Lawsuit: Outlet mall kiosk owners paid workers below minimum wage

A former outlet mall kiosk worker filed a lawsuit last week alleging four retail stand owners paid her and other workers below minimum wage, withheld overtime pay and deducted money from their paychecks for unmet sales goals or missing merchandise.

Daniela Moreno, who also sued on behalf of other workers, was employed at independently owned kiosks located at the Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlets in Mercedes.

She sued owners Raul Cantu, Lorena Cantu, Faydali Cantu and Olegario Cantu, who operated candy, toys, games and shapewear kiosks, a family business, for failure to pay wages in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“I don’t know why she’s saying that because all the employees get paid the minimum wage,” said Raul Cantu, who first learned of the lawsuit when a Monitor reporter contacted him Monday.

Raul Cantu said one employee per shift is in charge of the entirety of the retail stand, including the merchandise and cash register.

In the lawsuit, Moreno accused the owners of withholding pay for shortages at the cash register and stolen items.

“If somebody steals or something, and they don’t pay attention or they don’t care, of course at the end we need to see what happened, to see what was the issue,” Raul Cantu said. “ … Of course we have to charge (sic) to them because they were the ones in charge (of the kiosks).”

However, Raul Cantu said he does not recall an instance where money was actually deducted from a paycheck over missing money or merchandise.

“We tell them, but we never do that,” he said.

Equal Justice Center attorneys Anna Catherine Bocchini and Caitlin Nicole Boehne, who are based in Austin are representing Moreno in the federal lawsuit against her former employees. The Equal Justice Center, a non-profit law firm, advocates on behalf of U.S. and non-citizen workers and recovered $1.1 million in lost wages last year, according to its website.

“The Equal Justice Center is committed to ensuring that our client and all workers receive fair treatment in the workplace and have equal access to the justice system to enforce their rights,” Boehne said in an emailed statement on behalf of the center.

The lawsuit seeks to recover unpaid overtime compensation, lost wages, reasonable attorney’s fees and other relief.

The lawsuit states the Cantus had the “power to directly and indirectly establish company pay practices and pay rates, modify employment conditions, control employee schedules, maintain employees’ records and to hire and fire employees.”

The owners ran the retail booths Rio Club Toys and 3D Games, which are located at the outlet mall in Mercedes, according to the lawsuit.

Workers, at times, worked more than 50 hours a week, according to the lawsuit. However, they were paid only “regular straight-time rates,” not time-and-a-half as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“The Daniela that I remember was working for us just for the weekends, so she never had overtime, and like I said, we were paying her just the minimum wage,” Raul Cantu said.

He said payroll documents show that workers were paid the minimum wage and a majority of workers did not work more than 40 hours a week because they were hired to work part-time.

With sales dwindling, employees are sometimes not scheduled to work, according to Raul Cantu.

While on the job, Moreno and other workers provide customer service, clean, conduct inventory and restock the retails stands.

Court records did not list attorneys for the Cantus, and they had not yet been served with the lawsuit as of Monday afternoon.

An initial pretrial and scheduling conference is set for July 17 before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez.