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Post date: February 12 2002

Spitzer Sues To Protect Employee From Retaliation

State Attorney General Spitzer today announced that he has filed a lawsuit against a Washington Heights supermarket that took repeated reprisals against an employee who testified about the store's minimum wage violations during a state hearing.

Juan Soto, a Dominican immigrant, had worked his way up from a butcher to a managerial position throughout his decade of service to the store -- Roseari Meat Market, Inc. In September, 2000, Mr. Soto testified at a hearing before the New York State Industrial Board of Appeals (IBA) about labor law violations at the store. Two days after his testimony, Mr. Soto was demoted to a stockperson position. By the end of September, his work hours were drastically cut and his weekly pay was slashed by more than 40-percent, falling below the federal poverty level - acts which legally amount to a discharge.

"The right to report violations underpins all other labor rights. If employees fear reprisals, they will be discouraged from reporting sub-minimum wages, job discrimination, workplace safety hazards, and other illegal conditions," Spitzer said. "We are committed to protecting vigorously a workers' right to speak out."

In papers filed in State Supreme Court (New York County), Spitzer has presented extensive evidence of the retaliation by Roseari and Jacinto Abreu, the store owner. State labor law prohibits employers from taking reprisals against any employee who complains about violations of the law, or provides testimony in an investigation or at a hearing about labor law violations.

Spitzer's lawsuit seeks reinstatement, back pay, and damages against Roseari and its owner, which is located at 3835 Broadway in Manhattan. The Attorney General's suit cites Section 215 of the state labor law, which states that "no employer shall discipline, penalize or discriminate against any employee who has made a complaint ... or caused a [labor rights] proceeding to be commenced."

Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat said: "Attorney General Spitzer acted decisively in preventing an immigrant workers from falling hostage to fear of reprisal from an abusive employer who felt he was above the law."

Other anti-retaliation lawsuits filed by Spitzer's office include a case filed last year against an upstate construction company that retaliated against employees who blew the whistle on the company's failure to pay prevailing wages and another case filed last year against a greengrocer store that fired employees who complained about the underpayment of their wages.

The case was referred to the Attorney General's office by the State Department of Labor.

"During his administration, Governor Pataki has reinforced many labor policies that protect workers' rights in New York State. The State Labor Department is pleased to be working with Attorney General Spitzer to bring this employer to justice, to return the wages owed to the worker and to ensure all workers receive the protections they rightly deserve," said State Labor Commissioner Linda Angello.

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Terri E. Gerstein of the Attorney General's Labor Bureau, which is under the direction of Bureau Chief M. Patricia Smith.