Antico Foods to pay $330,000 in back wages

Giovanni Di Palma at Antico Pizza with Conan O'Brien. DiPalma's attorney says the restaurateur has never threatened any employee with deportation or termination.

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Giovanni Di Palma at Antico Pizza with Conan O'Brien. DiPalma's attorney says the restaurateur has never threatened any employee with deportation or termination.

Antico Foods LLC, owner of the popular Atlanta pizza restaurant, withheld overtime from dozens of employees over two years and has agreed to pay almost $330,000 to settle their claims, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday.

In a complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Labor Department lawyers accused Antico of intimidating and firing employees who the company believed were cooperating with the government’s wage-and-hour investigation. As a part a consent judgment reached Thursday, Antico and its managing partner, Giovanni DiPalma, agreed not to threaten any employees with termination or deportation if they talk to investigators.

Attorney Nathan Chapman, who represents DiPalma and Antico, said allegations that his client made such threats are “categorically false.”

He said Antico also disputes the government’s assertion that the company cheated employees out of overtime.

“We don’t believe there’s merit to those allegations, but we have compromised in good faith to make sure we are in compliance,” Chapman said of the settlement. “The company is pleased to have this matter behind it and pleased to be getting back to business, which is what they do, making great pizza.”

The government charged that DiPalma “routinely directed his employees to work as many as 30 hours of overtime per week”  but did not pay them time-and-a-half for the work, as required by law, according to a Labor Department press release. Some employees, such as kitchen staff, were improperly classified as exempt from overtime, while others received straight time, the department said.

Cheating restaurant workers out of wages is “not only illegal, but it’s also unconscionable,” said David Weil, Wage and Hour Division administrator, in the Labor Department’s press release. “Restaurant employees are among the lowest-paid workers in the country and their struggles to pay the bills are made all the more difficult when they are cheated out of their pay.”

The consent judgment released Thursday said Antico Foods will pay $164,722.85 in back wages and $164,722.85 in “liquidated damages” to 56 employees for the period Feb. 5, 2013, through Feb. 5, 2015. The company agreed to pay within 60 days.

In addition, the judgment says that Antico Foods and DiPalma are enjoined for five years from “terminating or threatening to terminate, causing any employee to be deported or threatening to cause any employee to be deported; threatening to intimidate in any other manner; or retaliating or discriminating in any way against current and/or former employees” because they file a complaint with the Labor Department or cooperate with wage-and-hour investigators.

Labor Department spokesperson Lindsay Williams said via email, “This is common in industries where undocumented, vulnerable workers work. The settlement amount is typical since there are 56 employees that worked a high amount of hours weekly.”

Antico Foods LLC operates Antico Pizza Napoletana, Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano, Bottega Luisa and Bar Amalfi in Atlanta. All are on Hemphill Avenue, part of what DiPalma calls “Little Italia of Westside Atlanta.” Antico Pizza also has a location at Avalon in Alpharetta.

In a statement emailed to the AJC Friday, DiPalma said his company had experienced "growing pains." The statement:

We are happy to get this settlement behind us so we can fully focus on moving forward with our growth strategy. None of the verbal allegations from former employees were proven and we have been fully compliant and transparent throughout the labor audit and are thankful the government was reasonable in our meetings to hear our comments and arrive at a fair settlement.

The owners are very pleased the audit made clear that no employee was ever paid below minimum wage as the auditors expressed in their findings. Many other successful restaurants have met the same growing pains, and like those same restaurants, we are thrilled to say we now have a solid foundation to continue our expansion and be fully compliant to our valued staff.

Antico is widely acclaimed in Atlanta and beyond for its pizza.

On Thursday, the company’s littleitalia.com website said, “Now hiring at all locations.”