A lawyer for Sound Bites owner Yasser Mirza today denied allegations his client has threatened workers over a Department of Labor overtime investigation, at a hearing at which a federal judge told department lawyers they need to file affidavits or have workers testify on pain of perjury about what's been going on at the Ball Square restaurant best known as a breakfast nook.
Both Mirza's attorney, Brian Rogal, and US District Court Judge Patti Saris questioned the way the Labor Department filed a suit and request for a temporary restraining order against Mirza late on Friday afternoon.
Rogal denied that Mirza had threatened a long-time cook in particular that he could have the man arrested or have the man's family killed, or that he had also threatened other workers to make them lie to federal investigators. The cook himself had filed his own overtime lawsuit against Mirza last year.
Rogal questioned the supposed details of interaction between Mirza, the cook and another worker named in the suit, because they speak mainly Spanish and little English, while Mirza speaks no Spanish at all. Also, Rogal said, the cook still works at the restaurant and had settled his suit with Mirza. Plus, he said, Mirza has been sick and no longer even goes into the restaurant.
He said that both he and Mirza thought they were close to settling a year-long Labor Department's investigation into overtime issues - workers who were getting paid regular wages instead of time and a half. He said Sound Bites is now in full compliance with the law - workers get time and a half if they work more than 40 hours week - and that he was awaiting calculations from the department on how much workers should get paid for past overtime.
So the suit came completely out of left field, he said: "I'm very surprised at this."
Saris denied the government's request to order Mirza to stop threatening workers immediately, saying that all she had in front of her at this point were hearsay allegations from Labor Department investigators. She said she is particularly concerned about alleged death and other threats the cook, according to the lawsuit, started getting earlier this year from anonymous callers who demanded he tell the feds to back off, but that without sworn testimony or documentation, she's in no position to issue any sort of ruling.
"I can't order the defendant not to make death threats if there's no evidence he made death threats," Saris said.
She instead set a May 24 hearing on the question.
Joseph Michalakes, a Labor Department investigator, said he could supply affidavits from the cook and the other worker named in the suit or have them testify at the May 24th hearing. He said the department could provide affidavits from other restaurant workers, but without their names, to protect them from the pressure to lie to investigators, which he said is continuing to this day.
Saris asked Michalakes why he felt he had to file the request for a temporary restraining order late on a Friday.
"Was it the death threats?" she asked.
That, and the fact that workers were still being told to lie to investigators, Michalakes said.
Michalakes said the demands to lie were coming directly from Mirza. Rogal denied that.