant operator denied the workers their full overtime wages or illegally kept portions of their earned tips. The restaurants, which are owned and operated by El Grand Rodeo, are El Rodeo on Western Avenue in South Portland near the Maine Mall, El Rodeo Brunswick LLC at Cooks Corner in Brunswick, and Azul Tequila LLC in Gorham, the department said in a statement Monday.

Juan Sanchez, who is identified on the El Rodeo website as the manager of the South Portland and Gorham restaurants, could not be reached for comment Monday night. Employees who answered the phone at the South Portland restaurant and at Azul Tequila said Sanchez wasn’t available until Tuesday.

Investigators with the DOL’s Wages and Hour Division determined that the restaurants failed to combine the hours of employees working at more than one location when calculating overtime for employees who worked more than 40 hours. Investigators also found that Azul Tequila improperly diverted tip pool monies to a part owner and manager and failed to pay overtime to one non-exempt salaried employee.

The employers’ actions violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Department of Labor said.

“The overtime and tip-related violations found in these investigations are all too common in the food service industry,” Wage and Hour District Director Steven McKinney said in a statement. “Workers who rely on tips depend on them to supplement their hourly wages to make ends meet. Employers who deprive workers money they earn may face costly consequences when they violate the law.”

Federal law prohibits employers, managers and supervisors from keeping employees’ tips including the tips placed in tip pools. The federal law applies even when tipped workers are paid hourly at rates equal to or above the full minimum wage.

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