A former worker at a Westbrook seafood restaurant is suing his ex-employer and company management in a federal lawsuit filed Monday, claiming one of the owners threatened him multiple times at knifepoint and that the restaurant withheld his wages.
But Attorney Jonathan Einhorn, who is representing the Off the Hook Bar and Grill in Westbrook and Stratford and three employees named in the complaint, said that his clients haven't been served the lawsuit yet and that none of the allegations are true.
“The Westbrook restaurant is still in business and is still a very successful restaurant and this is all a surprise," Einhorn said.
Marvin Mendoza, a former employee at Off the Hook Bar and Grill in Westbrook, filed a lawsuit electronically Monday in United States District Court of Connecticut against Andrew Testo, one of the owners of the Off the Hook Bar and Grill in Westbrook and Stratford, Daniel Cylwik and Daniel Doe, whose real last name is not included, ASV LLC, which is the Westbrook restaurant, and 170 Ferry Boulevard, LLC, which is the Stratford location.
“Off the Hook is on the hook for all the wages they stole,” Julia Solórzano, a Yale law student representing Mr. Mendoza, said in a statement. “Andrew Testo flagrantly violated Mr. Mendoza rights as a worker and a human being.”
Complaint About Unpaid Wages
In the complaint, Mendoza alleges that he was promised wages of $12 an hour when he said was hired as a full-time prep cook at the then-new Westbrook seafood restaurant and bar in May 2013, but he said that he received only $3.09 an hour. He also claims he was given extra work like washing dishes, vacuuming rugs, mopping the bar, cleaning the bathroom and taking out trash when four coworkers were reportedly fired, but said that he was never given the full wages he was owed.
But Einhorn said that Mendoza wasn't under contract and that he was never promised $12 an hour. His official pay rate was actually $10 an hour, according to Einhorn.
"He was fully paid $10 (an hour) at all times," Einhorn said, also stating that Mendoza was a dishwasher, not a prep cook.
Mendoza's complaint states that he worked at the company for almost a year, from May 29, 2013 until April 16, 2014, when said he was terminated, according to the court documents. But Einhorn said that the Westbrook location did not open until August of 2013 and that Mendoza left voluntarily when he requested more hours that the restaurant didn't have to offer him.
Mendoza claimed he was sometimes paid in cash and sometimes not at all. He argued that his wages were below federal and state minimum wage. While Einhorn didn't have information to confirm whether any payments were made in cash, he said that wouldn't be unusual for a restaurant and that Mendoza was paid in full above minimum wage.
Mendoza went to Testo with the complaint about his pay, he claims, but "continued to receive insufficient wages for the number of hours he worked," despite being told he would receive the wages owed, according to the complaint. But Einhorn said that Mendoza never went to restaurant management with a complaint and that his clients never received any complaints from any employees until now. No complaints were filed with the state labor department, he said.
Allegations of Assault and Intimidation
Mendoza further alleges that Testo caused him emotional distress when he would "burst into the kitchen" several times, "hurl profanities" and threaten Mendoza and staff members with knives, the complaint claims. He also said in the complaint that he feared for his life after Testo allegedly threatened him with a kitchen knife six times and that he moved as a result, according to the complaint.
"He pressed the knife into Mr. Mendoza's stomach with enough force to frighten him but not to break the skin. After the first attack, Mr. Mendoza began suffering from insomnia, trembling hands, and an incapacitating fear of Mr. Testo," Mendoza alleges in his complaint.
“I was scared for my life,” Mendoza said in a statement. “I still have trouble sleeping and feel panicked whenever I see him.”
Einhorn, representing Testo, called that accusation a lie.
“That’s not the way things are. This entire complaint is a work of fiction. Not only did it not happen, but it’s fiction….. it just doesn’t pass the smell test," he said.
He said that Mendoza did not report any incidents of that nature to the police. Mendoza said in the complaint that he didn't report anything because he was afraid of retaliation.
“We look forward to having that complaint as well as every other one dismissed," Einhorn said.
Mendoza's complaint also accuses Testo of calling employees derogatory names for not speaking Italian in the workplace, but Einhorn said that the claim was fabricated and that "no one speaks Italian in the restaurant."
NBC Connecticut reached Cylwik Monday at the Stratford location where he's a manager, and he said he just learned of the complaint that day, deferring questions to Einhorn. Testo could not be reached for comment despite a couple attempts, but Einhorn spoke on his clients' behalf.
Court documents state that Cylwik was Mendoza's manager for a few months at the Westbrook location and that Daniel Doe, whose real last name Mendoza didn't know or include in the complaint, was his manager after that.
Mendoza is seeking damages for the wages he claims were never paid and reimbursement for attorney's fees, according to the complaint.
Judge Alvin Thompson will preside over the case in the Hartford federal court. Einhorn said it could be as long as a year before the case is heard in court. He said that once the lawsuit is served, he will be filing for dismissal of the case.