HARRISBURG, Pa. – A federal court has issued a preliminary injunction in response to the U.S. Department of Labor’s request to enjoin and restrain the owner of a Popeyes franchise restaurant in Harrisburg and its district manager from threatening workers, harassing federal investigators, and otherwise obstructing an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division.
The action by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania comes during the division’s probe into possible Fair Labor Standards Act violations by Jonestown Rd Chicken LLC, owner of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen at 4601 Jonestown Road in Harrisburg.
In its complaint, the department alleged that on April 5, 2023, the restaurant’s general manager contacted the company’s district manager, Tom Rudzenski, to come to the establishment immediately after division investigators arrived. While they waited for his arrival, the general manager made sure employees stayed in the back of the kitchen area to prevent them from having an opportunity to speak with investigators.
Once Rudzenski arrived, the district manager cursed loudly at investigators, acted aggressively and then slammed the kitchen door numerous times with such force it was felt throughout the building. Then, after a closed-door meeting in the kitchen with employees, Rudzenski stood in the doorway between employees in the kitchen and investigators in the public area. While standing between the employees and the investigators, Rudzenski made it clear, through his words and demeanor, that he did not want the employees to speak to the investigators.
This scene was not the first time the restaurant’s management tried to stop the department from speaking with the restaurant’s workers. A few weeks earlier, on March 14, 2023, investigators saw employees working at the restaurant and asked to conduct interviews, but the general manager claimed the employees had gone home sick.
“The demeanor and actions of the district manager for this Popeyes franchisee in Harrisburg raised concerns among our investigators about their physical safety, and the workers there must have felt threatened and were likely afraid to lose their jobs if they spoke to our investigators,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Alfonso Gristina in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. “Despite the prohibited conduct of the restaurant’s general manager and the franchise’s district manager, the Wage and Hour Division will not be stopped from completing its investigation.”
The court’s order temporarily forbids Jonestown Rd Chicken LLC and Rudzenski from violating the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provisions, and from further harassing and threatening their workers and division investigators. It also requires that the employer notifies their employees of their rights to freely speak with investigators or otherwise cooperate with the division’s investigation.
“The Fair Labor Standards Act protects employees’ rights to participate in and cooperate with Wage and Hour Division investigations without fear of employer retaliation and intimidation. The U.S. Department of Labor will take effective and expeditious legal action on behalf of workers when their employers violate their rights or attempt to obstruct an investigation,” said Deputy Regional Solicitor Samantha Thomas in Philadelphia.