After more than a month-long vacancy, a “For Lease” notice now decorates the former Pinkberry storefront on Chapel Street.
The frozen yogurt store closed for business more than a month and a half ago without notifying its employees in advance, after an eviction notice was posted on the storefront. Although Pinkberry management said in October that the store was only temporarily closed, the building has remained vacant since September, and John Wareck of Chapel Investment — the real estate company that owns the property — posted a “For Lease” sign on the building this week.
After the store vacated in late September, several employees claimed that the Pinkberry franchise owner had failed to pay them their full wages. Although Pinkberry management said in an email to the News on Oct. 16 that checks were being sent that week, three weeks later, employees are still awaiting their wages.
As a result of the wage theft, several of the former employees attempted to file a lawsuit, said former employee Bohannon, but they were unable to find a lawyer or successfully organize.
“A lot of [the employees] don’t know law or finance well, but we know something is wrong when people go unpaid for months,” former employee Tiasha Smith said. “This makes it hard to bring together a lawsuit.”
The lawsuit — which the workers have since abandoned — sought to sue the franchise owner for several different counts of labor injustice including wage theft, the extended employment of unregistered minors, improper working hours for minors and improper payment practices.
Workers were not registered under the Department of Labor, said four employees, which made it impossible to file complaints. In addition, Karson frequently paid employees with cash, sometimes from the cash register, said Smith and former employee Jorden Lane.
“I want to get this sorted out not just for me but for all of us as a group,” Lane said. “This is our spending money, our wages, and it is not right.”
Lane said that franchise owner Jamie Karson has withheld from workers up to $20,000, including $1,000 that he is personally owed.
Karson did not respond to requests for comment about the workers’ wages.
Smith said many employees have attempted to contact Karson multiple times to no avail.
Pinkberry Senior Vice President of Marketing and Design Laura Jakobsen said in an Oct. 16 email to the News that employees were being paid, but Jacobson has not responded to request for comment this week.
“Pinkberry’s franchisee has told us that his employees are getting paid and checks were being sent out this week,” Jakobsen said. “As we pride ourselves on our franchisees’ service and their employees’ well-being, we are tracking this issue until it is resolved.”
But most employees have not received checks from Pinkberry despite frequent attempts to contact the franchise, Bohannon said, and those that did get checks have only been partially compensated.
Bohannon said she recently received a check in the mail, but it did not cover the entire sum she was owed. Former employee Romello Poncey reported being owed approximately $315 in unpaid wages. He said that he did receive a check for $300 about a month ago, but when he tried to cash it, the check bounced because the account had insufficient funds.
Minors under the age of 16 also worked past 11 p.m., added Smith, which is a violation of the Connecticut Department of Labor’s time and hour restrictions.
“Some of the workers were older and [Pinkberry] was their only job,” Smith said. “They are still recovering from the closing; there was no two-week notice to find another job.”
Some workers began searching for new jobs back in September, after not being paid for weeks.
Thienson Nguyen, manager of Froyo World on High Street, said that in September, three Pinkberry employees inquired about available jobs at Froyo World because they were “not being paid” at Pinkberry. Two other local business owners interviewed echoed his sentiment, saying Pinkberry workers have approached them looking for a job.