“Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that Turning Natural, Inc.–a local chain of juice bars–will pay more than $10,000 in unpaid wages to 22 employees as part of a settlement in a wage theft case with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). The case, announced last July, alleged that Turning Natural failed to pay employees minimum wage and overtime, and failed to provide sick leave, as required by District law. Per the settlement, the company will return an average of $484 to each worker, and offer retroactive sick leave to seven current employees. Turning Natural will also pay $5,000 in civil penalties to the District.
“The Office of the Attorney General is pleased to have reached a settlement with Turning Natural that will ensure that its minimum wage workers receive the wages and benefits owed to them,” said AG Racine. “No worker should have to worry about getting the full, fair wages and benefits they earned. My office will stand by employees who have been denied their due.”
Turning Natural, Inc. sells fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, and health foods at three café-style locations in the District–in the Anacostia, Capitol Hill, and Shaw neighborhoods–and one in Maryland. Each location is staffed by roughly five to six employees who serve customers, prepare food and beverages, and clean and stock the cafés. Jerri Evans is the owner and chief operating officer of Turning Natural.
In July 2018, OAG filed a lawsuit against Evans and Turning Natural alleging that the company had neglected to pay multiple employees a minimum wage, and denied overtime and paid sick leave–violating the District’s Minimum Wage Revision Act and the Sick and Safe Leave Act. Turning Natural agreed to a Consent Judgment and Order to avoid trial, requiring them to:
- Pay $10,646.93 in unpaid wages to 22 workers: To account for unpaid overtime and sub-minimum wages, Turning Natural must pay $10,646.93 to affected employees, past and present. The highest payout will be $1,917.71, and the average will be $484. Turning Natural is required to pay this amount over to OAG, after which OAG will distribute the money to each employee. Affected workers do not need to take any steps to receive their payment.
- Provide retroactive sick leave to seven workers: Turning Natural must provide seven current employees of their D.C. locations with retroactive paid sick leave based on time worked since January 1, 2018–totaling more than 60 hours.
- Institute wage and sick leave policies to comply with District law: Turning Natural must adjust their employment procedures and payroll practices to comply with the District’s Minimum Wage Act and Sick and Safe Leave Act. The company has 60 days to prove they have established such minimum wage, overtime pay, and sick leave policies.
- Pay a $5,000 penalty to the District: Turning Natural is required to pay a $5,000 civil penalty to the District for violating the District’s wage laws.
A copy of the settlement agreement is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-08/DC-v-Turning-Natural-Consent-Order.pdf
What is Wage Theft?
Wage theft is the illegal practice of denying workers the wages or benefits they’ve earned. This happens when employers withhold pay, pay less than the required minimum wage, force workers to work extra hours without pay, refuse to pay overtime, or misclassify employees as contractors. Wage theft affects millions of workers nationally and happens across job types and income levels. Workers in low-wage jobs and immigrants are especially vulnerable to this type of exploitation.
OAG’s Increased Efforts to Fight Wage Theft
In 2017, OAG stepped up wage theft enforcement after working with the D.C. Council on legislation granting the agency independent authority to investigate and bring these cases, and increased penalties on employers who violate the District’s wage and hour laws. So far, OAG has launched more than 30 investigations into wage theft and worker misclassification. These efforts are specifically focused on the construction and service industries, where wage theft is an endemic issue among a disproportionately vulnerable workforce. OAG’s work has resulted in actions against a national electrical contracting firm and KFC franchises, as well as other businesses that harmed District workers, including a home health care service provider, a cell phone store, and a sheet metal company. To date, OAG’s Housing and Community Justice team has secured more than $400,000 in judgments and settlements against businesses that have stolen wages from District workers.
How to Report Wage Theft Violations
Workers who believe that their rights have been violated, or that they have experienced wage theft or other wage and hour violations, can contact OAG by phone at (202) 442-9854. Workers can learn about their rights under District law and how they can get help if their rights are being violated at: https://oag.dc.gov/workers-rights“