Group of former Huntsville restaurant employees claims they are owed unpaid wages

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Could you afford to make ends meet if you did not receive all your pay? A group of former Huntsville restaurant employees say they've been unable to get their final paychecks from their jobs at a local Huntsville restaurant.

A group of ten employees is meeting with a Huntsville attorney, planning to file a lawsuit against the owners of the Salty Gator Trading Company. It's a New Orleans-style restaurant on South Memorial Parkway that opened a few months ago. Many of these employees tell WHNT News 19 they were part of the opening staff.

"I was thrilled," said Sarah Smith of when she got a job as the manager there. "New business opening up, being able to start from the ground up."

But Smith said working at the Salty Gator Trading Company didn't turn out like she'd hoped. She tells us she resigned from her job there in October, but still hasn't received her final paycheck.

"They still owe me my last paycheck," she told WHNT News 19. "It was a struggle to get the first check, and now they are giving me excuses of why I can't get paid for the second one."

Smith told us she's visited the restaurant and even sent text messages to the employer to try to get the money mailed to her home, or arrange a handoff of the check. She's been unsuccessful, even at one point assured the check was in the mail. She said it still hasn't come to her, though.

"It was an ongoing battle," she said. "It still is." Smith looked at her son and added, "My child needs to eat. Bills need to get paid. They're not." She said this has put financial strain on her as she takes care of her family.

Heather Arledge said the same thing happened to her after she was fired as a server, also in October.

"Christmas is coming up. I'm owed roughly $900," she told WHNT News 19. "I have to provide for my kids. I have a five-year-old, he's in pre-K. I have a two-year-old, and I have a one-year-old."

WHNT News 19 spoke with 3 other people before calling the restaurant and asking to speak to Doug Weaver, the owner, trying to hear his side of the story.

During the call, he acknowledged a disagreement.

"We have secured an attorney over it, because we have a dispute," he explained on the phone. "They are saying one thing, we're saying another."

When asked for his side of things, he told us, "I don't have a side. I've been advised by my attorney not to have a side. I don't know why the news would have anything to do with this."

When asked why the employees haven't been paid, he contends, "They have been paid. That's the dispute." He added to the reporter, "Ma'am, I really don't have anything to say about this." Weaver hung up the phone politely, but refusing to connect us with the attorney he mentioned.

Meanwhile, the group of employees are fed up with waiting.

"It's not morally right," said Smith.

WHNT News 19 accompanied the group to Huntsville's Wage and Hour field office. It's a division of the US Department of Labor, the Federal office in charge of enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act. But the employees tell us the agent who spoke with them told them they were not covered under the regulations.

In a phone call that day, the office's Gulf Coast District Director explained to WHNT News 19 that certain employees slip through the cracks in the regulations' coverage. It's because of restaurant dollar volume stipulations, and other complications, that these employees were unable to file claims. They left without filing the complaints they intended to put in writing.

This leaves limited options for the group, who tells us they are still waiting on their cash. Now, they think their only option is through the court, and have their own attorney who has signed onto the case.

"I would like my paycheck," said Smith. "I wouldn't have contacted you if it wasn't for me not getting paid."

"It's very frustrating," added Arledge.