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Nathaneal Rodriquez, a restaurant worker and aspiring musician, always had a passion for food. “I grew up in a household where we were all cooking together,” the 33-year-old says. He honed his cooking skills by working in food services during his time in the Marines. When Nathaneal came back to Philadelphia, he worked diligently at several restaurants in the city, all under the same owner.
Although he started as a dishwasher, Nathaneal worked his way up to become operations manager at a thriving Center City restaurant. Suddenly, Nathaneal was unable to cash his paychecks and soon realized that he wasn’t the only one with this problem. “My coworkers were taking these checks to banks and check cashing counters all over the city, but no one would accept them,” he says. “[The checks] were frauds.” This problem persisted for months, and Nathaneal went without pay. After countless failed attempts to receive the money he was owed, he decided it was time to leave his employer in February, 2012.
In April, Nathaneal faced an even larger problem. “I went to do my taxes and I got a call from the Veterans’ Affairs Administration saying I was going to lose my benefits because I wasn’t reporting wages.” Again, he requested the money he was owed, but he was met with a threat from the owner of the restaurant, who told him it would be a “bad idea to go after him for money.” Afraid to proceed alone for fear of retaliation, he came to CLS in January, 2013.
A team from CLS worked collaboratively to help Nathaneal; they wrote a demand letter to the owner of the restaurant, filed and prepared for the lawsuit, and appeared before a judge, where they won Nathaneal more than $12,000 in back wages and penalties. Though the judgment was a default because the defendants failed to appear in court to defend themselves, Nathaneal says he wouldn’t have even been able to go to court to receive the judgment without his CLS attorneys. After winning the judgment, CLS negotiated with the owner of the restaurant to work out a payment schedule. The owner complied, and Nathaneal finally received the money he was owed. “If CLS didn’t help me,” Nathaneal says, “I’d still be in agony over those four months when I didn’t get paid.”