The owner of one of the Big Apple’s last remaining tortilla factories says he may have to fold, battered by the pandemic and what he claims is a meritless lawsuit.
Miguel Carrera and his Mi Barrio Tortilleria in Bushwick were hit with a unfair-wage suit from a former employee in July, shortly after reopening following a month-long closure at the height of the pandemic. Carrera said the amount demanded by the plaintiff floored him — more than $500,000.
“That’s crazy,” he said.
The former worker, Miguel Angel Reyes Zaragoza, retained the Michael Faillace law firm to sue the company, alleging it failed to pay him appropriately, including overtime.
As The Post has reported, the Faillace firm targets delis, restaurants and other small businesses in federal court with claims alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. More than 30 such suits have been filed this year in Manhattan federal court alone.
In one case, a judge found a deli worker lied about his hours and, in another, a lawyer asked for sanctions against the Faillace firm for a “bad faith filing.”
Faillace told The Post that sometimes his clients “tell us the wrong stuff and we need to be just more careful.”
Carrera said he believed workers need to be protected, but that Faillace should have done more due diligence in this case. He said his company had never before been accused of wage issues and maintains this claim isn’t true.
The company has deep family connections for Carerra. It was the first place that employed his father when he came to the US from Mexico. Eleven years ago, the owner of the tortilla company asked Carerra, then 24, if he was interested in taking it over.
He and his brother, Nelson, bought the factory, keeping all the workers and expanding to distribute Mexican food and drinks. The area used to be called the “Tortilla Triangle” but the factory is only one of two left in Bushwick and among only a handful in the city.
Carrera said business was down about 30 percent because of pandemic-related restaurant closures and he was trying to hang on. He employs 24 people from part-time drivers who make $180 a day to others bringing home about $700 a week.
The lawsuit went to mediation with a proposed settlement of $100,000, a sum Carrera said he cannot afford. The parties are set to revisit the situation this spring.
He said he wished the matter could have been worked out in a conversation with Faillace and his firm.
“We’re trying our best to stay afloat while we fight this thing,” he said. “We are in a very tough place right now. [They’re] going after people that supposedly [they’re] out to protect.”
Faillace and another lawyer on the case, William Oates, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.