BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A Maryland restaurant operator recently paid more than $500,000 in back wages, damages and penalties after a federal court judgement found it withheld tips and violated wage agreements.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in Baltimore’s investigation recovered a total of $499,258 in back wages and liquidated damages for 62 workers employed by the operator of Mezcal Mexican Restaurant and Bar in Owings Mills and Lutherville, Maryland.

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They found “numerous violations” of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime requirements, including withholding money from workers’ tips for an alleged tip pool while failing to distribute those funds among tipped employees, instead keeping them for the business. They paid servers straight time rates for overtime hours and paid kitchen staff a fixed salary — off the books — without overtime pay no matter the hours worked.

They also found the operator failed to maintain the required payroll records. Many employees were paid in cash and did not appear on the employer’s payroll records at all.

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“All too often, restaurant industry workers fall victim to wage violations,” said Wage and Hour District Director Nicholas Fiorello in Baltimore. “Tips remain the property of those who rightfully earned them, and must never be kept by employers. The U.S. Department of Labor will continue to hold employers accountable when they attempt to gain an unfair competitive advantage, at the expense of their workers.”

After investigating, the department filed a complaint against Mezcal Inc. and its owner, Carlos Ulloa. Mezcal and Ulloa then agreed to a consent judgment requiring them to pay back wages and liquidated damages as well as $15,357 in civil money penalties.

“Employers must pay their employees all of the wages they have earned. This case serves as notice to other employers that the U.S. Department of Labor will continue to use all of the tools we have available, including vigorous prosecution when necessary, to ensure vulnerable workers get paid and that employers compete on a level playing field,” said Regional Solicitor Oscar L. Hampton III.

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Read the full complaint and consent judgment here.

CBS Baltimore Staff