Amy Young, owner of the former Lotus Organic cafe, appeared in Teton County Circuit Court last week for a bench trial after three of her former employees filed wage claims against her company Planet Palate LLC.
The court found that Planet Palate owes nearly $4,000 to former employees Michael Mullins, Pablo Perez Barrios and Refugio Perez Barrios.
But despite the court’s judgment the employees will likely never see the money they’re owed, Teton County Deputy Attorney Keith Gingery said.
“I am unaware of any assets anywhere,” Gingery said, “but I will explore it and see if there are any other assets.”
Young admitted in court that her company owes more than just the three employees who filed claims for wages.
“It’s not just three employees,” Young told Judge James Radda. “There are over 50 more people who were not paid their final wages for the last three weeks of work.”
Lotus, which Young operated under Planet Palate, closed abruptly in summer 2018. None of the employees were paid for their last three weeks of work, court records state.
Mullins, Barrios and Barrios filed wage claims with the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services not long after the restaurant closed its doors for good.
“At first I contacted the manager about all the stuff that was happening, and she said I would just have to wait like everyone else,” Mullins told the News&Guide. “Nothing ever came of it, so I ended up filing a claim. That was almost two summers ago.”
Mullins, 21, still hasn’t been paid for 55.56 hours of work as a baker’s assistant at Lotus.
“It was almost 12-hour days, like 4 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Mullins said. “I had no breaks and no days off for three weeks.”
Mullins, a college student, doesn’t ever expect to see his $610.64.
Judge Radda filed a judgment Jan. 22 after the bench trial, stating the amounts each employee is owed.
“After hearing from the parties, the court entered judgment in the amount of $555.64 plus costs in the amount of $610.64,” his order in Mullins’ case states.
Barrios and Barrios are each owed $1,656.60.
Radda did not impose civil fines, saying that Young would pay the employees if she could.
“Civil fines serve a valuable incentive for an employer to refrain from willfully and unlawfully withholding wages,” the judgment states. “Imposition of civil fines also serves as a valuable punishment to deter the future violation of Wyoming’s wage laws. However, the imposition of civil fines would serve no legitimate purpose in this case, as the court is convinced that the defendant did not willfully withhold wages, but instead was simply unable to pay those wages.”
State law says employers who fail to pay their employees can be fined $200 per day until it’s resolved, Gingery said.
Young filed personal bankruptcy in October, according to federal court records. In her claim she lists over 130 creditors she owes, from businesses to individuals.
But Gingery said legally it’s Young’s company, Planet Palate, that owes the former employees. So when he goes searching for assets to get Mullins, Barrios and Barrios paid, he won’t go seeking Young’s personal property. The assets have to be Planet Palate’s. And according to a past lawsuit, Serenity Development got the company’s assets after it wasn’t paid for the renovations it completed for Lotus’ North Cache location.
Servers were eventually given the tips that were seized, but paychecks bounced, according to Wyoming Department of Workforce Services documents.
Young doesn’t have the money to pay her former employees for their last month of work, she said in court.
“If I were able to pay that I would, but at this point there are more significant federal problems with my significant other,” Young said. “I am receiving aid from family and friends. A friend just paid our power bill.”
Young’s partner, Bryan Jones, was arrested in December on drug trafficking-related charges. He’s since been indicted by a grand jury for conspiracy to distribute and manufacture a metric ton of marijuana and conspiracy to launder money.
As for Planet Palate, the total amount owed to its other employees remains unknown.
“It is truly something I am unable to pay, and that goes for the over 50 other employees as well, not just these three,” Young said in court.
Employees in Wyoming have two years to file claims for wages, so if former Lotus employees weren’t paid for their last few weeks in July and August 2018 they have until this summer to file claims. Gingery said wage claims are normally successful. This case is unusual, he said, because Planet Palate appears to have no assets.
“There’s no money there,” Gingery said.
Young declined to comment further for this story.