As reported by multiple news outlets today, Ernest Angley and the buffet associated with his church has been ordered to pay out back wages to employees that were coerced into working for free. This is actually the second time that the buffet was investigated by the Department of Labor and found to be in violation of labor laws. The fine the first time was a mere $37,000. This second offense is a whopping $388,000.
Title: PEREZ V. CATHEDRAL BUFFET, INC
Number: CASE NO. 5:15CV1577 (N.D. Ohio Nov. 13, 2015)
Details about the investigations can be read below. Information was obtained through the court documents and records related to the cases.
About the Angley Labor Disputes
The 1999 Wage and Hour Dispute
In 1999 the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour division investigated the Cathedral Buffet owned by the ministry and/or it’s subsidiaries for violating four different Wage and Hour regulations. First, they were found to be misclassifying workers as volunteers. They also were found to be violating child labor provisions. In addition, they failed to accurately maintain accurate records as required by the FLSA. Lastly, they were found to have not paid overtime to non-exempt employees.
As a result of the findings, the buffet paid $37,037.28 in back wages to the volunteers that were not paid and to the non-exempt employees who should have been compensated for their overtime work. The damages may have been even worse had proper record keeping been available. In addition, it was testified by one supervisor that the buffet manager ordered multiple workers to destroy records once they knew they were being investigated.
However, this would not be the last time that the Cathedral Buffet and the DOL would meet in court.
The 2014-2016 Wage and Hour Dispute
In the fall of 2016, the Cathedral Buffet, Inc. and Ernest Angley were listed as defendants in a suit brought by the Secretary of Labor, Thomas E. Perez. This case was presided over by the honorable Judge Benita Y. Pearson, civil case No. 5:15-cv-1577.
The filing was after a year+ of investigation and depositions. The investigation and proceedings of the Buffet Wage and Hour dispute lasted from November 2014 to late 2016.
The buffet was cited again for misclassifying employees, failing to pay overtime to non-exempt employees, keeping improper records, violating child labor requirements, and paying excessively low wages to salaried employees. Many of these findings were both observed through the investigation and admitted to during the depositions. After was documentation was examined, the Cathedral Buffet was estimated to owe $207,974.93 in back wages.
In addition to the issues listed above, it was made evident to the court (via testimony) that Ernest knowingly and purposefully pressured people to volunteer at the buffet and convinced them (from the pulpit) that they would be failing God if they refused to answer calls to volunteer.
Volunteers also testified that once the investigation began and they started paying volunteers again that the church secretary would make people sign over their paychecks to the church. This was also urged by Ernest Angley. During testimonies it was also made obvious that this tactic resulted in another (overlooked) problem; namely, that the pay for the volunteers would show as income on their W2 statements. Two volunteers testified that they incurred an increased tax burden because of the ordeal.X Plaintiff Brief (1/17/2017)
The following peoples were called to give depositions during the course of the investigation. The depositions of Ernest Angley and Sonya Neale are the most telling. Sonya managed the restaurant for the bulk of it’s existence. Parts of their deposition are found below. In chronological order Angley gave his deposition before Sonya but I think reading his last will she a lot of light on how he and Sonya interacted.
- Ernest Angley
- Sonya Neale
- Cathy Shupe
- Ron Midcap
- Stacy McClintock
Deposition of Sonya Neale, April 21, 2016
Some interesting facts about what appears to be the loyal soldier, Sonya Neale, is that she was never given a pay raise until the investigation started. From 1997 until Angley was being investigated for breaking employment laws Sonya never even had a cost of living increase. She went 18 years on the same salary she received in 1997. According to her deposition with the courts on 6/26/2016, she was given a salary increase to meet compliance with current labor laws. At the time of the deposition her salary was $11.37/hour.
It was at this deposition that she also revealed that it was the idea of Reverend Angley to start using volunteers as opposed to hiring and paying workers. According to testimony, some of the workers at the buffet were on government assistance and did not want to lose that assistance by working. Thus, they petitioned to work as volunteers.
During the deposition Sonya seemed to forget many simple facts, even things that the Reverend told her just the day before the deposition. In fact, when she was presented with a piece of evidence (exhibit 1) she claims that she does not recognize the paperwork (a verification affidavit) but when instructed to turn to the next page, her signature appears on the affidavit. The incredulous answer was so jarring to the examiner that the following exchange occurred.
Q. So are you telling me that you signed this document, but you haven’t actually seen the document, the pages that precede it?
A. No, I just didn’t recall it.
Q. So you have seen this document before, Exhibit 1?
A. I must have.
Q. But you don’t know for sure that you did?
A. I wouldn’t have signed something I didn’t see.
The irony of the exchange is that the aforementioned affidavit stated that the volunteers only performed non-essential duties at the buffet, yet when asked in the deposition what duties they had Sonya provided the following list.
“Cooking, cleaning tables, serving, serving customers, baking, salads prep, cashiers, hostesses, cleaning. “
One can quickly see that it is very likely that Sonya was not familiar with the paperwork she placed her signature on, nor was she aware of the legal importance of listing the volunteer work as non-essential. The disagreement between the testimony in the deposition and the affidavit would prove to be problematic. The remaining deposition and depositions from other employees would highlight that problem at the buffet; namely that volunteers were being used to “work” the restaurant, not just to be voluntary help.
What is even more interesting is that the Cathedral Buffet was investigated in 1999 for Wage and Hour related offenses and were subsequently required to start paying their volunteers. As is was made in the deposition of Sonya Neale, sometime between the findings of the 1999 investigation and the new one in 2012, someone at the Buffet made the decision to go back to not paying the volunteers.
So who gets the blame for the problems at the buffet? It appears that Sonya primarily places the blame on an ex-assistant manager named Angela. In the last phase of the deposition this exchange occurred between Sonya and the examiner.
Q. Or I’m just trying to understand what the connection is between Angela and today’s deposition.
A. I believe a lot of this is a result of Angela.
A. And lies that she’s telling concerning the ministry and the buffet.
Q. Do you know why she would be telling these lies?
A. Oh, because that’s the kind of person she had become over the years.
Q. What do you mean by that?
A. Spiteful, hateful. My workers complained about her continuously when she worked here.
Q. In what way? What were they complaining about?
A. How she was scheduling them, how she would speak to them. At one time they even came together when we had the kitchen manager here and complained as a group to the kitchen manager because they didn’t like the way that she was treating them. Demeaning to them. Patronizing.
A. Just not a nice person.
In all the deposition lasted about 1.5 hours. Sonya may have muddied the water more than cleared it up with her testimony.
Deposition of Ernest Angley, April 19th, 2016
Ernest Angley gave his own deposition concerning the buffet labor dispute, just two days before Sonya. In the deposition which lasted nearly an hour and 15 minutes, Angley spent most of the time answering questions that were never asked and sounding as though he has zero involvement in the buffet. However, after about 10 minutes of playing dumb about the buffet operations he volunteers the very information that the DOL was looking for. The interjections by lawyers will be labeled by name (MS. STEELE representing the prosecution & MR CHRIS representing the defendant).
Q. Have you been involved at all in creating any of the policies at the buffet?
A. I called her [Sonya Neale] up one day and I’m frank about it. I felt that we had gone long enough to not have to — that we couldn’t have free labor. The people wanted it.
A. They didn’t want, didn’t money, they wanted to help people.
The remarkable issue here is that the buffet was investigated earlier and were told to use only paid workers since they were a for-profit business. This means that Angley would have had to know it was against labor laws. This seems to be clear by his response to later questioning about going back to volunteers.
A. I told her, I’ll take full responsibility for that part, because I had such feeling for the people. That’s a government building that adjoins our property, and the people, they wouldn’t be able to have a good meal.
Q. Okay. Let’s — I want to take that apart a little bit. Approximately when did you have that conversation with Sonya?
A. With Sonya? I don’t know exactly. I don’t keep up with dates.
Q. Okay. Is this a conversation you had by telephone with her or in person?
Q. So at that time, the only — the people who were working at the buffet were getting paid a wage, right?
Q. Was that a yes?
A. As far as I know.
Q. Okay. So what made you decide to tell Sonya to start using volunteers?
A. Because of the Catholics and Akron, they have volunteers all the time, and plenty of them, many people volunteer for all of whatever they have, and the churches close by here, they do it, and, in fact, the lady that came 15 years ago from the Department of Labor, she told me, “Reverend Angley, I don’t see why that they are doing this, because our church does it all the time.” I didn’t ask her what denomination, but it is probably Catholic. And they do it all the time. I’m not against them. They do good work.
Q. And we’ll come back to that. I want to talk a little bit later about what happened in 1999 with that lady who made that statement to you from Wage and Hours, so we’ll come back to that issue.
Q. So at the time that you made this phone call to Sonya, had you researched or looked into whether it was legally okay to use the volunteers?
A. It was either close down the buffet — I was having to pay so much to keep it open from the ministry, but I just couldn’t do it then. It would have cut so many elderly people out. We feed a lot of the senior citizens. And some of them would love to, just love to volunteer. They get tired of looking at four walls.
A. Everybody will get old one day.
Q. So going back, you said it was either close down the buffet, and you couldn’t do that, so it was either close down the buffet or what?
A. Close down the buffet or keep on paying. And I have to have money for the outreach. I’m reaching to the nations with the gospel. That’s my paramount business.
Q. So are you telling me that the reason, in addition to the fact that you saw other churches using volunteers, that the reason you went to volunteers is because you were losing money by paying wages?
MR. CHRIS: Objection. He said more than just that.
Q. But is that one — is one of the reasons that you told Sonya to use volunteers is because you needed money?
A. I told you earlier. Didn’t I?
Q. Well, I want to make sure I understood you. I don’t want to put words in your mouth.
A. Well, you are doing it now, aren’t you?
Q. Then tell me in your own words all the reasons why you made the decision to start using volunteers.
MR. CHRIS: Objection. Asked and answered.
But go ahead.
A. All of it now that I told you?
A. Well, I told you about the churches, they are doing it.
A. I told you about Akron City is doing it all the time, too.
Q. Okay. Is one of the reasons that you went to using volunteers —
A. And there’s a church right here that adjoins my property, they put up their signs of selling whatever, plate so much, they had it last weekend. But they are not bothering other people. And one of the restaurant owners on our street, he said he didn’t see why, because he knows what we do, and he didn’t see why that they were treating us like that. That he thought it was fine to have volunteer workers. Because we help people.
Q. And here’s what I’m trying to understand, Reverend. And I apologize, maybe I’m just being dense and I don’t understand. What is the connection between the decision to switch to volunteers and your church and the mission there?
A. Because we do mission work all over the world.
A. Looking out for the people.
Q. How does using volunteers help that mission?
A. Because we keep the buffet going. And some of them are able to work and they are glad to come in and work. They don’t want to stay home.
A. And they wouldn’t want the buffet to close.
Q. Okay. Maybe this is starting to come together for me. At the time that you made this phone call to Sonya, are you telling me that there was a — you or whoever needed to make a decision as to whether to keep the buffet open?
A. It was on my part to meet it, because if I cut off the money, the buffet couldn’t survive.
Q. So the financial — the buffet was in financial difficulty, is that what happened?
A. Why, sure. We have never made any money. They have never made any money from the buffet.
Q. So at the time the buffet was in financial difficulty; is that right?
Q. And the decision had to be made, do we keep it open or do we find another way — I’m sorry, do we close it or do we find a way to keep it open?
A. That was the need.
Q. Okay. And you made the decision that if the buffet went to volunteers, that you would then have the money to keep the buffet open; is that right?
Q. Okay. And you made that decision?
Q. Okay. Did anybody — was anybody else involved in that decision?
Q. Okay. Thank you. Now I understand.
Q. Okay. A little while ago you mentioned that you had talked to a Wage and Hour investigator back in 1999; is that right?
Q. Okay. What was your involvement in that investigation?
A. It was cutting out volunteers in our — in the buffet.
Q. So you’re aware that that investigation happened in 1999?
A. I don’t know what the date was. It happened, I don’t know —
Q. But 15, 16 years ago?
A. I don’t know the date.
Q. Okay. But would it be fair to say that it was about 15, 17 years ago?
A. But I don’t remember.
Q. Do you recall what the finding of that investigation was?
Q. Do you remember what Wage and Hour determined after their investigation?
Q. But you are aware that they were claiming that it was inappropriate to use volunteers at the buffet; is that right?
MR. CHRIS: Objection.
Q. Thank you for your patience.
Going back a little bit to that Wage and Hour investigation that was back around 1999, I know you said you don’t know the exact year, by the end of that investigation were you aware that Wage and Hour was taking the position that volunteers could not be used at the restaurant?
Q. Okay. So when you made that phone call to Sonya Neale telling her that it was time to start using volunteers at the buffet, you were aware that that was against Wage and Hour’s position?
A. Yes, but they were breaking it all around me for years.
MS. STEELE: Okay. I have nothing further. Thank you very much, Reverend. Thank you for your time.
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