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Attorney General Karl Racine is bringing a lawsuit against Turning Natural, a juice joint with two D.C. locations (one in Anacostia, the other on H Street NE) and one Maryland location (District Heights). Future Turning Natural locations are planned for Shaw at 1933 9th St. NW and inside MGM National Harbor. The company headed by Jerri Evans is accused of underpaying workers; failing to provide employees with legally-required paid sick leave; and failing to pay overtime wages. 

“We’re suing to get hard-working District workers the pay and benefits they earned, and to send a message to employers that steal wages from their employees. Wage theft is illegal and will not be tolerated,” Racine said in a statement Thursday.

According to the lawsuit, only a handful of employees work at each location of Turning Natural. When asked why the Attorney General’s office is pursuing legal action against the business, a spokesperson explained that the company was uncooperative with a DC Department of Employment Services (DOES) investigation that concluded in September 2017. The investigation found that Turning Natural failed to pay minimum wage to three employees, one of whom is also named in the lawsuit filed by Racine’s office on June 19, 2018. 

In the fall, Racine announced that he would be taking a more aggressive role in enforcing workers rights. Wage theft affects millions of U.S. workers, with one study showing that food and drink service employees make up more than 25 percent of all workers suffering minimum wage violations. 

The only other wage theft case Racine’s office has brought against a food service industry business since the start of 2018 was against Mitra QSR KNE, LLC, which owns and operates two KFC fast-food franchises in the District.

The three employees named in the lawsuit were routinely paid about a dollar less per hour than the minimum wage at the time. For example, Onesha Barnes worked at Turning Natural from March through October 2017. Despite the fact that the District’s minimum wage went from $11.50 per hour to $12.50 per hour on July 1 of that year, Barnes continued to receive $11.50 an hour, according to the lawsuit. 

None of the three workers named in the lawsuit are considered “tipped employees,” meaning the employer can’t legally pay them a sub-minimum wage and count on tips to make up the difference. 

In addition to minimum wage violations, the lawsuit says Turning Natural didn’t offer its employees paid sick leave and didn’t pay its workers 1.5 times their regular pay when they worked more than 40 hours in a workweek, as employment laws stipulate.

The Attorney General’s office is seeking back wages for the employees, plus other damages and attorney’s fees.

Turning Natural serves fruit and vegetable juices and some food dishes like vegetable patties and black bean burgers. Back in February, Evans told City Paper that her late mother conceptualized Turning Natural while running the business out of her home. Evans has not returned City Paper’s requests for comment.

Read the full complaint here: http://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2018-07/2018-06-29-Turning-Natural-Complaint-Filed.pdf

Photo by Flickr user Rob Bertholf