Kitchen Workers

TGI Friday’s Settles Wage Theft Case for $19.1 Million

TGI Friday's Wage theft lawsuit

A nationwide wage theft lawsuit against TGI Friday’s has been settled for $19.1 million according to a court filing by the workers’ attorneys in New York federal court. The settlement, which covers 28,000 restaurant workers, is a record amount for resolution of a wage theft lawsuit in the restaurant industry. This settlement is the latest example of fast casual restaurants across the United States paying out millions of dollars on wage theft cases.

The lawsuit alleged that TGI Friday’s failed to pay its tipped hourly food service workers the proper minimum wage, overtime pay, and misappropriated tips. Attorneys for the servers, bussers, runners, bartenders, barbacks and hosts, claimed that TGI Friday’s failed to satisfy the strict requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the New York Labor Law (“NYLL”) that would allow them to pay a reduced minimum wage rate to tipped employees. In particular, TGI Friday’s had a policy and practice that required tipped employees to spend over two hours and/or in excess of 20% of their work shift performing non-tip producing “side work.” Side work included, general cleaning of the restaurant, preparing food in bulk for customers, cutting produce, refilling condiments, and stocking and replenishing the bar and service areas. According to attorneys for the workers, this practice violated the “80/20 rule” and TGI Friday’s should have paid the tipped employees the full minimum wage rate, rather than reduced tipped minimum wage rate.

The front of the house workers also alleged that TGI Friday’s required them to perform “off the clock” work for which they were never compensated. “Off the clock” work consisted of requiring them to arrive at the restaurant one hour before customer service to perform side work, requiring them to punch in after they got their first table, and punch out before they performed closing side work. As a result of these practices, workers were not compensated for all the hours they worked and when they worked over forty hours per workweek, they were not paid overtime pay. Furthermore, the lawsuit claimed that TGI Friday’s required tips to be distributed to employees who are not entitled to tips under the FLSA and/or NYLL such as, silverware rollers and expeditors. Additionally, workers were given only one uniform, which TGI Friday’s failed to launder or pay workers the statutory uniform allowance. Finally, TGI Friday’s was accused of making unlawful deductions from employee wages for customer walkouts.

If approved, the settlement would resolve a nationwide class action brought by more than a dozen workers, alleging violations of the FLSA and claims brought under the labor or unfair competition laws of nine states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and New York.

 

Indian Restaurant Ordered to Pay $1.4 million to Five Restaurant Workers for Wage Violations

Indus Valley wage violations

Indus Valley Restaurant, an Indian restaurant on the Upper West Side, has been ordered by a New York Judge to pay $1.4 million in back pay and damages to five former restaurant workers for wage violations.

Indus Valley, now closed, was accused by the workers of failing to pay minimum wage, overtime, and spread of hours pay as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law. The workers who sued the restaurant included two cooks, a food runner, a waiter, and a busboy. The workers, who regularly worked up to seventy-two hours per week, were each paid a fixed weekly salary, rather than an hourly wage. They did not receive overtime payment when they worked over forty hours in a workweek.  Three of the employees are also owed unpaid minimum wages.

The decision follows an inquest at which the employees gave sworn testimony about their weekly schedules and payments from Indus Valley.  The owners failed to appear and were held in default by the Court.  Indus Valley is ordered to pay $1,412,318.66 plus interest, for unpaid wages, liquidated and statutory damages. Laura Rodriguez, an associate at Pechman Law Group, was lead attorney on this case.

“Best Restaurant in America” To Pay $2 million to Settle Tip Theft Lawsuit

Blue HIll tip theft lawsuit

Dan Barber’s Blue Hill restaurant has agreed to pay its waitstaff $2 million to settle an unpaid wages and tip theft  lawsuit.

Recognized by Eater as the Best Restaurant in America for its locally-sourced farm-to-table cuisine, Blue Hill at Stone Barn and its sister restaurant in Manhattan was sued by two former servers in 2016 on behalf of themselves and all servers, bussers, bartenders, runners, and hosts and hostesses.  In their lawsuit, the servers claimed that Blue Hill required them to share their tips with expeditors, who were kitchen employees that did not interact with the restaurant’s customers.  The servers argued that this tip pooling system was unlawful.  Under the law, waitstaff should not be required to share their tips with restaurant employees who do not interact with customers, such as kitchen employees.

Attorneys for the workers also claimed that whenever there was a private event or banquet at Blue Hill, the restaurant led customers to believe that the “service” or “administrative” fee that they paid was a tip that would be distributed to the waitstaff.  According to the servers, Blue Hill unlawfully pocketed all service charges that customers paid, even though those amounts should have been given to the waitstaff as tips.

The wage theft lawsuit claimed that Blue Hill did not pay them minimum wages, as required under New York State law.  Because Blue Hill required the waitstaff to share tips with kitchen employees, like expeditors, in an unlawful tip pool, the restaurant could not pay waitstaff at a reduced minimum wage rate and take a tip credit.  Normally, if a restaurant meets several legal requirements, it may pay employees who regularly receive tips at a reduced hourly wage rate.  The restaurant loses this privilege if it pockets any part of the waitstaff’s tips or creates an unlawful tip pool.  For this reason, the servers claimed that they were owed the difference between the reduced hourly rates they were paid and the full minimum wage rates in New York.

Since the settlement, Blue Hill has eliminated tipping at its restaurants, a growing trend among New York restaurants.

 

EEOC Sues Ruby Tuesday For Age Discrimination

Ruby Tuesday EEOC age discrimination

Ruby Tuesday, a national casual dining restaurant chain, violated federal law by refusing to hire a qualified applicant at its Boca Raton, Fla., location because of his age, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Florida.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the restaurant declined to hire a qualified applicant with over 20 years of experience in the food and beverage industry for a general manager position at its Boca Raton restaurant. In response to an inquiry by the applicant as to why Ruby Tuesday declined to hire him, the company informed him it was seeking a candidate who could “maximize longevity.”  According to the lawsuit, the applicant was 59 when he applied for the job, and the individual who got the job was 17 years younger.  Attorneys for the EEOC contend that the failure to hire the applicant violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

A spokesman for the EEOC said, “Age cannot be a factor in whether or not someone can earn a living.  The Age Discrimination in Employment Act was put in place precisely to protect people against this type of conduct. The bustling hospitality industry needs to be reflective of all of the members of our community.”

In 2013, Ruby Tuesday paid $575,000 to resolve another age discrimination lawsuit brought by the EEOC on behalf of older restaurant workers in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Opening A Restaurant in New York: Legal Issue Boot Camp

New York City Bar Association Logo

The New York City Bar Association will hold the CLE program “Opening A Restaurant in New York: Legal Issue Boot Camp” on March 24. The program will focus on the corporate, real estate, liquor license, and labor/employment issues involved in opening a restaurant in New York City. Speakers on the panel include Jack Gordon, partner at Kent, Beatty & Gordon LLP; Carolyn Richmond, partner at Fox Rothschild LLP; Sonal Shah, General Counsel of Ark Restaurant Group; Alex Victor, partner at Davidoff, Hutcher & Citron LLP; and Larry A. Welch, Associate at Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe LLP.  Lou Pechman will be chairing the event. For more information on the program please visit the event page.

Restaurant Workers Get 2017 Pay Hike

back of house cooks

On December 31, 2016, restaurant workers throughout New York State will begin to see changes in the payment structure of their wages.
Back of the House Workers

 

Back of the house workers (cooks, dishwashers, stockers, and others without direct customer contact) will receive an increase from the current minimum wage rate of $9.00/hour beginning December 31, 2016, according to the following specifications:

New York City – Large Employers (with 11 or more employees): $11.00
New York City – Small Employers (with 10 or fewer employees): $10.50
Long Island & Westchester: $10.00
Remainder of New York State: $9.70

 

Front of the House Workers

 

New York State law allows employers in all industries, except building service and fast food, to satisfy payment of the minimum wage by combining a “cash wage” paid by the employer with a credit or allowance for tips that the employee receives from customers. For example, employers in the Hospitality Industry could satisfy the 2016 minimum wage of $9.00 by combining a cash wage of at least $7.50 with a tip allowance of no less than $1.50 per hour. Employers need only pay a cash wage of $7.50/hour to workers, so long as the employees receive at least $1.50/hour from customers in tips.

 

Beginning on December 31, 2016, tipped front of the house restaurant workers (servers, bussers, bartenders, hosts, hostesses, and others with direct customer contact) will still be required to receive the same 2016 minimum hourly wage rate of $7.50/hour from their employers. However, as of December 31, 2016, tipped restaurant workers must receive at least the following amount in tips per hour in order for employers to use the tip credit:

 

New York City – Large Employers (with 11 or more employees): $3.50
New York City – Small Employers (with 10 or fewer employees): $3.00
Long Island & Westchester: $2.50
Remainder of New York State: $2.20

 


Fast Food Workers

 

Additionally, restaurant workers in the fast food industry will see an increase in hourly wage rates. Employees who qualify for this increase include any person working at a fast food establishment whose job duties include at least one of the following: customer service, cooking, food or drink preparation, delivery, security, stocking supplies or equipment, cleaning, or routine maintenance.

 

On December 31, 2016, the minimum hourly wage rates for all fast food workers will increase according to the following specifications:

 

New York City: $12.00
Rest of the State: $10.75

 

For more information about your rights as a restaurant worker, take a look at our Top 10 Restaurant Pay Violations.

Bayou City Wings Discriminated Against Older Workers at Restaurants, EEOC Charges in Lawsuit

Bayou City Wings logo

Bayou City Wings, a Houston-based restaurant chain, has unlawfully engaged in a pattern or practice of intentional age discrimination in its hiring of host and wait staff, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employ­ment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

EEOC’s lawsuit said that since at least 2008, Bayou City Wings has been discriminating against a class of applicants for “front of house” positions, such as food servers and hosts, by failing to hire them because of their age (40 years and older). According to EEOC’s lawsuit, Bayou City Wings’ upper management instructed other managers not to recruit and hire older job seekers and disciplined and terminated a manager who refused to comply. The agency also charged that since at least 2008 to about November 2013, the company failed to preserve employment records, including the job applications of unsuccessful applicants, in violation of federal law.

Age discrimination, as well as the failure to preserve proper job application records, violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

EEOC filed the lawsuit (Civil Action No. 4:16-cv-03245) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas (Houston Division), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. EEOC seeks, among other things, monetary relief for applicants denied employment because of their age; the adoption of policies and procedures to remedy and prevent age discrimination; and training on discrimination for all Bayou City Wings managers and human resources staff.

“Sadly, age discrimination continues to be an employment barrier for many Americans,” said Rayford O. Irvin, district director of EEOC’s Houston office. “Denying jobs to qualified applicants who are over 40 because of their age is unlawful, yet older job applicants often do not know they are victims of this unlawful discrimination.”

 

Westchester County Dunkin’ Donuts Settles Sex Harassment Lawsuit for $150,000

dunkin donuts logo

A Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee in Westchester County, NY will pay $150,000 to former workers to settle a sex harassment lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Hillcrest Marshall, a franchise which owns multiple Dunkin’ Donuts locations. The lawsuit claimed that the Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee violated federal law by subjecting female employees, some of whom were in their teens at the time, to sexual harassment by a store manager at one of its stores. According to EEOC’s lawsuit, among other things, the store manager talked about his genitals, tried to kiss a female worker who was 20 years old at the time, and pressured her to have sex. After she rejected him, the manager regularly hit, cursed and yelled at her. When she contacted the police, she was terminated in retaliation for resisting his advances.

Under the terms of the consent decree settling the suit, Hillcrest Marshall ceased to employ the manager and agreed not to rehire him. In addition to payment of $150,000 to the harassment victims, Hillcrest Marshall will train the managers at all of their stores of their obligations under the law; institute strong anti-discrimination and complaint policies for all of its employees; and designate a senior manager to receive all complaints of discrimination and harassment.

 

Happy National Waiters and Waitresses Day!

old school waiter photo

Today is National Waiters and Waitresses Day. To commemorate, check out this blog about the top ten wage violations in the restaurant industry written by waiterpay.com founder Louis Pechman, featured on the Huffington Post.

South Carolina Restaurants Hit With Tip Theft And Overtime Lawsuit

triangle char bar logo

Restaurants in Charleston and Myrtle Beach have been accused of stealing tips from their workers and failing to pay overtime pay, according to two recently filed federal court cases.

Servers and bartenders at Triangle Char & Bar Restaurants, located in Charleston, South Carolina, allege that they were paid less than minimum wage and required to pay out of their tips for losses such as waste, spillage, and theft. The lawsuit also claims that the waiters and bartenders were required to work “off the clock” but were not paid overtime pay for hours worked over 40.

In another tip theft case, Bret Herspold, a server at King Kong Sushi Bar & Grill in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, claims that he and other servers were unlawfully required to share a portion of their tips with “back-of-the-house” kitchen staff and that they were not paid overtime wages for hours worked over 40.

Lawyers for the workers at the restaurants seek unpaid wages, compensation for illegally retained tips, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees.

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