CHICAGO — Former Bow Truss coffee shop employees sued their onetime employer Phil Tadros on Monday, alleging he strung them along for months as their paychecks bounced.
The lawsuit filed by 10 former Bow Truss baristas follows a walkout in January over unpaid wages that forced the local coffee shop chain to close most of its stores.
Tadros denied any wrongdoing in a text message.
"They were all paid," Tadros said.
On Monday, the baristas described how working unpaid affected them.
"I had strep throat for a week and couldn't see the doctor because I wasn't paid," Ben Creech, one plaintiff in the suit, said Monday. "Every place needed me to pay $50 to $60, and I couldn't afford the co-pay."
The employees were joined by a handful of area politicians who held up the beleaguered coffee shop chain as an example of the widespread wage theft that goes unreported by low-wage workers across the city.
"Wage theft is wrong, it's immoral," state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Skokie), said. "We know it's illegal, but here's the dirty secret: It's also something that is too rarely detected and too rarely punished."
Other public officials who joined the news conference announcing the lawsuit included Cook County Board Commissioner Jesús "Chuy" Garcia, as well as Aldermen Ricardo Muñoz (22nd) and Scott Waguespack (32nd).
Scott Kane Stukel, a Chicago lawyer representing the baristas, said the lawsuit would not have been possible "without the excellent work of the aldermen and elected officials here today."
Stukel said his clients have not discovered how much in Bow Truss wages went unpaid, but the lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 in damages.
Bow Truss, led by Tadros, was forced to close most of its stores earlier this year after employees walked out over unpaid wages.
Bow Truss also lost its lease in the Gold Coast's Mariano Park after the Chicago Park District found "failure to comply with payment commitments."
Prolific entrepreneur and TV personality Marcus Lemonis also backed out of a deal to acquire Bow Truss after discovering various alleged issues, including unpaid wages and other outstanding debts. The failed acquisition has led to other lawsuits.
Trumaine Hardy, another former Bow Truss barista, said he is owed about $500 in wages. He said he would have quit the job earlier, but Tadros kept assuring employees that the repeated bounced paychecks were just a mistake.
"It's like being in a bad relationship; you think things will change," Hardy said.