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Updated: September 1, 2023

Feds force Freeport eatery to pay $236K in back wages, fines for labor violations

building exterior Photo / William Hall Antonia's Pizzeria, on Lower Main Street in Freeport, did not fully pay wages and overtime to 36 workers and assigned some under-age workers to illegally long shifts, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

A popular Freeport pizzeria has agreed to pay nearly a quarter of a million dollars to settle federal allegations it cheated dozens of workers out of wages, falsified timecards and illegally employed minors — including one who was assigned a hazardous job.

The U.S. Department of Labor said this week it has already recovered $185,000 from Antonia's, at 193 Lower Main St., to provide unpaid wages and liquidated damages for the workers. The restaurant and its owner, Lee Sotiropoulos, have agreed to pay $35,000 in civil penalties for wage, overtime and child labor violations.

In addition, Sotiropoulos and his business have agreed to pay workers $16,000 in punitive damages to settle a related Labor Department lawsuit claiming the employers encouraged workers not to cooperate with a probe into the claims.

The department's investigation began last November after a former Antonia’s cook, Aliyah Palmer, said she frequently worked more than 40 hours a week but was denied overtime compensation.

Investigators found that Antonia's failed to pay 36 workers for all their hours, edited or deleted work records to avoid paying overtime, and permitted five 15-year-old employees to work more hours than federal law allows.

The restaurant also permitted a 16-year-old to clean a power-driven meat slicer, a hazardous occupation under federal regulations.

“This investigation’s outcome shows that employers may face costly consequences when they fail to comply with worker protection laws," said Steven McKinney, district director for the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division, in a news release.

Antonia's also pressured employees not to speak with investigators, coached workers on their statements and offered workers money to make statements that would imply the restaurant had complied with the law, according to the Labor Department.

A consent decree now forbids the employers from retaliating against workers for cooperating with the investigation, trying to influence their participation, or taking back any of the money awarded to them. In addition, Antonia’s must provide training to its managers on federal law concerning tips, minimum wages, overtime compensation, recordkeeping, child labor and retaliation.

The Labor Department's regional solicitor in Boston, Maia Fisher, said, “The department will take swift legal action to halt retaliation against workers and will not tolerate wage theft. This case serves as a message to employers in New England that they should not take any action that would dissuade employees from engaging in [Fair Labor Standards Act] protected activity."

Attempts to reach Antonia's for comment about the settlement were not immediately successful.

Lee Sotiropoulos is the son of Steve and Antonia Sotiropoulos, who owned and operated the Falmouth House of Pizza, at the Falmouth Shopping Center, for more than 40 years before closing in 2019. Antonia's opened in Freeport in 2007.

A Maine Department of Labor report recently showed that child labor violations and work-related injuries are rising in the state, as employers hire younger workers to meet staffing shortages.

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