May 28, 2010 -- The owners of a family pizzeria in Connecticut are fighting back after the state's Department of Labor began investigating them for allegedly violating child labor laws because the children help out on weekends.
Michael and his wife Migdalia Nuzzo filed a complaint in federal court on May 20 claiming that the Department of Labor was violating their civil rights.
"[The Department of Labor] is attacking my culture, my heritage and my tradition. This is the way we were raised," Nuzzo told ABCNews.com. "I've learned more working for my father than I did at a four-year college where I got a degree in financial accounting."
In his complaint, Nuzzo denied he did anything wrong by trying to teach their children the family business, a 55-year-old pizzeria named Grand Apizza in Clinton, Conn.
"Michael helps me make pizza, and he's an excellent pizzaman just like I was when I was his age," said Michael Nuzzo of his 13-year-old son with the same name.
According to the Nuzzo's complaint, on May 12, a special investigator from the state's Department of Labor came to the restaurant to inform the Nuzzo family that, under child labor laws, their children "could not be seen assisting their parents" in the restaurant.
Connecticut Department of Labor spokeswoman Nancy Steffens confirmed to ABCNews.com that they went to the Nuzzo restaurant after receiving a tip. She declined to go into more detail about who may have sparked the investigation.
"The investigation is still underway and we were basically just providing outreach and education, to notify the family that children under the age of 14 are not allowed to work in a commercial establishment," said Steffens. "You can fine a restaurant but nothing like that was done. We were just letting them know the law."
The case has been turned over the state's Attorney General's office, who said in a statement that they are "carefully reviewing the allegations and facts surrounding the case," but that there has been no enforcement action taken against the Nuzzos.
Nuzzo Family Says Kids Learn Family Business in Pizzeria
The Nuzzos meanwhile say their children are devastated that they are barred from helping at the restaurant.
"Michael is very, very upset and doesn't understand why people would do this," said Nuzzo. "We're not paying him. He just loves it. He's learning the family trade."
According to the complaint, the Nuzzos say their children "do not operate dangerous equipment, are not paid wages," and "regularly attend public school."
Asked whether his kids are ever allowed to skip school if they're needed at the restaurant, Nuzzo said no, "Never during school. School is very important and I hope all three of them go to college."
Nuzzo also said that Michael, while he does make pizza, never goes near the pizza ovens.
The family's three children, Michael, 13, Brittany, 11, and Christopher, 8, only come to the restaurant on Friday nights and Saturday, when their grandfather – and the restaurant's founder – is there as well, said Nuzzo.
"My father is 84 years old and when he sees his grandson helping him, it puts a twinkle in his eye. He's so proud of his grandson," he said.
"I hope the Department of Labor leaves me alone and lets my family live our life of tradition," said Ruzzo.
Connecticut's Child Labor Laws Don't Allow Kids Under 14 to Work
It may not be that easy, according to Daniel Schwartz, a Hartford-based lawyer who is also the author of the Connecticut Employment Law Blog.
"The law is pretty clear that children, particularly under the age of 14, aren't allowed to work," said Schwartz. "Many many years ago the state said that they wanted kids to be in school, not at work."
"There isn't a family business loophole, which I think is certainly something that responsible parents could make a good argument for," he said. "But the way the law is set up is to prevent the unscrupulous parents from taking advantage of their kids."
While the state's definition of what constitutes work is fairly circular, said Schwartz, a child doing anything that "adds value to a business" might be considered as such.
"There has to be a balance for parents who are really trying to provide an education and real world experience versus parents who are taking advantage of free labor."