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A priest walked into this taqueria. The owner wanted employees to 'confess' sins at work

A Northern California taqueria under investigation for wage theft brought in a priest to get workers to "confess" about sins they had committed in the workplace, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Taqueria Garibaldi in Sacramento was already under investigation by the Wage and Hour Department when its owner, Eduardo Hernandez, offered the services of the priest to employees in November 2021 — only for the restaurant's Catholic workers to describe the experience as unlike any confession they'd ever experienced before.

"I found the conversation to be strange and unlike normal confessions," said Maria Parra, who worked as a server at Taqueria Garibaldi.

Instead of confessing to what she wanted to confess about, the priest informed Parra that he would be asking her questions to "get the sins out of me," she wrote in a sworn affidavit attached to a Department of Labor lawsuit filed against the restaurant and its owners last year.

"He asked if I ever got pulled over for speeding, if I drank alcohol, or if I had stolen anything. The priest mostly had work-related questions, which I thought was strange. 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," Parra said.

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Taqueria Garibaldi was under investigation at the time by the Wage and Hour Department for allegedly withholding tips from its employees and for failing to pay them the required time and a half for overtime hours worked. The owners of the restaurant were also accused by the department of interfering with the investigation and threatening employees with adverse immigration consequences if they participated in the investigation.

The restaurant's operators — Eduardo Hernandez, Hector Manual Martinez Galindo and Alejandro Rodriguez — were ordered in May by a federal judge in the Eastern District of California to pay $140,000 in back pay and damages to restaurant employees as part of a settlement in the case.

“Under oath, an employee of Taqueria Garibaldi explained how the restaurant offered a supposed priest to hear their workplace ‘sins’ while other employees reported that a manager falsely claimed that immigration issues would be raised by the department’s investigation,” said Marc Pilotin, the regional solicitor of labor. “This employer’s despicable attempts to retaliate against employees were intended to silence workers, obstruct an investigation and prevent the recovery of unpaid wages.”

Numerous restaurant employees used the priest's services when Hernandez offered them, according to an investigator with the Wage and Hour Department.

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The investigator, Raquel Alfaro, said it appeared to her to be an intimidation tactic used by Hernandez.

"They did feel that Eduardo brought the priest to intimidate them," Alfaro said.

Hernandez and his lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.