Family who owns Carrie Lee’s provides a statement, responds to Q&A
By Jim Newell
Carrie Lee’s Chinese & Thai Cuisine restaurant in Orion Township paid $37,177 in overtime back wages to six employees after a U.S. Department of Labor investigation.
Labor Dept. investigators found that Carrie Lee’s violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by paying kitchen employees flat monthly salaries – partially on payroll and partially in cash – regardless of the number of hours that they worked, according to a news release from the DOL on Dec. 2.
By doing so, the employer failed to pay overtime when employees worked more than 40 hours in a workweek. Investigators also found Carrie Lee’s Orion failed to maintain a record of the number of hours employees worked, or of payments made to employees in cash.
“Employers must accurately pay employees for all the hours that they work, pay overtime for hours over 40 in a workweek to eligible employees and maintain records as required by the law,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Timolin Mitchell in Detroit.
“Other employers should use the results of this investigation as an opportunity to review their own pay practices to ensure they comply with the law. We encourage all employers to contact the Wage and Hour Division to fully understand their responsibilities and avoid similar violations,” Mitchell said.
However, the owners of the restaurant 3047 S. Baldwin Road say it was a case of improper record keeping, and a complaint by a “vindictive” employee that led to the investigation.
And other employees are now defending the restaurant and the owners.
Mindy Tallos is the daughter of Carrie Lee’s owner and has worked at the restaurant for 23 years.
She spoke on the family’s behalf, saying the family was distraught over the investigation and wanted to share their side of the story, which had not been done in other news outlets.
Tallos released a statement on behalf of the family:
We would like to thank anyone willing to hear our side of this story. This investigation by the Department of Labor (DOL) began as a case of an employee who was dismissed due to poor performance and bizarre behavior, who later became vindictive and filed a complaint against us.
All members of our team have always been and have continued to be paid more than fairly and what they are owed including paid vacations, complimentary meals, and other perks.
The truth is that proper records of overtime hours for full-time employees were not kept. We are an old-school small family operation and frankly were not with the times in the record-keeping department and that is the reason the DOL determined we were required to pay the amount reported – a very expensive lesson in the year where we could afford it the least.
We have been honored to be a part of this community for 23 years and have retained many of the staff, who we see as family, for decades. We do appreciate the concern for our employees and a proposed case of a business taking advantage of people and not treating them fairly – we would never stand for that and can say with complete honesty that this was not the case.
Amanda Kinnamon, a longtime employee at Carrie Lee’s, said the Carrie Lee’s family has always been supportive of the staff and accommodated her family life with
“When I became part of this DOL investigation I was shocked. I feel extremely compelled to defend a restaurant owner/family who saved me! I was a newly single mother of four boys when I moved to Michigan from Florida in 2009,” Kinnamon said in a statement to The Review.
“Once here I applied down the road from where we were staying at a restaurant called Carrie Lee’s. I explained my situation in my application, ‘(I) was not sure what nights I could work because of not having consistent sitter help.’
“The owner was so understanding and flexible – she said, ‘bring your children with you if you have to!’
“My sons came to work with me, she would make them dinner and never asked me to pay for it. Once when I needed extra cash, she loaned it, no questions asked. She never once cheated me or anyone, and always went above and beyond! My children would color and watch tv – every customer knew my boys and loved them!
“I was able to get on my feet eventually and start a cleaning company. I would still wait on tables on weekends and after a while my sons also were able to get jobs there working in the kitchen as dishwashers. They have always been there when my family needed help and I will always be grateful and appreciative for my Carrie Lee’s family,” Kinnamon said.
Another employee, Koua Lor, said the owners have always treated employees with “kindness and generosity.”
“I have worked in the kitchen at Carrie Lee’s (on and off due to attending college) for the past five years. My mother, brothers and wife have also spent years working here as well. I speak on behalf of all of us when I say we have always been treated with kindness and generosity and have not witnessed anything other than that in all the years we’ve been here,” said Koua Lor.
The family also responded to several questions put forth by The Review regarding the Dept. of Labor investigation, the restaurant’s employees and service to its customers.
One employee filed a complaint with the U.S. Dept. of Labor? Did the other five join in, or were they “lumped” into the investigation?
CL’s: One employee who had been terminated seven months prior filed the complaint. He was let go for poor behavior and work ethic but was paid in full for his work at the time of departure.
When the pandemic hit, he was denied unemployment benefits by the UIA, which we have no control over, but he blamed that on us and said he was going to “make trouble.”
The DOL automatically investigated all 14 employees that have worked in the past two years, no other employees joined in the complaint. Many advocated on our behalf by writing letters and participating in interviews with the investigator.
In what period of time did the alleged violations occur?
CL’s: June 2018-June 2020 is the time period that was reviewed. The DOL goes back 2 years from the start of any investigation.
Carrie Lee’s restaurant paid $37,177 in overtime back wages. Was the payment in back wages a settlement for Carrie Lee’s to avoid further action/investigation or was it dictated by the DOL?
CL’s: We feel it is important to say that the employees were already 100 percent paid for all of their regular and overtime hours and we would never cheat anyone.
However, because of our costly mistake in poor record-keeping, we were not able to provide the proper proof that was required by the DOL. For the involved full-time employees working more than 40 hours per week – overtime pay was included in their checks and the DOL requires that all overtime pay be separately distinguished on the checks and in our records.
This is where the problem arose and how we ended up being held responsible for the amount dictated by the DOL. The amount was not a settlement, it was dictated by the DOL after the full investigation.
Did Carrie Lee’s receive a fine or pay any other fees?
CL’s: No, there were no other fines or fees.
Are the kitchen staff employees who were paid the back wages still employed at Carrie Lee’s?
CL’s: Other than the one who was previously terminated, all five employees involved were still with us up until we temporarily shut down in March due to the pandemic. Three have remained laid off and two were brought back on when we reopened in May.
We still have a good rapport with all of them and hope that when the pandemic loses momentum the other three will be available to return back to work with us.
Is Carrie Lee’s taking any accounting measures to ensure this problem doesn’t happen again?
CL’s: Yes, we now clearly mark the amount paid for regular hours and the amount paid out as overtime hours both on the checks written to employees and the check stubs we keep in our records.
Will this incident affect Carrie Lee’s service to its customers? What message do you want to give your patrons?
CL’s: This very costly accounting mistake will not affect the high quality of service we strive to provide to our patrons. We have been in business in LO for 23 years, it is such a heart-centered city with a strong sense of community and we are honored to be a part of it.
We are family-owned and operated and our customers and staff are like family to us. We apologize for letting anyone down and appreciate the opportunity to tell our side of the story.
We sincerely thank the Lake Orion Review for reaching out and giving us this opportunity and thank all those that are willing to hear our side with open hearts and minds. It honestly means the world to us.
We hope to move forward from this and the tornado that 2020 has been and to continue serving the community that we love.
For more information about the FLSA and other laws enforced by the Wage and Hour Division, contact the toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243).
Employers who discover overtime or minimum wage violations may self-report and resolve those violations without litigation through the PAID program.
Information is also available at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd.