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September 19. 2013 9:20PM

Pizza restaurant owners settle lawsuit filed by labor department

CLAREMONT — The owners of Ramunto’s Brick Oven Pizza have settled a lawsuit filed last year in U.S. District Court by the Department of Labor, alleging payroll and record-keeping violations.

Desmond and Kelly Willey agreed to pay $30,000 in back wages and damages to 32 employees following an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division, the DOL announced on Sept. 17.

The lawsuit was filed in March 2012, alleging that Ramunto’s paid employees in cash for hours worked above 40 in a workweek.

“The defendants would pay them at their regular hourly rate of pay rather than one-and-a-half times that rate as required by law,” according to Daniel Cronin, the division’s assistant district director for Northern New England. “For some restaurant employees, as much as half their weekly wages were paid off the books, and the defendants did not maintain records of the payments,” he said.

The lawsuit was filed after attempts to reach an out-of-court settlement were unsuccessful.

Kelly Willey said the $30,000 settlement covers a three-year period from 2008 to 2010. “We believe the real amount owed to be about half of that,” she said, “but we agreed to settle out of court to avoid the immense cost.”

She said $15,000 of the settlement is in back wages, and the other $15,000 in penalties, both payable to workers. The couple hired a forensic accountant after the charges were filed, and according to their accounting, the actual amount of back wages owed was closer to $7,500.

In a Facebook posting on Thursday, the couple took their case directly to the Claremont community.

“In 2007 my wife and I purchased Ramunto’s as a failing business,” wrote Desmond Willey. “We confronted many problems in a reorganizational process, including this issue which stemmed from past managers paying select employees (not everyone) under the table.”

Willey said the “few and select group” had an agreement with management to take straight-time cash instead of taxable overtime income.

“To put it all in perspective, this was a very small amount in the overall scheme of things,” he wrote. “Our payroll for that three-year period was about $1.8 million. ... It has always been our personal and business ethic to abide by the law, and we will continue to take steps ensuring this.”

Kelly Willey said in a telephone interview that the couple was not experienced in the restaurant business when they purchased Raumonto’s in 2008, and trusted the management at the time.

“When we began seeing some issues with finances, we hired a financial manager and that’s when things started coming out of the woodwork,” she said. “Clearly, we own the business, so whatever happens, ultimately the owner is responsible.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com



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